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Students on both campuses agree on one thing: The men of Wabash are more committed to the rituals of football season. DePauw's homecoming is celebrated with Church of England reserve, while Wabash's is a pagan pageant. The most singular Wabash tradition is a contest misleadingly called Chapel Sing, in which fraternity pledges link arms on the steps of the school chapel and try to outbellow each other in endless repetitions of Old Wabash, America's longest college fight song. The singers roar and chant for up to 40 minutes, raising a din equal to that of a street market in Djakarta. Members of the Sphinx Club, a campus-spirit organization, serve as judges, awarding points for volume and unity while stuffing stale crackers in contestants' mouths. (It used to be mice and chili peppers.)
Chapel Sing is good training for a greater, if unsanctioned, event: Monon Bell Heist. The rules in this competition are not clear, but purists say a heist, to be creditable, should occur during the fall, when guards are up and spirits are high. Weapons are forbidden, but alcohol is tolerated—for courage—and the bell has to be returned in time for the game.
In the early years DePauw students succeeded with relatively crude snatch-and-run tactics; they nabbed the bell in 1952, for instance, by cutting it free and letting it crash to the floor of the lobby of Chadwick Court, Wabash's basketball facility, before carting it off. ("And they call us Cavemen!" a Wally snorts derisively.) Wabash countered with guile. In '59, when the possession arrow pointed to DePauw, the bell was kept hidden in Green-castle. A Wabash student, posing as a high school senior interested in enrolling at DePauw, tricked the admissions director into revealing the bell's whereabouts, and—voilà!—a raiding party quickly spirited it back to Crawfordsville.
The standard for bell thefts was set in 1965, when Wabash sprang the Mexican Heist, also known as Operation Frijoles. In this scam Jim Shanks, a Wally sophomore posing as a Mexican dignitary, made a luncheon appointment with DePauw president William H. Kerstetter. Alternating between fluent Spanish and English, Shanks pitched the idea of a DePauw scholarship program for Mexican students under the auspices of the fictitious Mexican-American Cultural Institute. Kerstetter was enthusiastic and pledged to provide two full-tuition scholarships; he also invited Shanks to photograph campus landmarks—including the Monon Bell for distribution in Mexico.
Kerstetter did not know the bell's hiding place, so he asked his secretary. "I don't know if I should tell you or not," she joked. "The last time I told a visitor where the bell was, Wabash stole it." But tell she did, and that night the bell was filched. Within days, posters popped up all over Greencastle. They read, "Congratulations to Pres. Kerstetter and his Dannies for 1) Winning the No-Bell Prize. 2) Granting $20,000 in scholarships to needy Wabash students."
Wabash won the game that year, ending a 10-year DePauw hold on the bell, and many of the Wallies who swarmed the field wore sombreros and ponchos.
Another time, a group of Wabash men, angered because the bell was rung persistently at a basketball game that Wabash was losing in DePauw's Lilly Center, hid in the building until after closing one night several weeks later and stole the trophy from its perch atop a concession stand, dropping the bell into a portable high-jump pit that had been conveniently parked across the floor.
"As you can see," DePauw sports information director Bill Wagner said recently, "we've made the bell a little harder to reach." Indeed, the DePauw bell platform, vacant since 1991, juts out of the field-house wall 25 feet above the floor.
The visitor's eye is drawn, however, to an imposing object at the opposite end of the gym: a 25-foot rolling scaffold.
If sweet reason fails, and then larceny, the Monon Bell must be taken by force, i.e., football. Alums pressure coaches, coaches pressure assistant coaches, students scream for blood, and players phone their opponents at odd hours to taunt and provoke. Both teams' football seasons—those bruising games against Indiana Collegiate Athletic Conference rivals Anderson, Franklin, Hanover, Manchester and Rose-Hulman—are but preludes to Wabash-DePauw. "I think about it constantly," says Mourouzis, who has won more games (81) than any other DePauw coach and, with Saturday's loss, is 6-6-1 against Wabash. "It's like a season in itself."