When Tommy Mont coached at the University of Maryland he experienced all the thrilling things that attend a college football coach when he is up to the noose line of his neck in the big time. Mont knew important people; he had his picture taken with Queen Elizabeth. He knew large enthusiastic crowds. He knew huge, pressing budgets and cutthroat recruiting, and blue-chip athletes whose talented hands itched to lay hold of professional contracts. He knew glad hands as well, and eager-beaver alumni and friends who were faithful when he won.
Mont had succeeded the late Jim Tatum, a Maryland legend. As head coach Mont proved to be a man of intelligence and wry good humor, virtues that could not save him when his Maryland teams began to lose. Which they did, too soon. Barely had he put his ear to the ground to catch the rumblings when he was out on it.
It was my impression that Mont had quit coaching after that, but in fact he had gone—presumably under cover of night—to Greencastle, Ind. to become head coach, and eventually athletic director, at DePauw University, where a man could lose in peace. At DePauw the crowds are small, and television coverage nonexistent. A few lines in The Indianapolis Star on Sunday morning is the apogee of exposure for a DePauw team. The white-chip athletes who come to play there do not drive complimentary convertibles, and the alumni are not spoiled by offers to go to the Orange Bowl.
Neither do offers from professional teams turn the heads of DePauw players. Mont had a punter who signed with Denver but did not stick. The punter was distinguished by his sandals and shoulder-length hair (DePauw is a conservative Methodist school, which only recently was willing to concede that a bottle of beer on campus might not evoke God's wrath), and used to debate the length of his punts with team publicist Pat Aikman, trying to get 39-yarders stretched to 41.
Coaching at Maryland did not, as it may have seemed, make an old man of Mont. He is one of those large gray men with droopy eyelids who look as if they were born old and who can often be seen in the shadow of a scoreboard, looking up despairingly at the figures there.
At DePauw he was granted a golden twilight. If his losing seasons—since 1959—outnumbered the winners by almost 2 to 1, he was respected for his virtues and was much in demand as an after-dinner speaker. He told his audiences that DePauw football had everything Notre Dame football has except parking problems. He placed the picture of Queen Elizabeth on his desk and settled down. In time he was even given tenure, which would have been unheard-of at Maryland or any of those schools where football is too important to chance a coach's complacency.
Prim, proper little Greencastle—pop. 8,852—is not a town with an unlimited capacity for excitement, but what it gets it appreciates. John Dillinger robbed a bank there 40 years ago and townspeople are not over talking about it. A breathtakingly incongruous German World War II buzz bomb is on permanent display in the town square.
Mont, in turn, brought to DePauw football (in lieu of unremitting victories) a certain flair that could be appreciated. In the key game with archrival Wabash in 1960, DePauw scored a last-minute touchdown to cut Wabash's lead to 13-12. Mont had said if it ever came to this—a decision to go for one extra point to tie, or two to win—he would leave it to the fans. True to his word, at that turgid moment Mont turned to the stands and spread out his hands like a tent preacher. (In the press box, an assistant coach named Ted Katula, thinking Mont was signaling him to make the decision, dived for the floor.)
The crowd shouted "Go!"
DePauw went, and won 14-13.
"I could never have done that at Maryland," Mont said.
It was not Mont I had come to Indiana to see, however. Mont was a bonus, like finding a first-edition Melville in the quarter bookrack at the Goodwill store. It was the game—DePauw vs. Wabash—that had drawn me, through the clouds of my own doubts that college football could still get by in the kind of small-town incubators that spawned it so many decades ago.
Wabash had been playing DePauw in the privacy of western Indiana since 1890, which makes it (orchestra up) "The Oldest Continuous Rivalry West of the Alleghenies." The schools' propagandists cling to this designation as though it were a lifeline, the way other places vaunt their right to be "The Bell Pepper Capital of Kansas" or "The Birthplace of Truman Seymour." There is, nonetheless, a certain cryptic glamour to being the oldest anything, and that is what DePauw-Wabash has enjoyed, "The Oldest Continuous, etc., etc."
