You know those stories about a wise coach who inspires a group of plucky overachievers to overcome the odds and win state, or whatever?
This is not one of those stories.
In the beginning—before the run at the record, the national media and the fellatio strike—there was just a college basketball team and a coach.
In the fall of 1990, they huddled in a locker room in Rochester, N.Y. The young men sat on metal benches. In front of them paced a burly, exuberant 33-year-old, though David Hooks didn’t pace so much as stampede around the room, trailing optimism in his wake. He spoke to the players of opportunity. Of playing like caged lions. Of leaving it all on the floor. And then, because Haverford College was a Quaker school, he asked if any players wanted to speak.
Dan Greenstone, the team’s skinny sixth man, raised his hand. “There are two ways you can look at it,” he said, peering around the room. “You can think, We’re playing the national champions! Or”—here Dan affected a mock-scared tone—“We’re playing the national champions. Which one is it going to be?”
Inside each of those young men, something stirred. Why couldn’t they beat the University of Rochester?
Thirty minutes later, the Fords took the floor. And over the next two hours, they did indeed make history.
By losing by 70 points.
The Haverford sports information director confirmed it afterward: the 104-34 defeat was the worst loss in the school’s nearly 100 years of basketball.
Years later, Greenstone points to that evening as the moment when his idealism was fatally pierced. “Because,” he says now, “it just seemed to me that we were working really hard and we cared a lot and that should be enough.”
He pauses. “And let me tell you, it most certainly was not.”
But what about bad teams? Not the merely mediocre, but those that achieve transcendent, soul-sucking badness. Teams that can lead men to question their purpose on this planet—that can cause a coach to sit deep into the night, cross-legged on his living room floor, eating bowls of Frosted Flakes, trying not to cry and watching late-night ESPN games, just to be reminded of the way basketball can be played. Those types of teams also require their own peculiar alchemy. And they also teach lessons, if different ones.
The Haverford basketball squad of the early 1990s was such a team, and it has its own story, an epic quest for victory. Not to win a national championship, or a conference, or a tournament.
No, the Fords were just trying to win one game.
Of the players, Jeremy Edwards took the losing the hardest. A 6'3" sophomore shooting guard, Jeremy was far and away the best player on a team that was both undersized and undertalented. A legitimate high school recruit from St. Albans in Washington, D.C., he could slash to the basket, stick midrange jumpers and run forever. With his short dark hair, olive skin, toned physique and killer smile, he was also the closest thing at Haverford to a matinee idol. And he took basketball very seriously. Four or five times, he’d cried after losses.
Jeremy was exasperated by Haverford. Not an Ivy, nor a “name” liberal arts college on the level of Williams or Amherst, Haverford was a progressive, intellectual school with a serene campus featuring duck ponds and 19th-centurty stone buildings. There were no fraternities, no football team. Instead, there was an honor code and a fervent embrace of the then-dawning political correctness movement. This was a school where women was often spelled womyn, where the Bisexual, Gay and Lesbian Alliance held kiss-ins and where the student-run pizzeria changed the Hawaiian pizza to Canadian Bacon and Pineapple, lest any Hawaiian student be offended. That no one had ever seen a Hawaiian student at Haverford was beside the point.
It wasn’t that sports were unimportant at Haverford. The cross country team was excellent and the baseball team promising. Even the hoops squad had once been formidable, back in the ’70s when it starred a deadeye forward named Dickie Voith, who later scored an invite to Golden State Warriors training camp. No, it was just that there were a lot of things at Haverford that seemed even more important.
Jeremy knew this. Even so, he was unprepared for what he saw upon walking into the men’s room at the campus center one afternoon that spring. There, standing at the urinal next to his, was a fellow student reading a chemistry textbook while he peed.
With a highlighter in his mouth.
That was when Jeremy finally snapped. He decided right then and there—mid-stream—that he had to leave. A month later, after considering transferring, he announced that he was taking a year abroad, in Spain, to clear his mind.
It seemed fitting. Coming off a dismal season and burdened by an 11-game losing streak, Haverford had just lost its best player. The Streak was about to go national.
David Hooks was one of those coaches who believed in the impossible, even when other impossiblists wouldn’t. This was a man whose glass could be dry, shattered and tossed into a recycling bin and still be half-full. He’d grown up in Dayton, Ohio, where as a rugged 6'3" power forward he’d made second team all-conference in a conference that included future Trail Blazers star Jim Paxson. Inspired by his coach at Oakwood High, Hooks went on to become a high school coach and later a DIII assistant at his alma mater, Guilford College in Greensboro, N.C. Haverford was his first collegiate head coaching job.
Now, in October 1990, in his third season as Fords coach, Hooks stood in front of his team at practice, eyes afire. In years to come, with his soft cheeks, deep-set eyes, burgeoning belly and booming voice, Hooks would bring to mind a clumsy, affable Berenstain Bear. But for now, at 33, he was fit and sturdy, his brown hair cropped close. He looked like an athlete. And he had a plan to halt the Streak.
“This season,” Hooks declared, appraising the pale, skinny players, “we will be the best-conditioned, hardest-working team in America.”
The players assumed this was hyperbole. It was not.
In the weeks that followed, the Fords ran through endless defensive “foot fire” drills followed by endless defensive slides. For a break, they ran endless wind sprints—“fivers” in Hooks’ parlance. Sometimes the coach scheduled practice from 10 p.m. to midnight and then from six to eight the next morning. After doing the math, some of the players slept in the small, musty training room, wrapped in towels.
