05 November 2005


This is homecoming weekend at my alma mater, the University of Pennsylvania here in Philadelphia. And for the first time in a number of years, we went to the traditional Penn vs. Princeton football game that marks the occasion.

This was also Claire's first college football game, though she seems to have been expecting what we Americans call "soccer." She did end up, however, wanting to go down to meet the "giant men in blue," not realizing, I think, that all those bulky guys were wearing padding rather than exhibiting unusual bone structure.

I'm not a huge football fan and Ivy League football is, well, Ivy League football, so the game didn't particularly interest me, especially since the performance of the Penn Quakers was almost embarrassing (they lost 13 to 30). But even when I was an undergrad I didn't faithfully attend games for love of the sport, but for all the crazy and fun stuff that goes on around the game: the antics of the Penn band, waving banners and pom-poms, guys who've painted Penn's logo on their bare chests, various chants and cheers.

Among the peculiarities are various songs that have gained a role in Penn sports over the decades. First there's the rather strange "battle song" that is sung whenever Penn scores:
Hang Jeff Davis on a sour apple tree
Down sent McGinty to the bottom of the sea
She's my Annie, and I'm her Joe, So listen to my tale of
Any ice today lady?
Giddy up!
Oh Pennsylvan-i-a!
I know nothing about the origins of this ditty (which mostly appears to be nonsense), but it strikes me as having its roots in the latter part of the 19th century with it's references to "Jeff Davis" and "McGinty" and the implied context of a singer riding on horseback.

During halftime we sing "The Red and the Blue," which is the unofficial school song, praising the school in terms of its colors. I suspect more students and alumni know the words to this tune than the official one, which, to my knowledge, only gets sung at commencement and the opening convocation. At any rate, the lyrics of "The Red and the Blue" run thus:
Come all ye loyal classmen now,
In Hall and Campus through,
Lift up your hearts and voices
For the royal Red and Blue

Fair Harvard has her crimson,
Old Yale her colors, too,
But for dear Pennsylvan-i-a
We wear the Red and Blue!

Hurrah! Hurrah! Pennsylvan-i-a,
Hurrah for the Red and the Blue!
Hurrah, hurrah, hurrah, hurrah!
Hurrah for the Red and the Blue!
During the "hurrah" section one moves the arm from the chest outwards repeatedly with every other syllable (though with a closed fist, lest one be mistaken for Nazi fervor). According to one legend, Penn's colors were taken from Harvard and Yale when we beat them long ago in a sporting event and had no colors of our own.

The most peculiar of the game traditions is probably the singing of "Drink a Highball" between the third and fourth quarters:
Drink a highball, at nightfall,
Be good fellows while you may
For tomorrow may bring sorrow,
So tonight, let's all be gay.

Tell the story, of the glory,
Of Pennsylvan-i-a,
Drink a highball, and be jolly
Here's a toast to dear old Penn!
The song, in itself, is not all that peculiar, of course. It probably originates as a drinking song. A highball, as I recall, is whiskey over ice with some ginger ale or soda water and lemon. And the original setting seems clearly to be an evening soirée, including drinking toasts to Penn.

What's peculiar is its transposition to the context of a daytime football game, in a stadium where alcohol is prohibited. Moreover, since one cannot properly "toast" without alcohol, a tradition has grown up of throwing pieces of toasted bread out of the bleachers at the word "toast," turning the sky into a brown sea of sailing slices of bread, with the occasional bagel or baguette added to the mix.

In any case, I will always have a place in my heart for the fighting Quakers (and, yes, I do recognize the oxymoronic nature of that appellation) and our quirky traditions.