Any persevering self-respecting rivalry has to have pains to grow, on, of course, and the seeds of a loving enmity were sown early in this one. DePauw claimed a forfeit of the 1891 game because Wabash didn't show. Wabash has no record of it, but has been unable to get it off the books. When DePauw lost in Crawfordsville one year, its student newspaper reported that "the best team cannot win when playing against 13 men, two of them the officials...[who] were personal friends of the Wabash coach." Wabash backed out of another game because of an incident the year before when Wabash fielded a black player. When DePauw records showed a victory over Wabash that year, Wabash officials conducted a "scrupulous investigation" and found that the losing team was actually Wabash High School.
It was not unusual in those days for DePauw and Wabash to engage such teams as Purdue and Notre Dame, but there were even bigger nuts to be cracked. DePauw played the great Illinois team of 1924 and lost 45-0. Red Grange appeared on the field once during the game to pose for a picture. After the game the DePauw coach "was granted a leave of absence."
Wabash managed to drum up a piece of business with superpower Michigan. Outweighed 30 pounds to the man, Wabash succumbed 22-0. It was considered a moral victory. "Little Giants," someone called them, and the Wabash nickname was born. DePauw's athletic teams are called Tigers. There are no romantic stories about that, but a Wabash professor says that every time the DePauw mascot—a student dressed in a $300 tiger suit—gets near the Wabash stands he loses his tail. Or worse.
By the '30s the rivals seemed to settle at their moorings like aging ships, taking on only routine passage and finding in each other the best reason for existing. In 1932 the Monon Railroad, which ran through the towns of Greencastle and Crawfordsville, donated a 350-pound bell off one of its locomotives as the winner's prize, and most of the intrigue since then has centered on the stealing of and the fighting over the Monon Bell. The series slogged along. It was remarkably even, 36 victories for DePauw, 35 for Wabash and seven ties, when I first heard of it a year ago.
I made my headquarters the week of the game at the General Lew Wallace Motor Inn in Crawfordsville, motoring in from Indianapolis through a misting rain and 33°. The Indiana sky was caked in layers of gray, like an elephant's hide. The sun had made three spot appearances since September, and the bone-chilling dampness had taken root.
Crawfordsville is 30 miles due north of Greencastle on U.S. 231. The tie line is not exactly the labyrinth at Knossos, however, so it is reasonable to say that the towns are compatible. Crawfordsville has a few more people and apparently not as many funeral homes. My first impressions were reassuring. John Wayne was playing at the 88-year-old Strand Theater. A whistling mailman was making his rounds on foot. The police wore American flags on their sleeves.
One of the latter obligingly led me in his patrol car to the Lew Wallace, which I had missed on the first pass through. Wallace was the Civil War general who wrote Ben Hur. His study is now a museum near Wabash, which he attended in 1840. For six days. Nevertheless he remains the school's most famous matriculator and the only name I recognized on the lists of Wabash alumni.
The Lew Wallace Motor Inn was formerly a coffin factory. The restaurant there serves an appetizing brand of canned chili that the Wabash coaching staff takes in every now and then. The coaches love it. They think the chili is homemade.
Wabash was a short walk in the rain to the western edge of town, the tiny campus spotted with huge piles of decaying leaves, the only color left on it by the advancing winter. The campus is a throwback. The original building (1832) is still in use, and additions contribute to the vaguely forbidding, bleakly exciting quality of the place. The unmistakable aura of an all-male institution.
I had been told that if you scratch the backgrounds of most Wabash and DePauw students you would find little to distinguish them—middle-class, Protestant, conservative, white. But college students wear their identities like overcoats and tend to adapt to the styles at hand, causing a school's character to harden along certain fashionable lines, and it was here that Wabash and DePauw were said to be antipathetic.
Wabash (from the short DePauw view) is a monastery for the uncouth. Wabash does not have a code of conduct for its men, only that they "behave as gentlemen," which gives them license to develop low brows and manners. You can tell a Wabash student by the way he staggers on weekends. He is the one to be found face down in the wedding cake. He does not know a Windsor knot from the Windsor Castle and never gets the part straight in his oil-slick hair. Wabash men are called Cavemen (they enjoy the image), and you wouldn't let your sister touch one with a 10-foot cattle prod.
DePauw, on the other hand, is a rest home for sissies. DePauw men are called "Dannies" and are a hankie-waving bunch. Nevertheless, they are not particularly keen-witted. A Dannie carries an umbrella when the sun is out and puts it down when it starts to rain. How does a Dannie get in shape for the big game? The coach dumps him off the bus at Wabash, and he runs like hell for home.
