The annual Panda Game between the University of Ottawa and Carleton is theoretically about football, insofar as by the end of the afternoon a football game will in fact have been played. But thinking the Panda Game is but a mere football game would be inaccurate, or at least insufficient: Part homecoming weekend, part street bash, and part hangover, the Panda Game is becoming an entirely different animal.
Now in its 50th year, the Panda Game is less a single football game than a full-day affair, where the liquor flows freely and early. By noon, Russel Street in Sandy Hill is like a celebratory no-fly zone: cars cannot get in and out past all the students, and it was with some degree of futility that Ottawa police attempt the quixotic task of keeping everyone off the road, and pouring out open containers. This functions like a game of whack-a-mole, except police always lose; for every beer, cooler, or wine bottle emptied onto the road, three or four more are consumed with absolute impunity.
(I ask one cop if they are managing to keep things under control. “Trying to,” he says tersely.)
The scale of the street party is a relatively new feature of the Panda Game. What used to be a collection of house parties — and there have always been house parties — has now become one, amorphous party that takes over a significant chunk of Sandy Hill every year. With every iteration of the game, the balance shifts more towards the party, and the game becomes more ancillary.
“Every year it seems to be getting progressively worse,” says Mark Selby, as he stands out on his driveway, policing people who want to go to the bathroom in his backyard. “People peeing in our backyard, stomping all over our flower beds. And the noise.” He wondered why police couldn’t get a hold on the festivities.
“I just don’t understand why they allow it,” he says. “This is a residential neighbourhood. I have a seven-year-old daughter.”
For students and alumni on the other hand the Panda Game is like Christmas in September; a monstrous one-day party, a direct pipeline to the part of the human brain that generates the kind of high-calibre school spirit that’s on display in the city’s downtown core.
“It’s a whole day of drinking,” says Brad Tihani, a Carleton student who came to the uOttawa street party. (It is enemy territory, in a way, and he’s wandering up and down the street antagonizing the uOttawa students. He seems to enjoy this.) For Tihani, like virtually everybody else decked out in their school colours, the day is a marathon, not a sprint.“You go from the Panda Game, after the game you nap a bit, then you go out at night.”
“It’s our last year,” he says. “We’re trying to have a good time, watch the football game, have some fun.”
The question that hangs over all of it is whether the football game is even a necessary part of the day at all, anymore; does anyone care about the outcome? (The uOttawa Gee-Gees won this year's game 38-27.) I ask one Carleton student, Alyssa Reaume, if she’s a football fan. “I am today,” she says, which seems to be everyone else’s answer, too. “It’s the biggest rivalry in the world,” she jokes. “We won 4 years in a row, this is our fifth year, we’re trying to get that five year streak.”
“It’s just a fun competition between two schools that you know are rivals,” says Carleton student Minan Shah. “Yeah, getting drunk is fun, but going to the game, rushing the field at the end is pretty dope.”
But in the end, drunken revelry and school pride don’t exist mutually exclusive of one another; for many students, they are two sides of the same coin. “It’s a good way to start out the year, with a friendly rivalry,” says Shah. “I know for Carleton at least, our tickets sold our really really fast. This is one of the few things that everyone can get behind."