It was also a defence mechanism against the knowledge that the events at new Richardson Stadium (3.0) were not the genuine article. The new stadium is an absolute jewel, by all accounts. What creates the Queen's Homecoming game atmosphere, which made me a made member of the Tricolour mafia, was not gold bucket seats at midfield or a sky-high price-point.
It was the people who came back year after year, with generations of Gaels mingling. Thanks to Claude Scilley calling it out months ago, it was known that "one of the grand traditions of Homecoming," the halftime alumni parade, had been shelved. No track, so no parade. No capability of finding a creative workaround, or 'not at this time' as communications professionals are wont to say.
One of my more vivid Queen's memories is from 1997, the last Homecoming game that I watched from the 'student side' bleachers before getting tangled up in campus media. I was fortunate enough to squeeze down to the front of the grandstand when the alumni paraded around a halftime, leaning out and high-fiving alumni from as far back as the Class of 1937.
Beyond all that, though, there was a realization -- OMG, it's become self-aware -- that the function of the new stadium turns Homecoming into a misnomer. It's about creating value in the future. One might like being pulled into that, but liking it doesn't enter into it.
Regardless, it was sad there was no parade. It is debatable how much of that debacle variously falls on Queen's Athletics & Recreation, alumni who might be more generous with critiques than donation cash, and the changing nature of one's relationship to a university.
Taking the latter first, the reality is that for most people born after 1975 or so, it's more of a transactional relationship than a transformative. The connection, indulged by going to one football game every fall, is just not as strong.
Moreover, the new stadium wasn't built to stoke nostalgia, but to enrich the university's value, all that 100 per cent on-point branding. It surely looks hella impressive to prospective student-athletes and increases the profile of Queen's more so than, oh I don't know, a new humanities building that would be a portion of the student body far larger than the football roster. (Stay in your lane, Sags.)
It's also notable that, "The revitalization project began with a lead gift of $10 million from Queen’s alumni Stu Lang, Sc’74, and Kim Lang, Artsci’76. The Richardson Foundation contributed an additional $5 million donation towards the project, with total donations exceeding $17 million. The university will invest an additional $3 million for infrastructure support of the stadium, bringing the total funding to $20.27 million." Doing the math, that means the donors beyond the Big Two ponied up only about $2.3 million. There is a vague recollection the initial goal for donations was significantly higher. That is telling, although I'm not certain of what.
The university's investment is probably the context for the increased price-point. But if it costs more to get in the stadium, then the entertainment value has to rise with it. That also factored into failing to fill the stadium.
When one sees that happening, as someone who has long felt emotionally invested, the fight-or-flight impulse rears up. Personally, choosing the latter seems better from a mental health standpoint.
Fortunately, other people were bolder. Scilley's Twitter timeline also pointed out the elements that were lacking:
At the Queen's Homecoming football game. Gorgeous day. Lot of empty seats, though, for a 'sellout.'— Claude Scilley (@cscilley) October 15, 2016
Brilliant. Staff unfurl a giant Queen's banner just in time to block the view of hundreds of fans as the Gaels score a TD in front of them.— Claude Scilley (@cscilley) October 15, 2016
Halftime at Queen's and there are no engineers on the field. No alumni parade. The new Richardson Stadium: where traditions go to die.— Claude Scilley (@cscilley) October 15, 2016
This could be Seneca College for all the tradition I'm seeing here (and they don't even have a football team anymore!)— Claude Scilley (@cscilley) October 15, 2016
This defines lame. Instead of a Homecoming parade of alumni, we have banners 'representing' each decade. Been better to do nothing.— Claude Scilley (@cscilley) October 15, 2016
Bravo for the alumni who began to chant 'We want a parade! We want a parade!'— Claude Scilley (@cscilley) October 15, 2016
Students leaving, as if to say, 'Is that all there is?' Way to instil school spirit. You can almost hear the chequebooks slamming shut.— Claude Scilley (@cscilley) October 15, 2016
Chequebooks slamming shut. The alumni outreach people must love that.
That was the runway for a passionate plea from Gord Randall, of Krown Countdown U, to launch into elucidating how it was a "complete debacle":
An eternal optimist would hold out hope that Queen's will figure it out once all the finishing touches are put on the stadium and it becomes a little more lived-in. That raises the question of whether they even think they are off track.
Expecting more, of course, makes it imperative to point out the shortcomings.
A shiny new stadium alone cannot sustain a tradition. Internally, Queen's must know that struggling to fill the ballyhooed new pigskin playpen is a bad look, a backfire. Lack of people means lack of buzz and less chance of continuing a rite that is unique to CIS.
(Okay, rant ended. Time to reminisce about what it was like to go to Homecoming when a student could actually decide to go without registering for a ticket to watch a team already supported through a mandatory athletics fee.)
* * *
Laval was the Homecoming opponent, which conveys that it was a long time ago.
It is mere happenstance that this is being written exactly 20 years to the day of my first Homecoming game as a Queen's student. What's important is the feeling from that day, of coming to feel part of a community in a world that one could already sense was breaking into its own little silos -- although that could have been because around the same time I had discovered Internet message boards while pulling an all-nighter to write a history paper.
As the old joke goes, it's easy to predict the weather on fall Saturdays in Kingston: rain, every damn day. One pulled on the coveralls from frosh week with the class year on the back and some cheeky slogan on the rear end, and put on a tam. So what if you got soaked, and so what if only three weeks ago you had been in the ER at Kingston General Hospital, doubled over from post-Frosh Week pneumonia? You were going. There was the walk from the first-year residence west along Union Street, then up Sir John A. Macdonald Boulevard to Richardson Stadium.
The stands filled in -- even the upper section. In the final minutes of the second quarter, one could see the grandstand on the other side thin out as the recognized alumni classes -- going back every five years -- assembled for the traditional halftime parade. Some engineering grads of recent vintage all had foam cowboy hats.
The game was a slog, with the rain and the unsure footing making offence almost impossible. Queen's eventually broke through a tired Laval defence during the fourth quarter for for two touchdowns and won 18-7. As the score clock wound down, the yellow-jacketed student constables lined up on the track in front of the stands for what they knew would be a futile defence.
The clock hit triple zeroes and we -- not the royal we, or an editorial we, a real we -- sprinted out, hearing the roar from all around us. The natural grass was pure muck in between the hashmarks. Someone went into a feet-first slide and submarined one of offensive linemen, who reacted the way you would expect a large adult male in a collision sport to react after having one of his weapons, the cut block, turned against him. The linemen's complexion matched that of engineering students who had "purpled" themselves before the game. He yanked the slider up by his collar and was about to give him a coup de grâce before teammates intervened. No big deal; crisis averted.
Clumps of turf were yanked up and thrown as part of short and silly mudfight ensued. I took one for a keepsake.
Minutes later in mud-caked coveralls, I started back for my residence. It dawned on me that, even though I resided in all-male Leonard Hall, coming inside and leaving a trail of bits of earth was probably a party foul. Simple solution: the ditches were deep with rainwater. People were diving in.
That sealed in the dirt, and some vague sense of school spirit. Not exactly something you could put on a brochure, though.