|After 104 years, Havard sheds light on football|
|Written by Admin|
|Friday, 21 September 2007 11:37|
The nation's oldest college football stadium will host its first night game when the Crimson play Brown, the 107th meeting in a rivalry that dates to 1893. The reinforced concrete horseshoe has seen leather helmets come and go, inspired the forward pass and witnessed countless M.I.T. pranks.
At 104, it finally gets to stay up late.
``Harvard football is something special as it is. But the blood was flowing a little more,'' defensive lineman Brad Bagdis said after the team's first night practice. ``The stadium, it's different. There's just something completely different about playing under the lights.''
A National Historic Landmark that mixes elements of Roman and Greek architecture, Harvard Stadium has hosted early round Olympic soccer, the AFL's Boston Patriots and a classics department production of Aeschylus' epic ``Agamemnon.''
It also has a special place in football lore: In 1906, when reformists led by President Theodore Roosevelt went looking for ways to soften what had become a brutal game, they considered widening the field by 40 yards to open up the game. But they couldn't, because the Harvard stands were set in place.
So they approved the forward pass instead.
``A lot of the players come to college thinking they're going to have to be a part of a long football tradition,'' Harvard coach Tim Murphy said after the night practice. ``Now they see we have a chance to make a tradition of our own.''
Under a half-moon, starless sky, the team held its first night practice Thursday, by all accounts a routine, 48-hours-until-gametime workout that ended with a hurry-up field goal in the closed end of the horseshoe.
The kick was good, and the team stormed the field in celebration, bathed in light by four powerful but low-profile strips of lights tucked discretely into the existing fencing above the colonnade. The school's six national championship banners, from 1890-1919, remain in shadows.
``I think we've done it just right,'' Murphy said. ``If you come in here during the daytime, your first question is, 'Where are the lights?' We're not lighting up the whole city of Boston with them.''
The lights are part of a stadium renovation that started when FieldTurf replaced the grass before last season; an inflatable bubble goes up in the winter, allowing teams to practice during the offseason. Jeremy Gibson, an associate athletic director who worked on the project, said night football wasn't the main goal.
``The majority of the use of the lights is for intramurals and practice,'' he said. ``It gave us a surface we can play on in any weather, in any conditions. The lights allowed us to extend that into the evening.''
The lacrosse and soccer teams have already benefited from the new facilities. But when the Harvard band plays the team onto the field Saturday, the students will have to sing a new version of the school's fight song: ``Ten thousand men of Harvard, want vict'ry TONIGHT!''
``Harvard is great with traditions. We in the band, especially, love Harvard's traditions,'' tuba player Max Mishkin said Thursday before practice. ``But if this turns into something regular, we'd be excited about it.''
For the rest of the school, the game is rivaling The Game in anticipation.
Murphy said he'd received the most ticket requests for a game that wasn't against Yale. A crowd of 15,000-18,000 is predicted in the 30,323 stadium, several thousand more than the team would expect for a typical Ivy League opponent.
The band is planning a pep rally in Harvard Yard - the first in memory before a non-Yale game; then, they'll lead a parade across the Charles River to the stadium; they expect more of a following at 5 p.m. than the bleary-eyed crowd they'd get at 9:30 on a Saturday morning.
``This can really bring a sense of community to campus,'' Murphy said. ``The ones who are most enthusiastic are the players. They feel like this is an event.''
Brown played at Princeton last year in an ESPNU game - the first time that two Ivy League schools played a Friday night football game, Brown coach Phil Estes said. The Bears practiced under the lights this week to try to get used to it.
``I'm not going to tell you it's old hat for us, but it's certainly new for Harvard,'' Estes said. ``It brought them back to the high school days and they really enjoyed that.''
Harvard cornerback Andrew Berry agreed that playing under the lights brought him back to high school, and also gave him the feeling that Harvard had joined the ranks of big-time athletics. If he hadn't been at practice on Thursday night, he said, he would been ``in the computer lab working on a problem set.''
So where was he Thursday afternoon, when he would have been practicing.
``Working on that problem set.''
Associated Press writer Eric Tucker contributed to this story from Providence, R.I.