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reed magazine logoWinter 2009
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The Half-Time Crucifiction

Legendary prank, divine retribution?

By Chris Lydgate

For sheer chutzpah, few chapters of Reed folklore rival the infamous Half-Time Crucifixion. Sometime in the early ’60s, so the legend goes, the Reed football team played a series of games against a local Christian college whose cheerleading squad mocked Reed with chants such as, “Beat those beatniks!” As the season wore on, these taunts gnawed at the restraint of the usually implacable Reed fans. One day, a ragtag band of Reed “cheerleaders” retaliated with a half-time reënactment of Jesus’ procession to Golgotha, complete with an enormous wooden cross lugged through the goalposts. Tradition has it that Reed triumphed on the field but was forever banished from the league.

Until now, details of this episode were fragmentary at best, but new information has recently come to light courtesy of professor emeritus and football coach Jack B. Scrivens of the physical education department, who served at Reed for 38 years, from 1961 to 1999, and who observed the proceedings from the sidelines.

According to Coach Scrivens, the episode took place on October 12, 1962, at the old Reed football field, which is now occupied by the tennis courts. It was a gorgeous Friday afternoon, and the Reed squad was playing a six-man football game against Columbian Christian College (sadly no longer with us).

By halftime, Reed was trailing 0–7. Scrivens was huddling with his team, going over strategy for the second half, when he noticed a commotion coming from the woods across what is now Botsford Drive.

“There was a Reed student riding his motorcycle and a female student sitting on the back, clanging together two garbage lids,” Scrivens recalls. Behind them came a procession of roughly 20 students, one of whom sported a wreath around his head and dragged an enormous wooden cross over his shoulder while the rest sang “Onward Christian Soldiers,” as they marched down the field.

The visitors were thunderstruck—“stunned” is the word Scrivens prefers. “I felt really bad about what had happened,” he says. “But it sure didn’t bother our team.” In fact, Reed surged from behind to score a dramatic upset, thumping Columbia 19–7. Impish irreverence, it seemed, had triumphed over pom-pom piety.

Or had it? After the game, as he was collecting equipment from the field, Scrivens noticed a strange red glow in the sky over the golf course. A fierce wind came up from the south, scattering leaves and blowing towels around. In the locker room, one of his players came up to him and said, “Hey, Coach, maybe we shouldn’t have beaten the Christians so bad, because I think the wrath of God is coming down on us.”

At first, Scrivens chuckled. “Then I saw the tops of the fir trees breaking off,” he says, “And I knew it was going to be bad.”

Soon a howling storm tore through campus, knocking down power lines and snapping trees in half. The gale shattered the skylight in Eliot Hall and tore giant chunks of copper from the chattering roof, threatening to ruin thousands of books shelved in the mathematics library on the fourth floor. Scrivens and fellow coach Jerry Barta anchored a human chain to pass books from hand to hand down to the relative safety of the faculty lounge. Rooms on the exposed southern sides of the dorms had to be evacuated. A tree fell on Sisson, smashing a balcony and shattering a dorm room window; another destroyed the president’s garage (fortunately, injuries were minimal). Students studied by candlelight in commons. When he finally headed home, Scrivens couldn’t drive his car off campus because every road was blocked by downed trees.

The meteorological event known to posterity as the Columbus Day Storm is generally reckoned to be the most powerful extratropical cyclone to hit the United States in the 20th century. With peak gusts of 100 miles per hour, it rampaged through California, Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia, killing 23 people, destroying 84 homes, severely damaging 5,000 more, and wreaking overall havoc estimated at $170 million.

Divine retribution? Hard to say. As far as earthly forgiveness goes, however, Columbia continued to play football with Reed and Concordia College, the only other local college that fielded a six-man team, until 1965, when interest appears to have waned. “Reed was not kicked out of the football league,” Scrivens says. “Actually, there wasn’t a football league. Just three schools who enjoyed playing the six-man football game.”

For more apocrypha about Reed football cheers and the Columbus Day Storm, visit the Reed Stories website at reedstories.reed.edu.

reed magazine logoWinter 2009