No matter how far Bruce Simmons traveled, the piercing wail of the North Kehoe wind never stopped howling in his ears. For three decades, he couldn’t forget how the deafening moan rendered thousands of keg-happy students mute during that Homecoming game back in ’68. Couldn’t shake the feeling of how hard he had to torque his throwing arm to force a five-yard out against the unyielding gale.
So he came back.
He’d been back here many times before, back to the Hilltop where he helped resurrect Georgetown football as a quarterback during the late sixties. Since retiring from his job at Citigroup in Atlanta in 2003, Simmons (GSB ’69) had been a mainstay in the bleachers, rarely missing a game, always the life of the tailgate party.
But this time would be different. This year he would come home for real. This time, Simmons wanted to feel the Kehoe wind head on.
So he took Georgetown Head Coach Kevin Kelly up on an offer Kelly had proposed over dinner last February – to come back and help coach Hoya football for a week.
Simmons showed up for his dream job at 1 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 8, the day after Georgetown’s 28-7 loss to Lafayette. After eight hours of breaking down game film and preparing for the upcoming game with Yale, Simmons left the coaches’ office for an old friend’s townhouse in the Cloisters at 9 p.m. – it was the shortest day he would put in all week. For seven up-at-dawn days and seven 11th-hour nights, Simmons was back where part of him wished he’d stayed all along.
Simmons worked alongside the Georgetown coaching staff, and he learned along the way that Kelly’s game is from Mush Dubofsky’s, whom Simmons played under nearly forty years ago.
“What they do know is so much more sophisticated to what we did back then,” Simmons said. “A lot of our offense was me going into the huddle and drawing up the play in the dirt. I was one big sponge that whole week. I just soaked it all up.”
Simmons sat in awe each morning as Kelly and his staff dissected Yale Head Coach Jack Siedlecki’s strategy before the sun had even begun to crest the Hilltop. On the practice field, he admired the mettle of the young men he saw toiling in the morning humidity.
“The preparation is incredibly detailed, it’s fascinating,” said Simmons, whose club squad brought Georgetown football back into the varsity ranks in 1969. “Practice is very fast-paced and very organized. There isn’t a lot of standing around.”
Although NCAA regulations forbid Simmons from actually “coaching” the players, he did form a bond with many of the men who are following in his footsteps. Simmons spent time with his “six adopted sons” – fellow Atlanta natives Chris Parker, Willie Broderick, Sidney Baker, Kenny Mitchell, ychal Harrison and Justin Thomas – and talked five-step drops with quarterbacks Matt Bassuener, Barney O’Donnell and Keerome Lawrence.
Despite the chasm of 40 years in age, Simmons felt a close tie to the players.
“The guys that are playing now are playing for exact same reason that we were playing for in 1968: They love to play football,” Simmons said. “The level of commitment and the enjoyment of playing are just like it was back then.”
Bassuener enjoyed spending the week with his football forefather.
“It’s cool to see an alumni that is still so into the game,” Bassuener said following a practice in preparation for Saturday’s homecoming game against Cornell. “I’m always wrapped up in football, so whatever I’m doing down the road, I’d love to be able to come back here and have the same type of experience.”
Come Saturday, Kelly expects droves of former players to flow through the front gates. But none will share the exuberance of Simmons, who is a member of the University’s Board of Regents as well as the Student Affairs and Athletic Committees.
“There are a lot of them out there – none that are as visible as Bruce, but they will call or drop in and wish us good luck.” Kelly said. “The Georgetown alums are friendly people, and they have a lot of pride in this program.”
Hoya football has been a part of Simmons’ life ever since that blustery day atop Kehoe. He made it to eight games in Kelly’s first year in 2006 and plans on attending five this season – in addition to his cameo on the Georgetown sidelines. Simmons traveled to Italy earlier this week to meet two old friends from the ’68 squad.
“Back then, Homecoming was the social event of the fall,” Simmons, who swears there were 8,000 plus at the ’68 homecoming game, said. “It’s getting more like that now, but it has got a ways to go. It has to be what everybody wants to do on Saturdays. We have a location on campus that is unparalleled in college football.”
After spending a week helping to once again rebuild Georgetown football, Simmons believes the program is headed on the right track. As eager as he is to see progress in the future, Simmons can’t help but glance back at the past.
“Those were great memories. We didn’t win all the games, but they were great memories,” Simmons said. “I would do it all again in a second.”
When the Homecoming game kicks off this Saturday, Bruce Simmons will be half a world away. But he’ll be back soon. The wind always howls in his ear this time of year – like a beacon of light calling him back to his home atop the hill.