Thursday, September 23, 2010

Coming Home

A distinctly American institution, the college homecoming has a life and lore all its own, even at a place like Georgetown.

While the concept dates back to 1909, or 1910, depending on which school you believe (Baylor, Illinois and Kansas all lay claim to the origin, Wikipedia notes it as follows:

The history of the University of Missouri Homecoming can be traced back to 1891, when the Missouri Tigers first faced off against the Kansas Jayhawks in football in the first installment of the Border War, which is also the oldest college football rivalry west of the Mississippi River. The intense rivalry originally took place at neutral sites, usually in Kansas City, Missouri, until a new conference regulation was announced that required intercollegiate football games to be played on collegiate campuses. To renew excitement in the rivalry, ensure adequate attendance at the new location, and celebrate the first meeting of the two teams on the Mizzou campus in Columbia, Missouri, Mizzou Athletic Director Chester Brewer invited all alumni to "come home" for the game in 1911. Along with the football game, the celebration included a parade and spirit rally with bonfire. The event was a success, with nearly 10,000 alumni coming home to take part in the celebration and watch the Tigers and Jayhawks play to a 3-3 tie. The Missouri homecoming model, with its parade and spirit rally centered around a large football game is the model that has gone on to take hold at colleges and high schools across the United States."

By comparison, Georgetown was late to the party, not announcing such a game until 1925, where they dispatched Lehigh 40-0. Of course, Georgetown did things a little, well, differently. For one thing, the games weren't "home" being that games were off-campus, and in some years the Homecoming weekend could even be held during a road game. On November 9, 1940, Homecoming was celebrated at Byrd Stadium in College Park, MD, perhaps the Hoyas' biggest Homecoming win ever. Wrote Ye Domesday Booke:

"While the statue of John Carroll was con­spicious by the absence of its annual Maryland painting, and the Terrapin too remained in­violate, passive Hoya students journeyed south of the border to witness Georgetown's 41 to 0 victory over their traditional but failing rivals from College Park. On a field bathed in tingling sunshine and the fleeting shadows of billowy clouds, the Hilltoppers lost little time in actualizing six points in the person of Jim Castiglia who carried the mail from the five. With the taste of blood in their mouths, the fighting Bulldog literally rived the hapless Turtle in one of the worst defeats yet recorded in their long and spirited association.

"Svelte and swivel-hipped Jack Doolan, coupled with Frank Dornfeld and Dave Wiley, were the game's standouts as Sophomore class­mates proudly eyed their stellar accomplish­ments.

"The traditional goal post stand was assumed by the Maryland student body after the game, and the one struggling Hillcat who vainly challenged this group, dug himself out during the Virginia-Maryland fracas two weeks later! The Victory Tea Dance held after the game at the Wardman Park Hotel was host to the con­quering grid men, and here they proved equally successful.

"Hence another Homecoming week-end, an­other Hoya dance and another Georgetown victory were scratched on the pages of history. This win marked the twenty-first consecutive for Georgetown and placed them ninth in the national ranking."

That's right, ninth. In the Associated Press poll.

Homecoming died out during the Hoyas' football interregnum from 1951 through 1963, returning in grand style in 1964. An ad from The HOYA lsits a multitude of events which drew a record 8,004 fans to campus that day:

Note the quote in the first column where "master of ceremonies Mike Morrell will distribute mimeographed copies of the Georgetown Fight Song and the Georgetown pep band will accompany him as he teaches the lyrics to the masses." Hey, when you haven't played a football game in 14 years, a little practice never hurt!

From Homecoming grew a wide variety of social events, including the annual band event at the gym. One would be hard pressed ever to match the entertainment at Homecoming as enjoyed by the Class of 1973. For its freshman year Homecoming dance, the featured guests were the Who. For 1970, the Grateful Dead. For 1971, the Beach Boys. For senior year in 1972, the Ike and Tina Turner Revue.

The Homecoming Queen and her court met its demise in the mid-70's, the dance soon afterward. This was not an era for tradition. The game itself struggled on for a great many years, with a mix of benign University neglect, alumni indifference, and the fact that Division III football didn't always sell itself to students at a "Big East" school. As the drinking age migrated north to 21, it was largely known as the only game fans could drink to excess before the game, but, of course, many never made the trek up the hill to Kehoe Field to actually see the game itself.

Through the diligent efforts of Bill Reynolds (C'79) and the Alumni Relations staff, Homecoming in the last decade has outgrown its 1980's reputation to become one of the two largest campus events of the year, second only to Reunion. Academic, social, and cultural events now abound, even without a formal pep rally.

But the game remains at its core. Various schools which abandoned football or never sponsored the sport attempt Homecomings around a soccer game or a mid-winter badketball game, and by and large the events fall flat. A fall football game is a chance to bring old and young together, at a common field for a common purpose. And every so often, a game does more than capture the fancy of a weekend, but change the course of the sport.

