On homecoming, and a different experience for everyone

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Updated: September 21, 2015

With each person you talk to at homecoming, the more you come to realize that it doesn’t mean the same thing to everyone. Slope Day, for one, is shorthand for partying, imbibing, and relaxing. Even for people who are indifferent to the event, or even from those in the Ithaca community who deride it, they still know what it connotes. For homecoming, though, you’ll find a multitude of interpretations.

For alumni, it often means exactly what it says. Under the alumni tent, aside from the Big Red paraphernalia, is the slogan, “Coming Home”. That, too, could mean a few things. Shaun McCready and Vanessa Matsis-McCready, for example, came back to show their four year-old son where they met. It was so significant to them that they “…wanted his first trip to be to Cornell”. And while alumni of that age want to come back with their children, younger alumni come back to see their friends and revisit the memories that aren’t that far removed. This could mean meeting with friends still at the University, seeing athletes that were still there not long ago, or filling the bars they used to enjoy (Or, the ones that are still left).

If you ask students, though, the responses are often more varied. Of course those who came back as alumni have a more positive spin on the experience; there’s some confirmation bias present. Some students, like senior Lana Ovadia and her friend Gavin, a first year law student, are just trying to take a break and enjoy the day. “I haven’t been every year,” Ovadia said, “because sophomore year I was in the library studying for orgo [organic chemistry].” When asked if the event was better than that, the obvious answer was, “Better.” For Gavin, he was just excited by the law school’s station at the event. “I’m a first year law student, so this is all new. It’s pretty cool. I get my own tent, which is pretty fun,” Gavin said.

And when you take a quick walk around the homecoming pavilion, both on Campus Road and in the crescent parking lot, it’s pretty easy to see the appeal. T-shirts were available for free for Cornell students by Lynah Rink and Bartels Hall, radio stations advertised themselves right alongside, and a smorgasbord of booths and activities could be found in and around the parking lot: plants for sale from the School of Agriculture and Life Sciences, grapes for sale and an exhibition where passers-by could stomp them in galoshes, life-size chess and checker pieces, bingo for families like the McCready’s, and a photo opportunity with Minnie, the fourteen-year old and two-hundred and forty-two pound miniature horse. There was a Ferris wheel, a decently sized beer and wine garden, and a lineup of several food trucks–sushi burritos, barbecue, comfort food, apple cider, and farm-to-table fare.

This wasn’t just for the student looking for pure enjoyment, though. At around noon a tangible moisture took over, and it was evident that rain was coming. We all tried to shuffle under the tent where everyone was eating, and a woman announced that in the event of a thunderstorm, the tent would need to be vacated. In anticipation for this I made my way to Bartels Hall to dry off and wait out the rain, and noticed table upon table placed inside the building. Each one featured a project team from the College of Engineering, one being the Mars Rover.

Brandon, a senior and member of the project team, was particularly enthused by the opportunity to explain what he did. He was a little ambivalent to speak with someone writing a story per se, but once I asked him what this was all about, he lit up; he said, “We’re here with all of the other project teams just to show off what we do to alumni. We usually do this every year, every homecoming. It’s usually cool to see all of the alumni coming in, being interested in the different project teams. It’s really fun to talk to them to show off what we’re doing.” There were tables from Engineering, Human Ecology, and Agriculture and Life Sciences dispersed throughout the pavilion. This wasn’t about the food or the game for them, but showing people what they’re passionate about. It was their sport.

At around 1:30 PM the rain finally passed, and a buzz was apparent. The game was just an hour and a half away, and people were excited, and they also wanted to get in a meal and a drink or two before play began. I ran into Mike Peraza and his friend John on the way from the crescent parking lot to the field, and he was certainly ready for the game. Peraza is a first year master’s student, and it’s his fifth homecoming at Cornell. When I asked him what he liked about the day, so much so that he would come every year, he said, “I enjoy the atmosphere and the festivities, and I also have a really fun time at the game. My favorite part of the day is definitely the game; it’s the most exciting part of the day.”

Over the next two hours the crowd slowly trickled into the Schoellkopf Field stands, and the trickle turned into a steady stream. By the time the game began, the crowd grew to just over 16,000, the largest crowd at a Cornell football game in 15 years. The marching band kicked off the game with a performance of The Who’s, “Who Are You”,  and a pivotal game for David Archer’s football team began. It was their first affair of the season after going a dismal 1-9 last year. They only bested Columbia, arguably the worst team in the country. Columbia suffered their 22nd straight game this weekend against Fordham.

Cornell’s opponent, Bucknell, came into this weekend ranked second in their resident Patriot League and 1-1 on the year. The Big Red offense got off to a decent start in the first quarter, pushing all the way to Bucknell’s 17-yard line. The drive was for naught, though, as an operational error led to a Zach Mays missed field goal attempt. Cornell would not get another scoring opportunity like that one for another quarter. Robert Somborn began the game with fits and starts, making mistakes by placing passes in dangerous zones down the middle, and near the sidelines in double coverage. Coach Archer said that he “…did some nice things… [but] there’s some things we need to… work on.” On the day, he would make nine completions in eighteen attempts, good for 152 yards and a touchdown. One mistake, though, would come back to bite him.

