After the Penn football team clinched a share of the ivy title, students tossed the east goal post into the Schuylkill River. The Park School '97 Pikesville, Md. They wanted the Ivy League title. They wanted the celebration. Most of all, they wanted to continue a tradition that hadn't been seen on campus for four long years. Ignoring University administrators' threats of arrest and unfazed by a horde of security guards and police officers, thousands of jubilant Penn students stormed Franklin Field after the Quakers' 41-10 victory over Harvard, tore down the east goal post and ceremoniously flung it into the Schuylkill River. As time ticked off the clock and the Quakers piled on points -- putting the game out of Harvard's reach -- the fans' attention shifted. No longer was it an issue of whether Penn would win the game or whether throngs of students would storm the field. Instead, the only thing going through the minds of the estimated 14,909 people at the game was whether Penn fans would actually succeed in tearing down a goal post and throwing it into the Schuylkill River. "It would be an injustice not to [rush the field]. Penn wouldn't be willing to squash a tradition," then-College junior Neal Mueller said as he sat in the student section near the back of the lower deck during the second quarter. Then-Wharton freshman Matt Cornell, who sat about five rows up from Mueller, was equally set in his plans to storm the field. "If there's a big crowd I'm going to be in it," he said. It didn't matter that the Quakers were merely going to clinch a tie for the Ivy League title, that if they somehow lost to lowly Cornell the following week and Brown or Yale won, the prize would have to be shared. Nothing could stop the goal posts from landing in the Schuylkill. With a Penn victory all but certain in the final few minutes of the game, celebratory cheers for the Quakers quickly turned to hostile boos and jeers for the police officers walking east across the track. Several of the officers incited the crowd by acknowledging their reception with sarcastic waves. With 1:30 left in the game and the fans' excitement rising, more than a dozen police officers -- some dressed in riot gear with billy clubs and face masks -- strode in a slow, near-lock-step onto the field, setting up in formation behind the west goal post, the one that traditionally gets torn down. Some students, referring to the site of fatal student-police clashes in 1970, chanted "Kent State!" And while the police were trying to relay a message to students to stay off the field and away from the goal posts, students shouted a blunt message in response: "Goal posts! Goal posts! Goal posts!" In the final minute of the game, fans excitedly filed down to the railing -- some shirtless, others garbed in ski masks and panty hose to make it harder for police to identify them -- and formed a line that stretched along the entire length of the field. "It's going to be awesome," then-College junior Erica Liverant said as she prepared to rush onto the field. "We're doing it!" other students shouted. While the students counted down the final seconds of the game, dozens of Penn players celebrated on the sideline, hugging each other, raising one finger into the air and motioning to the fans to take down the goal posts. The police, meanwhile, stood motionless next to the west goal post, anxiously watching the boisterous fans and players and bracing themselves for an onslaught of people. And that's exactly what they got. When the clock expired, thousands of Penn students ran onto the field, either jumping off the railing or hurrying down a small ramp at midfield. Many of them immediately sprinted toward the west goal post. But 35 security guards, who formed a tight ring around the base of the post, were waiting and did everything they could to keep the students away. The police officers in riot gear also prevented students from climbing onto the post. It wasn't over yet. Most fans then turned around, heading straight to the other side of the field, determined to uproot the east goal post. As they sprinted the length of the field, many students frequently looked behind them, anxiously expecting the horde of officers to follow. Seeing that the security guards were not following them and the police were walking very slowly, the fans recognized that the goal post -- despite all warnings and threats to the contrary -- was going to come down. The excitement escalated, both on the field and in the stands, as several students hoisted themselves onto the goal post and helped others climb up. Some danced and shouted from the top of the goal post. Those who chose not to stand on the goal post also got into the fun, chanting "Ivy Champs!" and "Tear it Down!" After about five minutes of shaking, pushing, jumping and dancing, the goal post loosened and began its gradual fall. Students who had been on the goal post jumped off and prepared to carry it off the field, while others backed away and headed all the way to the other side of the field. Some fans shouted orders to others about where to stand and how to hold the goal post, which had broken into two pieces. But the fans, some chanting "Ku Klux! Ku Klux!" to police, encountered an obstacle: the northwest gate leading out onto 33rd Street was locked, while the southeast gate, which was closer to the river, was blocked by a phalanx of police and security officers. The students and the goal post were seemingly stuck inside Franklin Field. The crowd of fans quickly found a solution, realizing that the oblong piece of the goal post would work well as a battering ram. After a few swings, the big blue metal gate opened, and the first piece went through, followed a couple of minutes later by the second, much larger piece. All the while, Franklin Field was emptying. All told, only two people -- a student and security officer -- were taken to the hospital with injuries, though many more people were hurt in some way in the chaos. Three students were arrested but will be processed by the University's internal judicial system, rather than the city's criminal-justice system. As police looked on, thousands of Penn students and players marched south on 33rd Street, then east on South Street, following the ecstatic crowd, which was ostensibly following the pieces of the goal post. The continually flowing fans halted the two-way traffic on South Street from 33rd Street, well past the river. While a small minority of motorists rolled up their windows and literally threw up their hands in frustration at the slowly moving traffic, most happily took part in the celebration, honking their horns and slapping five with the students. Even the police joined the party. One Penn Police officer, whose van was caught in traffic, rolled down his window and high-fived the passing students. In fact, after the goal posts had escaped the stadium, the police made sure that they landed safely in the Schuylkill River and not on the traffic-laden Schuylkill Expressway, as almost happened in 1994. But the excitement reached its crescendo when a group of students tossed the heavy goal posts over the bridge and into the river. Thousands roared in approval, from near and far, raising their arms in victory and shouting with delight. Some motorists briefly left their cars to watch the goal post be tossed in the river. "Walking into the game, I didn't expect it to happen," then-College senior Trevor Blair said as he watched the thousands of students parading through the streets. "It's what the school needs." Despite the commotion, the students quickly quieted down when senior defensive back and co-captain Joe Piela climbed a stalled truck, motioned for silence and addressed the crowd. "Now that we finished doing this, now that we tore the goal post down, it's time to party!" Piela yelled to the crowd, joyfully waving his helmet in the air. But Piela was not the only Quaker who witnessed the spectacle. Indeed, most players, still in their uniforms, had headed out to the bridge with their fans -- victory cigars in their mouths, arms draped around their parents. "It's unbelievable to see all the students come together like this," senior defensive lineman Dave Townsend said. "It tops off my senior year." "I feel great. I've waited four years for this," senior defensive lineman Jason Maehr said. And to hear it from some of the players, the tradition was never in any real jeopardy. "We knew it was going down," senior tailback and team co-captain Jim Finn said. "There was no way they were stopping us."Comments powered by Disqus
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