by Rich Levy '74
The members of The Williams College Marching Scrambling Rambling Strutting Sitting Stumbling Military Moo-Cow Concert Gabrielli Brass Ensemble, Symphonic Wind-Passers, Fire Department Auxiliary Bar Room Band and Traveling Sideshow like to think that The Marching Band contributed significantly over the years to the successes of the Williams football program, to the enjoyment of fans, and to some enduring (and endearing) traditions. But consider this historical tidbit involving The Marching Band: The 1971 Williams Football Team’s postgame Homecoming Walk wasn’t the only memorable bi-pedal occurrence on that mid- November day.
On November 6, 2021, Ephs at Williams’ Homecoming will celebrate the 50th anniversary of “The Walk” of November 13, 1971, which, at the time, involved a joyful stroll up Spring Street and a traverse of the campus by the winning Williams football team returning to its then-home base at Cole Field, located a couple of miles or so north of Weston Field.
Since the mid-1980s, “The Walk” has referred to the famous 573 footsteps from Farley-Lamb Field to St. Pierre’s Barbershop on Spring Street, still walked by the Williams football team after each Homecoming victory, and recognized by Sports Illustrated Magazine in 1992 as the best postgame football tradition in America.
If there had not been a Covid pandemic, the 2021 celebration would have been on the true anniversary of The Walk on November 13 – which would have been an Amherst game at home – but with the suspension of the 2020 season NESCAC just picked up the schedule where it was, making Wesleyan the Homecoming game in 2021 and future odd-numbered years.
In 1971, as in previous years and for many years thereafter, the football team was transported from Cole Field House to the game and back by bus. On November 13, 1971, banishing to the trash heap of history the undistinguished era of three straight losses to Amherst, the Williams team trounced the favored Defectors (the defending Little 3 champs who also came into the game with a 6-1 record) by the score of 31-14 to cap Coach Bob Odell’s first season, finishing with a 7-1 record and the Little 3 title, and setting off a huge celebration.
After the game, when the team bus wouldn’t start or couldn’t get through the crowds, the team members– at the prompting of Dave “The Tank” Shawan ’72 – elected to walk back to Cole Field. It was an amazing scene as they moved onto Latham Street and turned up Spring Street to cross the campus: Traffic came to a halt on Spring Street (then a two-way street), cars honked, and people massed along the sidewalks cheering and applauding the team.
Following some home games, members of The Marching Band had been known to return to Band Headquarters at Chapin Hall by heading back in some sort of “formation” on some route (although its 1971 Homecoming parade permit appeared to have expired even before the game began).
On that day, however, after postgame handshakes between the two teams at midfield, and jubilant outpourings by fans, families and friends all over the field, when the Williams team left on foot The Marching Band trailed them up the street among what seemed like a cast of thousands, but group soon realized that the great celebration was far too big for us to do anything other than try (with minimal success) to play more than a few bars of one of its standards and just roll along with the festive crowd.
But the football team’s historic journey up Spring Street wasn’t the only memorable “walk” on that Saturday afternoon.
Earlier that day, in its own final pre-game parade of the season from Chapin Hall down Spring Street to Weston Field and for the first time in its history, The Marching Band made two notable detours from its regular route: First, just south of Lasell Gymnasium, the entire Band paraded into St. Pierre’s Barbershop (which would figure centrally in the football team’s Walks of later years beginning in 1986), as documented by a photograph and a contact sheet of photo images held by the Williams College Archives.
One can just visualize how, even for The Marching Band, this was a complicated maneuver given the small space inside the shop and the absence of a back door through which it could have exited, but the organization was always known for its ingenuity (and survival instincts).
Just a few moments later, as it reached the foot of Spring Street after serenading Williams alumni in front of The Log, The Marching Band quick-marched into the legendary B&L Service Station, parading through its two service bays, office and storage room, exiting out the back door.
Regrettably, no photographic evidence has been found of the group’s momentary sojourn in the B&L service bays, but former B&L proprietor Arthur Lafave confirmed in an email on October 27, 2021: “Oh I so remember you and the band marching through the B&L Service Station.... We at B&L felt very honored that you would even ask us if you could do that.” (Thank you, Art, and your B&L partner, the late Alvin Brassard!)
Out behind B&L, The Marching Band reassembled for the short completion of the parade route and entrance onto Weston Field for its pre-game exercises and a stirring rendition of The Star-Spangled Banner, under the direction of Maestro Straordinario, Francis C. Cardillo (Director of The Williams College Marching Band, 1964-1999).
The Marching Band marked the football team’s official arrival at the field with the players’ traditional running through two parallel lines of Band members alongside the north endzone – a move akin to the football team’s welcoming of The Band at Cole Field the prior evening for its annual pep-visit to the team’s final practice. After the kickoff, The Band went on to rouse the crowd, cheer the team, perform a great halftime show replete with extraordinary scrambles suited to the occasion, and notch its umpteenth consecutive undefeated season.
Marching Band members from 1971 proudly recall the group’s escapades of that day, which were repeated in the Homecoming parades of 1972 and 1973 to set the stages for Williams’ decisive football victories over Wesleyan and the Defectors.
So, let’s celebrate the 50th anniversaries of both of the 1971 Homecoming Walks!! Go Ephs!
Richard Levy, Jr. ’74 was the Student Leader of The Williams College Marching Band from 1971- 1974. Special thanks to David M. Webster ’72, Principal Bass Drummer of The Williams College Marching Band in 1971, for his contributions to these memories, and to Sylvia Kennick Brown, Special Collections Archivist, Williams College Library, for providing copies of photographs in the Williams College Archives. Other sources here.