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Read the late Sports Illustrated columnist Frank Deford’s 1980 piece about the University of Virginia

A walk down memory (or history) lane

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Legendary sportswriter Frank Deford passed away over Memorial Day weekend. For 55 years, his columns, coverage, and commentaries filled the pages of Sports Illustrated. I remember his being the voice of all things sports every week on NPR’s “Morning Edition.” Anyone who wanted to be a sportswriter has a favorite Frank Deford piece.

This one—from the September 15, 1980 issue of SI—should be a favorite for any U.Va. fan.

Deford navigates all the Virginia oddities that have made sports an oft-times odd fit in Charlottesville: the Honor System, the Gooch Report, institutionalized racism and misogyny, stringent academics, the party scene. His writing never crosses all the way to judgmental, but does focus on certain elements of Wahoo life with an arched eyebrow—a subtle “Hm, that’s odd,” highlighting something those of us cloaked in the orange and blue may have seldom given a second thought.

There are also great little story-telling nuggets that prove my parents weren’t just making it all up. My folks were at U.Va. from 1976 to 1980: starting the autumn after the Miracle at Landover, and leaving just after Ralph Sampson brought home an NIT title. The line in our house had always been, “Football is social. Basketball is serious.” To that end, I had heard about students chanting numbers in U-Hall in place of more colorful worded cheers, but never found confirmation of it. Deford puts it right there in black and white:

The Wahoo students are beside themselves. They actually have a pep band, and not only do they not boo at cheerleaders, but they have become so vociferous, and so vulgar as well, that [then-athletic director Gene] Corrigan had to strike a devil’s deal with them. Now the students shout out code numbers that refer to dirty words.

The whole thing is the perfect length for a lunchtime read.