Web Exclusives: The Varsity Typewriter
a PAW web exclusive column by Patrick Sullivan '02 (email: pas@princeton.edu)

February 27, 2002:
Stand up, sit down

Cheers and jeers for the Tigers and the Bulldogs

By Patrick Sullivan '02

Nostalgia seems to be getting the best of me these days.

Every time I attend an event recently, I can’t help remember that it is my last – and this weekend, it was my last home men’s basketball game. (In my four years at Princeton, I’ve gone to every Ivy League home game, barring those few games played during the break between semesters in late January.)

Ed Persia ’04 led the scoring with 16 points against Yale on February 23; Princeton won 59-46.
(Photo by Frank Wojciechowsk

My final two games as a Tiger basketball enthusiast promised to be exciting. Entering the second to last weekend of regular season play, five Ivy League teams possessed the ability to claim the Ancient Eight title: Yale, Princeton, Pennsylvania, Harvard, and Brown. And unlike in past years, upstart Yale – not the traditional league powerhouses Penn and Princeton – stood atop the standings.

The Tigers entered the weekend facing a must-win situation; if they wanted to remain in contention for the Ivy championship, Yale and Brown would have to be defeated. Fortunately, both games unfolded in Princeton’s favor, as the team avenged an early-season loss to the Bulldogs, soundly thumping the Blue and White 59-46 Friday night. On Saturday, Princeton unleashed a 26-point blowout on the Brown Bears, winning 73-47. In both games, Princeton never trailed, with the exception of a 4-2 Yale advantage early in that game. More important, the Tigers moved back into first place with a half-game lead over the Bulldogs.

But the story doesn’t end there.

In my last column, I bemoaned the improbable stat-sheet for the men’s basketball team, those paltry numbers that failed to correlate – logically, at least – to the team’s early-season victories. Well, if those numbers weren’t confusing enough, try this on for size: Depending on the outcomes of this weekend’s games, the Tigers could win the championship outright, lose it outright, or more likely, finish in either a tie with Penn or a three-way tie with Penn and Yale. Tri-champions? Nothing like this has ever happened since the Ivy League was formalized in 1956. If you had asked me in November what the odds were of tri-champions, I’d probably have laughed aloud and assumed you were a misguided Yalie.

The Tigers and the Quakers both hit the road this weekend, playing Cornell and Columbia. Yale faces Harvard and Dartmouth at home for its final two regular season games. Lastly, Penn and Princeton meet at the Tiger-hostile Palestra in Philadelphia on Tuesday, March 5. Although college hoops and upsets are often synonymous, Penn, Princeton, and Yale should win their games this coming weekend. With the exception of an unexplainable Penn loss at home to a hapless Columbia squad, the previous meetings of these teams all ended in comfortable victories.

Assuming that Yale wins both games, and Princeton and Penn sweep Cornell and Columbia, the Princeton-Penn match-up will surely be a shootout of epic proportions: A Tiger victory means an outright championship, while a Quaker win ensures a three-way playoff at a neutral site for the title. Can things get a little more tense, please?

Now that I’ve broken down the most likely scenario for deciding the Ivy League title – in my opinion, of course – I want to address this nostalgia issue. Besides my love for the sport of basketball and my enthusiasm for Princeton athletics, I enjoy the ritual and tradition surrounding games, especially football and basketball. I like that a cappella groups sing the national anthem, I like watching the nutty alums who attend every game, and I especially like singing "Old Nassau" after a victory.

One of my favorite aspects of home games, however, are the cheers Tiger fans unleash, sometimes with brutal gusto, at visiting teams. Many are classics, like the "sit down, you suck" cheer hurled at every opponent substituted out of the game. Some are demeaning yet funny, like the "safety school chant" chant directed at Cornell and Penn. A few cheers are creative, like singing the "Umpa-Lumpa" song at diminutive point guards. A couple cheers are purely generic, like "warm up bus," "scoreboard" or "air ball."

However degrading or comical some of Princeton’s cheers may appear to visiting teams or alums, the majority are harmless, or if not totally benign, they are stupid enough to be laughed off, like the "ugly" jeer directed at sharp-shooting Bulldog guard Alex Gamboa. He’s not even ugly, so the cheer actually solicited laughs from other sections of Jadwin. Sadly, an article in The Daily Princetonian reported that at the Yale-Princeton game in New Haven on February 9, the cheers from the student section were more overtly classless.

According the article in the Prince, at certain times throughout the game, senior guard Ahmed El-Nokali heard chants of "dirty Arab," and references to the Al-Qaeda terrorist network. The soft-spoken Tiger cocaptain also reported seeing posters in the stands with his picture printed on them, and the word "Wanted" written across the image. Additionally, both Princeton players and Yale fans recounted hearing jeers of "token" directed at freshman guard Will Venable, one of two African-American players on the Tiger squad.

Maybe I’m overreacting, but the behavior of these Yale fans, no matter how isolated, merits an apology to El-Nokali and Venable. In the friendly camaraderie of collegiate athletics, disrespectful, lowbrow behavior of that nature is unacceptable. Fortunately, Venable and El-Nokali turned away, choosing not to dignify the comments. That takes will power and self-respect.

More important, at the Yale game this weekend, Tiger fans chose not to respond in kind. Yes, the student section was raucous, and chants of "ugly" and "mullet" could be heard. But nothing crossed the line as the enthusiastic student section cheered its team to a must-win victory.

In one of my last games at Jadwin, the sell-out crowd reminded me of the games during my freshman year, when the student section received a technical foul for jumping up and down on the bleachers, causing the floor and basketball rims to vibrate. As an impressionable freshman, I quickly formed an addiction to Princeton basketball. Who wouldn’t, after having that much fun in the stands? After the ’98-99 season, student attendance dropped; fans would show up only for certain games. However, this past weekend, perhaps enticed by the closest Ivy League title race on the books, Tigers came out en masse, once again adding thir roar to the "Jadwin Jungle." The atmosphere at those games reminded me again why I am such a devoted fan of Tiger basketball.

Who cares if its slow-down, defensive, back-door hoops? Its smart, fundamental, tradition-steeped basketball, and that is what keeps the fans coming, in the Ivy League, anyways.

To those few, classless jerks in New Haven who chose to degrade not only themselves but also their school, I am sure that if the Princeton student section were with me right now, you’d all receive a rousing rendition of my favorite Tiger cheer:

"Sit down, you suck."

You can reach Patrick at pas@princeton.edu.