ESPN helps us be us: The Williams spirit shows itself on Homecoming

On Saturday, I learnt many things about Williams: our SAT scores are, on average, 10 points lower than those of the Lord Jeffs, our football team prepares for its biggest game of the year in a “pee-house” and we have at least one very powerful alumnus (who somehow managed to exchange his or her knowledge of Bernini for access to Chris Fowler, Kirk Herbstreit and Lee Corso). But the presence of “College GameDay” in Williamstown did more than just extend my knowledge of Williams-related facts; it also seemed to magnify everything that is Williams.

The narrator of the “GameDay” sequence on our football team introduced Williams’ student-athletes: “The Ephs aren’t a lot of things that the giants of College football are, but they are many things that these giants aren’t.” The “GameDay” hosts did not go into too many details about what precisely these “things” are, other than to say that they have to do with passion, education and debt. Implicit in the ESPN coverage of Williams Homecoming, however, was a willful recognition of these “things.”

In their interviews, the Williams captains used words like “culminating,” clearly presenting themselves as student-athletes, not athlete-students. Williams students cheered in the background, holding placards unlike the usual “Kirk, I want to have your baby” signs that pervade “GameDay” sites. Many signs were witty (I remember “Williams > Georgia, ‘>’ is a greater than sign” in particular). More impressive, however, was the fact that, despite boasting only a fraction of the number of students that attend Georgia, Williams showed its pride to be of real consequence. Hundreds of Ephs came down to Weston field, wearing their udders with pride and chanting as if they were about to witness the ultimate showdown.

As I soon realized, the Williams-Amherst football game is the ultimate showdown. For two colleges that define themselves in opposition to one another, this game is of fundamental importance. The stakes are that much higher given the competitive nature of the Eph and, presumably also, the Lord Jeff. All aspects of Homecoming become matters of being the best: costumes, creativity of drink-smuggling techniques and, of course, tailgates. All members of the Williams population commit themselves to excelling at some aspect of Homecoming, acknowledging that they must take advantage of any opportunity to reinforce Williams’ superiority over Amherst. Nothing – not even hiring pilots to fly banners in the sky – is too much.

Until “GameDay” came to Williamstown, I had never realized how strong and brutal the rivalry between Amherst and Williams actually is. I knew that some Lord Jeff, too cowardly for the cold, had stolen our books, but I figured that, given the massive library that is currently being erected in the place of Sawyer, these few missing books didn’t concern us too much. I also knew that Williams had beaten Amherst, 37-7, last year. And as this year’s Homecoming t-shirts reminded me, what is a rivalry without competition?

But then I arrived at the game. The Home Hardware hardhats many Ephs were wearing suggested that the rivalry was going to get nasty – and it did. The gold lamé leggings, purple wigs and fake eyelashes soon came off. Taunts were shouted and hotdogs were thrown. But in the end, all turned out as it should: Corso tossed Lord Jeff into the crowd and put on a purple cow, the Ephs won 20-0 and the Amherst inferiority complex expanded – this time on national television.

“GameDay” has now evacuated the parking lot behind the field house, the Lord Jeffs, white tights and white hair, have followed their predecessors back over the mountain, Weston field has been abandoned. Williamstown has returned to its leisurely rhythm, but perhaps just slightly changed. Over the weekend, Williams College became that much more Williams, that much more dedicated to those “things” that define it. Though these determining features were manifested on the field, they extend far beyond the domain of sport. The spirit that informs Ephs’ actions on a daily basis, thanks to Kirk, Corso, Fowler and Howard is now that much stronger.

Anouk Dey ’09 is a political science major from Toronto, Ontario.

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