October 30, 2008

‘Wacky Wednesday’ Becomes Weekly Tradition for Football

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Wacky Wednesday sounds more like a first grade teaching technique than a weekly ritual for the Cornell football team. It evokes images of coloring outside the lines, opposite day, and goofy hats — not sweating, bleeding college football players hitting each other.
But there was certainly nothing goofier and more colorful than head coach Jim Knowles ‘87 last Wednesday.
To rumbling laughter, Knowles came jogging out of the locker room stooped over, head bent down, carrying one of defensive line coach Pete DeStefano’s trademarks — a pole with a fake football attached to the end, used in a myriad of defensive drills. Wacky Wednesday was in full force for the Red (3-3, 1-2 Ivy). Knowles even had a thick unibrow and mustache painted on his face.
[img_assist|nid=33119|title=Messing with the status quo|desc=After another satisfying Wacky Wednesday practice, the football team huddles up over the Schoellkopf Field “C.”|link=node|align=left|width=|height=0]
Knowles addressed his team with a thick Italian accent, speaking in short, staccato bursts.
“Excellent, right down to the ‘T,’” DeStefano said later of the imitation in his own deep voice. “[I don’t have] the Italian accent [so much]. I mean, I do speak pretty good English even though I don’t pronunciate everything correctly.”
Kowles corrected him: “Coach DeStefano does not have a unibrow,” he said. “I did that just for effect.”
“Take the unibrow off,” DeStefano deadpanned.
For four or five years now, depending on whom you ask, Wacky Wednesday has been an integral part of midweek practices for the football team. It started with just a couple of players switching jerseys, but in the years since it has become almost a tradition.
Senior co-captain Graham Rihn claims it was his class that was responsible for turning it into a sort of white elephant, with almost everyone swapping jerseys, looking for something better — or at least funnier.
“A lot of times [the players will] try to mess with the coaches and they’ll switch jerseys with their backup,” Knowles said. “So when we’re in there watching film, I’ll be like, ‘[senior defensive lineman] Darrio Arezzo, what are you doing? But it’s really [his backup, junior defensive lineman] Ricky Balou.’”
“It’s good for the coaches because it keeps them sharp,” Rihn said with a sly smile on his face.
And when senior safety Anthony Sabo showed up to the second day of training camp without his normal No. 19, it was evident that Wacky Wednesday would be inherent in the season.
“He did it in camp and nobody else did, he was the only one,” Rihn said. “It was like our second day or so, so no one wanted to do it.”
But what started as a fun way to confuse the coaches while they were watching films turned into something more last Wednesday.
“We were just playing off what the kids do,” Knowles said.
“That was a first,” Rihn said. “Something like that has never happened before.”
And it wasn’t just Knowles. Offensive coordinator Bruce Barnum and defensive coordinator Clayton Carlin dressed as each other — “Fortunately, they both look the same,” Knowles said. And DeStefano nearly matched his head coach with his outfit.
“Oversized clothes,” DeStefano said, not prone to verbosity. “You know, look at him.”
Indeed, Knowles is known to wear baggy, bright Red pullovers. He is also known for his deep laughter, which welled up at DeStefano’s discription.
“I think [Wacky Wednesday] just loosens [the players] up,” Knowles said. “Football is a tough sport, man, particularly at this level. It’s got to be fun or you just get worn out. Our guys are beat up now. Six games into the season, you have to find a way to energize them.”
“We like to stay loose around here and have some fun because it’s football and it’s a tough game,” Rihn said.
Football is a tough game and football players are equally as gritty. But some of the grit falls away when you hear about the time that the offensive line lined up wearing Nos. 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5. Or when you see the clever smile spread across Rihn’s face when he’s asked if the team has anything special prepared for the last practice of the season.
“That’s still to be determined,” he said.
And it allows for the players and coaches to smile despite a three-game skid.
“We were trying to lighten up the mood. It didn’t work, we still lost,” Knowles paused and broke into a deep laughter. “But it was fun, we lightened up the mood a little bit.”
“A lot more things go into the game [than having fun],” Rihn said. “This is just something to keep things loose. We’re still focused. We’re having fun while we’re playing, so it’s good.”