By James Zug
For thirty years the Eric R. Finkelman Award has been the highlight of the Lapham-Grant weekend. The U.S. v. Canada matches date back to 1922 and thus are the oldest annual international matches in the game of squash. The weekend has always been known for off-court hijinks and misdemeanors as much for on-court play (this may or may not have something to do with the fact that most participants have just one match to play over the three days).
The Finkelman started in April 1982 at the Lapham-Grant in Cleveland. After the dinner-dance, a number of Canadians were carousing at their hotel and one of them, John Fuller, appeared at a late-night gathering wearing his wife’s beautiful red (some remember pink) dress. The next morning Fuller managed to capture the deciding doubles match, which was punctuated by him mooning the crowd at its conclusion.
At the farewell luncheon, Herb Gross, the U.S. captain, gave Fuller an improvised trophy consisting of a soda bottle, a towel and a broken racquet as he read out an Associated Press article that appeared in that morning’s Cleveland Plain Dealer. “Student Hurt ‘Mooning’ in Bus” was the headline: “NASHVILLE, Tenn.—Eric R. Finkelman, 25, a Vanderbilt University law student, fell from a bus returning home from a tour of a Jack Daniel’s whiskey distillery in Lynchburg, Tenn. after he pressed his bare buttocks against a window and it popped open, police said. Finkelman, of New York City, was hospitalized in good condition yesterday. He suffered a head injury and a broken hand during the prank known as ‘mooning.’ Finkelman fell onto Interstate 65 south of Nashville late Friday night after pushing his naked rear end against the window of the commercial sightseeing bus, police said. The window was intended as an emergency exit and popped out easily.”
“I was laughing so hard I could barely get through it,” Gross remembered. Fuller went home to Toronto (he now lives in Hood River, Oregon) and crafted a bronze trophy to replace the original. The Finkelman is perhaps the most unusual trophy in squash. It is also certainly one of the easiest (or hardest?) to win. Over the years, people have received it for various party fouls, screw-ups, disorderly dancing, skinny-dipping, abandoning teammates, curious sleeping quarters and general misbehavior.
Recently, I had lunch with the real Eric R. Finkelman. For him, the mooning incident was no laughing matter.
Finkelman grew up in Hell’s Kitchen in Manhattan. He wrestled at Horace Mann and was a prop on the Princeton rugby team. (He also knew about the squash courts at Dillon Gym, but didn’t play much.) A philosophy major, he graduated in 1975 and then three years later started law school at Vanderbilt.
On Friday 16 April 1982 he joined a three-bus Vanderbilt tour of the Jack Daniel’s distillery. He had a law review paper due the following Monday which he hadn’t started, but it was a chance to blow off some steam now that spring had arrived. There was a big party at a picnic after the tour and when the buses were heading back to campus, Finkelman had been joking around with some of his Vanderbilt rugby buddies. As the buses went along Interstate 65, Finkelman’s bus passed another and he decided to moon it. He pulled down his pants, and as he pressed against the glass, he suddenly flew out. “It was incredibly scary,” Finkelman told me. “In a flash, I was airborne. The bus was going about 65 mph on a busy highway.” He instinctively rolled when he hit the road and miraculously the other cars avoided him. He lost one of his topsiders as he hustled to the side of the road.
It was about a mile before the bus driver pulled over. An ambulance came. He had a second-degree burns all over his back, deep raspberries with imbedded gravel. At Southern HiLls Hospital, he received 4-6 stitches in his head. The dean of the law school came to the hospital on Saturday. “Can I do anything for you?” he asked.
“Yes, can you give me an extension?” Finkelman replied.
Somehow the news got out. Finkelman’s uncle first heard about a report on the incident on WCBS radio in New York and called his parents. His father flew down on the next flight and visited him briefly to make sure he was fine. David Letterman made a joke about it; Playboy mentioned it; a friend in Korea saw something about it in Stars & Stripes; and local television stations in Nashville reported on it. And the AP picked it up, enabling Herb Gross to read it aloud at the Lapham-Grant Luncheon.
For a while Finkelman was famous on campus and other Vandy students asked for his autograph. The campus humor magazine created the Eric R. Finkelman Award “in recognition of the most stylish plunge out of academia and into the real world. We will also be passing the hat to raise funds for a bronze plaque commemorating Eric’s historical flight (after all, who is going to believe this really happened in fifty years unless there’s a bronze plaque to say so?)”
Instead, we have a bronze sculpture and the chance for another winner in late April at the Lapham-Grant weekend in Vancouver (press time was three days prior).
Finkelman, although not a squash player, vaguely had heard about his eponymous squash award but had never seen it before I showed him a photo. He’s had a successful career as a corporate general counsel, including CIBA Speciality Chemicals and most recently for Sun Chemical. He has two adult children. His mooning days are, as it were, behind him.
PAST ERIC R. FINKELMAN AWARD RECIPIENTS
1982 John Fuller
1983 Barney Lawrence
1984 Cass Quinn
1985 John Lindquist
1986 Gayle Grant
1987 Alan Ziegler
1989 John Fuller
1990 Eric Grossman
1991 Peter Gaynor
1993 Bill McDonnell
1994 Don & Dave Coons
1995 Fred Reid
1997 Sam Howe
1998 David Stevenson
1999 Keen Butcher
2000 Steve Belman & Wally Danforth
2002 Peter Maule
2003 John Hickey
2005 Owen Myhre
2009 Eric Grossman
2010 Josh Schwartz
2011 Peter Briggs