Send them your tired, your poor, your huddled masses. Send them your Southwestern Louisianas, Northwesterns and Dukes, because it's Homecoming Day and the alumni want a victory.
Homecoming always has been an occasion for the fruit-topped float, the tiara-clad Tri Delt and the bourbon-soaked class reunion. It also is the day that most influential alumni flock back to campus, fully expecting the old school not only to win one for the class of '38, but to win it big.
For this reason, it is common practice among prominent football schools to schedule homecoming on a promising weekend in October when the weather still is fair and the opponent weak.
In addition to traffic, parades and swamped hotels, the visiting team at homecoming tends to be subjected to routs. Three weeks ago, for instance, Southwestern Louisiana lost, 45-0, at Florida's homecoming. Teams that look like easy marks can find themselves becoming habitual fall guys, playing several homecomings in a season. Tulane (0-8) was the opponent at a third homecoming game last week, at Georgia (6-1-1), and was routed, 58-3.
Glen Stone, sports information director at Texas Christian University, claims that Kansas State, where he used to work, holds the record for homecomings. Stone saw the Wildcats, currently 1-7, play six homecoming games in 1978 under Coach Jim Dickey, who resigned earlier this year.
The Wildcats went 3-8 in 1978, losing all five games they played on the road, all of which were homecoming contests. Arizona considered the Wildcats such a lock it scheduled homecoming for its season opener and beat them, 31-0.
"Look at it this way," Stone said. "Not everybody can be a homecoming team. I bet Ohio State hasn't played a homecoming game on the road in, oh, 40 years. Just think of what a big part of college football they're missing."
Duke has been a popular whipping school in the Atlantic Coast Conference intermittently for years. In 1982, the Blue Devils played four homecomings in a row, including their own. They suffered a 49-15 loss to Clemson, a 49-22 defeat to Maryland and upset Georgia Tech, 38-21. They then inflicted a 46-26 beating on Wake Forest on their own homecoming day.
"We're usually an accommodating homecoming team," said Duke sports information director Tom Mickle. "It's not unusual for us to play three or four in a row."
Duke Coach Steve Sloan has been on both sides of the situation, as a quarterback for Alabama and as a beleaguered coach at Vanderbilt, Texas Tech and Mississippi, all favorite homecoming guests in any given losing season. In his first season as a head coach, at Vanderbilt in 1973, his team played four straight homecoming games.
"At the end of it, I finally said, 'Let's just take our own queen, get some floats and make our own parade and drive up there,' " he said. "It probably affected the coaches the most. We'd get somewhere and they'd have the floats, the displays, the posters. We'd look at each other and say, 'Oh, no. Homecoming.' "
Sloan's fondest memory was of Alabama's homecoming game against Vanderbilt in 1974. The Vanderbilt team buses, caught in traffic caused by the homecoming parade, overheated several blocks from the stadium. The Commodores unloaded in the middle of the jam and had to hitch rides to the field from Alabama alumni. "We lost," Sloan said.
There usually comes a time, however, when perennial losers turn around and become winners. When this happens, homecoming games can be occasions for big upsets. In 1974, for instance, Vanderbilt went to its first bowl in 19 years, a 6-6 tie with Texas Tech in the Peach Bowl, upsetting a number of teams along the way.
Northwestern long has been a favorite light touch. In the days when three and four homecoming games weren't unusual, former coach John Pont (1973-77) would tell his players the invitations were insults.
"It was understandable why they wanted us," Pont said. "They certainly didn't want us because our uniforms were colorful. But we tried to keep things in a positive vein. The approach we used to the players was, 'You all know why we're here. So let's get our act together and make their weekend unpleasant.' "
Just because a team is losing does not mean that it is adverse to looking for an easy homecoming victory itself. Northwestern (3-5) recently has turned respectable, with only one homecoming game this year and one last year. But Athletic Director Doug Single remembers a time when the Wildcats seemed to be at a homecoming on every road trip.
Colorado is in somewhat the same situation as Vanderbilt in 1974. In 1978, a game with Colorado was considered such an assured victory that although it played just three road games, two were homecomings. But this year the Buffaloes are 5-3 and no longer regarded as an easy mark.
They still were scheduled for two homecoming games this season, by Nebraska and Kansas, but the Cornhuskers had to fight for a 17-7 victory and Kansas is likely to have a hard time, as well, on Saturday. Coach Bill McCartney has put in a wishbone offense, and a rushing game that was the worst in the country last year, averaging 59 yards a game, suddenly is averaging 286 yards.
"As far as teams picking what they think is a soft touch, we've had our share of those, I guess," McCartney said. " . . . But we've been building and plan to move forward. This year, we've been free of that sort of insult."
A patsy is not always a requirement for homecoming. In fact, there is some debate among host schools as to whether it is smarter to schedule a weak school or a rival, getting the hosts psyched up. But that can mean problems.
"To schedule the weak team is just common sense," said Colorado State Coach Leon Fuller. "But sometimes you do want the big rival, hoping the support will get you up. But anytime you lose that game, you do it in front of everybody who has come back. Like all the alumni who support you."
Colorado State experienced precisely that at its homecoming three weeks ago, hosting unbeaten and eighth-ranked Air Force. The Falcons won big, 35-19. "It would have been nice to win that one," Fuller sighed.
But Coach Mack Brown, whose Tulane Green Wave plays among the most homecoming games of any NCAA Division I school this year (four), says the outcome of a homecoming game has little effect on the spirits of the day.
"I think the alumni are going to have a good time, regardless," Brown said. "They're not about to let anything spoil their weekend."