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The Mayor of Terrier Nation

Elliot Driben has cheered at more than 5,000 Terrier games

24

Among BU athletes, coaches, referees, and spectators, he’s achieved single-name status, like Prince or Slash. On game night, at Walter Brown Arena or Agganis, he can’t take five steps without someone clapping him on the back or clasping his hand. He’s equal parts mascot, rabbit’s foot, and historian—and all parts passion. He is, simply, Elliot. The Terriers’ ultimate, hands-down, number-one ultra-fan.

But Elliot Driben doesn’t paint his face, dress up like a meat product, or dance beneath a rainbow wig. He has simply showed up game after game, year after year, decade after decade. And not just for marquee action like hockey or hoops. The 66-year-old can be found, wrapped in scarlet and white, high-fiving at diving competitions, clapping from the bleachers at wrestling matches, and cheering on rowers from the banks of the Charles, kicking out good vibes no matter the weather, no matter the score.

“I think I’ve seen 5,000 BU athletic events, maybe more,” Driben says as the women Terriers take the ice before a recent hockey game at Walter Brown Arena.

A heroic achievement by any measure. But considering Driben has had cerebral palsy since childhood and struggles with hearing, speech, and muscle control, his Terrier pride is elevated to another realm. A curved spine forces him to walk with a limp and lean on a walker, but he is quick to laugh, the lines on his forehead and around his mouth grooved by an obvious capacity for joy. Beneath a gray crew cut and behind square glasses, his brown eyes, cast with a bit of mischief, are always smiling.

“You can look around at any arena—hockey, basketball, field hockey, soccer, and you’ll see him,” says women’s lacrosse player Erica Baumgartner (SHA’11). “As an athlete, you think, this man came all the way here to see me, to see us, to support us. So you kinda don’t want to let him down.”

This past weekend, Driben boarded the team bus with the women’s hockey squad on a trip north to square off against the University of New Hampshire. Until recently, the road hasn’t been an obstacle for Driben, whether it’s hopping up Comm Ave to Boston College or across the country to Colorado for an NCAA Frozen Four tournament. Because of increasing pain lately, though, he has had to cut back on his travel radius.

“It’s pretty special when he can come with us,” says women’s lacrosse team captain Catie Tilton (COM’11). “He’s like a good luck charm. It’s hard being away from your home field. You’re in a different atmosphere. When Elliot is with us, he brings that tradition, that bit of BU. He makes it easier to play on an away field.”

Driben’s relationship with BU dates back to 1955. His parents enrolled the bright but mentally imprisoned 10-year-old in speech class with the late Albert Murphy, a School of Education psychology professor and Sargent College speech and language pathology professor. Murphy took a shine to his determined young pupil and scored him tickets to a BU-Syracuse football game. The Terriers took a beating. “It was either 24 or 34 to nothing,” Driben recalls.

His speech, and confidence, improving, Driben attended Brookline High School. His special education teacher was also the hockey coach and saw that Driben, who’d started keeping box scores after seeing his first Red Sox game, had a mind for statistics. By the time he graduated, in 1968, at age 23, Driben had compiled numbers for most of the high school’s athletic teams, including hockey, soccer, baseball, and basketball, and served as squad manager.

Diploma in hand, Driben took a clerical job at John Hancock, making the three-mile trek by foot and cane most days, and stopping by Fenway Park after work when the Red Sox were in town. He continued his speech work with Murphy on Bay State Road. One day, a new face showed up at the therapy group: freshman phenom goalie and future Olympian silver medalist Tim Regan (SED’72).

“They’d picked up something in my voice and wanted me to go see someone at the speech program,” Regan recalls. “It was then that I met Elliot, and we just hit it off. Hockey was the big sport at BU so I left tickets for him at the box office. He liked the speed of the game and got hooked. Through me, he met the other guys on the team and got autographs.”

Before long, Driben was the team statistician—and a fixture in the stands.

“Elliot has never let his obvious disabilities stop him from being totally positive about everything,” says Regan, who went on to play pro hockey. “He hasn’t let what we might consider a personal setback stand in his way. I’m sure he’s experienced in his own way that it’s a pain in the neck to have to operate with a cane or a walker, but that’s not going to stop him from going to a men’s hockey game and cheering on BU.”

Or getting out on the Charles. Driben has watched regattas from the boathouse, even road-tripped to away competitions, but had never taken in a water’s-eye view of the sport. Until last year, when women’s crew coach Stacey Rippetoe invited him on her launch. She bundled him up in Coast Guard survival gear and a life jacket. “He looked like the kid brother from the movie Christmas Story,” Rippetoe says with a chuckle. “We had a great time.”