Dannies adhere to a strict school moral code, which is to say they sneak their drinks. When given more freedom than they can handle they are pictured running naked across the pages of Playboy magazine. DePauw's student body is 45% female. Wabash students therefore consider DePauw a nice place to visit, but they wouldn't want to enroll there.
These differences are mostly symbolic, of course, but it is true that DePauw is a larger, more socially tailored school (2,257 enrollment to 850) with a surer financial base, and it does have girls. Wabash made a two-year cost study of going coeducational some time ago and decided that girls did not belong in college.
"There it is—you're jealous of DePauw," I said. I was nursing coffee in the offices of the Wabash news bureau with Director of Public Affairs Jim Wood and Sports Information Director Gerry Dreyer, trying to find a good reason for being there on such a lousy day. The wooden floors smelled deliciously of age, and on the wall was a laminated plaque announcing the 1907 Michigan game ("Yea! Wabash! Big Mass Meeting of Townspeople...The Biggest Athletic Event Ever Pulled Off in the State...).
"Of course we are," said a third man, a professor whom Wood had invited in to set me straight on DePauw. His name was Warren Shearer, onetime acting dean of men, a whip-lean man with aggressive eyebrows that bounced when he was hard into a story. Wood goaded him on. Shearer's dramatic voice rose.
"But venturing out for companionship never bothered a Wabash man," he said. By the same token, he said he had noticed over the years a marked deterioration in the vigor of the DePauw people. They had become "more placid," and their professors were hopeless. When emotion ran amuck on the field or in the stands at the big game, it was always the Wabash professors who sallied forth to save the peace. "The DePauw professors," he sneered, "just sat in their seats with their arms crossed."
He said it was remarkable how clean Wabash had kept its record, considering. He said there was only one time he recalled ever having to expel any students. Only a handful. For vandalism. "They threw some paint around," he said. "It was not water soluble."
"And the bell?" I asked. "What about the...?"
"The Monon Bell! A subject close to my heart."
"Yes, but do college kids really get excited about things like that anymore?"
"Well, I can say to you now that it is in our possession, having won last year's contest with consummate ease (16-7), and it will remain so. It is chained to the balcony rail in the gymnasium for all to see, which is typical of Wabash. DePauw is inclined to hide it, not being sure of its ability to keep it. We have little to worry about. DePauw's actions at best are retaliatory, which brings up a very interesting story."
Shearer then told me how, a few years ago when the bell was at DePauw, a Wabash student posing as a Mexican reporter was granted an interview with DePauw President Dr. William Kerstetter, who not only blabbed the bell's hiding place but had the director of athletics take the bogus Mexican around to see it. That night a Wabash raiding party redeemed the bell.
"I think the code name for the operation was 'Frijoles." It was a dark day for President Kerstetter, who is not known for his ability to take a joke. One of the DePauw deans called me almost hourly. "You've got to get us that bell back!' he said. I told him he had absolutely no sense of humor.
" 'But it's breaking and entering!' he said. 'A felony!'
" 'But didn't they leave money on the windowsill?' I asked. In fact they had left $1.15, which was more than enough to cover damages.
"The bell was kept in the woods nearby, where there were regular showings and an occasional dingdong. The dean finally called again. I don't want to alarm you,' he said, 'but my students are up in arms. They're coming up to Wabash en masse, 400 strong, to recover the bell.'
" 'All that will accomplish,' I said, 'is one of the grandest riots ever seen on a college campus. Our students will welcome them with open arms.'
"Ah, it was great while it lasted. But a compromise was made, and an exchange took place at Raccoon Creek, halfway to Greencastle. In secret, they took it to Blackstock Stadium and buried it just beyond the end zone. That's their style. But they had a helluva time. When it was time to uncover it just before the game, the ground was frozen solid."
Professor Shearer was brainwashing me. He knew it and I knew it. What he didn't know was that it was working.
I cannot pinpoint the moment I lost my objectivity and began to care—in Wabash's favor—but I can reconstruct the reasons for it. Something as expressive and unaffected as Wabash vs. DePauw felt at ground level for a spell is quite impossible to resist. If you think you know college football by knowing Texas-Oklahoma or USC-UCLA you are as wrong as you would be if you thought you knew the United States by knowing New York.
