Saturday, October 10, 2009

That's another Cavalier .... FIRST DOWN!

Above: Me & David (far right) and the rest of the tailgating crew in Charlottesville

In the spring of 1991 I got a letter from the good folks at the University of Virginia informing me that I had not been granted admission. I had been wait listed. Coming closely on the heels of outright rejections from UNC Chapel Hill and Duke, I was crushed. That humbling experience led directly to two memorable decisions.

I decided to accept admission to Lehigh University and not wait until the summer for UVA to make up its mind. Slightly more humorously, my college rejections led to me possibly becoming the only human being ever to use a quote from a New Edition song in a high school baccalaureate speech.

Let me set the scene. There I was on the dais during a perfectly clear June evening in Phoenixville, PA. I looked out over my fellow graduates from the class of 1991 assembled on the the football field for this solemn occasion and I said something to the effect of, "It has been said that competition is the world summarized in just one word." I'm not sure if I credited New Edition or not. Thankfully I left out Ralph Tresvant's harmonizing, "and you know what I mean" immediately after. I don't remember a lot of response to my speech. More blank stares than anything else. My point is that being rejected by the three colleges I most wanted to attend really affected me. So much so that I was not able to make sound decisions about what situations are appropriate to quote groups that once employed Bobby Brown.

On Saturday I was back on the UVA campus for the first time since my dad and I visited in 1990. I was the guest of David Pierce, a UVA senior and friend. It was also a game day. UVA was hosting the Indiana Hoosiers in a football game that was less a clash of titans and more a contest between two teams seen as also-rans in powerhouse conferences. At least it was Division I football. I had to suffer through four years of trying to get excited about Lehigh Football when to most of the student body it was important only as another reason to get drunk.

The UVA student body I was standing with on the grass slope behind the North End Zone seemed slightly less inebriated than my Lehigh counterparts from the early 1990s. I emphasize the word slightly. Then again UVA has quite a few football rituals those in attendance are expected to take part it in, so it helps to keep a slighly sober mind.

The first is triggered whenever UVA gets a first down. As a play ended and we saw the chains move we would put one hand up in the air and wait for the PA announcer to loudly proclaim, "That looks like another Cavalier ..." and the whole stadium joins in with "FIRST DOWN" throwing our arms forward and mimicking the referee symbol for a new set of downs. I'm surprised I didn't get carpal tunnel because UVA had 29 first downs over the course of the game.

The second tradition was my favorite. After every UVA score - whether a touchdown or a field goal - you saddle up to your friends, put your arms around each other's shoulders and the whole stadium sways back and forth while singing "The Good Old Song" to the tune of Auld Lang Syne. It goes a little something like this:

That good old song of Wah-hoo-wah,
We 'll sing it o 'er and o 'er.
It cheers our hearts and warms our blood
To hear them shout and roar.
We come from Old Virginia,
Where all is bright and gay.
Let's all join hands and give a yell,
For the dear old UVa.

At the end of the song there are some more words in quick succession that I could never figure out. Suffice it to say everyone has a good time after a touchdown or field goal. In this game UVA scored 8 different times on the way to a 47-7 trouncing of Indiana. I'm gonna go ahead and take partial credit for the win. Having returned to the campus in a spirit of forgiveness, the curse I put on their football program for having rejected me has now been laid to rest. Cavaliers, you are free to go ahead and win out for the rest of the season and claim an ACC title and a major bowl bid. You can thank me later.

Walking with David across campus that evening it was hard for me not to think about what might have been. There are a few big choices in life that fundamentally alter our future path. What college to attend is one of them. How would my life of been different if I had gone to UVA and not Lehigh? It's impossible to know and, in the end, irrelevant. My experience applying to colleges - like all experiences in life - had a lesson in it for me that I needed to learn. It was Humility 101.

I know that when I meet someone and detect a true spirit of humility I find myself drawn to that person and at ease in their company. I've met many very humble people in my life. My choice to attend Lehigh ultimately brought me into contact with a great Journalism professor who was a real model of humility for me. His name is Jack Lule. Any Lehigh journalism student would back me up on that.

When I remember all the people I met at Lehigh and how they have added to my life, I no longer have any regrets that UVA didn't want me. And by the way, I no longer think competition is the world summarized in just one word. I want my world to be summarized by love. You know what I mean?


  1. i am glad virginia has redeemed itself...keep walking...have fun. am enjoying your blog.

  2. what is with all the ties?

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