Spartans? Meh. They Ain't So Tough...
I haven't regaled y'all with a Tale of Misspent Youth in a while, so I reckon I ought to fix that. Besides, the statute of limitations has long expired on this particular shenanigan...
Most pranks due to their very nature have to be pulled off in the dead of night, with no one around to see the event until the first rays of morning sun illuminate the dastardly deed.
This one got pulled off under bright spotlights in front of a stadium full of people. I even corrupted the morals of a straitlaced freshman reed-sucker to get the job done.
The time... The early 1980's, a warm fall evening.
The place... Tully Football Stadium, Houston Texas.
The event... A football game between my high school and Stratford High School.
A little background info first... In the 80's, in addition to the football team and the marching band, most Houston-area high schools had additional personnel littering the sidelines during football games. This included the cheerleaders, the
Drill Team, and the school mascot.
Our mascot wore this moth-eaten old tiger suit with a ginormous head the size of a 30 gallon garbage can. Soaked with at least 20 years of sweat and hurled soft drinks, it was a pathetic mess.
Stratford High, OTOH, had a very nice outfit for their Spartan mascot. Their colors of green & gold were nicely reflected in the Spartan's leather kilt, greaves, breastplate, helmet and sword. The helmet had this big mofo crest on top, and you could see the guy yelling and jumping along with the rest of the Stratford cheerleaders during games.
Our mascot could barely walk with that ratty old tiger head on, and any sounds emanating from the suit were usually whimpers of misery and pleas to remove it before heatstroke set in.
The ritual at halftime was for the bands to take the field, visitors first, then the home team. While the first band was performing, the second would line up on the sideline in preparation for their own show.
Occasionally, the requirements of that week's marching drill would mean that a sizable portion of the band would have to enter from the opposite side of the field. So, instead of lining up on our side, we'd have to circle the field and wait on the opponent's sideline. This usually meant you were subjected to having insults thrown at you by the other team's fans, along with the occasional flung item from the concession stands.
Drill Teams would wait until their school's band had finished marching, then would pony-step onto the field and give the popcorn-munchers in the stands their weekly dose of teenage T & A. The band would play current pop tunes at a
painfully slow tempo so the heifers could high-kick without straining themselves, or God forbid, crack a sweat.
During the performances, the cheerleaders from the visiting team would go around the field and socialize with the home team cheer squad. This was a chance for the mascots to rest for a bit, and drop some gear or remove parts of their suit to cool down.
So, on the night of the prank, I found myself lined up on the Stratford side of the field along with 20 or 30 of my band mates near the 20 yard line. Another 20-30 were on the other 20 yard mark, and the remainder of the 200-strong band was on our side of the field.
As I'm standing there holding up my sousaphone
at Parade Rest watching the Stratford band pukes fuck up their spacing and bollix their route marches, I see the Spartan mascot peel off his breastplate and helmet, and lay them near a bench along with the shield and sword, not half a dozen steps away. As he and the other cheerleaders walked around the end zone to visit our side, I decide that I really, really needed that sword.
It's just too far away to reach, though. I'm shielded by the stadium wall, so the Stratford fans can't see what I'm up to unless they lean over and peer down. There's a scattering of trainers and booster-club types cleaning up the team benches, but they're all 20 yards away.
There's just no way I can lay the sousaphone down, though. With that huge shiny silver bell reflecting the stadium lights, it would draw too much attention. As I'm leaning about as far as I can lean, with my leg straining towards the sword's hilt, a clarinet player whispers "What are you trying to do?"
I could swear her name was Katie, but don't hold me to that. It's been a few years. She was a typical freshman girl, cute as a ladybug, and the worst transgression in her life was probably failing to say "Bless You" when someone sneezed...
"I'm trying to reach that sword!" I reply.
"We're not supposed to move on the sidelines! You're going to get us into trouble!" she said, giving me the reproachful look that only the truly innocent can muster.