“The loyalty and support Elliot has shown all the teams at BU is incredible,” she says. “I’ve never seen anything like it. He’s decided how he wants to live his life, and so he spends every day accordingly and spreads positivity around the department.”

Now retired, Driben lives just up the street from Case Gym and the BU athletics department. Terrier sweatshirts and T-shirts are draped over chairs in his apartment, and framed pictures with athletes and teams line the bookshelves. Autographed posters hang on the walls, and the refrigerator door plastered with magnetized game schedules. Tables are covered with envelopes, folders, NCAA rule booklets, and notebooks. But ask for women’s basketball stats from 2005, and he knows exactly which pile that piece of paper is in. His closet is lined with windbreakers and letter jackets from different teams, different eras, like rings in a tree.

Driben puts his money where his mouth is. Each year, he gives several thousand dollars to BU’s sports teams—every last one of them, from dance and pep squad to tennis and softball. He’s donated Xerox machines for the press boxes at Walter Brown and Agganis Arenas, and without fail sets aside money for the Academic Support Center.

“He’s always interested in the academic side of my life,” says Baumgartner. “I’ve switched my major twice, and he’s always asking, ‘You still getting those good grades? You liking your major now? You’re not gonna switch on me again, are you?’”

Being a lifelong Boston-area resident, of course, also means membership in Red Sox Nation, a passionate and loyal bunch if ever there was one. And if he had to choose? Before the question is even finished, Driben’s lips are parted:

“BU,” he says. “Always.”

Caleb Daniloff can be reached at cdanilof@bu.edu. Nicolae Ciorogan can be reached at ciorogan@bu.edu.

24 Comments

24 Comments on The Mayor of Terrier Nation

  • Anonymous on 02.10.2011 at 12:34 am

    Amazing story, amazing person. Not much else to say.

  • Anonymous on 02.10.2011 at 6:35 am

    Thank you, Elliot - and BU Today

    What a tremendous story!

    Elliot is truly a fixture at BU athletic events, but beyond that, he truly cares about BU. He loves the place. It is his home, and his family.

    The article and the accompanying video are “required reading/ viewing” as it shows what it truly means to be a part of a modern extended family. Care, love, time and connectivity – it is all there.

    Way to go, Elliot. Way to go, Terriers. Just when I think that I got BU all figured out – I don’t. Thanks for making my day.

  • Anonymous on 02.10.2011 at 7:56 am

    Fantastic subject. I had no idea that BU had such an amazing and dedicated fan for ALL of its sports. Thanks Elliot for being so supportive of BU for all of these years.

  • Robert J Oresick on 02.10.2011 at 8:35 am

    Wonderful story. Sounds like a candidate for an honorary degree to me.

  • Raul Fernandez on 02.10.2011 at 8:53 am

    Kudos

    A beautifully delivered and well-deserved tribute to Elliot, the heart and soul of BU athletics. Glad to know he’s in the BU Hall of Fame. How about an honorary degree?

  • Anonymous on 02.10.2011 at 9:20 am

    Thank You!

    It’s great to see Elliot’s story shared with the rest of the BU Community. Thank you BU Today for highlighting such a spectacular individual. And THANK YOU ELLIOT for all of the support and dedication you have given to BU Athletics!

  • Anonymous on 02.10.2011 at 9:22 am

    Thank you Elliot

    Truly amazing! I have had the opportunity to meet Elliot and know that every word of this story is absolutely true. What an amazing man, thank you for all that you do for BU! True inspiration!

  • Anonymous on 02.10.2011 at 9:38 am

    A moving story

    Elliot, you’re an amazing person. I’m moved by your passion for BU and am extremely grateful to you. Thank you… from a BU alum (twice), current employee and former BU athlete (rower)!

  • Anonymous on 02.10.2011 at 9:40 am

    Great story. Thank you, Elliot and BU Today. He not only shows his Terrier Pride but also continues investing the future of BU Athletics. I wish him stay healthy and keep supporting our student-athletes! He is definitely our good luck charm!

  • Paul Pierson on 02.10.2011 at 9:42 am

    Thank you to BU Today for publishing this story. I first saw Elliot at a BU game when I was a freshman in 1986. I have long since moved from the Boston area but it is always nice to know that no matter what has changed in the atheletics department at BU I can always see Elliot at games when I go back…regardless of the sport.