Hooks’s strategy might have worked—emphasis on might—if not for a few important factors. The first was the Haverford gym. Alumni Fieldhouse (or the Quakerdome, as students called it) was a giant concrete box that housed three basketball courts encircled by a running track. For games, Haverford staffers wheeled out bleachers and red tarps in an attempt to create intimacy. It did not work. The worst part, though, was the floor: 1/8" of rubber seemingly spray-painted on top of concrete. It was like a great red magnet. On the rare occasion that a player arrived at Haverford able to dunk, the Quakerdome reduced him to weak finger rolls within weeks.
Then there were the players themselves. These were not elite athletes, but rather student-athletes, the kinds whose bodies weren’t built for endless defensive slides. By the end of preseason, almost half the Haverford players were nursing groin strains.
Yet Hooks remained confident. These things take time, after all.
On the second day of practice, the first of the three, 6'7" big man Tim Ketchum, blacked out, destined to miss the season for a condition that at first was thought to be heart-related but was ultimately deemed benign. Not long after, recruit number 2, point guard Jacopo (Yak) Leonardi, injured his back, ending his basketball career at Haverford. As for the third, a 6'5" forward with flowing hair named Hunter, he never even showed up for practice. He decided to play Ultimate Frisbee instead.
Thus the 1990-91 Fords roster combined a lack of size with a lack of experience to devastating effect. The team had only four upperclassmen and two players over 6'3"—make that one, after springy power forward Russ Coward broke his leg. So in most games a 6'2" sophomore forward named Jon (Feds) Fetterolf jumped center. The team’s best three-point shooter, Eric Rosand, had a fractured finger on his shooting hand. As for Dan (Greenie) Greenstone, the hard-working sophomore orator, he was not only devoid of discernible natural talent but had scored all of seven points the previous season.
The new season began exactly as one might expect. First came the Rochester debacle. Now you might be wondering why a coach, armed with such a roster and in the midst of a losing streak, would schedule the defending DIII national champions in a season-opening road game. If so, you would not be alone. But Hooks—whose heart was usually in the right place, if not always aligned with his brain—believed in exposing his team to the best.
Similarly, a different coach might not have appraised this array of talent and thought, You know what I should do with these boys? Run an up-tempo offense. Because usually when you possess a deficit of talent and size, you want to limit possessions. Slow it down. Grind it out. But Hooks? He taught his players the Kansas two-break. He encouraged them to push it up the floor. He was trying to build a system, after all.
So Haverford lost. Big. When the Streak was at 15 games, the Fords traveled to Lebanon Valley College, in rural central Pennsylvania. The Lebanon Valley football team sat behind the Haverford bench in the packed gym, heckling with gusto. Early in the game one of Lebanon Valley’s big men, a ripped, suspiciously old-looking guy, follow-dunked on Feds. Then he emitted a primal yell, dropped the ball on Feds’ chest and, to the great delight of the crowd, shimmied.
In the locker room at halftime, Hooks ripped into the Fords in a courageous attempt to motivate them. He roared, “Come on! BE MEN! We have 12 players with five fouls each. THAT’S 72 FOULS WE CAN USE!”
Without pausing, Hooks continued: “Why are you afraid to take a charge? Come on ... are you going to let yourself be intimidated by some 25-year old-rapist?” Hooks stared the players down, eyes burning. “I once got hit in the nuts with a lacrosse ball going 90 miles an hour, and I still might be able to have kids. So what are you afraid of?”
Hooks’s speech did not have the intended effect. To the contrary, like many things Hooks said, it just raised questions. After all, these were Haverford students. They were taught to think critically. To question authority. And so that’s what they did. Didn’t 12 times five equal 60, not 72? And, if you thought about it, shouldn’t they be afraid of a 25-year-old rapist? And what of Hooks’s testicles? What did they have to do with toughness? Hooks didn’t choose to get hit there, right?
Adding to the awkwardness in situations such as these, Hooks was both a poor speller and not much for grammar. One time, in the middle of a locker room sermon designed to whip the team into a frenzy, he wrote ARE WE WINNING OR LOZING on the board. More than once he described an opposing guard on a scouting report as having a descent handle. He labeled the nylon sack holding players’ wallets as the “Valuable Bag”, which led to philosophical discussions between Ketchum and Nick Cirignano, an amiable freshman guard—because, while usually one would call such an item the valuables bag, once filled with wallets it was, technically speaking, a valuable bag.
So at Lebanon Valley, as often was the case, Hooks’s speech only confused the players. They went out and lost by 57.
By Christmas the Fords were 0-9 and the Streak stood at 20. Hooks responded by holding three-a-days over break. The team’s first game of the new year was against Earlham, a fellow Quaker college in Indiana, a rare opportunity to pick up a win. Here is how Earlham coach Pat Williams summed up the game in the paper the day after: “It was like UNLV playing Princeton, with us as UNLV. We’re not in that situation very often.”
It only got worse. In mid-January the Fords lost by nearly 50 to a Johns Hopkins team that starred a deadeye shooter named Andy Enfield, who would one day lead a Cinderella team to the Sweet Sixteen of the NCAA Tournament.
After losing to Washington University in St. Louis by 49, the Fords went national. The USA Today sports section included a blurb on Haverford’s 26th consecutive loss. To the players, it was embarrassing. After all, who joins a college sports team expecting to lose like that? They had become the Washington Generals of DIII. The possibility of the first winless season in the school’s history loomed.
