Walking Since 1971: The Best Post-Game Tradition in America

The debut of "The Walk" 11/13/1971 -- photo by Gregg Peterson '72
The debut of "The Walk" 11/13/1971 -- photo by Gregg Peterson '72

WILLIAMSTOWN, MA -- Every Williams football game, home and away, the Ephs arrive by bus. The ride to home games is usually in a school bus from Cole Field House on the northern edge of campus to Weston Field on the southern edge.

The history of "The Walk" after a Homecoming win over Wesleyan or Amherst is generally thought to have started as a team event in 1971, the first year Bob Odell was the head coach of the Ephs. Odell did not start The Walk, nor encourage it. “We were just so darn happy to have beaten Amherst it did not surprise me to see our team go out the main gate and head up towards Spring Street,” said Odell. “I just thought, ‘Well isn’t that nice, the boys look like they are having a little fun.’” Odell walked over and got in his car and drove back to Cole Field House.

While Odell did not start The Walk, he did re-introduce the Ephs’ to purple helmets. Odell had unveiled the solid purple helmet at his first team meeting saying, “See this dark helmet?  From now on, we’re going to be the bad guys,” recalled Ernie Smith ’72. Williams has played in purple helmets ever since.

Current Eph helmet

On November 13, 1971 Williams snapped a three-game Amherst win streak with a convincing 31-14 win on Weston Field. In the three previous games Amherst had tallied an impressive 115 points to the Ephs’ 49. The 1971 football Ephs were a happy bunch that November day. They were more than ready to get a shower and begin celebrating the end of an Amherst win streak and the beginning of a Williams streak.

No Eph player who walked that day and no Eph fan who saw them walking had any idea just how big an event had just been born.

The Ephs walked the first seven years under Bob Odell. “You know, this is an event that could only happen at Williams,” said Odell. “It just says so much about how close the teams are and how much they want to celebrate their victory with everybody in town.”

The 31-14 win was the backdrop for a Williams tradition that Sports Illustrated dubbed “The Best Post-Game Tradition in America” in its August 31, 1992 issue.

Dave "The Tank" Shawan '72

Many Eph football players had walked in uniform up Spring Street after beating Amherst or Wesleyan on Homecoming weekend before, but November 13, 1971 stands out as the first time the whole team made The Walk as a group. “For some reason, either due to the crowd being in the way or a mechanical malfunction, we sat there [on the school bus] not moving for what seemed to me to be too long,“ remembered Smith. Dave “The Tank” Shawan, an offensive tackle from Columbus, Ohio who is credited with urging the team to forego waiting for the bus, shouted out, “To hell with the bus, let’s walk back!”

“Suffice to say, we were giddy with our victory over Amherst and the first Little Three Championship for Williams football in a very long time,” said Smith 

Shawan, a big lug of a guy with a gregarious personality, was one of the leaders of the merry Ephs as they went right up Latham Street and turned right and proceeded up the middle of Spring Street, stopping traffic and being bathing in showers of cheers and applause as fans responded to seeing their team celebrate on The Walk back to Cole Field House.

“The story is that I was at the game and had my camera along,” said Gregg Peterson ’72. “After the game was over I snapped a few crowd photos, including a couple of my future wife Carter standing in front of the scoreboard.

“Then we just started wandering back up Spring Street toward campus. The team had gone into their shelter building after the game, but somebody decided to walk back to Cole [Field House]. I recall hearing that the bus was tardy coming to get them.

“Anyway, about the time I reached the post office, I heard this commotion behind me and looked back to see the team coming around the corner.  I ran across the street so that I’d have the afternoon light to my back and got up on the steps of some store or perhaps the Williamstown National Bank for a higher angle and then snapped off several frames as the guys swept by up the street.”

"The Walk" is for the players only.

St. Pierre's Barber Shop on Spring Street became a team destination for The Walk in 1987 when David Montgomery, a Williamstown resident and Eph standout, told Roger St. Pierre that, if the Ephs won and stopped a four-year Walk drought, the team would be stopping by to celebrate. The Walk has stopped at three different St. Pierre’s locations on the street over the years.

