Campus Currents

The Whole Ten Yards
The 'chain gang' sprints to keep up with the Wildcats' hurry-up offense

Bookmark and Share
Easy to print version

Tom Haas
Josh Gibney

Each time the Wildcat football team plays at home, a small group of men claim the best "seats" in Cowell Stadium. They pay nothing for this honor, nor for the matching jackets and caps they don.

The men—Mike Harrington '82, Bruce Rohr '76, Arthur Osbon '92P, Bill Middleton '80, Ray Bilodeau, John Barbour '73 and Jim Thibeault '77—are the Wildcats' volunteer "chain gang." At home games, they work with the NCAA officials to track the football's progress on the field.

"There is no better way to watch a football game," says Harrington, the crew chief and a 15-year veteran of the chain gang, of their unimpeded view. "You hear it, you smell it, you feel it," adds Thibeault.

As football fans know, the role of the chain gang is to measure first downs, the location of the football and which down it is. When the clock is running, this gang is all business, taking orders from the head referee and barking helpful instructions to each other. Football is a game of inches, Harrington notes, and the outcome of the game can depend on the measurements by this group.

Tom Haas
Josh Gibney
PREGAME DRILL: Conferring with the head linesman above are, from left, Arthur Osbon '92P, Bruce Rohr '76, Mike Harrington '82, Jim Thibeault '77, Ray Bilodeau and Bill Middleton '80. Top, Middleton on the run.

But at the celebration at Libby's after the game, the group shares the easy camaraderie of old friends. They relive the highs (Gillette Stadium at the first Colonial Clash in 2010) and lows (mud so deep in pre-turf Mooradian Field that it sucked the shoes off their feet) of their chain-gang careers.

Life on the sidelines is not all glory, they insist. First, there's their location, quite literally behind enemy lines. "Sometimes it's hard to stay impartial. You have to have that level of integrity and not root for the home team," says Rohr, a former Wildcat and currently a football coach at St. John's Prep in Danvers, Mass.

It's also distinctly more aerobic than the typical football-watching experience. In a fast-moving game—and the "hurry-up offense" of coach Sean McDonnell '78 is notoriously brisk—the gang gets a workout, sprinting the length of the field after a completed Hail-Mary pass and jump roping the chains to dodge players who are steamrolling into them.

Nonetheless, the men are unequivocal in their enthusiasm for the job. "We love it.

We love UNH, we love UNH football," says Thibeault.

Enthusiastic, yes, but not evangelical; they're not recruiting newcomers. The last opening came nearly a decade ago, when Dick Dewing '53, in his day a record-setting Wildcat running back, left the chain gang to create a new team that fires the cannon after each UNH touchdown. "The only thing that would get him to give up the chain gang was that cannon," Harrington says. "People don't give up their positions. For the most part someone has to die for someone new to get on."

blog comments powered by Disqus