Saturday, October 16, 2010

"Foster community, encourage diversity ... and find a White Lobster."

On March 30, 2008, Davidson College went head to head with the University of Kansas; the winner would earn a berth in the Final Four. It was a typical David vs. Goliath match-up that the media craved and the fans ate up with a spoon, and the result was uncertain until the buzzer sounded. Coming off the bench that afternoon for the 'Cats was three-point specialist Bryant Barr. Several months earlier, Davidson fans had begun calling the pale, blonde Maine native The White Lobster. Word spread, and the unusual nickname had not gone unnoticed by the inimitable sportscaster Gus Johnson. When Bryant hit one of his most important shots to keep Davidson firmly in the game, Johnson welcomed him into legendary nickname status with a roar: "OH! The White Lobster is cooking!"

After Detroit, Wes couldn't stop thinking about it. "I was like, 'oh my gosh, that is the perfect nickname, that is the perfect thing to dress up as.'" A white lobster -- the mammoth mother of original costumes. When Wes became a hall counselor for the freshmen of Richardson Dorm in the fall of 2008, his list of goals was a little different than most: "Foster community, encourage diversity, have people feel included in the Davidson community, and find a White Lobster."

He found Morgan.

Even though his parents are both Davidson graduates, "I didn't really start looking at Davidson till I was a junior," Morgan recalls, wearing a red t-shirt with a white lobster printed on the front. "I wasn't one of those people who saw it and fell in love ... [I thought] 'This is nice, I'd like to come here.' After weighing all my options, it was the best place for me." He'd always been aware of the basketball program growing up, and after the miraculous Elite Eight run, basketball "was probably a bigger part of my decision than it should have been." When he arrived on campus, the stage was set, the stars were aligned, and Wes was his hall counselor on Fourth Rich.

"It was Wes's idea... I think it was Night with the Cats [the annual pep rally] when he posed the idea to me. 'We need more -- do you want to dress up as the White Lobster?'"

"I'd known about the nickname, and I thought it was a pretty cool nickname. And Bryant seemed like a nice guy, and I could really identify with him ... I have really pale skin too." The sophomore from Memphis pulls out his cell phone to show its background: a picture of a Maine lighthouse, taken on a trip with his high school youth choir. "One of the coolest places I've ever been."

Morgan agreed to try out the role, "not really knowing what I was getting myself into ... 'Sure, that might be fun.'" As soon as he ordered the costume, The White Lobster became a collaborative effort: his hallmates chipped in to cover the eighty dollar cost. Like most lobsters, it was originally red; this had to change. Wes smiles: "People took turns spray painting it because that was really intense for the brain, all that aerosol ... We hung it in the bathroom."

"It's kind of like the hall project," Morgan explains. "Fourth Rich."

"I remember the first couple of games he would just get high standing inside it," Wes continues, "'cause that foam lobster suit just kept absorbing the paint. For a long time it was just the pink lobster. That thing got painted like for weeks. It was just dripping paint out. The first couple times he went to the games, you could see people behind him making faces, 'this is gross.' We took turns standing beside him 'cause we would get lightheaded." (When I mention this to another friend, he immediately wrinkles his nose, remembering: "It was potent.") One day after a game, Morgan sat in class, shaking so hard he couldn't hold his pencil steady.

The paint slowly dried, the fumes dissipated, and he suddenly found himself a significant part of the Davidson basketball experience, not only for other fans but for the player he represented. One game day "I ran into Bryant, and I hadn't met him yet, and he recognized me and he was like, 'You coming tonight? ... You better.'" That night, Morgan cancelled his plans and showed up in the front row of Belk Arena. Following the game, "Bryant's mom came and tracked me down: 'Oh, I need to get a picture with you!' ... It was pretty cool."

In an e-mail, Bryant explains what Morgan's support has meant to him:

Morgan has been incredible in the amount of time he has spent wearing a ridiculous(ly awesome) lobster outfit for the past two years ... I can remember the first time I saw him wearing it ... I came out to shoot around and saw a big white something. I soon figured out that it was an extremely intricate lobster costume. He has added memories to my basketball experiences that I will simply never forget.
Bryant holds a charity tournament every May, and at this year's event, Coach Bob McKillop auctioned off a dinner with Bryant at the North Harbor Club. "Will you wear the costume?" his coach asked, cracking a grin. Bryant laughed.

The originality and sheer magnitude of the costume (look up "cumbersome" in Webster's and you'll see The WL) have given Morgan more press than he ever expected. In December 2008, when Davidson played NC State at Bobcats Arena, the Athletics Department asked him "to go down and do this free throw shooting thing during a time out ... It was a disaster because I couldn't move my arms. I looked like a five-year-old. But I made one." Also present at the game: NBA star LeBron James, who was attending his second Davidson game in a year to watch star guard Stephen Curry. "So when I was walking off, I walked by LeBron and I heard him say, 'That's not a lobster, that's a roach!' but someone walking off with me was like 'that's a white lobster!' I just waved at him and kept walking." Sportswriters have picked up on him, too; one ESPN reporter wrote a Thanksgiving column featuring the line: "Things I'm thankful for: The guy who dresses up in the lobster suit at Davidson games."

Now, Morgan has a decision to make. With Bryant graduating this spring, should he continue wearing the costume that has taken on a mystique and legendary quality all its own? He certainly has the first White Lobster's blessing. "I think it would be pretty cool for Morgan to keep wearing it," Bryant says. "A lot of people know him for that."

"I'd be happy to keep wearing it, 'cause it's a lot of fun, it really is, I'd probably feel kind of naked if I didn't wear it at a Davidson game," Morgan admits.

Some of his biggest fans are Davidson alumni. Morgan's Facebook wall currently contains a message from a graduate of 1975:
Morgan ... So what will become of the White Lobster persona with the "retirement" of the mortal Bryant Barr? ... I really think your last years as the best ever supportive mascot role to the Davidson Wildcats deserve an immense amount of positive recognition. Over the last four years I turned my dental staff in my California general dental practice as well as hundreds of my clients into HUGE Davidson fans. YOU are one of the entities that they will remember from this special time ... a remarkable time in the history of the over 100 year old tradition of DAVIDSON BASKETBALL! IT ROCKS!!!
Before college, Morgan had never been this immersed in a sporting event. "A lot of people at home are ... really surprised that I do this, because it's really not like me." He shrugs. "Pretty low-key." Indeed, most Wildcat fans probably wouldn't peg the laidback lanky guy as the man behind the myth. He has become such a staple that at each game, kids (and their parents) precariously navigate the student section to ask for a picture. Did he expect to become so important to the Davidson basketball experience?

"No, no way. I didn't know what to expect at all -- if someone had told me I'd turn into, like, an institution, I wouldn't believe it. Apparently people look for me... I did not expect that."
Go to Part III.

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