As I sat, weary and bleary-eyed, in front of a trough of chicken wings at Wings Over Ithaca on October 23rd, the Friday evening before Cornell Footballs 1990 Championship Reunion, three things became apparent.
1) Old habits never die, they just resurface.
2) Old friendships never wane, they merely hibernate.
3) No matter how much this grizzled O-Line could bench and squat back when, and no matter how many D-Line he and his fellow O-Line put on the ground over the years, he remains powerless to decline yet another round or plate of wings when hes surrounded by his old unit.
After many years, there are simply certain truths about yourself that you must accept. Like it or not, by the time you reach your mid-40s, your wiring is pretty much set.
Yes, the 1990 Championship Reunion had begun. With a tip of the cap to Kathleen Alexander, who wisely chose to host the Friday night reception away from the other patrons at Agava restaurant, we launched into our reunion weekend with gusto. Perhaps too much gusto, as the first few hours of Saturday morning suggested.
Before the Brown game, we joined the team at the Statler for breakfast, chatted up a few Red and observed the pregame rituals after pregame victuals. Marching up to Schoellkopf with the team and the band afforded me my cardio workout for the weekend. Good thing, too. The buffet at the tailgate seemed superfluous after just having eaten breakfast with the team, but, you know O-Line.
The team gathered in the Hall of Fame Room to watch the game, often spilling out onto Tanner Terrace before the chill drove some back inside. Fortunately, I was sporting my, oh, lets call it natural insulation, which kept me pretty toasty all day. Toasty? Toasted? Whatever.
We went to neutral corners after the game, some to Collegetown, some to tour the campus, and some to sleep off the (emotional) excesses of the previous few hours.
I looked out at the tables at the Saturday evening reception and dinner, and savored the eclectic mix of personalities that coalesced so well 25 years ago. Andy Noel and Dave Archer joined us to discuss the state of the team and the direction it was headed. They also outlined the long-term vision they shared for the program. It seems that great things are afoot for Cornell Football, made even more likely by Rick Greens mic-drop pledge to match any 90 gift up to 20 large.
The good cheer of the evening was somewhat tempered when George Wood appeared briefly on the 1990 highlight video. It was hard not to feel a sense of solemn ache over our fallen friend. That our O-Line coach, the legendary Pete Noyes, was not able to make it for the weekend only served to underscore that sense of absence. But just for a moment; malted enthusiasm swooped in just in time.
Afterwards, we ventured into the Collegetown night, hoping that our sheer numbers and championship rings would shield us from that disapproving stink-eye from undergrads. As it turned out, we didnt fully appreciate that college students dont go out until after 11pm, and so by then we had staked out a perimeter at each place we visited. Also, we just didnt give a flying frigate.
But in truth, the significance of the 90 team reunion occurred to me a number of days later. As a military family writer (my wife is an Active Duty Army veterinarian), I was invited to the headquarters of USAA, the military bank, insurance and financial services provider. They were hosting their Veterans Day ceremony, which was being taped in Phoenix, and telecast to all of the USAA offices around the world.
The ceremony was pretty much what youd expect: the stirring speeches, the soaring score, the uplifting imagesall standard military morale boosters. But then one SSG expressed something that could be said for just about every Cornell football event I’ve attended since graduation. I didnt do it for the glory. I did it for the guys I was fighting next to. The debts he had to his brothers. The debts they had to him. The unspeakable bonds they forged over unimaginable hardships and dangers. The toil, the grind. The fear and the relief. The joys and the tragedies.
Last month, I stood next to Jay Bloedorn and Greg Finnegan, the Left Tackle and Left Center for the first time in 25 years. My O-Line brothers. We statless wonders. The Rodney Dangerfields of Cornell Football. I think I can speak for more than just myself, but this reunion wasnt about the rings or the hats or the recognitions or the libations. It wasnt about the polite applause from the Schoellkopf crowd as we were introduced. It was about that unspoken understanding that operated just beneath the surface as we gathered: A long time ago, we did something tremendoustogether. It is good to see you, brother.
The years and the marriages and the jobs and the kids may have separated us. We left Ithaca and each charted our chosen path. But like Odysseus, who returned to Ithaca after a lifetime of war, glory and deprivation, those far-flung adventures did not sever the bonds and the friendships forged over sweltering training camps and frigid walks to Teagle workouts.
So as I finish writing this on Veterans Day, 2015, Ill relay what I was feeling as I got on the plane to depart Ithaca:
It was an honor to stand and fight with you, brothers. My sincere honor.