I was looking for an article to explain why football was important to homecoming, but I think I found something better.
You know its funny, that even Canadians find football important.
Back then campus life had zip...
Bring back the UNB football team
To the Editor:
You might call it nostalgia, but every Fall when the days shorten, the air cools and the leaves turn I yearn for the days when UNB had a football team. No, it's not because I played. I didn't. But I was a student here when we had a team, and in those not-so distant days UNB had a focus and a spark of campus spirit which seems sadly lacking today. I can't help thinking that football, the closest thing we've ever had to a truly non-sectarian cross-campus ritual and university spectacle had more than a little to do with my memories of days when UNB had more zip to its character than it appears to have today.
Those old enough to remember will recall that UNB football games were both university and community events. Certainly, the annual alumni game was always a "happening," well attended by both town and gown, present and past students, and well reported in the local media. It was a spectacle. Residence and faculties paraded down the hill to College Field, bands played, the stands rocked and the fans sang "Bombers Away!" Remember that old UNB fight song? Of course you don't: it hasn't been sung on campus for almost two decades. It goes to the tune of "Anchors Away,"
Bombers Away, My Boys, Bombers Away!
We go to UNB, the One and Only Varsity.
Drink Beer all Day, My Boys
Drink Beer all Night!
But when you fight, Red Bombers,
Fight you Bombers, Fight you Bombers,
Fight, Fight, Fight!
Yeah, I know. Nobody drinks beer any more, and the whole idea of "fighting" is kind of out of vogue. But what UNB song do we you! sing now?
It helped that football games were few in number and they got you outside on fall afternoons. It also helped enormously that football is paced in a way which allows for maximum interaction among the fans punctuated by moments of high drama or deep despair. Call it emotion, either way. No other major sport, not even hockey and soccer (which I watch and enjoy immensely), compares. Football remains a unique combination of event and season: a brilliant fall afternoon, College Field packed, colour and movement on the field, flags and whistles, old friends and new, meeting some old roommate who's now pushing a baby in the stroller. Even the final score is irrelevant: if we win, it's great, if we lose, we have reason to look forward to revenge next season. "Fight you Bombers!!"
Okay, so I am a bit nostalgic. But I think UNB's school spirit can be raised to new (old?) heights by a return to the fall spectacle of football. Yes, it's a male dominated sport. Yes, it suffers from excess testosterone. And yes, we would have a small cadre of boorish oafs lumbering around campus. But it can hardly be worse that the gladiator contests of body crunching and nasty stick work which varsity hockey has become: and which even our university President enjoys.
But if you are not sold on football as a boon to campus spirit, consider this: How many potential UNB students go to another university because it has a football team? Not many, you say. How many does it take to make a difference? Football teams normally have 50 or more people trying out for a team that often carries 30-40 players. Say, just for the sake of argument, that 40 guys (or gals, why not?) don't come to UNB because they want to play football. Based on current tuition, that's about $135,000 in ready cash that UNB has forfeited. And since UNB gets a grant from the MPHEC for each student enrolled, that makes up the other 60 percent of their education costs, the university forfeits another, say, $300,000 in unclaimed grants. The ballpark net loss in university revenue for those 40 students who went elsewhere is perhaps in excess of $400,000. This is serious change.
It is true that using football as a recruiting program is not going to net UNB the next generation of rocket scientists although the occasional Rhodes scholar has been known to play. In my experience, footballers are a pretty average lot: the good, the bad, and the indifferent all in a slightly bigger package. But a football team would give UNB recruiters a leg up in many local high schools: FHS to cite but one example. Local football players and their parents often talk about where players might go if they want to stay in the sport: UNB is not an option. And football is growing in NB high schools; St. Stephen High started a football team this year. St. John, St. Malachy's, Simmonds, Harbour View, Hampton, Moncton, Harrison Trimble, Tantramar, Mathieu Martin, Oromocto, Salisbury, and a couple of other high schools I have forgotten, all have football teams. There are sixteen in the province to date. Leo Hayes will have one in two years. Where will all those guys go to pursue their interest in academics and football? Mount A, X, Acadia, Dal, Bishops, and who knows where else. But not dear ole UNB "the One and Only Varsity." And what about potential recruits from other provinces? Won't it be nice if high profile athletes from schools in Nova Scotia or Ontario or Maine were on the UNB team? And wouldn't it be great if their teammates, their parents, and their school knew about UNB, where it was and what it offered? Surely this is advertising that cannot be bought at any price.
In short, it's time to resuscitate the Red Bombers: as a club, or varsity sport, or whatever. In fact, UNB cannot afford not to do it. If we could encourage just fifty high school footballers per year to come to UNB that's about an average of three students per year from each of NB's high school teams alone we'd have a half million dollars to tinker with. To butcher an old advertising slogan: football doesn't cost, it probably pays.
More importantly, for me at least, is the opportunity to re-establish a long standing UNB tradition, the prospect of a fall spectacle and a wonderful chance to bring the community and the university together again in a dynamic and exciting way. After all, college football remains the highest amateur level of a very popular sport. It gets press and attention all by itself for that reason, a point made by Bruce Hallihan in a recent sports editorial in The Daily Gleaner. Need it be said that this is press that UNB would not have to buy?
Finally, UNB should get back into football before our rivals up the hill get into the act. We have a wonderful history in the sport, traditions to revive, a song to sing, and new traditions to make. Throwing flaming pumpkins off a roof in the middle of the night just doesn't compare. It would be sad indeed if we became simple spectators to parades of yellow and green weaving their way through the campus on a bright fall day towards the biggest happening in the city.
"Bombers Away "
(Class of 1977, 1979, and 1983 and since 1986, Professor of History, UNB Fredericton)