There are a lot of college sporting events out there—tournaments, championships, bowl games"¦ But the best intercollegiate sporting event is the Quidditch World Cup. That's right: the Quidditch World Cup. The annual event at Middlebury College in Vermont brings the magic of the event featured in The Goblet of Fire to the muggle world. This year's QWC was this past Sunday, October 25.
Why is the Quidditch World Cup the best intercollegiate sporting event?
1. Nerdy jersey numbers
The QWC is probably the only intercollegiate athletic event where you'll find players sporting numbers such as 007, π, â„®, Â½, and âˆš81, or Roman numerals. Princeton University boasted a roster full of nerdy numbers last year; this year, Texas A&M had some of the nerdiest numbers on the field.
2. Home tents
Baseball has dugouts, football has benches, and quidditch has"¦ tents. Behind the playing fields at the QWC stands a huddle of maroon and gray tents that act as the schools' homes away from home during the all-day event.
3. Coed violence
Football, hockey, and rugby all have violence, and intramural sports are usually coed, but few intercollegiate events feature both violence and coed teams. At the QWC, teams are required to have at least two females on the field at all times. And since the sport mixes broomsticks, dodgeballs, and the capture of a cross country runner, it gets violent pretty quickly. This year, a Green Mountain College player was taken off the field on a stretcher.
4. Comedian announcers
The QWC's announcers have been described as "brilliant" by The (Montreal) Gazette. Rumor has it the announcers are members of Middlebury's improv group, and their witty banter keeps fans and players alike chuckling throughout the day. The QWC is surely the only intercollegiate sporting event—heck, probably the only sporting event at all—whose commentary alone could be recorded and sold as a comedy album.
Quidditch and its championship event, the World Cup, are the only sport and championship (that I've ever heard of, at least) that were born in a novel. Millions of people had heard of quidditch and the Quidditch World Cup by way of the Harry Potter books and movies years before the Intercollegiate Quidditch Association (IQA) was ever formed. Now, thanks to the enormous popularity of the J.K. Rowling series, quidditch is one of the fastest growing collegiate sports. (The competition doubled in size from last year to this year, with 21 teams and 300 players competing on Sunday.)
6. Campus-wide playing field
For the IQA version of Rowling's sport, the snitch (a small, flying golden ball in the books) is a student—usually a cross country runner—dressed from head-to-toe in gold and yellow, with a tail (a soccer sock with a tennis ball in the foot). The snitch is "released" at the beginning of each game and can go, well, pretty much anywhere on campus. The seekers are also given free reign of the campus to capture the snitch, though the other players are confined to the field. Snitches have been known to ride bikes and unicycles, leapfrog each other (there are usually 2 to 4 simultaneous games at the QWC), relax in the stands, and even climb bell towers.
7. Ridiculously high scores
We've all seen college basketball games with scores that edge into the 100s, but quidditch takes the cake in terms of high scores and score disparities. Since goals are worth 10 points and capturing the snitch (which ends the game) is worth 30 points, it's not unusual for teams at the QWC to reach 80, 100, or 150 points in a 20-minute game. On Sunday, Chestnut Hill College trounced Moravian College 190 to 10 and Middlebury College, the hosts and reigning champs, beat Texas A&M 120 to 10.
8. Capes and brooms
How many sporting events feature players who look like they're dressed for Halloween? Sure, some kids dress up as athletes for Halloween, but those are costumes based on sports uniforms, not sports uniforms based on costumes. In quidditch, though, capes and brooms are mandatory. Capes often bear the players' numbers and are secured onto the players in more creative ways each year to ensure they're not ripped off during the game. Each player must have a broom between his or her legs at all times; goals and snitch captures don't count if the player is off-broom.
The IQA is a student-run organization (with the exception of Alex Benepe, chief commissioner, who graduated this past spring) based at Middlebury College, and Sunday's QWC was student-run as well. The QWC commissioners are all students, as are the announcers, scorekeepers, referees, merch salespeople, and half-time performers. Sometimes they're recruited right from the stands!
