Football the spectacle - where in athletic competitions, ancient, mediaeval or modern do you find its equal? The ease with which the general principle of the game is comprehended by the spectator, the facility afforded for every individual of the thousands assembled to see every play, the contagious enthusiasm that sweeps the most blase into the fever of excitement that is prevalent on every side - all combine to make the struggle on the gridiron one of absorbing interest.
Let us join the multitude that annually flocks to the scene of one of the contests which form the closing and most important features of a football season.
It is a bright November day, warm enough for comfort in the sunshine but sufficiently crisp to tell us that we should be well wrapped up for the two hours, more or less, that we are to spend on the field. We mingle in the crowd of undergraduates, alumni, invited friends of the students and other devotees of football who are wending their way to the athletic field. Many of them have traveled hundreds of miles to be present today. Some of them are "Old Grads" who, heroes of the gridiron battles of former years, are back at the scene of their old triumphs and disappointments for the big athletic event of the year. Members of the faculty are in the throng. A carriage passes, bearing the venerable president of the University. In a compact body are moving a regiment of students from the visiting university which is the foe today. They flaunt their colors, and their songs alternate with their college cheer. Townspeople, excursionists, sportsmen of all sorts - they are all going to see the game.
Our seats have been selected weeks ago, so there is no occasion to take part in the hurly-burly that attends the acquisition of a place in the general admission stands, for a good view of the game is indispensable. We soon make our way to our places, the sun at our backs, the field sweeping down past us, fifty-five yards on either side.
Although it is still a half-hour before the game will begin, the crowd is already here. The gridiron - for the old name still sticks to the field of play in spite of its present checker-board form - is resplendent in its glaring lines of white, the center of an amphitheatre that seems a continuous bank of people from end to end and from side to side. To the left and right of us and across the ends of the field - everywhere but in that one section directly across from us - gleam the colors of the school whose supporters we are. Over there though, dark against the lighter surroundings, stand out the flags and streamers of the supporters of the visiting team. Outnumbered hopelessly when it comes to a show of vocal enthusiasm, they have gathered together and their cheer, clean cut and following to perfection every movement of the cane of their yell-master, sounds a plucky defiance to the flood of sound that is regularly evoked by the batons of the leaders of the home school who are distributed along our front.
Song follows song, some the music of the old epics of the school, handed down for many years, some of it verses especially manufactured for the occasion by the student bards, and practiced until letter- if not note-perfect at many a mass meeting.
A gate opens at the farther end of the grounds, there is a vociferous cheer from the nearest section and the team in whose success our hopes are centered, trots out on the field, to be met by a tumult of welcome. Big fellows they are, stout of limb and victors through the season over every team they have met. From the other entrance to the gridiron the visitors enter and they seem every bit as strong and fit to maintain the undefeated record which they also boast this year. Footballs are produced, the two teams form in large circles in different parts of the field and begin to toss the ovals about in rapid succession, while the enthusiasts in stands and bleachers cheer their heroes till it seems as if their throats would be insufficient for the strain which one or the other side, if not both, will have to bear through the game that is not yet begun.
From each team a man detaches himself and, with a man in citizens' clothes, looks over the field. He is the captain and his companion is the coach. He tests the consistency of the surface of the field, notes the direction of the wind, the effects of the sunshine and the other conditions which, if properly observed, will give one side an advantage over the other at some stage in the progress of the game. A couple of wet spots are carefully noted, for in a close game these things may mean victory or defeat. There is a fresh breeze from the west and this makes it practically certain that the west goal will be selected by the captain who wins the toss. The effect of the opening rush is most important, for it is a remarkable team that can summon enough reserve power to win a game after having been played off its feet in the opening half. Later in the day, too, the wind will probably lighten, so the advantage will be less important then.
But look! The captains rejoin their teams, the elevens line up in battle array, a signal is called by each of the quarter backs and the lines charge down the field, each practicing the plays that are to be relied on today to bring victory.
Observe, my friend, these twenty-two young men who are to do their best for their schools in the game today. It is no small honor for a man to be selected for duty at such a time as this. Some of them have been denying themselves the creature comforts of life for years, undergoing training that the Spartan of ancient times might have gloried in, just for this chance. In this throng are friends, brothers, sisters - yes sweethearts - who have eyes for but one out there on the field. They trust him today. He knows it and, glorying in his strength, is determined to do or die in this game which is upon us. Over there on that bench where the substitutes sit there are many sore hearts this day, for, when a man is selected to play one of those eleven positions, a full half-dozen are downcast in disappointment.