The Battle of the Football Narratives


Once upon a time in this great football land of ours, there were two narratives  — at least according to different reporters for The Wall Street Journal. Unlike most bedtime stories, your role is to determine which one you prefer. Horrors, there will be judgment. No hiding behind the “I’m not judging” silliness.

Narrative number one is expressed in cute little bullet points carefully designed to conceal the one significant fact you will learn after you make your choice. Each snippet is a quote (or at least a “quotish”) from the article. The school in narrative number one is called X.

  • X students engineered a rather unlikely experiment: a football team.
  • X had no intercollegiate football squad at the time.
  • A group of X students huddled and created a team that would play its first game that fall.
  • No one else at the school had any clue.
  • The students wore uniforms that once belonged to another college.
  • They borrowed their playbook from a local high school.
  • They were known as both the [something’s] and the [something else’s].
  • Either way, they lost every game they played that year, and even one they didn’t play.
  • This season, 36 years after winning no games, the something else’s are undefeated and will make their first appearance in the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s Division III playoffs on Saturday.

Here is narrative number two. Same bullet points; same concealing; same quotish-ness. The school in narrative number two is – cleverly – called Z. Bet you didn’t see that coming. There will be a reason that Y turns out to be inappropriate.

  • Like everyone he knew in Kentucky and the college-football-mad South, [star QB]assumed Z was all about academics.
  • Z’s 2014 football team [is]one win away from an undefeated season and its third [Fancy Pants League] championship in four years.
  • A roster that includes several NFL prospects and hopefuls.
  • Z football has never had a season like this one, as the college uses aggressive new financial-aid packages, generous donors and its hallowed reputation to tap into reservoirs of talent from all over.
  • Yet the Z’s success, coming on the heels of Z men’s basketball team’s three-year reign in the Fancy Pants League and its two consecutive appearances in the NCAA tournament’s second round, has raised some provocative questions around [Z’s hometown].
  • The Fancy Pants League doesn’t allow athletic scholarships, believing that aid should be based on need, rather than purely on speed, size or strength, and requires that athletes admitted have grades and test scores close to those of other students. But Z’s seven-year-old policy of granting an extremely generous financial-aid package to any admitted student that needs it now allows the school to offer packages that can compete with any university’s athletic scholarships.
  • Fundraising efforts have helped Z spare few expenses when it comes to spreading its message.
  • The Friends of Z Football help cover significant costs for Z coaches to travel across the country to find and recruit good, smart players and pay for them to make official visits to the campus. Private colleges don’t generally report recruiting expenses for each sport. However, according to federal filings, Z spent $776,000 on recruiting for men’s sports, in 2013-14.

Now the much-anticipated revelation of the codes:

Z’s hometown (and X’s for that matter) is Cambridge Massachusetts.

Personally, I prefer narrative number one about X, which describes MIT’s football program. Thank you Ben Cohen for a terrific story How Players at MIT Engineered a Football Team. The “something’s” are the Beavers. The something else’s are the Engineers. As the latter, MIT won its first round tournament game on Saturday.

Sadly, the lesser narrative — in my view — belongs to Harvard (a.k.a. Z), from which I graduated many years ago. It is called Z in the narrative because Y is too closely identified with Yale, which Harvard defeated 31-24 on Saturday to go undefeated and take the Fancy Pants – Ivy League – title. Thank you Mathew Futterman for How Harvard Became the Harvard of Football.

“Cosine, secant, tangent, sine

3 point 14159!

Integral, radical, mu, DV

Slip stick, slide rule, M-I-T!”

For me, you have won the battle of the football narratives.

Well Played.