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The first football game of the season against Lafayette, preceded by the first tailgate Credit: Pete Lodato

Finally, a Saturday at Penn was starting to feel like a true college-football Saturday.

Penn students flocked down to 33rd Street two hours before kickoff. They grilled burgers by the hundreds. Tables abounded with chips, soda and other typical tailgating refreshments flowing freely into red cups.

In short, it was a pregame party like Penn has never seen.

“Penn people have been waiting for a tailgate. People have really been excited about it,” said College senior John Hurley, a former Penn quarterback who helped organize the event. “I’m really impressed with the turnout.”

Hurley should be impressed. The student response was overwhelmingly positive.

But that wasn’t entirely the point.

“Now we just need to get everyone to the game at 7 o’clock and cheering for our Penn Quakers,” Hurley added before kick.

And therein lies the problem.

The tailgate may have drawn a huge portion of campus down to 33rd Street, but that didn’t necessarily send them into the stands.

Attendance at Saturday’s game was 11,299 — a slight drop of almost 1,000 from the Lafayette home opener three years ago, although this year’s conflict with Yom Kippur was likely a factor in the decline.

The drop is an unfortunate testament to students’ current attitudes toward Penn sports. Especially since students have rarely had as many good reasons to attend a football game.

First and foremost, the Quakers are the defending Ivy champions and entered the 2010 season after winning eight consecutive games. In the aforementioned 2007 home opener, the Quakers were coming off a 5-5 season.

Moreover, the game was at 7 p.m., so students did not have to wake up early on their Saturday to get to the game by noon. (While many students admittedly left early, that doesn’t impact recorded attendance numbers.)

Attendance could have been bolstered by the Freshman Walk — a tradition that parades the incoming class around Franklin Field — which was revived this year. The Walk alone could have brought the entire freshman class to the game.

Further, Saturday’s game was a chance for the entire Penn community to come together and honor both Owen Thomas and Coach Lake.

Hindsight may be 20/20, but this game was a thriller, with Penn erasing a half-time deficit to end a three-year skid against the Leopards.

While those factors certainly caused a number of students to gravitate toward Franklin Field, enough students were missing that Saturday was Penn’s worst-attended home opener since 2006.

Even worse, this problem doesn’t seem to have any obvious solutions.

While there is always more work to be done, Penn Athletics has made strides in its efforts to get students to trek eastward to games.

There is no clear culprit to blame for Saturday’s poor attendance. After Penn’s thrilling comeback win this weekend, there is no clear reason why it continues to be a problem.

What is clear and regrettable is that Saturday’s game proved, once again, that athletics are not what they once were on Penn’s campus.

The next test will come Oct. 2, when the Quakers host Dartmouth, and the second installment of Penn’s new pregame barbecue returns.

NOAH ROSENSTEIN is a senior political science major from Hollywood, Fla., and is Online Managing Editor of the The Daily Pennsylvanian. His e-mail address is

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