I think the realization struck with a punt that landed on the railroad tracks at practice the next afternoon. The ball slid off an enthusiastic but inexpert Wabash foot, flew up into that grieving Indiana sky and over the fence at an erratic angle and down onto the tracks that split the field into upper and lower levels, and caromed and spun there among the ties, and I heard the train and said to myself, "Well, there goes the budget."
The Wabash coach had told me how the balls popped when the trains passed over them, an ordinance of physics he could do nothing about. But it was the economics that touched me. Football at Wabash is deficit spending, and the pops are never music to the coach's ears. "Every time we open the doors for a game," the coach said, "we lose money." What thrilled me about the remark was that Wabash had no intention of closing its doors, as others have, for that reason.
We watched the ball disappear, and I said to the coach, a part Cherokee Indian named Dick Bowman, that this was no place for a penny-pinching outfit to practice. To which he wisely pointed out that the cost of moving the field vs. the sacrifice of a few hunks of leather to the railroad was no contest.
Actually, he said, if I really wanted to see the budget at work I should go on a road trip, like the 300-miler to Sewannee when his wife packaged 120 homemade pimento cheese sandwiches only to find out the players preferred bologna. Leftovers don't lie. Bowman said he broke the trip at Vanderbilt for a workout on the Tartan field.
"They'd never been on anything like that," he said. The fields in the Indiana Collegiate Conference, of which Wabash and DePauw are members, are not always level, nor skillfully lined, much less synthetic. His boys got out on the Tartan and "we couldn't drive 'em off."
A Wabash player in a dirty white uniform went down and stood by the track on our side, waiting with his hands on his hips for the train to pass. In that grim perspective he reminded me of one of those solitary night people who can be seen watching stoically in front of the machines at the coin laundry.
The train passed and the ball was still whole on the other side. "Saved," I said to Bowman. I was actually relieved. Bowman just smiled and began moving away to get a better angle on his backfield. He moved with a limp.
"What happened to your leg?"
"Which one? I hurt one knee when I was at Oklahoma trying to play offensive tackle at 200 pounds for Bud Wilkinson. The reason I'm limping now is I got knocked down at Albion last year and ruined the other. We may not look it, but we hit pretty hard in this league."
I asked him if it bothered him much, the transition from Oklahoma to Wabash. He often referred to "the Big Time," how this or that player was "almost good enough for the Big Time," or, "you never see this in the Big Time."
If Bowman weren't an Indian you would think he was a cowboy—lanky and broad-shouldered, with a deep-lined face and a quick, pleasant smile that stretches like a clothesline.
"I loved Oklahoma," he said, "but I think I loved Bud more. I think in that atmosphere you are more part of the team than you are a part of the school. I've been back only once in 10 years.
"I tell my players, 'You can't eat a football. You can bake it, broil it and stew it, maybe, but you can't eat it. You better get that schooling first.' These boys do." He gestured at the practicing players. "You should see the books they take on trips. Far-out stuff, like Aristotle. They're always underlining."
A boy in street clothes had been standing next to him, waiting to speak.
"You're late, Tommy," Bowman said.
"Had a physics lab, Coach. And I was up to six a.m. on a term paper."
"What on? The term paper, I mean?"
"Gee whiz. See what I mean?" said Bowman, turning to me. The boy walked away. "Tommy's a fine boy. From Waco, Texas. We get 'em from everywhere. Hey, see that one over there? Tulsa, Okla. His father is with an airline. The family can fly for nothing. That's the kind to have."
"How do you get so many?" I said. There were 100 or more on the split-level field. Some were not the most athletic-looking specimens.
"Walk-ons, many of them. I don't cut anybody. And I write a lot of letters. We can't give a full scholarship, which makes it difficult because some schools in the conference can."
"Do you ever wish for the Big Time? I mean, coaching in it?"
"I made that decision a long time ago. I'm 41 years old. I couldn't go the other way if I wanted to. It's past me."
Later, over cocktails at Wood's house, a group of them—Bowman, Athletic Director Max Servies and a couple others—ganged up on me. I don't know what I said to start it, something about intercollegiate football at a small college being as impractical in today's world as a truck farm, but they swamped me with rhetoric. They said football was not there to make money; where had I been?
"Our budget's less than $100,000," Bowman said. "Gate receipts average about $7,000 a year. We can seat 4,200, and the only time we fill the stadium is for DePauw. No way to balance out."
"Athletics are for the kids, not the other way around," one of them said. "Athletics contribute to the educational experience."
