It was a story of college rivalries, of angst, of failed attempts, and finally, of defeat. From the moment the curtain went up, the audience knew that Princeton was the underdog in Saturday night’s football game against Penn: their fans were more enthusiastic, their costumes more aesthetically appealing, heck, even their band was slightly more organized. Unlike the outcome in those heart-wrenching football movies where the team without a chance beats the ten-year state champions after an inspiring pep talk by some famous actor, however, this story did not have a feel-good ending.
Even before show time, Princeton football fans had to have a premonition of this outcome. After all, those Penn kids were mighty aggressive. They piled out of their buses in droves, all proudly sporting Penn paraphernalia; Princeton students must have been studying too hard to get this memo, as only about half the crowd was sporting black and orange. They composed an original chant with Broadway-worthy lyrics: “Princeton sucks.” They graced Princeton students with their conversation skills only to mention that Penn was naturally better because it was the “social Ivy.” They then proceeded to greedily consume our goods at our tailgate. Obnoxious as they were, though, they had stage presence–there was no denying that.
At 7 P.M. sharp, the true football devotees took their seats. The rest of the audience members trickled in, either dropping by to meet friends before heading to a more chic event or stumbling into the station after the trek from Lot 21. The crowd cheered in anticipation. I followed suit; football patrons more knowledgeable and enthusiastic about the show surrounded me, and I didn’t want to get snubbed. This was my first experience with the genre. Despite my U.S. birth certificate and 18 years spent living in New Jersey, I didn’t (and still don’t) know any of the rules. Regardless, I was amazed by the show’s interactive appeal, by its ability to draw the audience into its internal drama. I found myself clapping along, even erroneously waiving my pom-poms as Penn scored a “touchdown.”
Despite the distressing storyline, the director’s creative vision did much to improve the show. For one thing, the setting was well lit and appropriately dramatic. Two goal posts sat at either end of a marked-up, green field, each of which was enormous, perhaps symbolizing the triviality of mankind, which was represented by the very small humans scurrying underneath. The choreography was impressive, perhaps too complex and risky. Everything had to be timed perfectly. It all depended on chance. Players dove back and forth. They exchanged the ball, otherwise heavy-looking men exhibiting magnificent leaps. Their faces were fierce, intense. They launched themselves so aggressively on top of each other that I was afraid they wouldn’t get up. The costume designer must have faced the same worry, as each man, no matter how scantly clad, wore heavy padding under his shirt. Again, the only glitch was in the script. The concept of “gaining yards,” took away from the show’s organic process and the method of scoring was distracting in its complexity. “Why doesn’t one goal equal one point,” I asked myself several times during the evening. Metaphorically, though, I suppose these two elements served as literary devices to capture the essence of the story: you win a few, you lose a few, and some count more than others.
Well, let’s hope that this show didn’t count for much, although I’m told that it was kind of important. Even before the last whistle sounded, disenchanted audience members began to leave the stadium, looking down so as to avoid taunting from a rambunctious Penn crowd. It was an ending that left much to ponder. If the Tigers, ferocious jungle animals, couldn’t beat the Quakers, a traditionally peaceful people, whom could they beat? Was Penn’s cockiness and bravado the new world order? Would the fact that it was the 100th Princeton vs. Penn football game increase the defeat’s magnitude? Would the script end differently next time? For all the wounded Tigers out there, let’s hope so.