Before Jonathan XIV walked around campus, before Dale Nosel (aka Blue and White Guy) got front row tickets to every UConn game under the sun, before even Big Red did his dance up and down the aisles of the Hartford Civic Center, Jeremy Altman was firing up Husky fans from 1985 to 1987.
But if you went to UConn in the late 80s like my dad, you likely had no idea who “Jeremy Altman” was. You probably knew him exclusively as The Guru.
It wasn’t an exciting time in UConn athletics quite yet. It was the opposite, actually. The football team was middling in the Yankee Conference, men’s basketball was in Big East basement and the women were right there with them.
But there were signs.
Soccer was competing for national championships with the legendary Joseph J. Morrone at the helm, while a Northeastern coach with a thick Boston accent and an Italian-American former Virginia assistant had just taken over the men’s and women’s basketball jobs.
And The Guru was right in the thick of it, sprinting from one side of each venue to the other, holding up signs, leading chants, interacting with the other team, all in the spirit of molding a fun environment and using the crowd as a tool to help UConn athletics.
“It was setting the stage for the crowd to become the extra player on the field whenever they played. He got the fans excited, got them to laugh and enjoy the event,” Tim Koons, Altman’s friend and fraternity brother said.
Since they drew by far the biggest crowds on campus, The Guru made his home at the men’s soccer games in Connecticut Soccer Stadium, now Morrone Stadium. They were the lone bright spot of UConn athletics when Altman got started, but he thought they could be even more if they were bolstered by the fans.
“He was loud, visible and always had a huge smile on his face,” Allison Bower, his then-girlfriend said. “Basically he added a really fun element to cheering for the team.”
The Guru had many chants, so many he couldn’t remember them all, but the most memorable one was directed at the opposing goalie:
You ain’t got no alibi
There were two more verses, each getting progressively cruder, as well as an anthem sung during every game: “God Bless Connecticut” sung to the tune of “God Bless America.”
Three years before he was bandana-clad and sprinting up and down the aisles of the Connecticut Soccer Stadium, the Fieldhouse or Memorial Stadium stirring on the Husky faithful, Altman was a tall, dark-haired freshman from Stamford trying to find his way around Storrs.
Like a good portion of students, UConn wasn’t even his No. 1 choice at first. He got into Boston College, but like so many UConn students before and since, the school’s in-state tuition was much more appealing.
He came to Storrs in 1981, took about three semesters’ worth of credits in two years, and felt like he wasn’t getting anywhere in life. He was burnt out and needed a change. Like so many before him, he picked himself up and set out for the west.
Altman enrolled at the University of Arizona, where he first got the idea while attending games at the newly-renovated Arizona Stadium. It held 55,352 people at the time, none of whom were making a peep at home games.
“I went to my first football game there, it was a big game, maybe 50,000 people, and the place was absolutely silent,” Altman said. “I was like, ‘What the hell is going on here?’”
It was then and there that the precursor to The Guru was born, complete with a signature accessory. Altman dressed himself up head to toe in bandanas, and thus became Bandana Man. He would run from one side of the stadium to the other, attempting to start a simple chant:
Until little by little, it started to take hold.
“He would stand in front of the section and start a cheer egging the crowd on to participate, and get more and more people to join in,” Bower said.
But Altman wasn’t long for the world of the Wildcats. Tucson wasn’t challenging enough for him academically; he had a 4.0, but he felt like he hadn’t earned it. Once again Altman was bored, so he decided to return to UConn.
That’s when the Guru persona was really born. He figured that he could replicate the same results he got at Arizona Stadium in the Connecticut Soccer Stadium. Five thousand people are a lot easier to rile up than 50,000, right?
At his first game back in Storrs in September 1985, as UConn faced Vermont, igniting the crowd proved tougher than it seemed. Altman did the same thing he had done in Tucson, running from section to section and attempting to start another simple chant:
Altman went around and around, but one section wouldn’t listen: The group of students that stood at the north end of the field, intoxicated and yelling abuses at the officials and the other team. Altman was all for having a good time, but not like that. So he decided to confront who he saw as the leader of the group.
