In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

  • Becoming Pete Dawkins
  • Richard Goodman (bio)

Sometime in the early 1980s, when I was living in New York City, I went to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. In those days, I went often. It was a sunny fall day. I climbed the familiar marble steps and walked into the main entrance hall. It's a vast space. It was, as it always is, crowded with humanity. There were uncountable scattered individuals, and there were groups. I looked about absently, trying to decide what part of the museum I would explore that day, at which point I would enter.

I noticed a group directly in front of me. There were about fifteen people in the group, all of them, I could see, wearing name tags. For some reason, and now I wonder why, I walked closer to them. I saw that the tags read "Cranbrook School Alumni." My old prep school! Surprised, I looked to see if I recognized any of them. I did not.

Then I heard a male voice. "Ok, let's go!" it said commandingly. I turned my eyes toward the voice. Instantly, I knew who it was. It was Pete Dawkins. The great Pete Dawkins, West Point graduate, football legend, all-around hero and Cranbrook School alumnus. I had studied his face so carefully so many times when I was at Cranbrook that even with the gray hair he had now, I knew it was him. That chieftain, that granite-hewn face! And it made sense, of course, that he was leading a group of alumni of the school he had once attended. [End Page 31]

There he stood, the ultimate alumnus, leading the chosen few. What had they done to be part of this elite group? What had they promised? A personal tour by none other than the mythical Pete Dawkins. Just for an instant, I had the urge to walk up to him. I wanted to talk to him. I had some things I wanted to know about his time at Cranbrook. Did he know he had been used? Did he know he had been a lure? He raised an arm and waved the group forward, like the soldier he was. Then Pete Dawkins turned and began walking away, the group following eagerly behind him. I watched them move through the throng toward the heart of the museum, this gray-haired hero leading them. Very soon, they began to be swallowed up in the crowd. And then they vanished completely, as if they'd never been there.

My heart was pounding.

I turned and walked out of the museum, down the stone steps, and away from the throng, so I could breathe.

________

Cranbrook School for Boys. 1959.

Football tryouts.

I was fourteen.

When I walked into the gymnasium, what I noticed first were framed photographs of athletes on the wall. The record of profiles stretched back to the 1930s. These were confident, All-American faces looking at me in black-and-white stoicism on the wall: "John Billings, Captain, Baseball, 1947–8." One after another.

I searched for one photograph in particular each time I went into the gym. It was one every student athlete looked for. I scanned the photographs like a lost child looking for his mother. No, no, no.

Yes. There.

"Peter Dawkins. Football, All League. Captain, Baseball, 1955."

Before I had been at Cranbrook School one week, a boy told me Pete Dawkins' story. The boy spoke as if he were telling me the story of Jesus. Pete Dawkins had polio when he was young. Polio! How it struck fear in the hearts of parents back then. They said he would never walk again. But Pete Dawkins didn't give up. Not only did he walk again, he became a star athlete [End Page 32] at Cranbrook. He went on to West Point, where he did astonishing things. He was an All-American football player. He won the Heisman Trophy. He was Brigade Commander, president of his class, and in the top 5 percent academically. No other West Point student in history had done that. All of this so recently! If that weren't enough, he was a Rhodes Scholar...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1548-3339
Print ISSN
1544-1849
Pages
pp. 31-48
Launched on MUSE
2021-05-01
Open Access
No
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