Hooks remained stubbornly optimistic. “If I had to do it over again, I’d do it the same way,” he told the Haverford paper, The Bi-College News, of scheduling so many tough games. As for the losses, he saw a silver lining: “It’s been a year of hard lessons, but that’s O.K., because most of these kids still have two years to take these lessons and do something with them.” In the locker room he told the players, “I know you think I’m crazy, but we’re going to win a national championship at Haverford.”
It was around this time that the players learned something interesting about Hooks’s background. Years earlier he had earned a masters degree from North Carolina-Greensboro—in, of all things, sports psychology. For his thesis, Hooks had interviewed Bobby Cremins, Dean Smith and, in a seminal moment in Hooks’s life, the great John Wooden himself.
The topic of that thesis?
How to motivate college basketball players.
Even during those dark days, the team remained close. Haverford might not have been a big-time program, but its players possessed something that players at most big-time programs don’t: genuine affection for each other. They came from an array of backgrounds—sons of pastors, Coca-Cola distributors, small-town teachers and big-city professors, but they were all smart. All committed, to a degree they would later marvel at. They ate together in the cafeteria, enduring Vegetarian Night, when the school served something called a cheese cutlet. They hung out in the library, the unlikely epicenter of Haverford’s social scene. On weekends they drank Keystone Light and sat in their dorm rooms throwing Nerf footballs back and forth and telling Hooks stories. And at parties they served something they called Red Wave Punch (in an attempt to make the Fords sound more formidable, Hooks had rechristened the team the Red Wave). Its ingredients included all manner of strange liquors, and it was supposed to be consumed only by players and friends of the program. It was awful. It was wonderful. The recipe is still handed down today.
Now, as the ’90-91 season drew to a close, Haverford had two chances to win. The first came in late February, in the biggest game of the season—and every season, for that matter—against Swarthmore, a.k.a. Swat. The two colleges were historical rivals, competing across all sports for the annual Hood trophy. Most games, Haverford drew only a couple of hundred fans; against Swarthmore crowds often topped 1,000.
This season’s matchup held more import than most—because of the Streak, of course, but also because it was Senior Night at Swat. And as the fates would have it, Swarthmore’s best player that season was a senior named Mike Greenstone.
An outsider might not have pegged the two Greenstones as brothers. Mike was 6'2", broad-shouldered and blue-eyed. On the court, he played with fluid grace. He had been a star in high school before Swarthmore. Confident and serious, he already knew what he wanted to be (an economist) and how he was going to achieve that goal (Princeton grad school). Dan? At 5'11" and 160 pounds, he was skinny, gangly and a bit goofy, the kind of kid who always had bedhead and never seemed to master the act of shaving. Whereas Mike was earnest and intense, Dan was sarcastic and self-deprecating, the type of guy who pursued arguments to their logical if at times awkward conclusions. He was not, he would happily tell you, exactly killing it with the ladies. He’d been a reserve until his senior year at a small private school in the Hyde Park area of Chicago. If not for Haverford and Hooks—who’d recruited Dan, much to his surprise and delight—it’s unlikely he would have been playing college basketball.
Partly because of this, and partly because it was his nature, Greenie worked his ass off. With few physical advantages, he relied on hustle and defense. “It was almost like you could see the basketball player inside trying to rip through that skin that was holding him back,” Hooks would say many years later. “It was amazing to watch his never-ending effort to play through the lack of talent.”
Greenie had been conflicted about the 1990-91 season. He hated losing as much as anyone else on the team. On the other hand, because of all the injuries and his hustle and improvement, he was playing serious minutes as the sixth man. He didn’t score much —just over three points a game—but ask anyone on that team and he’d tell you that Greenie was its heart and soul.
Which explains in part why he’d been so disappointed the first time Haverford had played Swarthmore that season, a few weeks earlier. In that game, which Swarthmore won easily, Mike Greenstone had scored 18 points. Dan? He went 0-5 from the field. Though he did manage to rack up five fouls.
Now, as Greenie prepared for the Swarthmore game, he felt a swirl of emotions that one would never wish upon someone that age.
That’s how it came to be that Hooks was the one who knocked on Dan’s door that day, his face drained of its usual enthusiasm. Your father is dying, Hooks said. His cancer has spread. It’s serious. It’s time to go home.
That afternoon Hooks drove Greenie to the airport. He walked his player through security to the gate—you could do that back then. Then Greenie and his brother and Hooks and Lee Wimberly, the Swarthmore coach, sat together and talked. About everything. About nothing.
A few days later, David Greenstone passed away at age 52. The New York Times ran an obituary. The funeral was held on Friday, Feb. 23, in Chicago.
When Dan returned, he said little about it. There was nothing to say.
Now, a year later, it was Senior Night at Swat. Dan’s mother and grandmother flew out. Both wore Swarthmore sweatshirts.
On a cold, rainy night, the Swarthmore gym was jammed. The team was 16-4 and headed to the postseason. The Fords were 0-24. The Streak stood at 34.
Mike Greenstone started, of course, and scored a few buckets early. Then Dan came into the game, and the Swat crowd heckled him mercilessly. Dan tried to ignore it and focus on the game.
By halftime Swarthmore led by 25. Then, in the second half, Mike Greenstone broke the 1,000-point barrier. On, of all things, a four-point play. The player who fouled him? Yup, you guessed it.
The refs stopped the game, and Swarthmore held a ceremony honoring Mike. He was presented with a game ball. The crowd showered him with love. His hair looked perfect.