"I like that," I said. "I remember a Dartmouth...."
"Fifteen percent of the student body is out for football," I was interrupted. "Eighty percent participate in some form of athletics."
"Tell that to your Notre Dames and your Michigan States."
"And your Alabamas."
"The austerity bothers some of them," Bowman said. "I had one boy sneak out the first night. There's a high attrition rate, too, because of the academics. I'll start 11 freshmen against DePauw, including the quarterback."
"Maybe you oughta pay 'em under the table," I said, casually dipping into the peanuts.
"Are you kidding? Semipro athletes? That'd be a catastrophe. Where would we get the money? Besides, they're too close as a group within the student body. It'd be bad for morale."
"DePauw has one slight advantage. They can promise their athletes the chance to wait on tables at the sorority houses."
"They used to get an extra day off at Thanksgiving if they beat us."
"There's always a money problem here," Wood said. "You oughta see President Seymour. He'll tell you. I think he collected a million bucks last year in a door-knocking campaign.
"Old Thad Seymour. And he's an Ivy Leaguer, too."
"It's really not so critical," Bowman said. "The coaches were able to scrape up enough pin money to go out to an authentic Chinese restaurant last year."
The next day I went around to see President Thad Seymour, tracking mud onto the carpet of his office, which smelted of pipe smoke. The laminated handbill announcing the 1907 Wabash-Michigan game was on his wall. Seymour is a large man with a hearty voice and a ruggedly constructed nose that does not precede him so much as it leads his interference. He had been the dean of men at Dartmouth, and until he came to Indiana—by train—three years ago he "didn't think places like this still existed."
He reveled in it. He had participated in the faculty intramural program and he had been caught up in Wabash vs. DePauw. He said last year at the annual pregame Monon Bell Stag Night in Indianapolis, when rival alumni and officials get together and live it up, he had, in the course of performing magic tricks for the crowd, broken an egg in President Kerstetter's lap. He thought it great fun.
Neither was he above leading the Wabash student body in a cheer or two, he said. His first year, wearing a red-and-white freshman beanie, he went onto the field to get one going. The score was 14-7 DePauw. Almost immediately after his cheer Wabash scored. "Unfortunately, we went for two points and missed. If we'd made it, it would have changed my life. I could have sat at my desk and never done another thing."
On my way out I lifted from an anteroom chair a discarded copy of the annual racy newspaper put out by Wabash journalists for the big game. This one was called The DeBauch and featured a nude man partially covered with a DePauw pennant lounging across the front page. President Kerstetter's head was superimposed on the man's shoulders. The headline said, "DeBauch Pres. Desires Strong Student Body." I stuffed the paper under the seat of my rental car and drove the 30 miles to Greencastle.
It was raining there as well; God was playing no favorites. Pat Aikman filled my arms with indoctrination material and arranged for me to see Tommy Mont. The DePauw newspaper he gave me was crammed with pictures of coeds, indicating to prospective students that the place was crawling with good-looking girls in short skirts. There was one pointed reference to the football program: "Victories are not purchased at the expense of scholarship."
Aikman said, indeed, that football was kept in perspective at DePauw, but scholarships were available to football players and they were proud of the accommodation Tommy Mont had made. The squad had a higher grade average than the student body, and 33% of the varsity were pre-med or pre-dent students. Tommy Mont's job did not depend on beating Wabash. "But, of course, we would like nothing better." Aikman smiled thinly.
We dropped in on Mont. One of his assistant coaches, a pale young man with a red crew cut, looked me over carefully and then disappeared. Mont said one thing he enjoyed about the rivalry was how well everybody got along, especially the two coaching staffs.
Ted Katula said I shouldn't listen to too much of that, because old Tommy always pulled out the stops for Wabash. He said a few years ago Mont changed DePauw's jersey colors at halftime. The ploy enraged Wabash, but it had a salutary effect on the DePauw quarterback who suddenly became Sammy Baugh.
"But the real story was Tommy's halftime talk that day. We were behind 10-0 and looking hopeless. In the middle of his talk he turned and pointed at me. 'Now you fellas know Ted here. He's been with me 10 years. I hate to say it, but he's leaving us. This is his last game at DePauw. Frankly, fellas, I'd consider it an honor if we won it for old Ted.'
