This is the first in a series that explores how Harvard professors spend their down time.
The New England Patriots didn’t have much chance of winning their playoff game against the Los Angeles Chargers last Sunday, many analysts said. But a group of supporters at Andy’s Diner in Cambridge had all put their faith in the home team — and wrote their projected winning scores on a paper napkin the week before. The betting was hot, with a free breakfast on the line.
Among those diehard fans was Harvard political scientist Theda Skocpol. For years, the Cambridge resident has been a regular at the diner, along with her husband, Bill, a physicist and Boston University professor emeritus. It was Bill who won a plate of raisin French toast and bacon Monday morning for his prediction of a 36‒14 Pats win, which came closest to the 41‒28 score.
Despite her losing bet (she had the Patriots at 21‒20), Skocpol was thrilled with the team’s win. Skocpol is the Victor S. Thomas Professor of Government and Sociology at Harvard and the author of 21 books, and her professional passion is comparative and American politics and social policy. But her other passion is the gridiron.
Over coffee and a bagel at the diner, Skocpol explained how her love affair with football began 18 years ago when she was searching for a way to relate better to her then-teenage son, Michael. “I went out and bought a bunch of books, including ‘Football for Dummies.’ I didn’t realize how intellectual this game is, as well as of course enjoyably physical,” she said. “The gladiator part, I liked too.”
Eventually, Michael protested that his mother’s interest had become “too much,” joked Bill, who sat across from his wife in a booth beneath a picture of former Patriot nose tackle Vince Wilfork. But Michael was too late. Skocpol was hooked.
Her son, now a clerk for Supreme Court Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor, had unwittingly “created a monster,” teased Jimmy Dres, who runs the old-school breakfast-and-lunch place just outside Porter Square. His restaurant is a gathering spot for a few early rising fans who love talking politics, life, and football with Dres and Kelly Butler Pinksen, longtime Andy’s waitress and a Patriots convert.
Skocpol is no casual fan. “She breaks down the game as good as anybody,” said Dres. “She sees it all.”