Events conspired these past few weeks to recall one of the great moments in my sporting life and, in my humble view, one of the singular sporting episodes in the long history of Wesleyan University.
The first prompt was Hurricane Irene. What stood out for me, as Irene blew through our small Maine town in late August, was the difference 25 odd years can make. When the lights went out here, I responded by reading and taking multiple naps. When Hurricane Gloria swept north in the fall of 1985, the eye of the storm tracking along the Connecticut River Valley, the reaction was quite different. News of the approaching storm and blanket class-cancellations catapulted the student body into immediate and decisive action: We hit the liquor store and lined up the necessary narcotics, were they not already on hand. The storm would prove an irresistible opportunity to do crazy-ass things, like eat mushrooms and play pick-up football in spectacular winds.
The other recollective catalyst was the letter I received this week from my alma mater inviting me to a dinner honoring 2011 inductees into the Wesleyan Sports Hall of Fame. This invitation comes annually, along with calls for nominations. I notice that, among others, the entire 1980 Cardinal Field Hockey Team will take its place among the hallowed in Middletown on Nov. 5.
Thanks to World Wide Web, there have been several tongue-in-cheek HOF nomination ideas floated by various WesKids over the years — like the time I sailed yet another free kick over the crossbar my sophomore year against Babson, and team captain John Nathan (who wanted the free kick for himself) sarcastically upbraided me as we ran back on defense, “Too many bong hits, Bluto?” Or the time the varsity golf team participated in the NESCAC Championships at Middlebury and, following a killer party I had located for us on campus, Pat Dudley projectile vomited out the passenger-side window of the Wesleyan Athletics van into the cold Vermont night, whereupon he passed out, only to be revived in time to stumble onto the first tee, successfully drive the ball in play, and walk down the 1st fairway into a blizzard. Poor Pat. He turned back forlornly to those of us assembled on the tee behind him — he and his ghost-like pallor disappearing into that freak storm like an old time baseball player into a field of corn.
These are indeed hall-of-fame-worthy accomplishments, but they are mere moments. Running the wishbone while shrooming on a muddy track in hurricane-force winds AND leading a ragtag group of soon-to-graduate misfits to victory is another matter entirely. Allow me to paint the scene more fully:
Wesleyan is, to be clear, situated just 25 miles north of Long Island Sound, so the storm was quite strong when it arrived and the glory of Gloria kicked in about the time the winds picked up. With Patty Smith’s “Horses” blaring from some student house nearby, I remember standing on the soccer practice fields looking back down Warren Street, where dozens of students milled about with/in their cups. Others spread their arms wide so as to better catch the hurricane-force winds, while still more took advantage of a muddy slide that had been fashioned on a long, sloping embankment.
We had arrived at the practice fields, just beyond the old hockey rink (now a gigantic sports complex), to throw the football around. We ended up playing a game of 5 v. 5 football (tackle, naturally) with the guys from across the street. Who were they? Chi Psi brothers, mainly. Basketball and hockey players who liked to stroll around shirtless in their yard smoking cigars and playing bocce. In other words, a high jock quotient — formidable opponents.
We played all downs in the same direction, downwind, enabling each QB to throw the most splendid 60 yard bombs with mere flicks of the wrist. It was a spirited, fun affair — as only a game of tackle football in a hurricane under the influence of psychotropic drugs can be. But, the game got appreciably more interesting when the boys from 8 Warren St. decided to run… the wishbone.
Yes, the triple-option wishbone, with yours truly doing his very best Jamiel Holloway imitation. And you know what? Barry Switzer would have been damned proud. We thumped them from there on out. If you don’t put the ball on the ground, the wishbone is basically indefensible — even with a soccer player at QB, under stormy skies whose cloud formations appeared to breathe and bore an uncanny resemblance to the cover art from the R.E.M. album, Murmur.
Gloria at Wesleyan has since been officially memorialized among students of my vintage, on account of our shared experiences that day, but also on account of a singular image — of a student car that was utterly crushed by a tree felled during the storm. This photograph was played big in The Argus, where I was an editor, and subsequently in the yearbook. But I say it’s time to broaden the Wes legend that was Gloria 1985, and what better way than inducting me and my housemates into the Wesleyan Athletics Hall of Fame?All together now, with feeling:
G… L… O… R… Aye-ay-ay-ay-ay-ay — G-L-O-R-I-A.