I'm not sure when it happened, but I believe it was near the middle of the season when Coach Hardin introduced his masterstroke of propaganda. Too dignified to do it himself, he called us all to the center of the practice field and motioned for one of the assistants to explain the new drill.
What followed was a demonstration of the Hoot Cheer. The assistant coach, a tall, thin man who coached the defensive linemen, moved in front of the squad and "balanced up." He was in the position a center linebacker might take just before the snap, when suddenly he screamed, "Hoot!" and brought his hands up in front of his face. His fingers were shaped in O.K. signs, and they looked like a pair of goggles which he pulled away as soon as he balanced up again.
"Good lord, are they serious?" a friend of mine asked, and we both looked at one another, astonished. The same look was being exchanged throughout the squad. No one had ever seen anything quite like this on a football field.
The Hoot Cheer was explained, and we were told to spread out as we did for agility drills. I stood in the back of the end zone for my first Hoot Drill. The same assistant coach stood in front of the group, called for us to balance up, then yelled, "Hoot!" and brought his fingers up in a pair of goggles. The entire squad followed, though only the most zealous could bring themselves to shout.
"Louder," some of the assistants called, and we were told to balance up once more.
We practiced for the next five or 10 minutes. We did an entire series of reaction drills, and each time we responded, we yelled, "Hoot!" On calls for rapid reactions we yelled, "Hoot, hooot, hoot-hoot-hoot!" The drill climaxed with the team running en masse, hooting at the top of its lungs. We were finally told to hoot it into the showers. We ran through the streets of this rough Philly neighborhood screaming, "Hoot, hoot, hoot!" at passersby. I realized even then that there was nothing particularly menacing about hoots. They did not carry with them the aggressiveness one would have liked in a rallying cry. The truth was, hooting was slightly fey.
I wasn't sure, at the end of that practice, whether the Hoot Cheer had been a onetime thing or not. In the showers a few of us speculated about what the finger goggles were supposed to be. Were they Owl eyes? Were they some sort of horns, perhaps for the Horned Owl ( Temple's mascot was a generic owl, but maybe we were getting specific)? We also wondered if this would lead to a national fad, with the Penn State Lions roaring in their huddles, the Texas Longhorns lowing through their agility drills.
Unreasonably, the Hoot Cheer gained momentum. Coach Hardin persuaded the school's cheerleaders, men and women, to lead the crowds in Hoot Cheers. Until this point, Temple cheerleaders had been rather cool, dancing to jazz or moving around to a little rhythm, but now they were championing Owl Power. Their voices, amplified by megaphones, shouted, "Hoot, hoot, hoot!" while their fingers waved O.K. signs high in the air. More often than not it was difficult to get the crowd to join the cheer. It was almost impossible to hoot in a dignified manner, particularly for couples. Even if one partner in the couple felt the urge, he or she had to be prudent and wait to see if the other was ready to charge in. Enormous embarrassment was a possibility. The strangeness of hooting, the odd shape the mouth was forced to make, coupled with the necessary widening of the eyes, was too much to ask of any crowd.
The Hoot Cheer remained part of our drills, but we did not unveil it in public until our September game against Boston College in Alumni Stadium in Chestnut Hill, Mass., and our entire preparation for the game was focused on going big time. If we beat BC, we were told, people would sit up and take notice. Unhappily, BC was itself making a run for the big time, and it had taken on some similarity to the Irish of Notre Dame. The Eagles' uniforms were white and maroon, and their helmets and pants were classic gold, which made their thigh pads look enormous. Indeed, people were already calling them the Irish of the East, and they looked the part as they took the field.
We came out hooting. As we funneled out of the locker room and past the student bleachers, the assistant coaches hovered near us and began shouting, "Hoot, hoot, hoot!" in a rhythmic chant. The Temple mascot, a person dressed as a large brown owl with a white T across his chest, began swooping around in front of us as we pooled together near the goalposts. Finally our captain turned to the team, raised his hoot goggles and began leading us in even louder hoots.