Swarthmore went on to yet another win, and Haverford to yet another loss. Only this game was different. Let the record show that on this night, even though Haverford lost by 36, the Fords’ leading scorer was not sophomore guard Joey Rulewich, or Rosand. In front of his mother, in a gym where the opposing fans yelled “GREENSTONE’S BROTHER SUCKS!” all night, Dan Greenstone went 6 of 7 from the field. He pulled down five rebounds, hit his only free throw and, in scoring a career-high 15 points, knocked down both of his three-point shots.
After swishing the second, Dan backpedaled down court and, without looking, pointed a finger at the hecklers in the stands.
Only once all season had Haverford finished within 19 points of an opponent, and it had been against Vassar, in December, when the Fords lost a heartbreaker, 69-64. Now the season finale loomed.
Hooks stayed up most of the night, watching film and working on strategy. Greenie did visualization exercises in his dorm room. The buzz on campus built. VASSAR LAST CHANCE FOR FORD VICTORY, blared the The Bi-College News. The Streak stood at 35.
In his office, athletic director Greg Kannerstein mulled the potential ramifications of a loss. After all, Haverford was starting to enter historic territory. The Division I record for consecutive losses was 37, by the Citadel back in 1954-55. For Division II it was 46, by Olivet in 1959-61. And for Division III, the record was 47, set by Rutgers-Newark from 1983 to 1985. There was still time for Hooks and his team, but not much. Just the previous spring, Haverford had been named a top-10 liberal arts school by U.S. News & World Report. Kannerstein knew that going down as the worst college basketball team in history wouldn’t be the best thing for the school’s reputation. And a nice long offseason would be all it would take for the media to sniff out the story.
In the first half against Vassar, Haverford did little to inspire confidence. Jumpers clanged off the rim, layups rolled out. At halftime Vassar led by 11. Then, to everyone’s surprise, the Fords closed the gap in the second half until, with only 30 seconds remaining, they were down but six, 70-64.
That’s when the magic began.
Rising up on the wing, Greenie swished a three-pointer, his fourth of the night, to give himself a new career high of 19 points. Vassar missed two free throws. The teams traded possessions, but Haverford came up dry. Then, with only seconds left and the Fords still down by three, they had one final chance. It would have to be a desperation heave. Just inside the midcourt line, Rosand—the kid with the broken finger—caught the pass, turned and released a 38-footer. The buzzer sounded. The ball hung in the air.
The Fords dog-piled Rosand. Twenty-odd years later, reserve guard Nick Cirignano would remember that moment above all others. “After that horrible season, it was such an elated moment,” he says. “We jumped on top of him, and he was giggling like he just stole something. I’ve never felt happier in my life.”
Unfortunately there was still overtime.
Back and forth the lead went until, again, the Fords found themselves down by three with seconds left. This time it was Rulewich—the stoic sophomore who’d been the team’s best player all season—who had the ball in his hands and a chance to tie it at the buzzer. In the stands, his father, Butch, who’d attended every one of Joey’s games since CYO ball, watched and prayed.
Joey took one hard dribble and pulled up from behind the line. The backspin was perfect. The shot was on line. It hit the rim. It swirled in.
And then out.
Joey fell to the ground. Butch slumped. Hooks collapsed. Greenie died a thousand deaths.
The Streak lived for at least one more season.
By now, the media was on to the story. In a feature in the Philadelphia Daily News titled IT’S NOT WHETHER YOU WIN, Hooks was described by reporter Bill Fleischman as “34 going on 64.” The writer also quoted Greenie as saying, “We’re real young and we just had a year from hell.”
Kannerstein, the athletic director, stood by Hooks in the article. He described the coach as possessing “a lot of energy and a low discouragement threshold.” Later in the article Kannerstein summed up his coach with an unfortunate turn of phrase: “David has exceeded my expectations in terms of energy and failure to give up.”
That spring, attention was momentarily diverted from the Streak when the women of Haverford went on strike. Not just any kind of strike though: A fellatio strike.
The problem began when the freshmen on the lacrosse team, which was also coached by Hooks, painted a sign to rally the campus for the end of the school year’s competition between Swarthmore and Haverford for the Hood trophy. Their choice of slogan managed to be both tasteless and clueless: SWAT WILL GET DOWN ON THEIR KNEES AND GIVE US HOOD.
This went over about as well as you’d expect. In these pre-Internet days, campus conversation centered around the 6'-by-8' cork-backed comment boards outside the student center. Within hours the boards were filled with angry missives: about how offensive the slogan was; about how it encouraged a sense of male dominance. Some commenters wondered if it didn’t connote violence.
As was protocol at Haverford, the honor council held a “plenary” akin to mediation. A day later, with no resolution, the women of Haverford concocted their own slogan in response. That’s when the small construction paper signs began showing up, taped to lampposts, the walls of dorms and the sidewalks. In black print they read: FELLATIO STRIKE.
As luck would have it, Jeremy Edwards returned from Spain just in time to catch the tail end of the strike (which was eventually resolved to everyone’s satisfaction). Well, he thought, it appears as if nothing changed at Haverford while I was away. The same applied, he noted, to the fortunes of the basketball team.
After all, the last time the Fords had won, in January 1990, Jeremy had been the leading scorer.
It began: Haverford (Pa.) College almost has to have a better season than it did in ‘90-91. The Fords, 0-25 last season, have a 36-game losing streak that dates back to January 1990.
