Wednesday, October 25, 2006

The drive to Williams

When I was assigned the play-by-play duties for Middlebury football on ESPN 1490, I knew that covering Division III football would be fun because of the competition, the academics, and a couple of players I bumped into the previous year. Being a history buff and one who enjoys good scenery and a good story or two, the road trips were going to be fun as well.

Two weeks ago I was in Williamstown, Mass., the home of the Williams Ephs. Once the sun comes up in central and southern Vermont, the drive is one of the most spectacular you will ever see. Now going through Rutland isn’t the fun part, but when you get outside of Rutland it is nothing but wide open spaces, and more trees than even a transplanted Vermonter could imagine. During the fall, the natives complain about slow drivers on Rte. 7 who are trying to look at the leaves while driving and dodging moose, but I am convinced even they sneak a peek here and there to remind them they deal with the nasty winters in exchange for some colors.

The first real city one sees outside of Rutland is the historic city of Bennington, Vt. Bennington is the site of one of the Battle of Bennington, one of the more memorable battles during the Revolutionary War. At the site of the Bennington Battle Monument, American colonists stored important food and weapons which the British tried to, but were not able to capture for their own troops. You can see the 306 foot high monument for many miles outside the city. Williamstown itself is about a stone’s throw from Bennington. Having never made the trip, I was surprised to see the Williamstown sign about five minutes outside Bennington. Williams College was founded in 1793 and is one of the most prestigious institutions of higher learning in the USA. Williams holds the distinction of not only holding the first organized baseball game in 1859, but Williams was the first college whose graduates wore caps and gowns.

Being a football historian, I was interested in one of the great traditions in college football: The Walk. The walk takes place if Williams defeats their longtime rival Amherst. The players will walk up Spring Street to Saint Pierre’s Barber Shop where owner Roger Saint Pierre has cigars lined up, and the upperclassmen will shave the heads of the freshmen on the squad. When I walked into Saint Pierre’s, I was actually going to get my hair clipped while talking about the history of The Walk. Well, there was one small problem in they don’t take credit cards, and I was dumb enough to leave my debit card at home. I did end up spending a good 45 minutes talking to Roger about the tradition, its evolution, and looking at the wall of pictures that adorn the walls. When I asked Roger how he got involved in this, he laughed and shook his head a bit. He said it was unintentional, but it snowballed. He said about 40 years ago, after a win against Amherst, the players asked if they could walk up to the shop and celebrate. Well, the beer flowed, the heads were shaved, and a tradition was born. Roger said this is one of the greatest traditions in all of college football, and one he is pleased to be a part of. Roger said to me, “Well, things have changed though. It used to be that the kids would come in here, have a few beers, and do their thing; but that was years ago and the state is a little tight on those things nowadays.” When I asked why the tradition is so important to the team he thought for a second and said, “For the seniors, I think it is their way of holding on to their college football careers for just one more minute. You see, these are all kids who are not on athletic scholarships, and most likely won’t play football again. If they can hold on for just one more second, it seems to complete their careers and they are ready to move on.”While Roger was talking, I was looking at the pictures on the wall and just picturing what it would be like to be in that small barber shop with 80 guys smoking stogies and shaving the heads of their freshman teammates into outrageous styles.

Thinking about it made me wish I was about six inches taller, 50 pounds heavier, and had SAT scores about 600 points higher so I could take part in such a tradition. It seems simple, but it is one of those things that make a memorable experience even more memorable.

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