11 Breaking a Curse

As rocky as last year’s trip to Ann Arbor had been, this one didn’t seem any more promising when the team gathered at the Purdue Airport Saturday morning. The temperature was hovering defiantly around zero in both West Lafayette and Ann Arbor, and was bolstered by a stiff breeze that made it feel even colder.

A few of the players were still fighting colds, and Keady and Stallings had been walloped by a virus. Both were nursing temperatures at around 102 degrees, and looked as bad as they felt. For Keady, illness was a rare battle. He had missed just one day of work since launching his coaching career at Beloit in 1957, that coming when he was struck by the flu on the very first day of school his first year. Since then, he had always maintained the upper hand in germ warfare, running up a string of consecutive appearances on the job that would have made Lou Gehrig proud. 

This time, he would have to suffer for his streak. Keady, his wife, Stallings, Wood and the players boarded one plane. The other assistant coaches and the rest of the traveling party – the healthy branch of it – piled into the other, smaller one.

For both groups, the flight was a roller coaster ride through the clouds, a wind-blown journey punctuated by unexpected dips and turns. Most of those who didn’t already feel sick soon caught up. Brugos spilled his soft drink in his lap after one sudden dip. Stephens let out a high-pitched shriek that in turn frightened everyone else after another. Reid vomited in the aisle as the plane began its descent.