10. Entire championship in one day
Most intercollegiate sports championships spread their qualifying rounds out over a number of days, with the final championship event on its own day. Intercollegiate quidditch packs it all into one high-intensity day, starting with pool play (4 games at a time) in the morning and bracket play in the afternoon.
This year's pools: A. North: McGill University, St. Lawrence University, University of Vermont, Green Mountain College B. Penn: Moravian College, Chestnut Hill College, Lafayette College, Villanova University C. Frequent Flier Miles: Middlebury College, Virginia Commonwealth University, Louisiana State University, Texas A&M University D. Ive's Pond Diaspora: Syracuse University, Ive's Pond QC, Vassar College, University of Pittsburgh E. Boston / Ivies: University of Massachusetts at Amherst, Harvard University, Emerson College, Boston University (Yale University dropped out at the last minute.)
The photos above are from both the 2008 and 2009 Quidditch World Cups. For more photos and information about the Intercollegiate Quidditch Association and the Quidditch World Cup, check out the IQA web site, the IQA Facebook page, and the 2009 QWC Facebook event page.
I don’t remember much about being seven years old, but I’ll never forget Thanksgiving Day, 1990, at my Uncle John’s house on Staten Island. While the adults were in the dining room drinking and laughing, I was glued to the television, watching my heroes Hulk Hogan, the Ultimate Warrior, and the Legion of Doom. It was WWF’s Survivor Series pay-per-view, and it was basically the coolest thing I’d ever seen.
But that night was memorable for another reason: It was the debut of one of the most celebrated wrestlers in history, a man who’d go on to win seven WWF (now WWE) Heavyweight Championships, as well as an unprecedented and inimitable 21 straight Wrestlemania matches. This man was not a man at all, but an undead monster. A “Phenom,” as WWE announcers would go on to call him.
On that day, the world got its first glimpse of the Undertaker.
This is not his story.
No, this story is about another debut from that night. One that was so perplexing that, more than a quarter-century later, fans are still scratching their heads.
I am talking about what is considered one of wrestling’s worst gimmicks: the Gobbledy Gooker.
WHAT'S IN THE EGG?
The Gobbledy Gooker was actually the most anticipated part of that evening, which only adds to the mystery of how this happened. For the unfamiliar, the Gobbledy Gooker started its life as an egg, hyped heavily on televised WWF broadcasts in the weeks leading up to Survivor Series. The world would find out what's in the egg, it was promised, during the big pay-per-view event on Thanksgiving.
When Survivor Series finally aired, all was revealed. “Mean” Gene Okerlund, the voice of the WWF in the 1980s and early 1990s, enhanced the drama. “Is it the playmate of the month?” Gene asked, to the cheers of men across the arena. “The way it sounds to me right now, the speculating is all over!” I couldn’t handle it anymore. Break open, already, dammit. Break!
When the egg finally did break open, few in the crowd at Connecticut's Hartford Civic Center could believe what was inside: a man in a giant, cartoonish turkey costume.
To say fans were unhappy is an understatement. Watching the video now, you can immediately hear the boos. As the turkey climbs off its platform, “Mean” Gene tries to sell it to the fans. “Take a look at it ladies and gentlemen!” Okerlund exclaims. “Feathers, a beak, a little rooster tail on top. You’ve got a pair of legs like my mother-in-law, pal.”
The Gooker leans in and gobbles into Okerlund's microphone.
"What is with the gobbledy?" Okerlund asks. "Don't tell me you're the Gobbledy Gooker?"
The Gooker grabs Gene, and the two walk to the ring, run the ropes, and dance the show off the air to a cheesy version of “Turkey in the Straw.”
At the time, I was confused, though not as angry as most of the fans in attendance. Looking back, I still don’t see what kind of sense it was supposed to make. After about a month or so, the Gooker was all but gone, little more than a bizarre, tryptophan-aided memory.
