A funny thing happened to Maryland's Bobby Gunderman on his way to Hawaii. He ended up in Venezuela, penniless, before joining his teammates here for the Aloha Bowl.
Gunderman's 8,100-mile misadventures began Sunday night on the College Park campus when he and a few teammates partied before the team's Monday flight to Honolulu. While running up some stairs in the wee hours, he fell and broke a finger on his right hand.
Since Gunderman had to have the finger set at Doctor's Hospital early Monday, he missed the team's charter flight, but was given a ticket for a later flight to Honolulu that would necessitate changing planes in New York and Los Angeles.
"I took Pan Am flight 217 from Washington to Kennedy Airport," Gunderman said today. "I got off the plane and asked a stewardess where I needed to go to catch my flight to Honolulu.
"She said, 'Go to Gate 12.'
"So I went to the gate and got on board. They looked at my ticket, but they didn't ask me for a boarding pass.
"About two hours into the flight I noticed people were speaking, well, what turned out to be Venezuelan (Spanish). And I thought, 'This can't be right.'
"So I asked one of the stewardesses where we were going and she said 'Caracas, Venezuela.' Nobody had asked me for a passport or anything. She couldn't believe it. She told the captain and he couldn't believe it, either. So he radioed ahead and told the authorities.
"Since I didn't have a passport, they wouldn't let me leave the airport. There were a lot of military guys standing around watching me, so I wasn't about to risk anything. I had to sleep on a bench in the airport for about 10 hours. I felt like a bum. I was scared to death because nobody spoke English. Finally, I met this lady -- she spoke broken English--and she gave me $5. I bought two soft drinks and a sandwich. I knew not to drink the water, or is that Mexico?
"I didn't even know where Venezuela was. It was my first time out of the country. I sent a wire to Coach (Bobby) Ross, saying I'd be back as quick as I can, but I never got a reply.
"Anyway, Tuesday morning I took a 6:15 a.m. Pan Am flight to Los Angeles. In L.A. the authorities said it was such a crazy story they had to check me for drugs. It was pretty frightening. I think the only reason they finally believed me was because I showed them two Aloha Bowl tickets that I had (for a teammate).
"In L.A., I called my parents (in Honolulu). My mom was crying and my dad was mad. But it wasn't my fault. The stewardess told me to go to Gate 12.
"I got in here (Tuesday) at about 4 p.m. and when I walked in to dinner the team gave me a standing ovation. I'm laughing at it now because that's the only way I can deal with it."
Gunderman was told he is "the hero of the Aloha Bowl" and might be asked to appear on the Today Show. "I didn't want to be the hero like this," he said. But as a reserve sophomore defensive back, this may be as close as he will get to stardom.
The Maryland players were still talking about "Gunderman's travels" before practice today. Quarterback Stan Gelbaugh, who sat next to Gunderman at dinner Tuesday night, told how the team felt while Gunderman was missing.
"It was pretty serious at first," Gelbaugh said. "But we had to laugh when we found out he was in Venezuela. Everybody likes to tease Bobby anyway. He didn't even have enough money to rent earphones to watch the movie on the plane."
Ross, who had worried almost as much as Gunderman's parents, said, "It wasn't too funny yesterday, but it will make a good banquet story."