“I went right up to one of the hecklers, right up in the stands, and I said to him, ‘Why don’t you want to have fun?’” Altman said. “If I didn’t go up to that guy, if I cowered away and just let it go, this probably never would have happened.”
And happen it did. For the next few minutes of the game, the chant went around the stadium until, miraculously, the ball found the back of the net off a header from former UConn player Matt Addington.
The North Goal Gang was instantly on his side, he got The Guru nickname on that night, and the name stuck.
“It was just an incredible feeling, like we had aided in scoring the goal. From that point on, the crowd was warm to me,” Altman said.
A second memorable moment in The Guru’s time at UConn came in their Oct. 23, 1985 matchup against Providence. The Guru and the newly converted North Goal Gang made the trek all the way to Rhode Island to cheer on the Huskies.
They did the traditional call-and-response “UConn…Huskies” chant for a while until the referee decided to kick them out of the stands right into their usual spot, about 50 feet behind the opposing goalie.
That proved to be a mistake, as they started the “U-G-L-Y” chant all over again, this time even closer to their target. UConn would go on to win that game, too, by a score of 2-0.
Altman would go on to get more in-depth with some of his ribbing. He very much toed the line but never crossed it, and the opposing players would often acknowledge him, but rarely took it personally.
“I remember the first time I saw him he came up to the end where all the students were congregating at and he said ‘Hey, the goalie’s name is Ian, and I heard his girlfriend broke up with him this week,’” Rick Sainte, another one of Altman’s friends, said. “They started chanting — nothing over the line, nothing real abusive — but just sort of goofing on him a little bit. Typically, whoever we were chanting at took it in stride.”
The Guru’s act gave him plenty of fans around campus, including members of the soccer team, who appreciated the instant home field advantage he brought when he showed up to the stadium.
“I personally feel the Guru is great,” UConn forward Kanto Lulaj told the Daily Campus in 1985. “He goes out there and gets people into the game, and that in turn motivates the team to play better. I wish we had more people that support us like he does.”
As the men’s and women’s basketball teams began to gain in popularity, Altman started to support those teams as well. He would lead the home team in the newspaper-reading gag while the away starting lineup was announced, only looking up to chant:
“At forward for Boston College, a 6’8″ senior from Roselle New Jersey, No. 31, Troy Bowers
At center for Boston College, a 6’8″ junior from Geneva, New York, No. 44, Tyrone Scott
Altman ended up meeting young head coaches Jim Calhoun and Geno Auriemma, letting them know that he was here to support the team in the same way he had with soccer.
“[Calhoun] just listened to what I do, and he was on board,” Altman said. “I just wanted to let him know that I was on board, and that I wanted to support the team. I said that I firmly believed that the sixth man could make the difference.”
Altman went to basketball games from 1985 to 1987 at the old Fieldhouse and the Hartford Civic Center, and would even travel down to Madison Square Garden for the Big East tournaments. The Garden was a bit more restrictive when it came to him sprinting up and down the aisle, but he still found ways around the rules.
“I still remember smoking weed back in the day at my seat in Madison Square Garden, so it wasn’t that tight,” Altman laughed.
Unfortunately, Altman would leave UConn before the basketball team really took off. The Guru would lead chants for the last time in 1987, one year before the Huskies 1988 “Dream Season” where they won the NIT.
Sticking around for a year after he graduated, Altman started to think about how he was actually going to make a living while still cheering on the teams he loved. The rumor had always circulated that he was on university payroll to stir up the crowds, but it wasn’t the truth.
So Altman came up with an idea: a UConn towel that he would sell at home games, and make a whole new set of chants with it.
The UConn athletic department didn’t share his view, however, and Altman had to move on.
“I had to find a way to make money doing it. I loved the school, but I had to make a living,” Altman said. “In that way, we left not on good terms and I haven’t been back since.”
Despite the rocky end to his fandom career, Altman still looks back fondly on that time of his life. He was part of UConn’s rise to the national spotlight, and won’t rule out a return to newly-renovated Morrone if the conditions are right and people who remembered him came to the game.
“It was a whole different lifetime ago, but it was great to see it all unfold,” Altman said. “I think we were all glad to be a part of it.”
Luke Swanson is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at email@example.com.