  • Joe Wright on 02.10.2011 at 10:37 am

    So good to see his face!

    In my nine year association with Terrier Athletics with the bands, I grew to know Elliot better and better every year, eventually encouraging him to join us on the road. He is a true fan, and a true gentleman, and I miss spending time with him. It’s great to see he is still such an important fixture on Commonwealth Avenue, and I wish him all the best! His support of the Terriers, and in particular the band, was certainly appreciated!

    Joe Wright
    SFA ’95 (MusM)
    BU Bands, 1992-2001

  • Anonymous on 02.10.2011 at 11:13 am

    What a wonderful, heart-warming story and video! Elliot has such a loyal, generous, determined, and bright spirit. Thank you for bringing us the story of this remarkable and inspiring man.

  • Doug Chapman on 02.10.2011 at 11:56 am

    Wonderful article about a great guy. It wouldn’t be an official BU game without Elliot present!

  • Brendan Burke on 02.10.2011 at 12:09 pm

    Elliot's loyalty deservedly recognized

    Elliot was BU Baseball’s #1 fan, when fans were hard to come by for us during some tough years. He was always such a supportive presence, at home and on the road, who took a genuine interest in the games, athletes and BU in general. I’m very happy to see him receive this worthy recognition.

    Thank you for being you for all these years, Elliot!

    Brendan Burke (COM ’95)
    BU Baseball 1992-95

  • Doug Chapman on 02.10.2011 at 12:32 pm

    Elliot is 'The Man'!

    Wonderfully touching story about a great guy. It is not an official BU athletic contest without Elliot present. His dedication knows no bounds.
    The idea of an honorary degree is tremendous. I hope that it would be considered. I’m not sure if anything would make him happier … except maybe more national championships won by his beloved Terriers.
    Go BU!

  • Anonymous on 02.10.2011 at 12:45 pm

    Well deserved for a great man

    So nice that others get to know the Elliot we all knew from walking the halls of the Walter Brown Arena and for you youngins the Agganis . On the rare occasion I get to see a BU game of any sort I’m almost guaranteed an Elliot sighting. He’s a fond memory from my time as a student-athlete. I’ve never seen someone that was so happy to see us. Always smiling, always with an encouraging word, always the ultimate fan. Thank you Elliot!!!

  • Ashley C (ENG '06, GMS '11) WSoccer 2002-2005 on 02.10.2011 at 5:34 pm

    Well Deserved

    Wonderful article about a wonderful guy. What an inspiration. Thanks Elliot!

  • Anonymous on 02.10.2011 at 6:56 pm

    Fabulous story and what a great guy! BU is lucky to have such a devoted fan and booster. The obvious high esteem in which the university holds Elliot speaks volumes about the heart of BU. Honorary degree indeed!

  • Anonymous on 02.10.2011 at 7:16 pm

    great story, wait till he sees a quidditch game

  • Anonymous on 02.10.2011 at 7:16 pm

    What a sweet heart!

    Though nobody loves Scarlett more than Rhett, I bet Eliott gives him a run for his money. What a wonderful story and I hope he enjoys many more seasons.

  • Anonymous on 02.15.2011 at 1:04 pm

    hi

    Wonderful article about a wonderful guy. What an inspiration. Thanks Elliot!

  • Gil Adler on 06.22.2011 at 10:36 am

    Wow!

    WOW! amazing story… how could I have been there for 4 years and NOT HEARD OF HIM? or better yet — been in Terrier nation with season tickets my Jr + Sr. year and not SEEN him?

  • Walter Zimmerman on 10.25.2011 at 12:12 am

    I have known Elliot since I moved up the street from him in Brookline 61 years ago. We used to shoot hoops in his back yard on Kilsyth Road and at Dean Road (Waldstein) Playground and I remember his determination to overcome any obstacle. I moved away from Brookline 42 years ago and haven’t seen Elliot in at least that many years but you can NEVER forget him. Congratulations, Elliot, on all you have accomplished and what you have done for, and meant to, BU. You are truly an inspiration.

    P.S. Please say “hello” to my old friend and high school classmate, Kalman Zabarsky, next time you see him which will, I’m sure, will be in no more than a few days.

    Walter Zimmerman
    London, Ontario

  • anonymous on 12.30.2011 at 8:09 pm

    I really think that Elliot is the number 1 fan of BU
    No dought no matter how old he gets he will alaways inspire me i know that im a bu fan but when i saw this i felt true passion Thanks Elliot

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