If he was supposed to wrestle, the entire costume seemed unreasonable. If he was meant as a mascot, who was he representing? And why did Vince McMahon, who had just hours earlier introduced the great Undertaker, follow it up with this?
I had to know.
So I asked.
THE MAN BEHIND THE BEAK
The Gobbledy Gooker, it turns out, was a wrestler named Héctor Guerrero, a member of the famous Guerrero wrestling family; son of the great Gory Guerrero, brother of Chavo, Mando, and Eddie Guerrero. While not the surefire hall-of-famer Eddie was, Hector’s career was nothing to sneeze at. He won more than two dozen titles across the country, including multiple tag titles, an NWA World Junior Heavyweight Championship with Crockett Promotions, and an NWA Florida Heavyweight Championship. In 2007, he moved into the broadcast booth, joining the Spanish commentary team for the Total Nonstop Action promotion, where he remained until 2015.
Most wrestlers have had a gimmick that doesn’t work, or one that they’re embarrassed by. For example, hard-nosed British technical wrestler William Regal was once known as “The Real Man’s Man,” a guy who chopped wood and wore a hard hat. The Undertaker’s in-character brother, a demon from hell named Kane, was previously a wrestling dentist. It’s all part of the business.
But over the phone from his Florida home, Hector doesn’t sound embarrassed. To him, the entire Gobbledy Gooker thing was a missed business opportunity, one he says could have worked if it was given the right venue. He’s vehement that, in front of the right crowd, it would have been recognized for exactly what it was: Something fun to entertain the kids. “It was always for the children,” Hector told Mental Floss. He says he was not ready for the rowdy northeastern crowd he faced that night in Hartford, and thought that a more kid-friendly audience would have been more appropriate.
“It was not a kid crowd,” he laughs.
GOOKER'S ORDERS FROM THE TOP
Hector started receiving calls from the WWE in early 1990, months before Survivor Series. He was not immediately responsive. Years prior, he says, he had a brief but antagonistic encounter with one of the company’s agents, so he didn’t pay the calls much attention. He eventually relented, however, and soon he was speaking directly to the man in charge himself, current WWE CEO Vince McMahon. The two had a cordial conversation—McMahon was reaching out because wrestling legend Dusty Rhodes had vouched for Hector.
The idea, as Hector remembers, was a fun mascot for kids who would eventually start actually wrestling. Months after getting the call from Vince, Hector tried out for Gooker in person.
There was some initial hesitation about Hector's body type. The WWE was fresh off a 1980s era that prized the godlike physiques of wrestlers like Hulk Hogan. Hector, who had just gone on two tours with the Ted Turner-owned World Championship Wrestling, was smaller than most of the roster.
The Guerrero family, from Mexico City, was known for melding the exciting, Mexican lucha libre-style of wrestling—athletic, fast-paced, freeform, and acrobatic—with a traditional American style inspired by old school wrestlers like Dory Funk Sr. Years later, when Hector’s brother Eddie and other lucha-style wrestlers became stars with the WCW, they were exclusively part of the company’s cruiserweight division—wrestling that often demanded a smaller physique.
“They had expected to see me bigger, but at this time, when this all happened, I was on a very strict diet,” Hector says. “They didn’t realize that us light guys could do things that could maybe draw money.”
Nonetheless, Hector credits his small, athletic build and quick skill set as the impetus for WWF’s call. The work he did with WCW as “High Flying” Hector Guerrero was innovative to American audiences, and despite his smaller-than-average size, Hector impressed during his WWE Survivor Series tryout—all while performing in full turkey getup.
He was asked to put on the costume and show what he could do in the ring, and he bounced from rope to rope, doing flips and cartwheels. To see, Hector had to look through two holes drilled into the giant turkey mask's bulging plastic eyeballs, which was extremely difficult. To look left or right, he had to rotate his entire head. Still, he nailed the audition and landed the gig.