In 1998, Georgetown opened its home season with a Homecoming game with Holy Cross--the earliest such scheduling ever. GU had played four previous games against the Patriot League in 1996 and 1997, losing all four. On a September afternoon 12 years ago, things would be different. From the account of the game (yes, the site was around back then, too):

"Thoughts soon turned to the biggest game on the schedule, a Homecoming meeting against Holy Cross at Kehoe Field. The Crusaders have been a measuring stick for the Hoyas' I-AA program, and narrow losses in 1996 and 1997 only furthered the drive to knock off the once dominant I-AA power.

Both teams had their share of missed opportunities. Holy Cross took an early lead but missed the extra point. A fumbled snap deep in Hoya territory gave the Crusaders the ball at the two yard line at the end of the first half, but a holding penalty, a sack, and a missed field goal ended the drive.

In the third quarter, down 12-7, Mont and the Hoyas drove to the two inch line, only to lose six yards on third down and fumble the snap on the field goal. Both teams exchanged field position throughout the next ten minutes. Midway through the fourth quarter, Georgetown's best drive of the game drive stalled when Mont tripped on consecutive 3rd and 4th down plays. The Crusaders moved quickly down the field but missed a 28 yard field goal with under 3:00 to play, and on the first play thereafter Mont found Hester for a 77 yard touchdown and Kehoe Field erupted.

But there was more to come. Down one, Holy Cross drove 65 yards in under a minute, but with 1:20 left senior SS Anthony Bartolomeo intercepted a pass at the 16 yard line. Georgetown fans were delirious, but the Hoyas could not move. Hoping to watch the Hoyas run out the clock, fans were stunned to see Mont inexplicably run out of bounds with 1:06 left, stopping the clock, and Georgetown had to punt. The Crusaders then connected on two fourth down plays in the final minute to advance to Georgetown's 28 yard line, where a 45 yard FG attempt sailed wide left for the final act in a momentous game.

Crusader fans will no doubt point to the missed extra point and four missed field goals as the difference, but another key play occurred with the Hoyas trying a two point conversion leading 13-12. Mont's pass sailed right at a HC defender with 98 yards of open field ahead of him. If he ran the INT back, HC would have earned two points and a 14-13 lead. Instead, he batted the ball down, and Georgetown maintained the lead...The crowd, listed at 2,756 but closer to 3,500 (many left when they could not find seating) at 2,400 seat Kehoe Field, enjoyed perhaps the most exciting finish in any of the 58 Homecoming games which have preceded it. It marked Georgetown's first victory over Holy Cross since 1950, its first win ever over a Patriot League team, and a clear sign that the football program has cleared another milestone in its progress to be competitive with Patriot and Ivy-level programs.

The game was a turning point in many ways, and while the last ten years have seen more gray skies than blue for the Hoyas, one should also ask where Hoya Football would be had it not found a home in the Patriot League.

But football fans should not lose sight of the fact that Homecoming is an opportunity to reconnect across the generations. In 2002, a Morgan State student named Brian Cox wrote about what he felt was the mission of Homecoming at his school, and it bears repeating. This weekend, enjoy the game, but don't forget to extend a hand to those slightly older visitors walking across a campus that they haven't forgotten, all these years later.

"What ultimately defines a homecoming is its true purpose: the alumni," he wrote. "Alumni from every [college] in America take pride in coming back "home", to reminisce on past experiences and live in the present of their alma mater. However, the majority of the current generation of students has misconstrued the meaning of the alumni celebration.

"This is not to say that homecoming strictly for alumni only. It's a time to everyone involved...young and old, to have a good time and reflect on the past in the present so that the future can seem clearer. But for some reason, that is not the case.

"I cannot count the amount of times I have heard someone say that, "(insert a school name) homecoming was weak." When asked why they thought so, it was also certain they were referring to the lineup at the homecoming concert, the caliber of the after parties or the like. Almost never is the actual game, festivities or the congregation of student and alumni alike on the yard ever mentioned. This majority of [students'] perception of homecoming has become too superficial. It's clouded with too many things that detract from the true meaning of homecoming.

"Homecoming should be a grand event with a strong emphasis on the alumni. For many of them, this is their chance to come home and relive memories of their times at [college]. As students we should embrace and welcome alumni on our homecoming and begin with a bond with them. Alumni are our only direct and accurate link to the past of [the University]. Without them, we may never have an accurate account of the past triumphs and tribulations of this institution. They should be like family to the student body. How would you feel if you came home after being away for a long time and everyone was concerned about gifts that you brought everyone?

Homecoming should never be defined by whether Jay-Z, Nelly, Noreaga or others perform at the concert...It should be defined by the past and the people who helped forget the character of its institution...Without the actions and people of the past, there would be no direction for present and future."

Past and prologue, together.