Tuesday, February 23, 2016

The Elephant Ladies and the Original Sports Stadium Wave

Did you ever wonder about how college students entertained themselves at losing football games? About the crazy ideas inspired by youth and liquid refreshments? Did you ever consider the origin of a very famous audience participation activity that has become internationally known in team sports? Well, other sources claim the glory, but this is the real story behind The Wave.

Guest blogger, Don M., a member of my writing class, was gracious to share his story...

It was September 1972, and I was an 18-year-old freshman at the University of Washington.  One the reasons that I attended the college was to watch the football games that I had heard on the radio and had watched on TV but had never attended.

I not only attended the game, but in a few years, I would be part of initiating something that people see every day at stadiums throughout the world.  It was the original stadium wave where the crowd stands up in unison to create a wave-like motion throughout the stadium.  The UW student section also witnessed a herd of Elephant Ladies along with the wave.

Several so called "cheerleaders", like crazy George of the Oakland Athletics baseball team in 1981, claim to have actually organized this phenomena, but just like  Animal House, the movie about a rowdy college fraternity, it was a bunch of drunken students that actually started the famous sports stadium wave. 

I'm surprised that the 10,000+ students during the 1973-74 Husky Football season have not risen in unison to tell the world about the famous Sports Stadium Wave's actual conception.

After the 1972 Sonny Sixkiller era, a Cherokee Indian Quarterback, the team went into several losing seasons before Don James was hired as the football coach in 1975.  

The students kept chanting, "Fire Jim Owens! Fire Jim Owens!"  They even wore buttons to promote the firing of then Coach Jim Owens.

Rob Weller, the lead cheerleader, now a reporter for the Home Garden Network, wanted to quiet the drunken student crowd form yelling at Coach Owens.  Weller and the cheerleaders controlled the angry crowd with laughter from the student section by creating and seeking amateur comic routines from anyone and everyone.

One of the most requested routines was created by one of the lady band members who did her famous Elephant Lady routine.  The marching band uniform had a large zipper in the front of the pants and also large white pockets, so when you turned the pockets inside out, they looked like large elephant ears.  The co-ed band member, named Elephant Lady, would turn her pants pockets inside out to form the elephant ears, and then she would stick her hand and arm through the zipper opening which was supposed to look like the trunk of the elephant.

The Elephant Lady was pleased with her new "trunk" and said that her trunk could do all sorts of tricks.  She proudly stuck both arms through the zipper and announced that her female species of elephant had two trunks.  She would then show off her two trunks by doing new tricks at each football game, like juggling or somehow playing her saxophone. The Elephant Lady then started to recruit more elephant ladies form the band until there was a herd of elephant ladies who had all sorts of tricks and magic that they could perform with their trunks.  As the losing season went along, the football team got worse, but the team and herd of UW band elephant ladies got better and saved the football season.

The Elephant Lady kept the student section laughing during the 1973 season and saved Coach Jim Owens' job that year.  Most of the elephant ladies graduated in 1974, so without their distractions for the students, the Tyee Alumni asked that Jim Owens also graduate into retirement at the end of that year.  He was fired.

Another activity to calm the rowdy student section was the famous "brown bag check". Each student section was designated by different season ticket colors.  The 10 yard to the end zone tickets were white, the 10 to 25 yard section was green, the 25 to 40 yard section was gold, and the 40 to 50 yard section was purple.

Most of the students had brought alcohol into the stadium, as long as it was in a "brown bag" to be discrete.  Then it was generally accepted because there was honor among thieves in the student section; we all looked out for each other to make sure that a friend didn't go too overboard with drinking.

Stan and I were friends since childhood, and as UW students we did our part with the preparation of our bottle-in-a-brown-bag by getting the cheapest and most powerful alcohol to sneak in and to blend it with a large bottle of Pepsi or Coke to create his semi-like cherry cola that tasted more like bad cough syrup, but we didn't care because it got us to be a couple of cheap drunks by the second quarter.  We would get a bottle of Mogen David 20/20 from our friend JP who had a fake ID.  Mogen David is widely known as "Mad Dog".  Originally, the "20/20" stood for 20 ounces at 20% alcohol by volume.  Currently, MD 20/20 is neither sold in 20 ounce bottles nor at 20%, but is actually about 13-18% depending upon the flavor.

After the band played the song "Tequila", Rob Weller would start to ask each section to stand and raise their brown bags to see how many students were drinking.  Each section would stand, cheer and "wave" their brown bags.

Weller would say, "How about the green section???!!! And the green section of about 3,000 students would stand, cheer and wave their brown bags.  Weller would then say, "How about the purple section???!!!.  That section, also about 3,000 students, would stand, cheer, and wave.

Once, Weller just happened to ask the white section near the end-zone, then he asked the adjacent green section, then the gold and finally the purple section, which ended up being in sequence form the end zone to the 50-yard line at mid-field.  He started laughing and said that this sequential brown bag check made that side of the stadium look like a "wave", and then he started to ask the student section to repeat the born bag check in the same sequence, but to do it faster.

He shouted "white, then green, then gold, then purple".  He paused for a moment and laughed as he continued with "white, then green, then gold, then purple, then white, then green, then gold, then purple".  He began to sound like a train engineer conducting this stadium wave with his cheering directions and laughing over the microphone and large speakers.

Soon Rob started to organize the wave onthe north side of the stadium with the student "brown bag check".

In the 1970's, the NCAA would allow student section leaders to have huge speakers to lead the students with their cheers.  These speakers were like the ones used on aircraft carriers which are six-feet in diameter. Rob had the cheerleaders turn the west side speaker toward the closed bowl of the stadium so half of the crowd could now understand what was being organized.  After the crowd saw the student wave and heard the instructions on the west-end speaker, gradually the rest of the stadium caught on and the wave started from the student section and continued all the way over to the south end toward the alumni section, the Tyees.

If someone at KOMO TV station in Seattle could find some 1974 archive of the "Husky Highlight" films, the old Jim Owens TV show with the KOMO sports anchor Bruce King, then you would see the wave in the background.

The University of Washington tries to hide the real origin of the wave by stating that the band director along with Rob Weller, then retired, came back in 1981 to organize a method for The Wave with instructions and everything, but it was, in truth, a bunch of drunken students who accidentally and proudly raised their bottles in brown bags to form the original stadium crowd wave along with the ghost of the past herd of elephant ladies playing tricks with their trunks of the previous year.

It was not in 1981, but it was back in the dark, losing Husky days of 1973-74.

-- Don M. (Class of 1978)

Thank you Don!