It finally happened.
No, this isn’t some elaborate joke. Penn football really did shock then-No. 4 Villanova on Thursday night with a 24-13 win, an effort so comprehensive that the final score doesn’t quite do it justice.
Yet while this is the first time the Quakers have taken down their Big 5 rival in 15 tries and 104 years, the impact of the victory goes beyond coach Ray Priore’s squad.
That’s because this was the weekend for which Penn Athletics as a whole has been waiting for a very long time.
The past several years haven’t been incredibly kind to the Quakers, both on and off the field. By now, you know how the once mighty men’s basketball and football programs have fallen lately, failing to compete for Ivy League titles as they once did with such voracity.
But beyond those marquee teams, Penn’s athletic department at large has failed to find an effective solution to combat the problem of student apathy. Winning cures all ills, but it’s hard to market championships when people aren’t paying attention to the teams that are doing the winning.
As a result, the Red and Blue’s upset over the Wildcats was the first signature on-field moment of Grace Calhoun’s tenure as athletic director. And that moment could not have come at a better time.
Not to be redundant, but since taking over in July 2014, Calhoun’s tenure has largely been defined by sweeping staff changes.
Heading into the fall season, after only two Ivy titles last year and another summer defined by turnover within the coaching ranks, it wasn’t hard to foresee the detrimental impact a — for lack of a better term — boring fall could have on allowing student apathy towards Penn Athletics seeping further.
Obviously, this weekend was anything but boring. Again, winning has a lot to do with generating a sense of camaraderie around an athletic program. And this weekend, that extended beyond the gridiron.
Less than 24 hours after Penn’s breakthrough win over the Wildcats, the field hockey team was in action in its Ivy opener looking for its sixth consecutive win. Due in large part to Alexa Hoover’s continued inhuman performance, the Red and Blue won that game and now seem as good as anyone else — both among Penn’s fall programs and in the Ancient Eight — and poised to compete for a title.
Later that night, the Quakers’ volleyball crew knocked off Princeton at Jadwin Gym, kicking off its conference slate with a win. Another win over NJIT has to have the team’s spirits high, especially after improving its non-conference record from 3-8 in 2014 to 6-6 this season.
Undoubtedly, the pieces are there for this to be a successful semester for Penn on the field. The athletic department simply needed some sort of event to draw people’s attention to that fact.
Consider it done.
When the Quakers’ stunner over Villanova went final, I couldn’t help but text my fellow sports editors. Having witnessed three largely uncompetitive games with the Wildcats since 2012, my message to them was simple: “We did it.”
One of my friends was quick to point out that we at The Daily Pennsylvanian, despite our constant coverage and proximity to the team, had nothing to do with it. And, yes, that is technically true.
However, both at Penn and across most Ivy campuses, rarely do the ramifications from sporting events allow us to invoke the royal “we.” With our favorite professional teams, sure, we still say we. As fans, we feel instrumental in the success of our rooting interests.
But since at least the early 2000s, seldom have we at Penn been privy to games or outcomes that galvanize the entire student body.
Until this weekend that is. It was a weekend that few believed could happen soon, one that had no discernible shape or context.
But it finally happened. Now, it’s on to the next one.
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