Securing The Axe
STANFORD, Calif. – If you frequent Stanford athletic events, chances are you have seen Jon Erickson. He is seemingly always on the move, especially during Big Game week.
Erickson ’65, is Stanford Athletics’ associate director of facilities, operations and events. He oversees security at Stanford Stadium and Sunken Diamond, and is on high alert for the Cal game, paying particular attention to protection of the Axe, the trophy awarded to the winning team since 1899.
This marks the 40-year anniversary of last Axe theft, staged by two Stanford students and an accomplice, otherwise known as “The Infamous Three.” Their daring theft caught the Cal Rally Committee off guard, something Erickson and the Stanford Axe Committee don’t want to see repeated.
“If our security procedures are correct, it won’t happen,” Erickson said this week.
The Axe is normally stored and displayed in a vault-like case in the Arrillaga Family Sports Center. But last week, Erickson removed it – partly to guard it from harm’s way, but also so it can be brought to various Big Game rallies and functions this week.
“The Axe Committee is entrusted with its safekeeping,” Erickson said. “They do it well and are very serious about it.”
According to Erickson, since 1973, at least three attempts have been made by Cal students to steal the 75-pound Axe from Stanford, none successfully. All occurred when it was housed in its former home at the Tresidder Student Union.
“I am aware of two or three forays in the 70s,” said Erickson. “Twice, people used sledge hammers to break the glass, and another tripped the alarm wire.”
In the latter attempt, the perpetrator was caught and taken to jail. Initially, he was charged with a felony for burglary and the Axe was subpoenaed for the court hearing. The charge was later reduced to a misdemeanor.
After several meetings, it was determined the Axe was vulnerable at Tresidder, and it was moved to its current home in the Arrillaga Family Sports Center. Erickson helped design the new vault and security system at a significant financial expense.
“Fortunately, we’ve had no attempts,” he said. “It’s a real change from the good old days. Any attempt to steal it now would result in a felony.”
Erickson has done it all on The Farm. After earning a bachelor’s degree in statistics, he secured his master’s in business administration from San Jose State. In 1971, Erickson went to work in Stanford’s Office of Sponsored Research, then moved to the Department of Medicine, serving as business manager until 1984. He became the university’s bursar, overseeing student financial services, and also worked as a student advisor, until his retirement in 2002. Two days later, he volunteered to work in the athletic department.
“I was bored,” said Erickson.
Erickson meets with every new Axe Committee chairman to explain the responsibility that comes with the job.
“What I tell them is you never want to be one of the people who had the Axe stolen from your hands,” he said.
Which is why whenever the Axe is transported or shown in public, it is almost always chained to the waist of one or two Axe Committee members.
“A hit and grab just doesn’t work,” said Erickson.
The rally committees of both schools live in fear that the Axe will be missing on Big Game day.
When the Axe does change hands, both sides huddle with no-nonsense looks in a predetermined place to make the hand-off.
Erickson still chuckles when he recalls a Big Game at Stanford.
“Cal is killing us and they’re getting ready to make the exchange near the locker room,” he said. “The Cal Rally Committee chairman counts down 3-2-1 with one hand on the Axe and grabs it about chest level and tries to lift it. He had no idea how heavy it was.”
Instead of holding the Axe above his head to show it off, he was lucky to hang on and almost went down in a heap.
When the Axe was stolen in 1973, it was hidden under the bed of one of the Stanford student’s Hungarian grandmother’s house in Palo Alto. Erickson said the Axe will have several temporary homes this week.
“It is in a safe place,” said Erickson. “Not under my bed. Not that it hasn’t happened.”