Hooks, who aspired to be a Division I coach, had always dreamed of making it into SPORTS ILLUSTRATED. But not like this.
Fortunately, reinforcements were on the way. The first was Gabe O’Malley. The son of an Irish bar owner, Gabe was a tough, smart redhead who’d been a star 6'4" forward at BB&N School in Cambridge. The second recruit was a 6'3" shooting guard who transferred from a far-off land known as California: my brother, Duffy.
Duffy was a rare breed at Haverford: a player with both length and range. An all-conference player in high school, he had been the last cut at UC San Diego, a perennial DIII power. In Haverford he saw a second chance.
Adding to the good feeling in the fall of 1991, Edwards—Jer!—was returning to the team, along with big Tim Ketchum and Russ Coward, who were back from season-long injuries. Haverford suddenly had what appeared to be a (relative) wealth of talent. There was talk of a .500 record, perhaps even a run at the postseason.
Then, in the fall, everyone got a look at Edwards on the court. He struggled through sprints. There was no lift on his jump shot. He appeared to have really enjoyed his time in Spain. “If this guy is supposed to be our savior,” Cirignano said to Greenie after one early practice, “we’re in deep s---t.”
The program also had three new faces: two new assistants—Kevin Small and Kevin Morgan—and, to the delight of the players, a bright, shapely freshman named Lila Shapiro who’d signed on as the scorekeeper. Lila, a sports nut from Baltimore, became the team’s biggest fan. She accompanied the Fords on road trips. If some of the players harbored crushes on her, she paid little attention; she was there to do a job. Besides, as she says now, “Remember, we’re talking about Haverford guys. It wasn’t like traveling with the Ohio State basketball team.”
It didn’t take long for the preseason optimism to dissipate. In the opener, against NYU, the Fords lost 98-82, matching the Division I record for consecutive losses. The next day they lost by 32 to Neumann University. Then to Gettysburg by 33. Expectations were replaced by desperation. The Streak stood at 39. History beckoned.
For the players, it had become painfully embarrassing. It was neither easy nor fun to be a member of That Team With the Losing Streak That Was in SI. Especially because most of the Fords had been the best players on their high school teams. These were young men who’d stayed ahead of the curve in life. They’d studied hard, worked their butts off, done well in academics. They were supposed to be going places. And now local fans came out to gawk at them, hoping in equal measure that the Fords might win and lose. Sometimes Haverford provided unintentional comic relief. Such as the time, during layup lines in a packed opposing gym, that Duffy took two strong dribbles toward the hoop and then tripped over his own shoelace, which he’d looped so long that it had become snagged on his toe. He tumbled to the floor. The fans roared in laughter.
“Get up!” whisper-shouted a teammate.
Only, with his shoelace snagged, Duffy couldn’t get up. Eventually, to the delight of the crowd, he crawled off the floor on his hands and knees.
Meanwhile, and more troubling, Hooks didn’t seem to be improving as a coach. He became myopic. He had run the same offense for years, yelling out “Two! Two!” to signal the two-break on nearly every possession, just in case anyone didn’t already know what was coming. His rotations were wacky. In one game he started big Tim at center and then, after subbing him out in the first quarter, either chose not to or forgot to put him back in. In another game one of his wing players got hot, hitting three consecutive three-pointers. Hooks immediately subbed him out, to the bewilderment of his teammates. Afterward Butch Rulewich, Joey’s dad, asked Hooks why. His answer: It was his turn to come out.
As much as Hooks frustrated the players, though, none of them could bring themselves to dislike the guy. He may have been in over his head as coach, but his heart was in the right place.
Remember when big Tim Ketchum blacked out on that second day of practice? It was Hooks who insisted he get fully checked out, who cautioned him against returning early and then checked on him daily in the months that followed, becoming, in Ketchum’s words, “a kind of father figure at a scary point in my life.” Hooks’s crazy scheduling? Part of it was for the benefit of his players.He took the team to play the University of Chicago one year so Greenie could have a homecoming, and a year later he figured out a way to get the Fords to UCSD for Duffy’s sake.
Most of all, Hook’s character shone through in his reaction to the death of Greenie’s dad. It wasn’t just that he was the person to tell Greenie and drive him to the airport. But at the funeral, a few rows back from friends and family, Greenie noticed a lightly sweating, not-so-lightly crying bear of a man. During the season, while living on a $35,000 annual salary, David Hooks had paid out of his pocket to fly to Chicago to support one of his freshman benchwarmers.
This was the side to Hooks that not everyone saw, hidden behind his relentless optimism and occasional buffoonery. He truly cared, about the kids and the team. And now the Streak was slowly destroying him.
He’d taken the Haverford job out of desperation. His fiancée had been accepted into a graduate program at Drexel, and the couple was moving to Philadelphia from North Carolina. Needing a job, any job, Hooks applied to 70-odd schools in the metropolitan area. Meanwhile, Haverford needed what amounted to a coaching unicorn: someone qualified to coach both basketball and lacrosse who would do so with no paid assistants, a tiny budget and no promise of a faculty position. All for low pay.
In his first two games as coach, Haverford lost by a combined 111 points. On the drive home to his one-bedroom apartment on City Line Avenue that second night, Hooks fantasized about driving into the river. Anything to avoid that kind of embarrassment again. As he would later tell a Philadelphia Daily News reporter, “Any sane person would have packed his bags up at that point and split.”
