How `the Wave' Swept the Nation


ROBB WELLER says he started the "wave" 12 years ago, and to his dismay it hasn't stopped since.

"I, for one, am totally tired of the thing," Mr. Weller says of the human chain-reaction that has brought untold thousands of sports fans to their feet in stadiums around the world - and surely will appear in Pasadena, Calif., this weekend. "I think it's a horrid bother."

For those who haven't experienced the thrill, the wave goes like this: Spectators in one section of a stadium rise to their feet together for a moment, raising their arms in the air; as they sit down the fans adjacent to them follow suit, and the motion continues, creating what many fans consider an exhilarating and visually stunning experience.

Stunning it certainly was on that fateful day in Husky Stadium here in 1981. "The place just went nuts," recalls Weller, interviewed by telephone from his home in Los Angeles.

The University of Washington "happened to be walloping Stanford," in a matchup of West Coast football titans.

As a student here in the early 1970s, he had been a "yell leader," spending his final year on a scholarship for his contribution as energizer of the crowds. As a former yell-leader, he was invited to do his thing again at the Stanford game.

He first led a vertical version of the wave that he remembered from nine years before, which went up and down the student section. Then, during a frenzy of cheering following a good Husky play, the band director encouraged Weller to try some new things to keep the crowd going. Weller thought to transfer the motion from up-and-down to sideways. He told the crowd: "When you see me run by, that's when you stand."

He did not realize that the new wave would roll all the way around the stadium. But soon alumni and faculty sections wanted to join in. "It had an all-enveloping notion," he says. "Once you see it, you want to be a part of the thing."

Since then "the wave" has been done by countless sports enthusiasts, including Cuban leader Fidel Castro, King Juan Carlos of Spain, and President Francois Mitterrand of France. Hollywood films such as "When Harry Met Sally" and "Field of Dreams" commemorate the activity. "I'm sure it's accounted for untold dollars in spilled coffee," says Weller, who for five years was the anchor for TV's "Entertainment Tonight." He suspects that the wave's popularity crested three years ago, around the time comedian Bi lly Crystal led a wave in Moscow. "I think it's waning," Weller concludes.

Will it really die so easily? "You don't see people swallowing live goldfish anymore," he replies, referring to a campus fad of the 1920s. But he allows that the wave may be "a little more palatable."

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