Volume 93, Issue 20
October 1, 1999
The mystery behind the man
Gazette file photo
By Brian Carey
The sight and sound is familiar to any Western Mustangs football fan. Cheers of Al-bert! Al-bert! Al-bert! ring across J.W. Little Memorial Stadium while a man compliments a touchdown with a jog around the track. He waves a beret in one hand and points across the field with the other.
The man is professor Allen Philbrick from Western's faculty of geography.
Philbrick said in 1973, he was out for a daily run and stopped at the top of the hill overlooking the stadium. The Mustangs were behind at the time and the team was having trouble putting their game together.
Philbrick said he ran down the hill and into the stadium, stopping to talk to then coach of the Mustangs, Frank Cosentino. While chatting and watching the game, the Mustangs scored. Philbrick continued his run around the track, out of the stadium and down along the river.
"Nobody in the stands paid much notice to some guy running the track that afternoon," Philbrick said.
Cosentino later phoned and told him of his idea to have a guest coach of the week, Philbrick said. He explained the guest would be a different faculty member each week during the season so they could see the problems his young athletes had associated with academics and varsity sports.
Near the end of the 1973 season, the players and Cosentino discussed the guest coach position. They decided it was better to have one faculty member instead of a different one each week and Philbrick said he was chosen for the job.
The 1974 season was the start of Philbrick's career as full-time team advisor. And every time the Mustangs scored a touchdown, Philbrick ran a lap around the track for good luck.
How Allen became Albert is another story. Philbrick explained this answer goes back to television commercials produced by Canadian Tire stores. The commercial's character was a male athlete named Albert. As he stepped onto the ice in full Canadian Tire hockey gear, the crowd would cheer "Al-bert, Al-bert, Al-bert".
The cheer was eventually picked up by Western football fans and the legend was born.
The sports information office at Western keeps track of how many laps Philbrick has run. Up to and including the game against Guelph university two weeks ago, Philbrick has run the track 710 times since 1973. Seven hundred and ten laps at one-quarter mile each is equivalent to 281 kilometres. To put it in travelling terms, Philbrick has run from London to Orillia.
Philbrick said his most memorable circuit run came during a foggy playoff game against the Wilfred Laurier Golden Hawks in 1994. Laurier fans were at the South end and Western fans were at the North end. It was a hard fought match that went into overtime.
Western scored and Philbrick set out on his regular run around the track. The Mustangs regained control of the ball while Philbrick was still running. He said as he rounded the track at the South end of the stadium he heard a loud cheer from the North end. He knew the team had done it. The game ended in a victory for Western which led to an eventual trip to the Vanier Cup.
Philbrick explained his philosophy that as one increases in age friends and family members of the same age group tend to decrease in number. Philbrick said he is filling his life with new friends and relationships from a group of young athletes. This, he said, brings him a lot of satisfaction and joy.
"He is somewhat of an icon around the team. He is identified at home games and clearly a personality that is known by other teams and their fans. Allen is legendary," said Western head coach Larry Haylor, on the impact Philbrick has had on the game.
Born in May of 1914, Philbrick is 85 and still he keeps going and going much like the Energizer bunny.
"He has commitment and is passionate about the players, the team and the students. He is a great friend of the players and the team," Haylor said.
"He's been there a number of years and is very important to the team and those around it. He's watched many kids over the years and he is always there if you need support or help," said Paul Blenkhorn, offensive tackle for the Mustangs.
"Many his age retire and tend to slow down, but Allen Philbrick brings a tradition to the team and the program."
Copyright © The Gazette 1999