A sort of Homecoming

University of Chicago homecoming game, 2009

Okay, I’ll just come right out and admit it: I may have two degrees from the University of Chicago, but until Homecoming this past Saturday, I had never, ever been to a Maroons football game. But then again, I had never had six-year-old sons, who—in a triumph of nature over nurture—already know more about sports than I do.

“What’s the U of C, Division Six?” a friend of mine, a DePaul alumnus and former sports reporter, had asked when I told him about our weekend plans.

“Divison Three,” I corrected him snippily. “And founding members of the Big Ten.”

“Which actually has eleven teams,” he said. “And oddly, Chicago is still not one of them.”

Well, I didn’t know that either. I know what a touchdown is and what a first down is, and that’s about it. In fact, my ignorance of football was so deep and abiding that although I have lived in Hyde Park off and on since 1988, I could not even find the stadium entrance.

“Where are we going, Mommy?” one of the six-year-olds wanted to know.

“Why is this taking so long?” asked the other one.

“How are we supposed to get in?”

“Where’s the gate?”

“How did all those people get in?”

“Do we have to climb the fence?”

“We’re missing it! We’re missing it!”

“We’re never going to get in!”

For the record, fellow English majors, the entrance to the stadium is not on 55th Street. It is on 56th.

As usual, we were late in the first place, so by the time we arrived, it was the start of the second quarter. We walked along the bottom of the stands, looking for somewhere to sit, and—to my amazement—the stands were almost entirely full. True, they would hold perhaps 300 people, about as much seating as was provided for my high school's junior-varsity team, but still.

With just under 15 minutes to go in the first half, the Maroons were up 14-0. “The Maroons are good!” said six-year-old A. Later, apropos of nothing, he amended his opinion to “Whoever they’re playing must be really bad.” I explained that the opposing team was Denison (since I know as much about liberal-arts colleges as about Division III sports, I had to Google it to discover it was in Granville, Ohio). Six-year-old A, perhaps dreaming of Chicago’s storied Big Ten past, kept referring to them as Minnesota.

We ended up sitting crisscross applesauce at the bottom of the stands, just inside the fence. We could hardly see past the football players standing on the sidelines, so I watched the cheerleaders instead, which is what I mostly did at high-school football games anyway. I was hoping for some of the infamous University of Chicago cheers, which I had read about but never heard, such as:

Themistocles, Thucydides,
The Peloponnesian War,
X squared, Y squared,
Who for? What for?
Who we gonna yell for?
Go, Maroons!

Or perhaps:

Gimme the speed of light.....C
Gimme Planck's constant.....H
Gimme root negative one.....I
Gimme carbon.....C
Gimme the Bohr radius.....A
Gimme the gravitational constant.....G
Gimme the additive identity of a non-trivial group.....O
What's that spell?.....Chicago!

Sadly, no. The cheerleaders did some cool lifts and round-offs, but the cheers were nothing more original than “Maroon and white, all right all right, let me see you win tonight” and “First and ten, do it again, go fight win.”

By halftime the score was 17-0, despite a dramatic interception by Denison that gained 54 yards but no touchdown, and the six-year-olds were ready to leave. I managed, by offering a bribe of popcorn, to persuade them to stay for the halftime show, when 13 members of the original 1969 varsity football squad—the first varsity team since Robert Maynard Hutchins famously abolished football in 1939—were recognized.

The final score, as I discovered later by checking the athletics department’s Web site, was 38-7. I cut and pasted the headline “Maroons Celebrate Homecoming with a 38-7 Victory!” into the subject line of an e-mail to my sarcastic DePaul friend. “Over Denison,” I wrote, thinking that, as a Chicago native, he would have to be more up on Midwest colleges.

But to no avail. “Congratulations on a resounding victory over a college that you clearly just made up,” he wrote back, “to hide the fact that U of C doesn’t actually have a football team.”

Perhaps he's still bitter about the fact that DePaul—somewhat less famously—also abolished its football team in 1939.

Carrie Golus, AB'91, AM'93

October 27, 2009