“The barber on Spring St. was Roger St. Pierre and for years he’d been telling Dave [Montgomery] about how the team would march up Spring Street after the homecoming game,” said Mike McLaughlin ’89.  “It was such a great tradition that he wished the players still did it.  So, the week before Homecoming, Dave told him that when we won [vs. Amherst], that we’d be making The Walk.  Roger and his long-time assistant Vern said they’d be ready for us.  So, after the win, those of us within Dave’s sphere of influence did just that. There were only about 10 of us and we were all underclassmen, but we made The Walk and, when we got to St. Pierre’s Barber Shop, Roger and Vern were ready inside with beer and some hearty congratulations. 

Victorious 2005 Ephs walk up Spring Street

“The two things I remember about that day were that we were inside the barber shop drinking beer and the crowds walking up Spring St. all took notice, and they seemed to get a kick out of it.  Also, by the time we walked back to Cole Field House the place was pretty empty and they were getting ready to close up, so we were lucky to get back into our street clothes.”

When the Ephs won 25-7 over Amherst not only did the Williams players show up at St. Pierre's, where Roger had some cold beverages and cigars on hand for the celebration, but David Montgomery's twin brother Gordon who played for Amherst also stopped by – well after the Williams players had left. Gordon was not in uniform as he had already showered and put his tie and sport coat back on.

David Montgomery is credited with rejuvenating The Walk by making good on his prediction that the Ephs would win the 1987 game and since then The Walk is as close to mandatory for all players as you can get in a free society.

You can’t really get 75-100 football players into St. Pierre’s, but you can if you win the Homecoming game.

College Football Hall of Fame coach Dick Farley (1987-2003) debuted in 1987 as the Ephs’ head coach and ended a six-year win streak by Amherst, leading to Montgomery’s revitalization of The Walk. Farley went on to compile an amazing 16-0-1 record in Homecoming contests, with only the scoreless tie with Amherst on a quagmire called Weston Field in 1995 keeping him from 17-0-0. “It’s something the kids started and they get excited about it,” said Farley. “They don’t want to be the team that doesn’t Walk, I know that much, but I’ve never seen it and I’ve no idea what goes on inside, except I’ve seen a few of the haircuts days later.”

On occasion a photographer has been admitted to the festivities in the barbershop for a moment, or a videographer, or a celebrity, but other than that it’s just Roger and the Ephs. Today sodas and water are the cold beverages on hand, along with victory cigars. The barber shop pulsates to the singing of the Williams fight song and various cheers, while Eph fans gather outside to cheer along and await the scene that is unveiled when the team exits the shop and is greeted by another load roar.

ESPN's Chris Fowler in St. Pierre's

In 2007 when ESPN's College GameDay was at the 122nd confrontation with Amherst, GameDay host Chris Fowler stopped in St. Pierre’s for a moment to congratulate the Ephs on blanking Amherst 20-0 and thank them for allowing ESPN to experience their Homecoming.

The Walk has now taken on a life of its own as the Williamstown Police Department closes Spring Street and hundreds of fans gather along the street and in store fronts and the apartments above the street, with hundreds more congregating just outside St. Pierre's to see what spectacle will emerge.

The large group of Ephs that parade up Spring Street and into St. Pierre’s emerges after about a half hour and parents and friends are surprised but proud to see who has what hair left. Some players gather for group photos with others who have been shorn or “styled,” and just as darkness looms the large group splinters into twos and threes that laugh and joke and cheer their way the last half a mile to Cole Field House.

Celebratory haircuts entered the picture when St. Pierre’s became a destination. Sometimes it’s upperclassmen after a win over Wesleyan wanting to fire up the boys for next week's visit to Amherst or first-years after the Amherst game honoring their older football bothers with some unusual stylings of their hair (or lack thereof).

All-American Graham Goldwasser
does some styling in 2003

The Walk to Cole Field House from St. Pierre’s is one of those on which your feet don’t even touch the ground.

Sometimes players branch out after leaving the barbershop and head to their rooms and more than a few have stopped by Sawyer Library to let out a few passionate cheers.

