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Archive for December, 2010

FOOTBALL ON ICE

Hal Mayforth, Class of 1949, wrote to me the other day from Bristol, Vermont, with the tale of a long-ago UVM football game. Well, it has to be long ago if we’re talking about Catamount football, I suppose. But this was quite long ago, back in the 1940s. Hal credits the story to Joe Corbett ’43 who told it to him.

Titled “Vermont-Middlebury Football Fiasco,” the Corbett/Mayforth collaboration arrived in my mailbox typewritten. It’s always nice to see someone can still pound those keys.

So, stalwart Vermont football fans, let’s take a moment with Hal Mayforth and return to the gridiron.

A VERMONT VS. MIDDLEBURY FOOTBALL FIASCO

Prior to moving to the modern, state of the art facility of Alumni Field and Youngman Stadium, Middlebury’s home games were held at so-called Porter’s Field. It was located just souteast of this new stadium. A wooden structure of antique vintage defined its northern border. This provided seating for the home crowd with its band. Open air bleachers, on the other side, were for visiting team followers.

Porter Field was used for dual purposes—not only for home games, but as a practice field. As a result, only a few of the hardiest blades of grass survived. During the rainy seasons of autumn, it became a quagmire. As a result, Middlebury football teams were rated as excellent “mudders.”

Even when the rains abated, the clay surface of the field retained a saturation of water. This prompted the false rumor that the crafty Middlebury coach, Duke Nelson, used to order water hoses turned onto the field prior to games.

Late one fall, both Vermont and Middlebury were to meet at Porter Field for their final game of the season. The Vermont team had journeyed there anticipating the worst. In addition to the standard cleats on their football shoes, they had brought along a sufficient supply of longer mud cleats. Both were interchangeable because of a threaded design.

Hardly had the game begun when the finicky weather of Vermont dropped to a freezing level. Porter Field was suddenly transformed into a skating rink. It was then Middlebury executed its home-team advantage. Its manager and scrub managers were dispatched to the nearby fieldhouse. When they returned, their arms were laden with basketball shoes.

The Vermont team was not so fortunate. For them salvation was miles away in Burlington. By half-time Middlebury, because of their sure-footedness, was enjoying a substantial lead. Something had to be done. It suddenly occurred to the UVM manager that the solution was directly behind him in the bleachers.

He pleaded with his fans to donate their rubber-soled shoes for the remaining half. The response was overwhelming. The Vermont team appeared for the second half shod in saddle shoes and white bucks. They were cheered on by their supporters wearing football cleats.

Although the final score was close, the first half in which Middlebury had enjoyed its advantage, was too much to overcome.

by Hal Mayforth and Joe Corbett

 

Sorry, no Hollywood ending with a UVM victory from Hal Mayforth; he’s an honest man, true to history. Nonetheless, it’s a fun look back at a very different era in college sports. Thanks for the memory, Mr. Mayforth.

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HUMBLE TORREY

Though we’re yet to have much snow to speak of on the ground in Burlington, a rainy evening and my camera flash conspired to produce this shot of Torrey Hall posing as holiday greeting card. Torrey is a fairly humble structure as campus buildings go, tucked behind Ira Allen Chapel and Billings Library, the historical heavy hitters of University Row.

Yet, Torrey has its own claims on UVM history. That top floor under the mansard roof (I sometimes worry Norman Bates’s mother might be up there) was added to the original building in the 1870s to house UVM’s first art gallery. The Park Gallery—funded by a $5,000 gift from Trenor W. Park, a railroad tycoon from Bennington—was designed as a teaching gallery. Its mission was not to “gratify the sight-seeing and picture-gazing propensity,” but to illustrate the “great  art-ideas that liberal study aims to inculcate.” Um, OK, but locals seemed to draw some picture-gazing gratification out of the place anyway. Summer exhibitions by contemporary American artists were popular and drew up to 4,000 visitors.

These days, the Fleming Museum, just to the east of Torrey, is home to UVM’s art and anthropology collections. And the top floor of Torrey is home to the Pringle Herbarium.

The Pringle Herbarium… another day, another post.

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