Tuesday, August 1, 2017

A Story Worth Telling

So yes, the blog's been on an extended vacation. Not for distance, but for content.

After a while, there are just so many ways once can positively discuss a team in the midst of a eight game losing streak, and there are times where following the Hoyas is positively Sisyphean. Good news is often hard to come by, and there are only so many ways to say "better luck next year." when there is little to expect.

So in a day where not one, but two Georgetown press releases made it outside 37th and O (and you can read about basketball's retreat on another site), news that the football team will be playing "beyond the gates" for the first time since the Truman administration is a source for some old-fashioned enthusiasm.

On September 30, Georgetown hosts Harvard in the last game of that series at RFK Stadium. Not Cooper Field or Greene Stadium at Howard or even War Memorial Stadium in Arlington, but RFK, home of Jurgensen and Kilmer, the Smurfs and the
Hogs. You can still hear echoes of Tony Kornheiser's "bandwagon" in those days  when Jack Kent Cooke entertained the city's movers and shakers and the fans responded by moving and shaking the stadium in response. RFK brought a city together.
(Dan Snyder, not so much.)

Since the Nationals moved towards the Navy Yard a decade ago, RFK has aged none too gracefully, but still hosts DC United (for one more season) and the occasional concert or college game.  It hosted the Military Bowl for five years until even the bowl game looked elsewhere (in this case, Annapolis) in 2013. The Sep. 30 game with Harvard is one day removed from the 56th anniversary of the first game ever played at was then DC Stadium, when the Redskins lost to the New York Giants on October 1, 1961 before 36,767, more than double the 14,077 that showed up the year before to see the two teams at Griffith Stadium.

The RFK site is one of the great vistas in Washington, with a line of sight to the Capitol. Some see it as the future home of a retractable roof dome to welcome back the Redskins; others, as future parkland. If RFK's future is cloudy, at least Georgetown is taking advantage of it now.

Make no mistake, this is a great move. MSF/Cooper Field, good intentions notwithstanding, is still a dump that remains frozen in some sort of administrative amber and is, frankly, a problem to attracting road opponents. Yale, Penn, and Princeton have all ended series with Georgetown, and the idea of those 800 wooden bleachers doesn't win favor from its well heeled alumni. Harvard, whose four year series ends this year, may feel the same.

But the news even made the front of Harvard's sports website, and  the Boston Globe. While no one will confuse RFK with Yankee Stadium, it sends a positive message that maybe, just maybe, Georgetown can turn this football thing around.

The elephant in the room, or in this case, in the building, is seats. Lots of them. Georgetown drew all of 2,502 when the Cantabs made their only other visit to Washington, in 2014. It's one of the smallest crowds to see the Crimson in a generation, due, we hope, to the meager surroundings and landlocked access offered by Georgetown's miniature version of the Baker Bowl. (Thankfully for GU, there is no billboard which reads "The Hoyas Use Lifebuoy")

Under no such seating restrictions, any fan of either school has free reign to get on the Metro, Uber, or just drive through the gentrified neighborhoods of Northeast and park at the stadium to see the two teams meet. But there better be more than 2,500 people there on September 30.

How do you do that from a fan base that hasn't seen a crowd show up at a Georgetown football game in 50 years? Work, work, and work the audience. Here are 10 suggestions:

1. "B.I.S." In airline lingo, that's "butts in seats". Given that Georgetown isn't getting rich  off this game, the more people regardless of price that will attend, the more "successful' the outcome. To that end, consider:
1. Offer two complimentary seats to every former football player. Give them a pass to get on the field before the game, too.
2. Offer two complimentary seats to every donor to Georgetown athletics. Whether you give to the Gridiron Club, Hoya Hoop Club, or the Rowing Association, they're part of it too.
3. Market the heck out of this at the local alumni club level. Everyone should know why 9/30 is not the 9:30 Club or the end of the quarter.
4. Reduced seats to every Catholic high school in the area. High school kids love to see a real college game and most don't get to see it.
5. Reduced or free seats to District high school students. Georgetown must not only defend the district, it must invest in it.

2. Tailgate. RFK has plenty of parking and, yes, it'll have plenty that day.  Sell parking passes and allow students and alumni to set up and get a taste of what college football is like outside the patriot/Ivy bubble.

3. Bands. OK, the Georgetown band isn't very good and hasn't been for a long time. But Harvard has a good musical outfit for the oft-derided "scramble" band and they should be invited to attend. Better yet, there are some high-wattage high school bands that would love to march on the big stage on a Saturday afternoon. bands bring atmosphere and they bring, well, B.I.S.

4. Students. Yes, students are indispensable to the college football experience but most Georgetown students quickly tied of Cooper Field's shoddy surroundings and gravitate away. This needs to be marketed as a one-time experience that students can rally to.

5. Metro. Over 200,000 people ride the Metro daily and not all care about football. But some do, or some might, with an offer or two. Maybe they get in for half price with their SmartCard or are eligible for some prizes at the game site.

6. Local coverage. It's interesting to read the coverage of the 1964 game with NYU that drew 8,000 to Kehoe Field in freezing temperatures --there was coverage in the Post and Evening Star literally every day leading up to the game. And that was no accident. Nor should Georgetown's ability to get Rob Sgarlata, David Akere, the local kids, etc., in close proximity to local TV, to the Post, to sports-talk radio, and to any other outlets so this is not something forgotten in the swirl of Redskins coverage or the latest Trump nonsense, but a real event in the District. For that matter, can someone slip in "Geogetown-Harvard at RFK Stadium" on the College Gameday picks of the week? It's OK if Lee Corso goes with the Crimson.

7.  Alumni. There are 38,000 alumni in  the Washington DC area. Don't be afraid to contact them again and again to get their attention. We may be surprised of their turnout, if only we ask.

8. Harvard Alumni. There are 20,000 Harvard alumni in  the Washington DC area. We may be surprised of their turnout, too.

9. Parents.  Players' parents and families are often unsung heroes in the ebbs and flows of the season. Let's encourage them all to attend and make it an event worth remembering.

10. Atmosphere. Where possible, let's see RFK with some blue and gray around there that Saturday. John Madden famously said a big game in football needs "bunting", like the red, white and blue on Opening day . Marist College notwithstanding, this is Opening day to a new generation of Georgetown fans and GU would be foolish to ignore the opportunity and settle for 4,189 rattling around up in a 45,000 seat stadium.

A wise man once wrote that "It's here and if we blow it, it will never come again," and it applies in 2017. This could be a test if Georgetown can support a larger venue to play opponents that either can't or won't consider Cooper Field in the future--that could be Howard at RFK, Villanova at the new Audi Field, or someone we wouldn't even think about.

Maybe it opens some eyes among other opponents who see that maybe this Georgetown team has a fan base after all. Maybe it opens some eyes among some high school recruits who see that maybe this Georgetown team has a program after all. Better yet, maybe it opens some eyes within this University who see that maybe this Georgetown team has a brighter future after all.