“Beating Amherst is always a wonderful thing because they’re such worthy opponents,” stated Ernie Smith. “At the time, there was nothing better. My days at Williams and that day in particular will always remain as a highlight in my life.” 

Current Eph head coach Mike Whalen is working on an impressive Homecoming streak of his own, having won the first five he has participated in. “There is no other tradition in college football today that means more to the student-athletes than The Walk,” noted Whalen. “Our players understand that in order to take The Walk up Spring Street they must prepare as hard as they possibly can during the week before the game.  If they’re successful and earn the victory, then they’re rewarded with The Walk.  Some of our players most memorable moments occur when they make that Walk with their teammates, supported by our fans, student body, and families.”

On the morning of November 14, 2009, a group of Dave Shawan’s former Eph teammates and his sister Diane will gather in St. Pierre’s Barber Shop to unveil a commemorative plaque proclaiming the start of The Walk as being November 13, 1971.

Shawan succumbed to a long illness in 2008 and his Eph friends have not forgotten him or his sister Diane.

While Dave was going through his final days, former teammates made their way to Ohio to be with him, and they’ve continued reaching out to Diane to let her know how loved and missed her brother is.

Awhile back, a grateful Diane Shawan Luken sent a note to Reggie Pierce ’72 conveying her thoughts of Dave’s teammates love for Dave and their support for her.

Diane wrote:

“I hope you know how MUCH it meant to Dave that you and Ernie Smith made the trip to Columbus to visit him!!!  I honestly believe that being with you guys and receiving so much support from other classmates and teammates is what sustained him through his toughest times! 

“I am truly blown away by the way so many from the Williams community rallied and reached out to Dave to remind him that he was still a beloved part of that community!  I am also so very touched and so humbled by the outpouring of love and support sent to me by all of you!  I came into this world with just one brother and as I lost him, so many of you embraced me and made me part of the Williams ‘family!’  Now I feel as though I have lots of brothers!  I cannot begin to tell you how much that has meant to me.  It really and truly is what has gotten me through these past sad weeks, Reggie!  I can never thank you enough for that!!!”

The football Ephs have been walking since Dave Shawan led them up Spring Street as a group for the first time. Since that November day in 1971, The Walk has taken on a life of its own and has been formally recognized as truly unique.

Tradition never graduates.

Walk on Ephmen! 

Williams vs. Amherst (odd years) and Wesleyan (even years) in the Homecoming game.

Williams victories on Homecoming since 1971:

2008    Williams 48     Wesleyan 14  

2007    Williams 20     Amherst   0

2006    Williams 51     Wesleyan  21 

2005    Williams 34     Amherst   23   `                                                                                    

2004    Williams 30     Wesleyan  12

2003    Williams 14     Amherst 10

2002    Williams 41     Wesleyan  7     

2001    Williams 23     Amherst  20  OT

2000    Williams 28     Wesleyan  7     

1999    Williams 10     Amherst  7                                         

1998    Williams 57     Wesleyan  19 

1997    Williams 48     Amherst  46

1996    Williams 13     Wesleyan  12

1994    Williams 45     Wesleyan  15 

1993    Williams 31     Amherst  2

1992    Williams 28     Wesleyan  23  

1991    Williams 37     Amherst  0

1990    Williams 30     Wesleyan  3

1989    Williams 17     Amherst  14

1988    Williams 19     Wesleyan  0   

1987    Williams 25     Amherst  7

1982    Williams 27     Wesleyan  24 

1980    Williams   9     Wesleyan  0

1979    Williams 19     Amherst  13 

1977    Williams 21     Amherst  13

1976    Williams 34     Wesleyan  7   

1975    Williams 25     Amherst  6 

1974    Williams 35     Wesleyan  16

1973    Williams 30     Amherst  14

1972    Williams 35     Wesleyan  2     

1971    Williams 31     Amherst 14

The Ephs are 31-6-1 in Homecoming games since 1971.

 

Click here to see Stephen Dravis' article in The Advocate Weekly