Where were you?
Throughout our college experiences, it is impossible not to associate certain seminal moments that occur with the distinct periods in which they take place. They may not be flashbulb memories in the making, but they impact us. They define our time at Penn.
For me, a majority of the things that are woven into the fabric of my college life are sporting events. I wouldn’t expect it to be any different. After all, when you’ve played sports your entire life and love covering the Red and Blue, how could you not have your four years in Philadelphia shaped by Penn Athletics, for better and for worse?
As the football team prepares for its penultimate game of the season against undefeated Harvard, a squad that hasn’t lost in over two years, I’m reminded of the first Penn sporting event that truly impacted me.
Nov. 10, 2012. Franklin Field. Penn 30, Harvard 21.
It was a game the Quakers weren’t expected to win. Entering the 2012 season, Harvard and Penn were projected to end the year in first and second place in the Ancient Eight standings, respectively. And that day’s game made that finish — in some order — a virtual certainty.
But when that contest began, it was truly difficult to believe the Quakers might actually win. After all, Harvard is Harvard. They’re the best at everything, right?
On top of that, the Crimson entered the game 7-1 overall, with their only loss coming three weeks earlier in a heartbreaker to Princeton. The Red and Blue, in their own right, were 4-4, having gone winless in non-conference play before dropping a contest to lowly Yale midway through the Ivy season.
Three years ago, Harvard and Penn played the most important Ancient Eight game of the season, much like they will this Saturday. And when the Quakers won, it left an indelible mark on how my college career would play out: I was in love with Penn sports.
Where were you that day? Me? I wasn’t at the game.
When you first get to this school, it’s not hard to fall into the trap of not going to games. It’s easy to not feel invested in our teams. This isn’t Duke or Stanford or Northwestern, schools that balance successful academics with commitment from students to serious athletic competition. Here, at least of late, it has been easy for Penn Athletics to fall to the back burner.
I don’t want to say I’d fallen into that situation. I still loved sports and was already writing for The Daily Pennsylvanian. But, as a kid whose first college football game was at Notre Dame Stadium, something about watching the Quakers get thrashed by William and Mary didn’t quite cut it. I guess I was somewhat disenchanted.
So I didn’t go to Franklin Field three years ago Tuesday. I didn’t see the Red and Blue’s final home game of the year. I didn’t witness the Quakers clinch the Ivy League title for what ended up being the last time under coach Al Bagnoli.
But I saw it on Twitter. I read the recap. I heard the stories about how Brandon Copeland was uncontainable on defense that day. Harvard quarterback Colton Chapple — bless his soul — probably still has nightmares about that game.
I was hooked. I wanted more.
In person, I saw Penn women’s basketball shock Princeton in 2014 to win the Ivy championship. I covered that team in the NCAA Tournament.
I wanted more. I wanted it from football again.
If, when Penn beat Harvard in 2012, you had told people that in the subsequent two seasons, the Quakers would go 6-14 and Bagnoli would leave for Columbia, you would have been called crazy. Yet that’s what happened. And that 2012 title seems pretty far away.
But here the Red and Blue are once again. They’re back to being relevant, albeit maybe a season earlier than anyone foresaw. Two more wins guarantees Penn at least a share of the conference crown.
I could tell you the number of ways this team resembles that 2012 squad. After all, Ray Priore’s boys have won four in a row. The last time that happened? You guessed it: 2012.
That, however, isn’t what matters.
If you were at the Princeton game on Homecoming, you probably saw one of the most exciting football games of your life. They don’t come much better than that in the Ivy League.
If that was your first game at Franklin Field, if that was your first Homecoming, if your parents were there, if you were with friends ... you were in for a treat. I hope you were there. And I hope Donald Panciello’s blocked field goal and the Quakers’ overtime win does for you what the Red and Blue did for me in 2012.
If you aren’t hooked on Penn football and the athletic department as a whole yet, just wait. Because if the Quakers shock the Crimson on Saturday much the way they did three years ago, there will be a game next weekend in which the Red and Blue will play Cornell with the Ivy title at stake.
And when you talk to your friends about that game, then you can ask them: “Where were you?”
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