Hector started to receive a stipend and began working as part of the company. When wrestler Tito Santana was to debut a new character, El Matador, WWE wanted native Spanish-speaker Hector in Mexico to help film vignettes. And having been in the business since he was a teenager, the 36-year-old Hector also knew a few friendly faces in the company. His traveling companion, Terry Szopinski—better known to wrestling fans as the Warlord—helped him bulk up on the road. Even he and the Undertaker, who would later debut on that same Thanksgiving night, shared a brief history in WCW, where Hector was impressed with the agile big man’s work.
GOBBLEDY GOOKER'S BIG NIGHT
On Thanksgiving 1990, Hector huddled in a box underneath the giant egg for four hours—enough time so that no one entering the Hartford Civic Center could see him before the show. He was given a TV monitor, a light, and some drinks and snacks. The crew pranked him by pasting pornographic photos inside the box. (Hector, who says he was by then a devout Christian, was not amused.)
The night went on, and Hector waited patiently for his moment. Suddenly, Gene Okerlund began to talk about the egg, and Gobbledy Gooker knew it was time to hatch.
“As I stepped down to talk to Gene, the more boos I hear,” he says. “You know, I can’t hear the kids screaming that they like it, but I can hear the people, because there’s more adults. And they’re booing the heck out of it.”
Okerlund put the microphone down, and said to Hector, “We’re going to put it over,” meaning they were going to try to make it work. They marched to the ring and Okerlund, to his credit, did his best Charlie Chaplin routine, stumbling, tripping, and falling. Someone later told Hector that Okerlund woke up the next day with bruises all over his body from trying so hard to sell the routine.
As the Gobbledy Gooker made his way backstage after his performance, Hector felt the stares and immediately felt like a pariah. “I worked pretty hard,” he says. “I put my 110, 115 percent, like all my matches. I put all of my ability into it.”
“It was an egg,” he adds, exasperated. “What’s going to hatch out of an egg?”
THE GOBBLEDY GOOKER'S END
Hector continued touring with WWF for a month without incident, save for one. Hector was again asked to do his Gobbledy Gooke routine, this time at Madison Square Garden. The crew told him they would shine a spotlight as he approached the ring. He agreed.
When announcer Howard Finkel called out the Gooker’s name, the familiar “Turkey in the Straw” beat dropped. Hector was ushered through the curtain by stage hands. That’s when he says he knew he was in for some trouble.
Hector walked through the curtain into pitch darkness. Suddenly, he was hit with a spotlight. It shined through the large white eyeballs of the costume's mask, and he couldn’t see a thing.
In his telling, he says he was hurried down the aisle by crew members, feeling his way as he went. He eventually got to the ring, busted his knee on the steel steps, climbed to the apron, and, unable to see what he was doing, flipped over the top rope and came crashing down to the mat with a thud.
“All I can see is white,” he recalls. “I can’t see where the ground is. I can’t land on the ground, because I see white. So I landed on my butt. “
The main lights were eventually turned on, and a frazzled Hector finished up his routine. Backstage, he was greeted by an upset Vince McMahon, who simply walked away from him. He was later approached by the legendary announcer “Gorilla” Monsoon.
“You couldn’t see, right?” Gorilla asked.
“Yeah,” Hector responded.
“We figured that out,” Gorilla deadpanned.
It was an impossible situation, according to Hector. About a month after his debut at Survivor Series, he was out of a job. He said there was no formal conversation. The company just stopped booking and paying him.
Looking back on the incident decades later, Hector isn’t bitter. This was not always the case. Losing the WWF opportunity was tough on him and his family, and he went to work as a gymnastics coach before wrestling again for other, smaller companies. Around Survivor Series 1991, he says he was again offered the Gobbledy Gooker gig. He did not accept.
As time went on, Hector’s outlook changed. He now considers any alleged slight as “water under the bridge.” His younger brother, the late Eddie Guerrero, and his nephew, Chavo Guerrero Jr., both went on to become WWF stars. He’s happy with the way his family was later treated by the company, has no ill will, and characterizes most of his experiences working with McMahon and others as very professional. After ending his tenure with Total Nonstop Action in early 2015, Hector started a wrestler consulting business and hopes to use the skills he learned under his father and through his more than 30 years in the business to help other wrestlers succeed.
