Sports

Night football games may become a tradition

By
Assistant Sports Editor
Thursday, October 21, 2010

It took months of planning and fundraising to put together Brown Stadium’s first-ever night football game — and already, some University officials are trying to transform the successful one-time game into an annual event.

The idea for the Sept. 26 night football game against Harvard came from the minds of the Brown Football Association President Gerald Massa ’77 and Vice President of Marketing Jon Land ’79. Ironically, the two were inspired by Harvard, which had its first night game in 2007.

“It’s not something I ever remember talking about before,” said Associate Athletic Director of Facilities Tom Bold, who has worked in Brown Athletics since 1984. “The timing for the game was right this year because of the fact that Harvard was the first Ivy home game.”

Massa’s original e-mail to Head Coach Phil Estes at the end of this February proposed having the night game in 2011. Estes replied, “Why not Harvard 2010?” according to Massa.

Estes’ e-mail may have been simple, but planning for the game in only seven months was not. It required the support of many of Brown’s administrative groups, particularly the Department of Facilities Management and the Office of Government Relations and Community Affairs.

One of the most immediate problems with having a night game was that Brown Stadium is not designed to hold a night event since the stadium only has emergency lighting, Bold said. Additional lights were needed to illuminate the field for the game. In order to judge just how many light units needed to be rented, Facilities Management went out at 9 p.m. to judge how dark it would be.

“If you take a look at the rugby field, they have temporary construction lights to practice,” Bold said. “We had to bring 10 of those units in to surround the football stadium.”

The 10 light units cost roughly $50,000, a sum that the football association raised through e-mailing and calling alums.

“They were very successful pretty early in that campaign to get that money,” Estes said. “The alumni were very excited by the opportunity of having a night game.”

Even with the money and the lights, the community affairs office had to make sure the community surrounding Brown Stadium would not oppose a night game. The response was generally positive, but only “in terms of it being a one-time thing and that we weren’t considering putting permanent lights in the stadium,” Bold said.

In the end, all the preparation paid off in more ways than one — Brown defeated Harvard 29-14, the Brown and residential communities were brought together and 17,360 fans attended the game.

“We expected a big crowd,” said outside linebacker Robert Gillett ’11. “But we didn’t expect it to be as crowded as it was.”

Some dispute over the crowd’s actual size remains — 17,360 was too high of a number, according to Bold, while Massa said the numbers were “being revised upward.” Regardless of what the exact number was, the crowd was much larger than at most home games, which have an average attendance of only 6,600 people, according to Massa.

“It was the biggest crowd I’ve seen in all my years here at Brown,” Bold said. “It felt like almost the entire student body was there for the game.”

The huge increase in fan support that night helped the team crush Harvard, Estes stated.

“The players felt the atmosphere on every snap,” he said.

After seeing the crowd during warmups, “I thought they may have been too excited,” Estes said. “I thought that maybe we should calm them down a little, but I’m glad I didn’t.”

From the football association’s standpoint, the increase in attendance made the game a huge success. Massa said one of the original reasons for having the game was to try to generate more interest in Brown football and increase attendance to all home games.

“Everyone had something to do with winning that game that night,” Massa said. “I’m hoping some of those same students will come to the game against Cornell,” which will take place Saturday at 12:30 p.m.

Estes said players always have more energy when they practice at night.

Quarterback Joe Springer ’11 agreed.

“It’s just a change of pace,” Springer said. “When we get the opportunity to change it up a little bit, we go out with a little more energy.”

Having night practices and games is also a nostalgic throwback to high school years, when most football games are played at night, according to Gillett. He said night games also tend to be more fun.

“I’d rather play a night game any day,” Gillett said. “I think there should be more night games — that we should have at least one a year.”

Though the football association and the athletics department are only at the early stages of future planning, Massa said he hopes that night games do become a yearly tradition. He and others involved have had informal talks about holding an annual night game. Next year, and in all odd years following, the game would be against the University of Rhode Island for the Governor’s Cup, while all the even years would pit the Bears against Harvard under that plan. Funding for the lights would still come from the football association.

Whether more night games are to come still remains to be seen, but even if they do become a tradition, the coaches, fans and players — particularly the seniors — will always remember their participation in this year’s game.

“I got to leave here with something to hold on to,” Gillett said. “Whenever I look at it, my name will be on the roster for the first night game ever in Brown history.”

“It was really a remarkable experience,” Springer said, “and a game none of us will surely ever forget.”