But of course that’s not what Hooks did. And in the three years since, he had lived and died with the job. He worked long hours, running practice during the day and then driving his silver Chevy Corsica across eastern Pennsylvania at night, a cold cup of coffee next to him, searching for recruits who might be persuaded—somehow, some way—to come to Haverford. Sometime after 1 a.m., he’d collapse into bed. In his free time he prepared binders for the players that included pages upon pages of drills and crazy-hard plyometric programs as well as inspirational clippings: everything from John Wooden’s pyramid of success to passages from Dante to a poem that encouraged players to “show us all the colors of your rainbow.”
On nights the team played, and of course lost, Hooks went home a wreck. He’d pour a big bowl of sugary cereal and sit down on his living room floor with his golden retriever, Hoops, whom the players had bought for him. Deep into the night, the two would watch college basketball on ESPN, so Hooks could see the game the way it was meant to be played.
He never gave up hope, though. And now, on Monday, Dec. 2, 1991, he was certain the end of the Streak was at hand. Haverford was playing at Philadelphia Pharmacy, a college that is exactly what it sounds like: a school for aspiring pharmacists. It was an eminently winnable game. Anticipating history, a couple of Philadelphia TV stations sent reporters. Their trucks idled outside. A crowd of 150 showed up.
Hooks knew he needed a special speech for such a night. So he gathered the team in the locker room before the game and mustered his best fire and brimstone. He talked about destiny and desire. For once the players were with him. They drummed their feet. It was time! Soon Hooks was in a frenzy, sweating and jumping around, and he built to a climax. “O.K.!” he roared. “I want you boys to run out there like caged snowbirds and kill them!”
With that Hooks sprinted out of the locker room toward the court. The players stared at each other. They were supposed to run out after him. But an important question hung in the air. “What,” Russ asked, “is a caged snowbird?’
Philly Pharmacy won 75-62. The Streak had hit 40.
Everyone on the team, save the freshmen, knew what that meant: It was going to come down to Gallaudet.
Founded in 1864, Gallaudet College is located in Washington DC, on a picturesque 99-acre campus. An esteemed academic institution, it boasted an enrollment of 1,800 and a rich athletic history. The school was, without question, the premier basketball program in the U.S. for the deaf.
Hooks took the Philly Pharmacy loss harder than anyone else. The long hours and the stress of the Streak were beginning to affect his marriage, and the media commentary was wearing on him. Worse, the schedule only got harder in the weeks ahead. If the Fords didn’t beat Gallaudet, which came into the game 0-4, the 47-game record loomed.
There was only one thing to do. On Monday, two days before the game, Hooks gathered the players at practice and announced that he would be focusing on a specific defense. It was called the “run-and-jump trap.” When an opposing point guard brought the ball upcourt, Hooks explained, the primary defender would force him to the sideline. As that happened, a defender on the opposite side of the floor would leave his man, sprint across the width of the court and trap the ball-handler from behind.
Most of the time it was a risky defense, the kind that could be thwarted by something as simple as communication. All an offensive teammate had to do, after all, was shout out, “Double coming!” and the ball-handler could avoid the trap. Provided, of course, the ball-handler could hear his teammates.
The Fords were nervous; a number had taken multiple finals earlier in the day. PA announcer Thad Levine, a sophomore baseball player who was close with the guys on the team, rolled his syllables. WELLLLCOME TO THE QUAAAAAKERDOME!!!
Levine announced the starting lineups. For Haverford, that meant Jer, Russ, Duffy, Joey and Big Tim. Meanwhile Gallaudet’s star was point guard Anthony Jones. Though only 5'8", Jones was built like a linebacker. A year earlier, he’d finished among the top 10 Division III scorers.
High up, on the lift behind the stands, Haverford freshman jayvee guard Tom Mulhern ran the video camera. He could feel the hope in the stands but also the dread; if the Fords couldn’t beat Gallaudet, the streak might never end.
For once Haverford raced out to a lead. Midway through the first half, Hooks went for the kill, deploying the run-and-jump and telling the Fords to drop back into a 2-3 zone instead of man-to-man. It worked just as you might imagine—chaos in the Gallaudet backcourt, Haverford layups—and the Fords took an unprecedented 27-12 lead. In the portable bleachers the students went nuts. Haverford was the kind of school where people supported their friends, and the stands were packed with dormmates and girlfriends of the players, teachers and lacrosse players. Then again, since this was Haverford, some of them had brought their textbooks.
Just when it looked like the game might turn into a rout, Jones heated up. A pull-up three. Another three. Gallaudet was also adjusting to the run-and-jump; after all, this was the school that invented the football huddle so other teams wouldn’t steal its signs. By halftime Haverford’s lead was cut to seven. Jones already had 18.
The Fords sprinted off the floor and up the stairs to their tiny, fire-engine-red locker room. There Hooks paced and shouted and sweated. The run-and-jump was working, but not well enough. Jones was killing them. Greenie could see a mixture of desperation and wild hope in his coach’s eyes. And, in that moment, even though Greenie was no longer in the rotation—the downside to all the new talent was that gritty, skinny sixth men were shunted far down the bench—he realized that he wanted this win for Hooks as much as for himself and the team. This guy, Greenie thought, needs this.
As the second half began, Lila watched from the scorer’s table. By now she knew the players. She knew how hard some of them took the losses. And she continued to be amazed by how they never turned on each other or threw in the towel. What losing team doesn’t suffer from bad chemistry? She wasn’t supposed to cheer—usually she just muttered under her breath—but on this night it was hard not to.
Only, as the minutes ticked by, there was little to cheer about. First Gallaudet closed the gap. Then it took the lead. Lila felt her stomach sink. Not again.
