Nov. 3, 1999
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. - From 1953 to 1979, it was a popular tradition for former members of the UVa football program to return to Charlottesville and take part in the varsity-alumni football game. Cavalier greats from across the nation would once again put on the orange and blue to do battle with the current Virginia players. Ignoring the risks involved, many football alumni stopped at nothing to show their deep-rooted devotion to the University of Virginia and its football program.
"In 1953, we started what we called the varsity-alumni football game. We created a game where the alumni would come back and play the varsity team every spring," said 1950 team captain Bob Weir. "We had pros return that could have ruined their careers, but they loved this University so much, they would come back and play in this game."
The varsity-alumni game not only provided a chance for many former players to return to the gridiron, but it also served as an occasion for one-time teammates to renew old friendships. In 1979, this unique event stopped entirely, leaving many former Virginia players with little opportunity to relive the experience of Cavalier football. Hoping to evoke the same spirit of those games without putting former players at risk of injury, UVa Director of Regional Development Andy Selfridge teamed with the UVa football office to host the first Virginia Football Alumni Weekend in the spring of 1994.
Since then, the annual event has grown in popularity, once again reuniting former UVa football players from many different eras. "Everybody who makes it back has a ball," said Selfridge. "It has helped fill the void that many of our football alumni felt following the discontinuation of the varsity-alumni game in the 1970's."
No longer centered around a contest between former and current Virginia players, the Alumni Weekend features another, less hazardous, form of friendly competition. Weekend activities include a golf tournament at Birdwood Golf Course, attending the UVa spring game, several social gatherings, and an opportunity to discuss football topics with Virginia coaches and administrators. Over the past five years, the attendance has doubled as more and more players return each spring for the annual event.
"When we first started off, we probably got 100 or so football alumni to return, and it has steadily increased each year," said Selfridge. "Now, it's to the point where we get about 200-250-plus former football players that come back and participate in some part of the weekend."
The Football Alumni Weekend provides the perfect opportunity for former Virginia players from across the United States to once again interact with friends and teammates. Among those attending this past spring's Football Alumni Weekend were all eight ends from UVa's 1947 squad: Ed Bessell, Carlton "Stretch" Elliot, Raymond Long, Alan Miline, Mike Mausteller, Charley Mott, Gene Schroeder, and Robert "Rock" Weir.
"This is great," said Schroeder, who traveled from Chicago, Ill., to see his former teammates. "We had great camaraderie back then, and it's like nothing has changed after all those years."
The event provides any member of the football family the chance to return to Charlottesville and share the unique experiences of Cavalier football. Managers, trainers, practice players, and anyone else ever associated with the Virginia football program is encouraged to become a part of this annual event.
"There is no better way to reconnect with the University and your teammates than to come back to the area where their friendships were formed," said Selfridge. "People discover what they had in common 30, 40, or 50 years ago continues to endure."
For those who do make the trek back to Charlottesville each spring, the experience leaves a lasting impression. The old stories, shared memories, and familiar faces, all bring back the nostalgic feelings of Cavalier pride. In many cases, it represents the only time throughout the entire year former teammates get a chance to spend a weekend together. Without this event, some players, who developed friendships while playing football at UVa, would go years without seeing one another. The Football Alumni Weekend serves as a wonderful occasion for former members of the football program to foster the friendships they formed while at Virginia.
"It's incredible the positive comments you hear from people that get back here and reconnect with their former teammates," said Selfridge. "It's amazing how much they enjoy it, and how thankful they are that this platform exists for them to get back together. Each of them vows that the following year they'll be back and will bring more of their teammates with them."
In addition to bringing the football family back together on a yearly basis, the event also provides an opportunity to recognize certain individuals for their contributions to the football program. Many former Cavaliers offer their dedication and services in an effort to help Virginia football continue to improve. The weekend gathering gives the University as well as fellow peers the chance to personally thank these select members for their accomplishments.
Among those receiving special recognition at this past spring's alumni weekend were Bob Weir, who was presented with a portrait of himself for his longstanding service to the football program. Also honored were Carl W. Smith, for supporting UVa's stadium expansion project, and Joe Palumbo, for his recent election to the National Football Hall of Fame.
As the Sixth Annual Football Alumni Weekend quickly approaches, the event continues to grow in popularity. Each spring new members make their first appearance, while the number of those who regularly attend continues to grow. As this yearly reunion prepares to move into a new millennium, plans have already begun for future improvements.
"I would like to maybe see it occur on the same weekend as the Herman Moore Celebrity Basketball Game," said Selfridge. "Another option is, possibly at some point, transferring the reunion to the fall so that returning players could enjoy a home football game."
No matter when or where the Annual Football Alumni Weekend takes place, the yearly event has become a true tradition. It brings the entire football family together in the place where friendships were formed and experiences were shared. They take great pride and honor in calling themselves Cavaliers, and the weekend's continued success only proves exactly how much being a part of Virginia football meant to these individuals.
"I loved Virginia football. I have great memories and whenever I get an opportunity to go to Charlottesville, I go," said 1989 team captain Roy Brown. "I like seeing all the guys I played with, and it's great to take a weekend off to talk football and share old memories."