Football tradition continues at Calvin
Fumblers, Jacques take the field for the 40th time

Faculty Fumblers
Faculty Fumblers
Les Jacques de Chimes
Les Jacques de Chimes
Photo Gallery of the 40th Annual Contest

At 4 p.m. — or thereabouts — on Friday, Nov. 5, on the playing fields between the Prince Conference Center and the Ecosystem Preserve at Calvin College, two storied football teams enacted a historic match. At that time, on that soggy field, Les Jacques de Chimes and the Faculty Fumblers played their 40th game.

This annual contest — between the staff of the Chimes and whatever assemblage of Calvin faculty from various departments can be persuaded to meet them — has been an unbroken tradition since its 1965 naissance. And like all traditions, it has its recurrent themes: The Fumblers won; the Jacques claimed that they did.

“We always win,” confirmed Chimes Editor in Chief Nana Yaa Dodi. “That’s the first rule of this game.”

The old guys arrived first. With them came some younger men and a couple of women. They came in ones and twos down the hill and began stretching and throwing long, lazy pregame passes. They mentioned and discarded the idea of running a few plays.

“Do you have cones to mark the field?” asked James Vanden Bosch, an English professor who has played in this game every year since he arrived to teach in 1983.

“Maybe we could use old professors for that,” suggested Nathan Eisen, an English major, out of earshot.

Once on the field, Dodi scanned both it and her personnel. A native of Ghana, she had spent the previous week trying to learn the rudiments of American football — and she wasn’t the only one. Though a robust body of Chimes staffers showed for the game, several of them could be overheard, as they lined the edge of the field, saying things like, “Why do we bother counting to seven if there’s no other way to make points?” and “I think I caught a football once ….”

In four decades, the Chimes staff has claimed victory only five times: three wins in the three original games from 1965 through 1967, one victory in 1979 and another in 1988.

It is possible to read the entire history of the Jacques’ brief period of glory in three Chimes headlines: 1965, “Faculty gridders hungry for Chimes”; 1966, “Les Jacques squeak by vengeful faculty in gridiron classic”; and 1967, “Les Jacques tromp faculty in annual gridiron classic.” Then, for reasons unknown, the team went into a slide.

In conjunction with their long losing streak, the Jacques began a fabulist tradition that endures into the ’00s. In other words: They make things up. Chimes headlines from the ’70s proclaimed not only that “Jacques stumble Fumblers in thrilling 65-2 victory,” but also “Les Jacques de Chimes smash Michigan in fall premiere” and, in an effort at journalistic integrity, “Jacques win moral victory.”

The short game, Vanden Bosch and other Fumblers maintain, is the key to their dominance. “It’s three completions for a first down,” Vanden Bosch explained the game parameters. “The mistake that the Chimes people make is they’re almost always going the way of the long bomb, the touchdown or the breakaway play.”

The Fumblers are content with a more cautious game strategy, Vanden Bosch said: “Three completions for a first down just allows us to keep marching up the field.” Unconcerned with leaking the faculty’s game-winning strategy, he says somewhat wearily, “We’ve been telling them this for years. They just don’t pay attention.”

Why do the Jacques persist in showing up? “It’s the power of tradition: the rituals that have this history, especially when they’re sort of the ‘inside’ tradition,” said Nathan Bierma, a Chimes sports editor from 1998-1999 and now a staff member and Fumbler. “The faculty knows about this; the Chimes staff knows about this. But that’s about it. It’s among those groups that this lore lives on.”

It’s a concept that was echoed throughout the 40th celebration of the game. When Vanden Bosch instructed Dodi to kneel down and present him with the ball, and several young women protested, he insisted gently, “It’s tradition.”

And the Chimes headline for the 40th game story read, “Les Jacques dominate yet again.”