Up close and personal: On the sidelines of a college football game

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Up close and personal: On the sidelines of a college football game

Harvard running back DeMarkes Stradford makes a move before carrying the ball past blockers on the line of scrimmage.

Harvard running back DeMarkes Stradford makes a move before carrying the ball past blockers on the line of scrimmage.

Muthu Panchanatham

Harvard running back DeMarkes Stradford makes a move before carrying the ball past blockers on the line of scrimmage.

Muthu Panchanatham

Muthu Panchanatham

Harvard running back DeMarkes Stradford makes a move before carrying the ball past blockers on the line of scrimmage.

by Muthu Panchanatham, Sports Reporter

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As my brother, my cousin and I walked through the tall black gates protecting Princeton University’s stadium, an eruption of wild cheering emerged, signaling a Princeton first down. A sea of orange filled the stands, rising up in appreciation of the new set of downs. The 6-0 Princeton was battling against the 4-2 Harvard in its homecoming game, with around 5,000 Princeton fans having shown up, roaring and stomping their feet, drowning out the commentator’s voice.

Simply watching the game was not the purpose of my visit. My camera had traveled all the way from California and was poised to capture the action. With the press pass from my brother, a sophomore at Princeton and member of the University Press Club, in hand and advice from him ‘not to look suspicious’, I made my way past the guard stationed in front of Powers Field. Surprisingly, no one asked what a little kid was doing taking pictures of a college football game.

Walking down the sideline, something flew past, startling me into almost dropping my camera. The quarterback and his backup were zipping the football back and forth, warming up their arms while their defense was on the field. Reminded that it was the players who owned the sideline, I hurried to the end zone where most of the other photographers were. These photographers belonged to professional coverage organizations and carried around cameras and lenses three times the size of mine. Slightly daunted but determined to capture some action shots, I brought the camera up to my eye and began shooting.

Up close, the players seemed like giants, with muscles rippling under their jerseys. After almost being knocked down a couple of times, my brother called me away from the sideline at halftime. Down 14-10 at that point, the Princeton fans’ original frenzy had faded, mirroring my dejection of not being able to shoot more. Trudging back to the stands with my camera hanging limply from my neck, little details not involving the actual game play became clear. 

The Princeton band had been showing off to the Harvard band all the way on the other side of the field, slowly increasing their volume as the game went on. At halftime, they marched onto the field in vibrant tangerine blazers and used letter cutouts to make encouraging messages for the Princeton players as well as taunts toward Harvard, both of which resulted in raucous roars from the crowd. After successfully hyping the crowd up, the band departed, and the players returned to the field, refreshed and ready to put on a show.

The game went back and forth, with each team fighting for the upper hand. Fully immersed in the action from the stands, my eyes flitted to each of the players, trying to figure out who would make the game changing play. Throughout the game, the cheerleaders tirelessly executed their choreographed cheers, exciting the crowd and providing the push the players needed in the final minutes. Leading 23-21 late in the fourth quarter, Princeton defensive back Matthew Winston intercepted a badly thrown pass just when it seemed like Harvard was about to regain the lead, allowing the Tigers to take over deep in Crimson territory.

A few plays later, quarterback Kevin Davidson was able to evade a Harvard defender hot on his heels and throw the ball to Dylan Classi, who laid out to make a spectacular diving catch. This eventually would become the game-winning touchdown as Harvard would only be able to make a field goal to try and close the gap. Even though Harvard could not make a come back and Princeton was kneeling to end the game, Harvard childishly used their timeouts to prolong the game, gaining a chorus of boos from all of the Princeton fans. Ultimately, Princeton remained undefeated after a hard fought battle with a final score of 30-24.

I had watched and covered my first college football game, and it was one I would not forget.