The second quarter began with Bucknell offensive proficiency; their “deliberate” offense led by junior quarterback R.J. Nitti and junior running back C.J. Williams marched down the field, and with 12:34 left in the second, Nitti lofted a pass into the corner of the end zone, and wide receiver Will Carter snared it for the score. Carter would make six more receptions on the game, and tally 65 receiving yards in total. Archer acknowledged how good of a drive this was. “They did a nice job of putting together a drive in the second half,” he said, “but we helped them with penalties… They were [also] moving the pocket, and moving the ball really quick.”

Cornell answered right back, though. Somborn performed a play-action pass and completion to Collin Shaw for a 41-yard reception, and then the drive culminated in a 20-yard run from Luke Hagy, who dove into the end zone for the score. And for the first time that day, all of the 16,000 at Schoellkopf Field erupted in cheers. This drive showcased exactly what Archer wanted from his offense, especially with a diversification between run and pass. He was incredibly pleased by this blend, saying that “Once you get it systemically diverse, then it gets game and opponent specific.”

Half time featured the marching band once again, and they finished up their rendition of the Best of The Who and the school alma mater, this time with the inclusion of various alumni. The new inductees of the Cornell Athletics Hall of Fame were then honored, including Pete Noyes, a legendary coach that Athletic Director Andy Noel called “…the heart and soul of Big Red Football for decades.”

A small portion of the crowd left once the third quarter began, but many remained to see what would happen in this close game. The third quarter began with another extended drive from Bucknell, who pushed 69 yards in seven minutes and 52 seconds. Cornell handed them some yardage on pass interference, but otherwise the defense resisted Bucknell’s final push for the end zone. Freshman outside linebacker Seth Hope made two key stops–a sack of Nitti and a stop of Williams–and the Bisons were forced to kick, pushing the score to 10-7. The Big Red threatened late in the quarter as they made it as far as Bucknell’s 32-yard line, but a deflected pass off the hands of Clayton Ewell on fourth and four would end the drive. Archer called it the “perfect call for fourth down territory”, but Bucknell, a team ranked ninth in total defense, made the stop.

The fourth quarter is when things got interesting. Cornell started a drive with 11 minutes and 56 seconds on the clock, and Somborn came up in the clutch. After Hagy ran for 17 yards over three carries, Somborn completed a touchdown pass to James Hubbard, a 21-yard completion that sent the crowd at Schoellkopf, and even those in the press box, into a frenzy. With a four point lead and less than ten minutes remaining, Cornell’s first victory was in sight. That’s when everything collapsed.

R.J. Nitti and the Bucknell offense got off to an inauspicious start, as a chop block put them at first down and 25 yards to go from the start. But Nitti’s 26-yard completion to Alan Butler gave them a first down, and they marched down the field. With four down and four on Cornell’s 22-yard line, Nitti completed an eight yard reception. Cornell had one more opportunity to take the ball back at their own 14-yard line on fourth down, but then something unlikely happened. R.J. Nitti dropped back for the pass and looked to be sacked, but then he recovered, fired, and found Joey DeFloria for the touchdown. The crowd, and Coach Archer, was stunned. “I thought we intercepted it,” Archer said. He then thought to himself,  “We must have wrestled it away, because there’s no way that was a Bucknell touchdown.” Luke Hagy, though, was not fazed at the time, saying that “I truly believed we would go down and score, whether it was a field goal or a touchdown to win the game.”

That did not happen. Robert Somborn got the ball back with less than two minutes remaining, and tossed an interception on the very first play. “He [Bryan Marine] was open for a bit, and Robert [Somborn] tried to make a play, and even on that interception he made the catch one-handed. It was a heck of a play,” Archer conceded. Cornell got one more shot with less than a minute after a botched snap by Bucknell wasted their last possession, but further miscues led to a last-second safety. The game was over, and Bucknell won, 19-14.

For Coach Archer, this game was about growth: “We were on the wrong end of a really fan-friendly football game… We didn’t make enough plays when we needed to; we certainly had a lot of positives, but it came down to critical plays… We made plays, and now the difference between winning and losing those games are a few critical plays, whether it’s an offside on our special teams, or a bad operation to take three points off the board… [I’m] certainly disappointed… our senior leaders have certainly risen the bar for us… [and] Cornell football is in good hands.” Even though the results were not there, Archer believed that in terms of “process, leadership, and growth… [it] blows [last year] out of the water.” Senior corner back Del Barnes echoed that enthusiasm and drive, saying that “There’s a lot of energy on the sideline that I haven’t seen in the past.” They will face Yale this Saturday.

Everyone was disappointed, but the day was not yet over. After a quick respite, nearly 4,000 students made their way to Barton Hall for the performances of Robert DeLong and Passion Pit. By the end of the night there was a tangy musk that filled the hall, and just when it seemed like the crowd was losing steam, Passion Pit rocked out to their hit, “Take A Walk”. Bodies piled upon bodies, and hands were raised. The air thickened. Lead singer Michael Angelakos exclaimed, “How could I have forgotten this venue? [Referencing their 2011 show] This has got to be the hottest venue we’ve ever played.”

The crowd exited the concert around 10:15 PM, and a rain finally took hold, as if the sky waited for the day to be over. It was a relief to the sweaty concert goers to feel the cool water, and they all trounced back to their respective dorms and apartments. Whether you were Coach Archer, Passion Pit, a concert goer, and engineering, a family, a marching band member, or a fan, your day was unique. One could go for years on this expansive campus without seeing what the Univesity has to offer, but homecoming does its best to give people a peek at everything. Not all of the day was wholly positive, but it was, in the end, what we all wanted it to be. Whether it was athletics, music, food, academia, it was a cross section of cultural life at Cornell.

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