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Monday, February 14, 2005

The Role of Fans in the Penn-Princeton Hoops Rivalry

Kyle of The Mid-Majority Report had a unique post about the Penn-Princeton game played last Tuesday night at the Palestra. Penn fans will read it with glee, while Princeton fans will shrug at best, bristle in the medium and steam at the worst.

The post is not about the game itself. Rather, it's about the Penn fans, the Red and Blue crew, and their determination to write the wittiest, most biting and most pointed barbs at their orange-and-black rivals as they can.

And they did. Needless to say, the Tigers are down. They are now 2-5 in the Ivies with 7 games to play, in last place, suffering from not only that awful record but the fact that they were favored to win the title this year (and Princeton is in danger of having its first sub-.500 Ivy season in its history). Penn fans chided the Tigers about the Ivy cellar, about being an unworthy rival, about having lost to virtually every other Ivy, about their winning percentage (and Princeton's acceptance rate) and about the fact that Penn president Amy Guttman was a big loss to Princeton (she was Princeton's provost before coming to Penn in mid-2004).

The Princeton fans? They were stuck in the corner of the Palestra behind the Princeton bench, they cheered a bit (including "We Can't Hear You" at the Penn fans when the Tigers were up about 18 with 10 minutes to go), and at the end of the game were left agape. They were seriously outnumbered, and while they would have been drowned out because of what happened, they were left agape as a result of Penn's comeback (or Princeton's big fade).

Princeton fans are more tame generally anyway. Now, Penn fans might want to analogize themselves to the Cameron Crazies, but I think most would agree that the analogy fails for a variety of reasons. Duke is the preeminent college hoops program, they hardly ever lose, and they go deep into the NCAA tournament every year. Moreover, they always play to packed houses, a claim that Penn cannot make unless the home game is against a Big 5 rival or Princeton. That said, they're still excellent fans.

Tiger fans aren't as vehement as Penn fans, and that fact probably ticks Penn fans off to no end. Are the Princeton fans acting superior, are they not engaging the Penn barbs because they don't think that Penn is worthy of engaging (the way Yale and Harvard might be), or are they not as hardened hoop fans as the Penn fans (in that while they root for their teams to win, they don't necessarily try to out-root the other team)? My answers to those questions are no, no and yes. Put simply, Princeton fans just don't have the enmity toward Penn that Penn fans have toward Princeton. The Princeton diehards do, but there are many fewer of them than there are Penn diehards. Penn is a bigger school, it has more alumni, and it's located in a bigger hoops hotbed.

Naturally, the fans in this rivarly will take their shots when the opportunities are ripe, and Penn fans have had sufficient targets this particular Ivy season. In fact, Princeton has probably presented Penn fans more lines of attack this season than ever before. Within this rivalry, tides can change, and rapidly. A kid quits, a kid transfers, a kid flunks out, a kid gets hurt, a key recruit doesn't show, and, all of a sudden, the other team has an edge. So while Penn has the edge now, in terms of the record and the digs, that won't always be the case.

And, when it isn't, Princeton fans will most certainly be ready.

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