In 2001, Hector even agreed to don the Gobbledy Gooker suit in Houston for Wrestlemania X-Seven, in a “gimmick battle royal” with 18 other gimmicky wrestlers from WWE’s past. It was an over-the-top-rope elimination match, and he was eliminated by Tugboat, a heavyset wrestler known in the 1980s for dressing like a sailor.
At the 2006 WWE Hall of Fame ceremony, Hector Guerrero sat in the crowd to watch the induction of his late brother Eddie.
That same night saw the induction of “Mean” Gene Okerlund, who recounted that infamous experience he and the Gooker shared 27 years ago.
“Hector, we had a lot of fun,” Okerlund said. “But all is forgotten.”
Sorry Gene, but the Gooker lives on. And Hector wouldn’t have it any other way.
Because it's tradition! But how did this tradition begin?
Every year since 1934, the Detroit Lions have taken the field for a Thanksgiving game, no matter how bad their record has been. It all goes back to when the Lions were still a fairly young franchise. The team started in 1929 in Portsmouth, Ohio, as the Spartans. Portsmouth, while surely a lovely town, wasn't quite big enough to support a pro team in the young NFL. Detroit radio station owner George A. Richards bought the Spartans and moved the team to Detroit in 1934.
Although Richards's new squad was a solid team, they were playing second fiddle in Detroit to the Hank Greenberg-led Tigers, who had gone 101-53 to win the 1934 American League Pennant. In the early weeks of the 1934 season, the biggest crowd the Lions could draw for a game was a relatively paltry 15,000. Desperate for a marketing trick to get Detroit excited about its fledgling football franchise, Richards hit on the idea of playing a game on Thanksgiving. Since Richards's WJR was one of the bigger radio stations in the country, he had considerable clout with his network and convinced NBC to broadcast a Thanksgiving game on 94 stations nationwide.
The move worked brilliantly. The undefeated Chicago Bears rolled into town as defending NFL champions, and since the Lions had only one loss, the winner of the first Thanksgiving game would take the NFL's Western Division. The Lions not only sold out their 26,000-seat stadium, they also had to turn fans away at the gate. Even though the juggernaut Bears won that game, the tradition took hold, and the Lions have been playing on Thanksgiving ever since.
This year, the Lions host the Minnesota Vikings.
HOW 'BOUT THEM COWBOYS?
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
The Cowboys, too, jumped on the opportunity to play on Thanksgiving as an extra little bump for their popularity. When the chance to take the field on Thanksgiving arose in 1966, it might not have been a huge benefit for the Cowboys. Sure, the Lions had filled their stadium for their Thanksgiving games, but that was no assurance that Texans would warm to holiday football so quickly.
Cowboys general manager Tex Schramm, though, was something of a marketing genius; among his other achievements was the creation of the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders.
Schramm saw the Thanksgiving Day game as a great way to get the team some national publicity even as it struggled under young head coach Tom Landry. Schramm signed the Cowboys up for the game even though the NFL was worried that the fans might just not show up—the league guaranteed the team a certain gate revenue in case nobody bought tickets. But the fans showed up in droves, and the team broke its attendance record as 80,259 crammed into the Cotton Bowl. The Cowboys beat the Cleveland Browns 26-14 that day, and a second Thanksgiving pigskin tradition caught hold. Since 1966, the Cowboys have missed having Thanksgiving games only twice.
Dallas will take on the Los Angeles Chargers on Thursday.
WHAT'S WITH THE NIGHT GAME?
Patrick Smith/Getty Images
In 2006, because 6-plus hours of holiday football was not sufficient, the NFL added a third game to the Thanksgiving lineup. This game is not assigned to a specific franchise—this year, the Washington Redskins will welcome the New York Giants.
Re-running this 2008 article a few days before the games is our Thanksgiving tradition.