"Geez, they almost tore the door down getting back out there. We won 13-10. And as you can see, I had no intention of leaving DePauw."
What, I asked, did Tricky Tommy have cooking this time?
Mont smiled without showing his teeth. "Oh, you never know," he said. "Neither team is exactly overloaded [DePauw's record was 2-6; Wabash's 3-6]. Did they tell you we haven't lost up there in 18 years?"
Later at practice, the red-haired assistant coach told me I was "O.K." I said I didn't understand. He said he had checked me out. He'd even called New York. He said they couldn't be too careful this week. "Actually," he said, smiling, "you don't look Mexican."
The telephone at the Lew Wallace jarred me from sleep at five a.m. An adolescent voice, filled with excitement, roared into my subconscious.
"We got the bell."
"The bell. The Monon Bell. Those stupid Kappa Sigs..." He was laughing like a maniac. "Sawed through the chain and carted it the hell out of there."
"Listen, hey. Uh, listen. Who...?"
"Never mind. You probably know about the Sphinx Club getting permission to take the bell down to Greencastle last night...?"
"The Sphinx Club. The Wabash lettermen. They took it on a truck and rang the hell out of it, but those dumb DePauw guys couldn't take it off them. The cops finally chased them out of town. Well, when they got back they just chained it to the door frame in the gym lobby. And the Kappa Sigs were guarding it. Were, until a few minutes ago."
"We? Who's we? DePauw...?"
"Naw. I'm a freshman at Wabash."
"You mean you stole your own bell?" I was finally awake.
"Yeah. Wild, huh?" He was still giggling like a maniac. "You wanta see it?"
"Yeah, but I think I'll wait till dawn. Unless you plan on stealing the Lew Wallace coffee shop."
The four conspirators that made up the raiding party lived in what they called an "off-campus apartment," a ramshackle two-story building whose walls were held together by Providence and a thin coat of flaking white paint. The leader of the gang was a slightly built, deliberately scruffy-looking boy named Ken who said his father was a banker in Westchester County, New York.
Ken led me on a triumphant walk down a dark stairwell to a first-floor bathroom which, by appearances, had been out of commission for several decades. There, next to a rusting trash-laden bathtub and a sleeping black cat, was the Monon Bell, painted red (for Wabash) and gold (for DePauw).
"They should never have left it to those Kappa Sigs," Ken said proudly. "We really foxed 'em."
"What you got against the Kappa Sigs?"
"They're a frat. I hate frats."
"Why? All that discipline."
I asked him what they were going to do with it. The bell. Already The Bachelor, in banner headlines, had blamed DePauw. "Won't a lot of people be up in arms?"
"Dean Moore knows we got it. They'll get it back just before the game."
"O.K., but why did you take it?"
He looked at me condescendingly.
"Somebody had to," he said. "Those Dannies wouldn't even try."
The missing bell was a conversational leader that night at the Monon Stag in Indianapolis. Jim Wood predicted I would love the stag, everybody getting together and cutting each other up. But it was the low point of my week. The preliminaries were all right—Mont and Bowman were short and sweet; President Seymour produced a red-and-white Beat DePauw sign out of a torn-up napkin—but the toastmaster was excruciating. DePauw had wanted to sub its glee club as the main event, and it would have been a good idea.
On the morning of the game I was up early and over to the student snack shop for breakfast. I ran into two of the players, an end named Hiatt, who had six vials of experimental fruit flies stuffed in his fatigue jacket, and a safetyman named Haklin, the team captain. Hiatt said he had played in the game last year with a separated shoulder, "but there was so much infighting and name-calling going on I didn't realize it."
Haklin was having his team meal, a carton of milk and a blueberry Danish. He said a professor had told him all the games up to DePauw were "scrimmages," and "He's right. Last year when the seniors talked to the team before the game it was like war. They said, 'You better prepare yourselves. And you better win. For your sake, not ours. You'll take a lot of crap if you don't."
Haklin looked down at the empty milk carton he was squeezing.
"Next year I'll be in grad school, trying for a Rhodes scholarship. But I don't know what I'll do without football. I couldn't have made it at a big school, so I came here. I'm sorry it's over."
Upstairs, Dick Bowman looked out at the elephant-gray sky over Little Giant Stadium. "Damn rain," he said. "I hope it stays away." He said he planned no gimmicks for DePauw. A basic Oklahoma defense, the fashionable triple-option offense. "Fundamentals are about all we have time to teach."
