williams brice

Remembering the Timberwolves?

Writer Craig Brandhorst recalls Williams-Brice as backdrop for football movie 25 years ago

On a cool but sunny morning 25 years ago, my friend Stacey Ray, ’95, and I were up on our feet at Williams-Brice Stadium, fists raised high, hands cupped around our howling mouths as we cheered like mad for our beloved — Eastern State University Timberwolves?

That’s right. On Feb. 6, 1993, we were among the roughly 4,000 extras packed into the north stands for the filming of the Touchstone Pictures college football flick “The Program,” which was released later that year. And when the director pointed his megaphone at us and told us to go nuts for the T-Wolves, we did exactly that.

“Go Wolves!” we hollered. “Wolves! Wolves! Wolves!” “Wooolves!”

Was there irony in our enthusiasm? How could there not be? We were at Williams-Brice — er, “the friendly confines of Wolf Den Stadium” — pretending to care about the outcome of a fictional football game between two teams, neither one of which wore garnet and black. The crowd, meanwhile, had been enhanced by the addition of several hundred cardboard cutouts, and their lack of emotion had to be offset somehow.

We had no idea who the director was, of course, but then we didn’t know who Craig Sheffer, Omar Eppes, Kristy Swanson, Halle Berry or any of the movie’s young actors were, either. I knew James Caan — I’d seen him in another football movie, “Brian’s Song,” and, of course, “The Godfather” — but I had no idea he was playing the Wolves’ head coach.

Honestly? I’m not even sure we knew what the movie was called. We were there for the $40 they promised and a free bag lunch.

Don’t judge. I’d graduated the year before and was working at a Five Points sandwich shop while I contemplated graduate school. Stacey was still working on her English degree. Anyway, we didn’t have anything else to do, and 40 bucks is 40 bucks, especially when you’re young.

When I call Stacey in Greenville to ask what she remembers about the experience, she can barely stop laughing. “Not much,” she says. “I remember the people who brought us our free hotdogs were dressed like vendors at an actual football game, which was kind of surreal. And I remember I brought my art history textbook so I could study, though I’m pretty sure I didn’t.”

Whatever. On our way out, we were each handed two crisp $20 bills. I may or may not have applied mine to my rent. Stacey laughs and says she probably spent hers at Rockafella’s, the long-defunct Five Points music club, seeing a band.

On the production company’s side of the ledger, total expenses for the day came out to around $200,000. But the film’s total budget was around $20 million, and it grossed $23 million at the box office, according to IMDb, so I guess we were worth it.

Of course, we weren’t the only fans in “The Program,” or even the most enthusiastic. Most of the football scenes had been filmed during halftime of the Gamecocks’ October 1992 matchup against Tennessee — you’ll notice lots of orange in the north stands during the Timberwolves game against Michigan, lots of garnet and black when they take on Georgia Tech. Seriously, watch the replay: the fictional home team’s red and gold are nowhere in sight.

Neither are we, for that matter, but that’s beside the point. Twenty-five years ago, one of my best college friends and I had a ridiculously good time — emphasis on ridiculous. Twenty-five years later, we got to have it all over again.

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