At least Haverford stayed within striking range. Duffy drained a couple of long threes. Reserve guard Brett Kolpan harassed Jones on D, then swished a big three himself. Amazingly, Haverford held the lead with less than a minute to go.
Naturally, the Gallaudet center sank two free throws. Overtime.
This time there would be no miracle heave, no dramatic finish. Later that night, as he slumped in a chair at nearby Gator’s Pub, slugging back a beer, Hooks would think back on that overtime period. How his boys had sunk 12 of 16 free throws. How Kolpan had somehow shut down Jones. How Jeremy, the prodigal son, had led the way with 18 points overall, followed by Duffy with 17. Hooks would have to stop himself from crying right there in the bar. “It was almost like the gods of Basketball had had enough of this,” he would say years later, “and they were ready to cover the basket just enough times to help us win.”
In the moment, though, when the fans giddily counted down the final 10 seconds, and then that final buzzer sounded and the scoreboard read Haverford 87, Gallaudet 82, it was pure pandemonium. After nearly two years, the Streak was over. From the portable bleachers a torrent of crazed, whooping students engulfed the team. It was the first time in anyone’s memory that Haverford kids had rushed the court. Hooks, sweaty and ecstatic, bounded up and down, fist-pumping and yelping, while, nearby, the cameras rolled. In the locker room someone pulled out two bottles of champagne and sprayed like crazy, speckling the walls with foam and dumping alcohol on the heads of Jer and Joey. The TV cameramen were kind enough to ask their bosses to describe it on-air as “sparkling cider.”
Even though it was a school night, the players stayed up, celebrating, watching themselves on the 11 p.m. news and then again on the late-night broadcast.
The next morning, a story in the Philadelphia Inquirer detailed the game. “It was beginning to get a little heavy,” Hooks said of the Streak. “I think any human being, you tend to question yourself.”
For its part, The Bi-College News featured a photo of the scoreboard with one word above it: FINALLY. In the accompanying story the author likened Haverford fans, players and coaches to released hostages. “If one game can turn a program around,” Hooks told the paper, “I think this is the one.”
It is a snowy afternoon in December 2013, and David Hooks greets a visitor outside the main office of West Nottingham Academy, a small boarding school in the rural nowhereland halfway between Baltimore and Philadelphia. He is the school’s athletic director, college counselor and boys’ basketball coach, and on this day he is wearing jeans and, in spite of the weather, a tan short-sleeved polo shirt. There is a coffee stain on the right breast. Hooks is, as always, enthusiastic. He leads a guest up to a small second-floor office stuffed with the paraphernalia of a peripatetic coaching life: photos and banners and books. Occasionally his phone chirps out the SportsCenter jingle. He apologizes for delaying the appointment. While bringing home a Christmas tree during a blizzard, Hooks lost control of his pickup truck and plowed into a telephone pole. He spent the morning getting the car fixed.
Now, a cup of coffee in hand, he begins to talk Haverford. In the end he did turn the program around, though it got worse before it got better. After beating Gallaudet, Haverford embarked on a grueling Northeast road swing against Williams and Middlebury. More classic Hooks-ian moments followed. Like the time he took the team to the Basketball Hall of Fame and injured Duffy while mock-contesting his jump shot, sidelining the player for a month. And the time, on a team trip to the mall before a game, that Hooks broke his ankle trying to take a shortcut down a grassy slope, requiring emergency surgery.
Finally, Hooks’s recruiting efforts paid off. He enticed two legit prospects, Chris Guiton and Jamal Elliott, to come to Haverford. The team’s record went from 5-19 during the Streak-busting season to 5-19, 11-15, and, in 1995-96, 16-13 and a postseason berth. PLAYOFF FEVER HITS HAVERFORD TONIGHT declared the Daily News.
Unfortunately, Hooks wasn’t there to experience it. Nine months earlier, he’d left for a volunteer assistant job at Penn, leading local papers to suggest that he was either pushed out or was asked to resign. Today on the Haverford website the history of the basketball program jumps from 1983 all the way to the sentence, “The program awakened after a sluggish decade in 1995-96.” There is no mention of David Hooks or the Streak.
After Penn, where he worked under Fran Dunphy and endeared himself to players, he worked at a country day school in Lancaster, Pa., at a small high school in Maryland and one in New Orleans. The years went by. His two children, Kristen and Jordan, went from preschool to middle school and beyond. Hoops, his beloved golden retriever, passed away. He got divorced. He got a new golden, Beauregard. He remarried. He’s still coaching, still passionate about it.
On this afternoon he leads the West Nottingham team through a practice. Most of the boys are international students. Some don’t appear to know all the rules of basketball. Hooks isn’t dissuaded. He runs them through “foot fire” drills, exhorting them as loudly as ever.
At 57, Hooks still has big dreams. He says he’d like to be a Division I coach someday; maybe he could do what Brad Stevens did at Butler. He remains driven by the chance to mold young men’s lives, by seeing the Danny Greenstones of the world make the most of their talent.
Talk to those who knew Hooks, and they aren’t surprised. Kevin Small, the Haverford assistant, went on to become the head coach at Ursinus. He calls Hooks “a dying breed.” He says, “So many coaches are out for themselves, and self-promoting. [Hooks] really cared about the team. He was Sisyphus. He was always pushing a rock up a hill. It always rolled back on him. But, God bless the guy, he was always ready for pushing it back up again.”
