" '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.