When asked what he felt was the big difference in his team’s late game heroics last weekend, Cornell football head coach Tim Pendergast offered a quick answer.
“The fans stayed.”
The answer drew chuckles from the assembled press and mumbled “definitely”s from the players that surrounded the jubilant coach. It was a telling response that deserves inspection.
Two Saturdays ago, Cornell’s Homecoming matchup with a tough Yale team drew an uncanny number of fans to the crescent of Schoellkopf Field. The atmosphere was, dare I say, electric. The noise level was reminiscent of crowds a couple steps up the road at Lynah Rink and provided an excitement around the football team that has been absent since Ricky Rahne’s ’02 junior year.
However, the Bulldogs outplayed the Red and early in the fourth quarter despondent fans were headed for Collegetown.
This Saturday, a much humbler assemblage of Red faithful showed up for what would be a very exciting overtime victory against Towson. Though smaller, last weekend’s crowd was not drawn by alumni or obligatory fraternity responsibilities. They were not fans, but fanatics. Players’ parents proudly draped in their boys’ away jerseys, along with girlfriends, longtime fans, and people who decided to give the team one more chance cheered their hearts out for a club that needed a little extra to take down the Tigers.
And don’t think for one second that that little extra went ignored.
Pendergast could have provided a lot of answers to the question he was posed. He could have talked about playcalling, defensive stops, the brilliance of senior running back Brian Ulbricht, or the cool nerves of sophomore kicker Trevor MacMeekin. However, it was the fans he felt deserved credit.
There is nothing so important to a team than its fans. Look at the Minnesota Twins and what they’ve been able to do in the friendly confines of the Metrodome. The Twins’ crowds get to near deafening levels and affect a game in ways that cannot be understood by those not actually playing between the foul lines. I imagine all players that will have to endure the wild environment of the Metrodome this postseason will never be able to shake the nightmare of 55,000 waving towels resembling a threatening blizzard pounding in their minds as they try to connect with an Eddie Guardado fastball.
Unlike the true passion of Minnesota’s fans (or Duke’s Cameron Crazies, or the Bleacher Creatures of Yankee Stadium, or the Lynah Faithful, for that matter) Cornell students tend to show up to a football game as part of a social routine. They stay until halftime, hug during the alma mater, claim there’s no way Cornell could win, giggle with their sorority sisters, and head back to their universe of popularity.
These are not fans. These are not the people Pendergast spoke of when he talks of the support his team so desperately needs as it struggles to find a winning formula. The football team does not need the socially obliged nor the ridicule of those who go to express their cynicism towards the program.
On behalf of the players and coaching staff, I implore this class of needless mob rulers to stay home. No school needs its own constituents to provide negative energy at a stadium that has recently been unable to produce any sort of resounding fervor.
The noise level at Homecoming was great, but it was one of those “O.K., let’s act like we love our team because our parents, who happen to be alumni, pay $35,000 a year for us to be here” moments. Everyone at the stadium could sense the lack of genuine passion behind the cheers of Homecoming and the dropoff th”