It was the worst football game of the year, and I barely cared. I drove back from New Haven Sunday night trying not to think about football, listening to GWAR turned way down so as not to disturb my nearly-sleeping passengers, digesting Cracker Barrel meatloaf, squinting to see the tar on the road through the rain and fog on I-95. Trying to suppress the memory of my team playing like Notre Dame on quaaludes and losing 37-6 to Harvard.
I was a member of the second graduating class in Yale history, and the second in a row, to attend college for four years without a victory in The Game, the annual Harvard-Yale gridiron match-up. My classmates and I over-compensated for the Yale men's futility by simply ignoring pigskin altogether. We held the naive elitist belief that singing a cappella and watching our roommates perform in one-act Christopher Durang plays could replace the primal American need to watch 20-year-old men slamming into one another -- and insulate us from the anguish of not winning more than twice a decade. There's only one day a year left when we still allow ourselves to remember we're Division I, too, each Saturday before Thanksgiving, and we barely have time enough to blackout on overcooked burgers and Coors Light kegs before it's over.
I'm from the Deep South, so I know some of what I'm missing. I don't have a battle cry as catchy as War Damn Eagle. ("Boola boola" doesn't quite pass muster.) My Bulldogs just aren't Dawgs, and their Crimson simply isn't Tide. Our battle songs have too much coy wordplay and too little thickspittled blasphemy, too much phlegm and too little bile. I could muster only mild annoyance at the one slightly overjoyed Harvard alum in my car. (However, if he had started singing "Illegitimum non Carborundum," I might have stabbed him with a windshield scraper.)
As the hours passed on the road, the gnawing emptiness of the loss at the pit of my stomach was gradually filled by congealing meatloaf, and by the time I reached the Beltway, I was practically ready to go to work the next day. My appetite for the upcoming Thanksgiving turkey and cranberry sauce, and even football, was intact, hardly affected for a moment by my team's massacre in the biggest game of the year. I reap the benefits of the devil's bargain I made, avoiding the much likelier agony of losing by foregoing the slender hope for the euphoria of victory. Instead of that agony, I just feel phantom pains, the slight heartburn of what might have been, discomfort on the level of pumpkin pie without Reddi-wip, a 7/11 with a broken Slurpee machine, a Cracker Barrel with bad table service. It hardly registers. I-95 is worse.
And the Yale alumni network, one of the most famous old boys' clubs in the country, is held together by far firmer stuff than the recent history of The Game. I'm sure that my apathy disappoints my fellow alumni only slightly more than the 2007 football team disappointed me. There's so much more we share in common, memory, hope, and common experience. Some day, no doubt, we'll win The Game in a victory just as lopsided. By then, as the damp wind blows and the grey skies turn into New England factory lavender, we'll remember we don't need football to be proud of our school, and to show there's no hard feelings we'll offer our comrades from Cambridge a Sam Adams. Then, as soon as they're dozing, we'll give them a wedgie the size of Massachusetts.