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October 22, 2003: On the Campus

Before, during, and after

By Sara Mayeux ’05

Illustration by Felipe Galindo

Tailgating, like college football itself, may have begun at Princeton — the fans at the 1869 Princeton-Rutgers game are reported to have feasted on fish and game — but has been perfected elsewhere: the South. Though the specifics vary from the fancy attire in the parking lot of the Georgia-Florida game (billed as “the biggest cocktail party in America”) to the pungent smell of boiled crawfish at L.S.U., Southern football fans just have things that Ivy League fans don’t, such as motor homes and foldout grills that are more like kitchens. Princeton tailgates may lack gadgetry and crowd size, but there’s something compelling about them; for many students, it’s not the prelude, but the main event. There are Princeton students who have tailgated at every home game, but have yet to make it into the stadium.

Tailgates for this year’s 7 p.m. season-opener against Lehigh began as early as 3 p.m., as members of fraternities, sororities, and other student groups parked S.U.V.s on the fields behind the stadium and set up tents, folding tables, and a couple of token grills on which to grill a couple of token hot dogs. It was cool and breezy football-game weather, and girls in orange and black milled around with boys in ties and flip-flops. A couple of boys stood on the roofs of their trucks to survey the scene. The scene got darker as the sun set (no lights on the field), but the crowd did not seem to get smaller. Under one tent, a Princeton student asked if Notre Dame had won that day. No one knew.

The women’s rugby team opened fall play on a rainy September morning with a preseason match at The College of New Jersey. The Tigers were cheered on by about a dozen freshmen – the team’s rookies – who did not know much about rugby yet, but were hoping to learn. They huddled on the bleachers under shared umbrellas as the colorless sky alternately drizzled and monsooned sheets of rain, remarking how “hard core” everyone was and making up answers to each other’s questions about the fine points of scrumming.

Before the game, coach Dan Williams – a cheerfully sardonic redheaded Brit – had offered the freshmen some encouragement: “For those of you who haven’t seen a rugby game before, the first five minutes you’ll be going, ‘Oh man, what have I signed myself up for?’ But don’t worry. Don’t be put off by the impact. It makes you a better person.”

In the middle of the second half, junior fly-half Ruth Bryson was cut near her left eye. “I can still play,” Bryson insisted, wiping blood all over her cheek. Although she ultimately was forced by the referee to sub out – no blood on the field, and so forth – she stayed out only as long as it took a teammate to slap a couple of white bandages haphazardly all over one side of her face.

The Tigers won, 19—0.

I recently went with my roommate from freshman year to visit our old digs in Witherspoon Hall, which underwent extensive renovations last year. Witherspoon, one of Princeton’s oldest dormitories, was built with indoor plumbing back when that was a luxury; along with Holder and part of Blair, it now houses freshmen and sophomores in Rockefeller College. Emma and I lived in a one-room double on the building’s third floor two years ago, when indoor plumbing remained one of the ’Spoon’s few selling points. There was a certain charm to the way the porch was falling down, but there were no elevators and few common areas — only a small kitchen and TV room. The carpeting was old, the walls had the grimy look of cement that had been painted over far too many times, and the stairwells were industrial and cold.

The Witherspoon we visited a few weeks ago was a very different place. We walked up the new wheelchair ramp to the no-longer-crumbling porch, and entered a building with creamy maroon interiors and gleaming hardwood floors – and elevators. The basement, which had housed locker-room style showers, had been converted into lounges and study nooks. Leather armchairs beckoned students to sit at checkerboard tables, which that day were bathed in sunlight streaming through the windows.

“Wow, it’s like they’re actually trying to promote community in the dorms!” Emma remarked. “Who knew?”

Sara Mayeux ’05 is a history major from Atlanta, Georgia.

ON THE CAMPUS ONLINE: Please go to, to read “Princeton and September 11, Two Years Later,” by Ashley Johnson ’05.




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