Thursday, September 28, 2017

An Invitation

You don't have to be a Google researcher to know why people visit It's all about the basketball. 

Twenty one years ago this weekend, this site was launched. Victor Page was a 21 year old sophomore, home basketball games were a bus ride to Landover, and America Online boasted of seven million subscribers who could visit any one of 200,000 web sites across the world, including this one.  

Did you join us?

Then and now, the Big Brother of Georgetown Athletics was, and is, why we're still coming here. So, for once, let me introduce you to Georgetown Basketball's older brother, who's got a big weekend of its own planned.

Excusing a statistical handful of elderly readers, none of us have a memory where Georgetown football was a destination event, when the Hoyas played the likes of Penn State, Miami, or West Virginia, not to mention Syracuse, Villanova, or Boston College.  Ole Miss came to town and drew 25,000, while the Hoyas went to Yankee Stadium and doubled that figure. But when Georgetown short-sightedly cut football in 1950, a little bit of the Georgetown ethos and culture was severed with it, something which no sidewalk at McDonough or parking lot in Landover or even a underground parking garage in Penn Quarter has fully healed.

Basketball is a winter sport--you arrive, you watch, and you leave. Socializing is done in a concourse, or on the way to a bar to get out of the elements. Our basketball traditions are tucked high into a corner of a darkened arena, and that's what we've come to expect. By contrast, football thrives in its social interaction, something altogether lacking at  school which largely ignores its on-campus teams. Why else do 60,000 people at Stanford or 80,000 at Notre Dame or 100,000 at Alabama come out ever weekend? It's not to watch a game that's much more comfortable in front of a high definition TV set. It's not for a love of traffic jams or walking up huge flights of stairs. "From the moment you enter the parking lot to set up camp and tailgate for the day, donning your favorite team's gear, to the packed and raucous environment in the stadium," wrote Bleacher Report. "If you're watching college football, the experience is the same everywhere you go: electric."

This writer apparently has never been to Georgetown.

Couple that with the low wattage nature of Georgetown football, so low that a Heisman Trophy winner last weekend hadn't even heard of it, such spirit has been, in many respects, a lost opportunity. The poor fan experience around the never-built on-campus stadium and the litany of tired, uninspired excuses from the University about promises never kept have always cast a cloud about a sport that predates basketball by a quarter century and once was every bit the unifying force basketball has become today.

This Saturday, against the relentless typecasting that Georgetown football is decidedly a small time effort, the Hoyas will host a game at a legitimate big time venue, RFK Stadium, home of the Squire and the Hogs and thirty years of NFL glory. Yes, the place has seen better days and may not see many more if the price of land grows unabated, but for one Saturday in September, before sunny skies and 66 degrees, the Blue and Gray host the Crimson lines of Harvard. 

Okay, not exactly Ole Miss, but an opportunity nonetheless.

Almost twenty years ago former football coach Bob Benson wrote that " There must be a vision" for football. "It is really quite simple," he said. "Utilize the game of football to create an environment and atmosphere among our students, faculty, and community on an autumn Saturday afternoon and bring to our campus a school spirit on a fall day that is desperately needed." Saturday's game, on a big stage and a reasonably big opponent, offers just that sort of spirit and camaraderie, if we only choose to join in. There will be activities for families, for college students, for parents, and for older fans, too. Food trucks, marching bands, and tailgating will, for a few fleeting hours, reintroduce Georgetown to the verities of a Saturday football experience it dispatched so many years ago. You don't have to be a huge football fan to enjoy the experience, but you do have to be a part of it.

Can you join us?

The numbers are small for those of us who build their schedules around Gerogetown football, much less argue the finer points of Hoya gridiron history. Outside of Rob Sgarlata and Bruce Simmons, not many of us can argue on a Saturday afternoon tailgate whether Aley Demarest or J.J. Mont was the better quarterback, whatever happened to Alondzo Turner, or simply what it was like to watch the Hoyas on ESPN2 on a Friday night and win a game on a last second field goal.

But this isn't a history lesson. Saturday is a chance to make new history, meet some new friends, and perhaps realize something I've tried unsuccessfully to point out all these years--athletics isn't a zero sum game. You can be a Georgetown basketball and a Georgetown football fan and have fun doing both. Basketball's time will come.

A game on a big stage is a financial risk, and under any circumstances there are going to be a lot of empty seats in a stadium which has held up to 56,692 people. 

But your seats don't have to be empty. If you live in the area, a $12 ticket and a ride on the Metro is a low cost way to enjoy a unique Georgetown event and to do so on a beautiful Saturday afternoon. And while there are no guarantees whether 1,500 people will show up or 15,000, this is an opportunity for Georgetown to come together in ways that its half-fast, on-campus experience has never quite done.

Will you join us?

"Football is America's game," wrote columnist Luke McConnell in 2010. "Sure baseball was once, but that is now America's pastime. Football is now. Nowhere else in the world is football regarded as a sport worth following or getting excited about. But here in America, it's everything." 

"What is there not to love about football? The action is fantastic, the joys of victory incredible, and the relationships you build with fellow fans and opponents are unlike any other relationship you could ever form."

Sure, Georgetown won't be rolling out a 300 person marching band to form the Block G, there won't be an Air Force flyover, and the RFK stands won't dangerously sway as they did when the cheers "We want Dallas!" filled the air over East Capitol Street. In 2017, it doesn't have to be "big time" to be a "good time." After years of institutional inertia over football at Georgetown, here's a chance to play a game and enjoy doing so.

I will not go as far as former college coach T.A.D. Jones, who famously told his team, "Gentlemen, you are about to play football against Harvard. Never again may you do something so important." Yes, it's a big game, and while Jones' Yale team shut out Harvard 13-0 that day, that isn't happening Saturday. 

But I will say to this team, the coaches, and to its fans, this is an opportunity ripe for greatness. Win or lose, make Saturday a day we can all talk about with pride and good feeling, for generations to come.

Join us. Straight for a touchdown.