Last month, Justin Watson was drafted by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, capping a decorated Penn career in which the wide receiver left opposing defenses as trashed as Ithaca.
I know the date because I was playing close attention. You see, Justin Watson holds a special place in my memory. He fits into a larger pantheon of characters that I have encountered through the Sports Board. Gabby Thomas. Matt Koran. The Seventh Floor Crew. Bryan Hu ordering pizza. Spencer Morris playing “School Spirit.” Troy Boccelli playing the HPR. You get the point. In different ways, all stand above the drabness of daily experience. They are unique and colorful.
What is greatness? Why do we pursue it? How do we achieve it? I have watched enough Nike commercials starring Michael Jordan to know the expected answers. Greatness means objective triumph. We must pursue greatness constantly, for every moment offers an opportunity to excel. Hard work leads to nirvana.
Yet sports create an illusion of legibility. Real life doesn’t have four quarters. You can’t measure relationships with clear metrics or summarize experiences through the language of wins and losses. Greatness, for instance, means more than objective triumph. Each of us has a different form for which we strive. At the root of “distinction” is “distinct”: to be different, to stand apart. Sports—which subject everyone to the same rules and statistics—cannot contain greatness. True greatness means inventing the scale and then exceeding it.
At 14p, I have met some great people. Few would deny that Steve and Troy are weird dudes. And yet—here’s the paradox of greatness—they have furthered their eccentricities by connecting with others, specifically by forming the three-legged beast known as The Brain Trust. We discover ourselves in others. We gain by giving. Watching sports taught me to cherish greatness, but working for the Sports Board taught me what greatness really means. I leave with a greater determination to strengthen my own idiosyncrasies through community: to be distinct with others.
I don’t know what makes Gina Kennedy so good. I don’t know the rules of sailing. What I do know is that the Sports Board has given me moments of inexplicable contentment. I remember hawking commencement newspapers with Cade last year, rain pooling in our shoes but us still yelling that attendees should grab an issue to read about The Florence Flash and, besides, so many pages of wet paper would make a fine seat cushion. I remember sitting with Jack in the Arctic tundra of Franklin Field, sustained only by a cold chicken tender and the vague dream of a warm hotel room in Camden, N.J. I couldn’t feel my toes, but I did feel a mysterious happiness. I cherish the Sports Board for these memories—moments in which I had no right to feel joy, but I felt it all the same.
Thank you to everyone who enabled my joy. Thank you to the 142 and 143, who introduced me to such cherished traditions as Dizzy Bat and Playing Civil War until the PBR Runs Out. Thank you to the freshmen, sophomores, and juniors who now bear the burden of carrying on these traditions. Thank you to my fellow members of the 144, especially those two members of The Brain Trust who survived a weekend trip to Kentucky.
I wish that I could end with a pithy epitaph, but as editors know, I sometimes struggle with concision. (To those editors: Just be glad that this piece didn’t clock in at 6,500 words.) I turn instead to the wise words of a former writer: “The dog days aren’t over, and there’s something in the oats.” Only Justin Watson could say it better.