To dream the improbable dream: MIT’s football team is undefeated!

You’re forgiven if you didn’t know that MIT has a football team. When I went to school there, it didn’t.

Not only does it have a football team–it has a very successful one. The MIT Engineers were undefeated this season, and the team won its first playoff game in Bangor, Me. Saturday with two breathtaking plays: An MIT field goal with less than a minute to play that extended the game into overtime. And a “spectacular” touchdown pass in overtime, according to the MIT athletic department.

That win, against Husson University, was MIT’s first playoff victory ever. But this was not its first undefeated season. That was in 1881 (not a typo), when the football team went 3-0. MIT disbanded the team in 1901, before reviving it in 1978 as a club team and joining Division 3 in 1988.

MIT now competes in 33 varsity sports, which gives it “one of the nation’s most robust Division 3 sports programs,” according to Kevin Paul Dupont, writing in The Boston Globe. But “the football team remains, as star running back Justin Wallace says, ‘on the down low.’’’

The Engineers have a marching band made up of only a handful of musicians. They have a fight song, although an MIT spokesman had trouble finding a copy of the music or lyrics. Home attendance averaged 958 this season, despite MIT’s impressive record.

“I definitely wish we had a big stadium, packed, and everyone planned their Saturday around the big football game like it is at Alabama or any of the state schools,’’ sophomore linebacker Anthony Emberley told Dupont. “But I knew that’s not what I was signing up for when I came here.’’

Dupont can’t help but have a little fun with the players’ majors. The starting quarterback, Peter Williams, is a future rocket scientist. Star running back Justin Wallace is a computer science and engineering major. And so on.

You might think that MIT would be hounding its alums with offers of season tickets and not-so-subtle efforts to boost alumni giving. I can say that, as an alum, I hadn’t heard a word about this until one of my kids sent me the clip from the Globe.

By this point you might be asking what any of this has to do with science coverage. The answer is: Not much. I just found this too good to pass up.

I could argue that the Globe’s coverage qualifies as a technology story; it does, obliquely, address the relative importance of football and computer science in universities.

And I could argue that this is relevant to the Tracker because the MIT football renaissance is coming at a time when football is under fire for the risks it poses to its players–the pros as well as those in Division 3. MIT is fielding a lot of smart kids with very expensive educations, where balancing the risk of chronic traumatic encephalopathy against the benefits of playing football might be tricky to calculate, even for an MIT computer science major. (Seventeen of the 81 players were high school valedictorians, according to Dupont.)

MIT’s coach, Chad Martinovich, said the problem he had to overcome with his players is that they are very analytical. “You have to constantly remind them not to overanalyze things,” he told the Globe. “Just tell them to play–a read-and-react type of deal.”

Maybe that’s not a bad experience for our future rocket scientists and computer engineers to have. Don’t overthink it; just play.

If you’d like to see the Engineers in action, they play Wesley College in Dover, Delaware this coming Saturday.

Where can I get my alumni tickets?

-Paul Raeburn



4 Replies to “To dream the improbable dream: MIT’s football team is undefeated!”

  1. Boyce Rensberger

    Are they now called the “Engineers”? I thought they were the Beavers, a fine animal engineer. Or have 14-year-olds snickering caused a change?

  2. Robert Irion

    It’s amazing that Caltech didn’t try to hack the playoff game, but there’s still time. And hooray for MIT sports! I was co-captain of the men’s varsity golf team, and it was a true sanity saver. IHTFP.

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