"Well, if you'll help me, I'll quit moving! Reach your leg back and slide it over!" I asked, continuing to peer around for witnesses.
"NO! I'll get in trouble!" she replied, trying to remain expressionless and still as she spoke.
"C'mon!" I said. "Help me out here. I'm just trying to play a joke on their cheerleaders. I'm gonna give it to our mascot so he can wave it around next quarter!"
She wasn't buying it, and I was running out of time...
It took some convincing, but eventually she eased a foot out, stuck a toe behind a quillion and shoved it a few feet in my direction. I was able to drag it the rest of the way, then I slowly knelt and grabbed the hilt. My movement going unnoticed was aided by the fact that I wasn't wearing a busby
like the rest of the band. With the sousaphone's bell right overhead, there was no way we could wear that stupid 15-inch tall hairy hat.
Coming back to Parade Rest, I had the sword in one hand, lying flat along the front of my leg. The sousaphone was being propped up in the other hand, and we were about 2 minutes from marching onto the field.
This sword (actually a sword-like object, since it was a cheap theatrical prop with a dull blade and cast aluminum hilt) was only about 30 inches long, but it was too long to carry unnoticed. Besides, I needed both hands to be able to march and play the sousaphone at the same time. Otherwise, Newton's First Law being what it is, a sharp turn whilst marching would likely send the horn spiraling off my shoulder to impact into a rank of flautists. No great loss to the band in that instance, but I might dent the horn, and that's expensive to fix.
What I needed to do was run the sword down a pants leg. I might march a bit stiff-legged, and climbing the steps back up into the bleachers would be a bitch, but I'd have it hidden, and no one the wiser.
I was able to shove the hilt up the bottom of my band jacket, and out through the neck. The overlay worn over the jacket made it difficult, but the neck snap loosened up enough so I could slide the pommel up past my chin, giving me enough clearance to lower my waistband enough to slide the blade in without tearing any holes.
About the time I got the blade mostly in place, we got the signal to gear up and get ready to march onto the field. It was a stroke of luck that the bank of valves and tubes of the sousaphone held the sword tight against my lower chest, so I had both hands free.
I made it through our drill with no issues, and was able to readjust the sword's position when we paused on the sidelines to play for the
Drill Team. After the halftime show was complete, I waited my turn to climb back into the stands, and watched across the field as the Stratford mascot realized he was short one piece of equipment.
The clarinet player had apparently never heard the phrase "Loose lips sink ships"
, and as the Band booster club parents passed out the post-show cold sodas, word of my heist slowly filtered through the band.
Luck was on my side, though. I kept it under my uniform and denied everything, though I did have to spend the rest of the 2nd half standing against the back rail of the band section. Also, the usual douchebags (most often a sophomore or junior woodwind player) who took great joy in reporting the slightest infraction to the band director either didn't get the word, or didn't believe I'd done it.
The Stratford mascot kept looking for the lost sword for rest of the game. As we marched out under the dimming stadium lights, he and the other cheerleaders were still poking around the benches and peering under the stadium seats.
Once we were on the road back to our school, I couldn't resist hanging it out the window and waving it at the locals. (Stratford High is located right next to Tully Stadium...) The other bus occupants took the opportunity to add their insults to the pedestrians as we whooped and hollered on our way to the freeway.
I got the thing home without running afoul of any band directors or other adult-types. It hung on my bedroom wall for a while, a source of great amusement to me and my crew. I didn't even retain possession for a month, however. A French horn player with big brown eyes, an adorable smile, and a bodacious rack asked me if she could borrow it for a weekend, and I didn't even blink an eye as I handed it over.
I should have at least tried to make a quid pro quo
deal first... not only did she not go out with me, she GAVE THE DAMNED THING BACK TO STRATFORD!!
Sigh... and the wimmens wonder why I've got some trust issues... If you're not keeping our cojones in a Mason jar, you're donating our phallic symbols for charity!