He said he had four bottles of champagne on ice for the victory party. He said he realized it wasn't enough to get high on.
A Veteran's Day Parade in downtown Crawfordsville was the only competing event at game time. Despite the threatening weather, the Wabash crowd arrived early and filled its side. The DePauws were late coming and did not fill theirs. "They don't wanta see any more than they have to," a young humorist standing next to me on the sidelines said.
The Monon Bell came clanging into the stadium on the back of President Seymour's swaying 1938 Packard, eliciting a ponderous cheer. The DePauw band was thumping overhead as Tommy Mont faced his black-and-gold-clad warriors in the dressing room and offered them clemency for a "bad season." He beseeched them to play "the doggonedest football game you ever played." They whooped and crowded the exit to the field.
It might not have been that—the doggonedest football game ever played—but it was a fine one, lacking neither skill nor drama. I stood with Mont's coaching staff in the first half in a vortex of partisanship. A guard named Dalesandro came off shaking his head in wonder. "It's euphoria, man," he shouted, wide-eyed. "I think I'm moving like hell, but I ain't moving worth a stick."
On an out-of-bounds play, a pileup occurred at my feet. Mud flew, and bodies, and a near-hysterical voice at my elbow screamed, "Crack his head off!"
Wabash, meanwhile, had unleashed a treacherous attack of orthodoxy that overshadowed Mont's more imaginative football. Coach Bowman's freshman quarterback, Cogdill, got over a case of the flutters (a fumble, an intercepted pass) and put his team in for two touchdowns in the first quarter.
Then DePauw came alive. A 92-yard touchdown march made it 14-6 just before the half. The extra point was botched. "Dang," Mont said, turning sharply on his heel. "We've been doing this 13 weeks, now we're dumb." But as we moved off the field he winked at me and said, "Helluva college game, isn't it?" It was, too.
I offer, in somewhat expurgated form, as a classic of its kind, Coach Bowman's halftime talk to his Wabash players: "Gentlemen," he said, "you have 30 minutes to play. For some of you, it's the last 30 minutes. DePauw hates your guts. You hate their guts. You got 30 minutes to put together all that hate and all the courage you can and kick their tails. Now relax and have a good time."
On the Wabash side I had difficulty deciding which action to follow. The Sphinx Club, those redoubtable rowdies, made a human pyramid that collapsed wildly in the grass. They also offered their own refinements in cheer lyrics:
"Rah rah ree, Kick 'em in the knee!
"Rah rah rass, Kick 'em in the weeknee!"
Thad Seymour, a vision in red and white, came out of his president's box to lead his annual cheer. "Gimme a W!" he shouted, waving his arms.
"Gimme an A!"
Wabash scored again on the first series after the kickoff, lightening some of the suspense. But a Tiger named Simpson scored his second touchdown on a 71-yard run, and a two-point play cut the difference to 20-14 in the fourth quarter.
Tempers shortened as the end drew near. Hiatt grabbed a rival after a pile-up, and a player close by me yelled, "That's what we need, a good fight." But the fight did not materialize. The game ended with Wabash in control at mid-field.
I don't know what I expected to happen then, but nothing riotous did. Champagne flowed (briefly) in the Wabash dressing room. Dick Bowman gave me a bearhug. I went over to the DePauw dressing room to extend condolences to Tommy Mont. He was sitting on a bench, settled there as heavily as nut pudding on an unaccustomed stomach, and didn't seem eager to talk.
One of his assistants was outside and I made a few gestures of commiseration. He had the look of a man who has seen a cow break loose and kill the butcher. The series was tied, he said.
"Geezus, after all these years we gotta start over."
One of those chestless collegiate types who have acquired enough insouciance to cover up their insecurities was next to me as I walked away. I had seen him before, but couldn't place him.
He said, "Well, what do you expect from a school like this."
"What do you mean?" I said.
"Didn't Mr. Aikman tell you? Didn't he tell you about when they tried to get football started here about 6,000 years ago? How the team was so bad they tried to sell their only football?"
I said, no, I hadn't heard that one.
But I didn't doubt it.
Balls sailing over the fence onto the railroad tracks were often crushed by passing trains.
The four conspirators lived in an "off-campus apartment," a ramshackle two-story building.
There, in a bathroom that apparently had not functioned in years, was the bell.