You’d think the nickname "Dash" refers to the fastest person on the football field.
According to his teammates, former Penn professor and 2020 Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden was pretty quick. But in his case, the childhood nickname was one of several that had nothing to do with his athletic ability.
Instead, it mocked the "dashes" that the former vice president unintentionally inserted between certain syllables while speaking aloud. It mocked his stutter.
Biden is an alumnus of Archmere Academy, a prep school in Claymont, Del. It was there he first gained the nickname, but it was also there that he built his confidence on the field and ultimately overcame his impediment.
“As much as I lacked confidence in my ability to communicate verbally, I always had confidence in my athletic ability,” Biden wrote in his memoir, "Promises to Keep: On Life and Politics." “Sports were as natural to me as speaking was unnatural. And sports turned out to be my ticket to acceptance — and more. I wasn’t easily intimidated in a game, so even when I stuttered, I was always the kid who said, ‘Give me the ball.’”
Robert Markel, an Archmere graduate and former baseball teammate of Biden’s, recalls his classmate fondly.
“He was an outgoing person, very sociable, talks with everybody, would talk with anybody,” Markel said. “That’s the strength that he has, is communicating and connecting with people.”
Archived editions of The News Journal, the main newspaper of Wilmington, Del., reveal a trove of information about Biden’s high school athletic trajectory. On September 21, 1960, the Journal printed a season preview for Archmere’s football team, with sports reporter Hal Bodley writing, “[Biden] is one of the best pass receivers on the team.”
Archmere’s football coach at the time, E. John Walsh, echoed praise of Biden’s skills as a receiver to the New York Times in 2008.
Walsh took over the reins of Archmere football in 1960, just two years out of college and with little coaching experience. He inherited a team with a dismal 1-6 record the season prior. Archmere had not won more than two games in a season since 1948.
Expectations were low. Walsh was forced to recruit 12 of his 30 players from the school cafeteria line when not enough people showed up in the preseason. Biden, a senior who had lettered the previous year as an end, was converted to left halfback.
In spite of the odds seemingly stacked against the team, Walsh told The News Journal that for the upcoming September, “I think we’ll provide some surprises.”
He was right. Archmere cruised to its conference title with a perfect 8-0 record. It was a storybook season, and Biden was at the forefront.
In the conference scoring race, Biden finished fifth with four touchdowns through four games for 24 points, higher than any other Archmere player. When his four non-conference games are also taken into account, Biden’s point total that year skyrocketed to 60, putting him among the highest in the state of Delaware.
Game tapes from 1960 showing several of Biden’s Archmere touchdowns were posted to YouTube in 2010 with narration provided by Bill Peterman, the quarterback on the other end of his receptions.
In May 2012, Walsh was inducted into the Delaware Sports Hall of Fame, and his former left halfback — serving his first term as Vice President of the United States at the time — returned to Delaware to honor him.
“[Walsh] urged us to play the game the same way you lived your life, with passion and integrity,” Biden said in an impromptu speech at the 2012 induction ceremony. “No matter how good you were, Coach always stressed that you were a teammate first.”
Honoring his former coach isn’t the only way Biden has stayed connected to his high school roots. Honoring their undefeated season, the team holds periodical reunions, three of which Biden hosted.
According to Markel, former Archmere students who live in the Philadelphia and Wilmington areas also regularly get together for lunches, and Biden has joined them before, the last time in December 2018. Once, Biden picked up the tab for everyone’s meal.
The News Journal also reports that Biden was a member of Archmere’s baseball team. Available box scores show that he played outfield and usually batted in the latter half of the lineup.
It was clear to everyone, however, that Biden was best on the gridiron.
“His game was football,” Markel said. “And he was good at football, he was very good. My vision is him catching passes, and helping us win games.”
It’s that winning spirit that Biden has drawn upon throughout his political career.
“If you want to be in elected office, having an outstanding career outside elected office is always good,” Markel said. “So I think it helps you, it says to people that I've been successful other than just running for office.”
While Biden’s late son and former Delaware Attorney General Beau starred at Penn in sprint football, his father also dabbled in collegiate athletics.
Biden’s sports achievements in high school are undeniable, but there is some debate surrounding his role on the University of Delaware's football team.
In 2012, he was slammed by right-wing media outlets Breitbart and The Gateway Pundit after a campaign stop in Athens, Ohio. Both publications challenged Biden for misleading reporters by mentioning a football game played between the Blue Hens and the University of Ohio, since yearbooks from Biden’s tenure don’t list him on the team roster.
“I just double-checked my memory, you know, you get to my age and you’re not so sure you remember. You know, your glory days look more glorious than they really were,” Biden told the crowd in Athens. “I went back on the Internet and I just want you to know that I came here on October 19, 1963, and we beat you Bobcats 29-12.”
Records show the score is correct. But Biden did not, in fact, play in that game, as the University of Delaware’s sports information department confirmed to the Huffington Post in 2012.
Prior to 1972, freshmen were not eligible to play varsity football in the NCAA, and were instead relegated to freshman teams for their first year. When Biden enrolled, he joined the Delaware freshman team that fall — or as they were nicknamed, the "Blue Chicks."
However, by Biden’s own admission, he did not last long on the team that year, quitting after the fall season to focus on his studies after earning a dismal 1.9 grade point average.
“When my first semester grades came out, my mom and dad told me I wouldn’t be playing spring football,” Biden wrote in "Promises to Keep."
Rejoining the team and making the varsity squad remained Biden’s goal until his junior year.
“I hadn’t played for two years, but I surprised the coaches by moving up the depth chart fast,” he wrote. “After the annual spring game that April, it looked like I had a shot to start at defensive back. I couldn’t wait until next September; I could almost see the fall season unfold in my head.”
The dream season didn’t come to pass, however. That spring, Biden met Neilia Hunter while on vacation in Florida, and immediately fell in love. Since Hunter lived in Syracuse, Biden realized he would have to choose between spending his weekends with her or playing football. He picked Hunter and quit the team. She would become his first wife.
Biden then went on to law school, but he didn’t practice law for very long after getting his degree.
Within five years of passing the bar, he was elected to the U.S. Senate in an unlikely victory over a well-established Republican incumbent. This wasn’t surprising to those who have shared the field with Biden, because to them he wasn’t just known as "Dash."
He was a victor to them, no matter the odds.
The Biden campaign did not respond to requests for comment.
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