Or as Nick, the reserve point guard, puts it: “I’ve never been around someone who had such a passion and such great enthusiasm for something he was so ill-suited to do.”
Now, in Maryland in a musty athletic office after practice, Hooks tries to explain his life’s philosophy. He refers to the poem “The Bridge Builder,” about an old man who lays down a bridge for those yet to come. Finally, he tells an anecdote.
The night before, he says, he and his wife sat down to watch the movie Armageddon for “like the 20th time.” His wife didn’t understand why he wanted to see it yet again. “The reason I watch this over and over is because I want to be on that spaceship,” Hooks told her. “I want to be those guys saving the world.”
She didn’t get it. “But why would you want to leave your family back on earth?” she asked.
“Well,” Hooks said, “earth wouldn’t be here unless I went.”
This fall will mark the 25th anniversary of the season the Streak began. In the years since, the Fords have been pushed further into the history books. In the mid-’90s Rutgers-Camden lost 117 consecutive games. Forty no longer seems so bad.
The players remain united by the Streak, however, and on a weekend this January they gathered back at Haverford, arriving from all over the country: Chicago, Texas, California, D.C., Boston, Indiana. There are lawyers, doctors and professors. One works at the Brookings Institution, another in the State Department. An unusually high number went into sports. Joey is a successful high school coach in Highstown, N.J. Russ Coward led the girls’ team at Westford Academy, near Boston, to the state finals this year. Dave Danzig, a reserve on the Streak teams, became an assistant in Germany, coaching the Wurzburg Buckets, Dirk Nowitzki’s old team. Jeremy founded the SportsChallenge Leadership Academy, an educational nonprofit in D.C. Feds is a lawyer who occasionally represents baseball players. Recently he and Thad, who is now the assistant GM of the Texas Rangers, worked on a deal for relief pitcher Chris Ray.
Over the weekend the players ate gooey cheesesteaks at Bella’s and drank cheap beers in the wooden booths at Roaches & O’Brien, where apparently smoking is not only still legal but also encouraged. And on Saturday afternoon they sat in Haverford’s new state-of-the art gym as the Fords (1-6 in conference play) hosted Dickinson College in front of 150 or so fans. In a familiar scenario, Dickinson trotted out three rotations players taller than Haverford’s lone “big” man, 6'5" senior Brett Cohen. The Fords? They started three guards under 6 feet. After digging an early hole, Haverford clawed back and had a final shot to tie the game in regulation. Cohen’s three went in, then out, just like Joey’s once did against Vassar.
A quarter-century later, the players have processed the Streak in different ways. Some, like big Tim and Russ, use the story as an icebreaker. It’s a tale they know will get a laugh, one that both reflects well on them (Hey, I played college basketball) yet is self-deprecating (and boy did we stink).
Others still grapple with the experience. Even this far down the road, Gabe’s still disappointed. Disappointed that the team lost. That he never had even a .500 record in college. That he became a better player after college. He’s not alone. Like Jeremy, Gabe went on to play pro ball, in Wales. Duffy still plays in high-level tournaments and leagues in the Bay Area. The Fords wonder if this was an unintended consequence of the experience—if they keep playing today because they are forever trying to prove themselves.
Then there is Greenie. As planned, his brother, Mike, became a renowned economics professor: He served as the chief economist for Barack Obama’s Council of Economic Advisors in the first year of the president’s administration. Greenie? He moved to Chicago and became a history teacher, one who’s won awards. Five years ago he published his first novel. In it there’s a familiar scene involving a basketball team in a game against a school for the deaf. Two years ago that novel was optioned by the actor Ed Burns. Greenie is working on a screenplay. Like many writers, he has turned tragedy into material.
Viewed from one perspective, many of the former Fords are spending their lives trying to right old wrongs. That would explain the disproportionate number of basketball coaches among them, each now training kids the way they wish they’d been trained. And Jeremy, the captain of that team—the one who cared the most—is an evangelist for effective leadership in sports. It’s as if he’s determined to stamp this out.
One thing’s for sure: The Streak still bonds them. They remain remarkably close. Seven of Jeremy’s nine groomsmen came from the Haverford basketball program. The others see teammates regularly. Last year five Fords gathered in California for the 50th wedding anniversary of Duffy’s parents. That’s not common. Those of us who didn’t experience such sports camaraderie marvel at it. Two years after Greenie’s father passed away, his mother died suddenly. Though he remains close with his brother, he says the Haverford basketball team became like a surrogate family.
Thad, the old PA announcer, brings up this point on Saturday night, as the group talks over beers. “At other schools, they were improving on themselves as basketball players, but were we gaining on them in life?” he asks. “Are they sitting somewhere, talking about how terrible they were? I don’t think it was mutually exclusive—we certainly could have won and still had these relationships. And maybe we should have invested more in the sport. But at what expense?”
He pauses. “I don’t know the answer to that.,” he says. “But I know we spent a hell of a lot of time investing in each other. We didn’t fall short of that by one iota. No one beat us at that.”
On the Saturday morning of the reunion weekend, the Haverford Streak crew gathered at the shiny new campus gym to play some ball. They took the court in ankle braces, rubbing balky knees and slicking their hair back over bald spots—Greenie and Nick and Duffy and Gabe and others. They moved slowly and complained loudly.
Soon a group of recent college players came in, young and tall and springy. The numbers were right. A game of four-on-four was arranged, the young guns versus the Haverford vets. Once again, the Fords took the court together.
You can probably guess what happened.
That’s right, they won.