A solitary man runs virtually naked through the predawn darkness, trying to loosen his muscles for what he plans to do later that afternoon. Wearing only tight-fitting underwear, his breath shoots out in white puffs—the temperature hovers at 15 degrees—as he moves across the hotel parking lot in the rural, rolling hills of West Virginia. Several wide-eyed guests at the Knights Inn outside of Wheeling observe him out of their windows.
He expects to go to jail for the act he is a few hours away from committing. So before he leaves his home in Clarksville, Tennessee, he makes sure that his toddler son will be taken care of, that his dogs will be fed and that his beloved Harley will be safe. He doesn't know how long he will be incarcerated—a few hours, a few days, a few months—but Jimi Long, 34, believes any punishment will be a price worth paying for the stunt he is about to pull during the Army-Navy football game that day.
He is going to streak. To run like hell across the field on Dec. 10 in front of 71,000 fans and millions around the globe who will tune in to watch what will turn out to be the highest-rated Army-Navy game in 22 years. To sprint like his feet are on fire across the grass at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore during the third quarter, putting on a show for the president-elect of the United States, who will be in a private box, and for legendary broadcaster Verne Lundquist, who will be calling his final college football game.
Long—a 5'8'', 220-pound Army veteran who served 39 months in Iraq, a man with a liquid glimmer of mischief in his eyes—wants to streak for two reasons: to show other veterans he cares about them and to prove to the dudes who dared him to do it that he has the stones to pull it off.
And just maybe, Long thinks to himself a few hours later as he begins driving north toward Baltimore on this raw December morning, it might touch a life or two.
Justin Buchanan has one thing in common with Long: He was dared to do it.
Riding in the back seat of a friend's car on a summer afternoon in 2015, Buchanan and two of his buddies are talking a blue streak about streaking—not fully naked, but clothed—and whether one of them has the mettle to do it during the Red-Cubs game they are about to attend. Buchanan, then 19, grabs his iPhone and starts researching the history—and consequences—of streaking at a sporting event.
"I wanted to know how people did it and figure out possible escape routes," Buchanan says.
Hours earlier, Buchanan wasn't planning on going to a baseball game at Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati. That morning, he was working as a landscaper in Noblesville, Indiana, when one of his friends called to tell him he had an extra $6 ticket to the Reds game. Buchanan then feigned sickness to his boss and, later that afternoon, was on Interstate 74 with his friends heading southeast to Cincinnati.
In the backseat, he studies the information he finds on his phone. The first known incident of streaking at a sporting event took place in 1974—an Australian stockbroker was dared a wad of cash to run naked onto the field during an England vs. Australia rugby match. Streaking in the U.S. has being going on at football games, baseball games, soccer matches and golf events since the '80s.
Fans have streaked for all sorts of reasons.
In 2011, Jancen Lankow dressed up as a referee, walked onto the field during an Arizona-UCLA football game, then disrobed to reveal his Twitter handle, drawn in marker on his back.
In 2013, Kimberly Webster stripped down to a G-string (warning: NSFW) at the Presidents Cup and galloped across the course at Muirfield Village Golf Club in Dublin, Ohio, because, she later said, the crowd needed a jolt of excitement.
But the most common reason for streaking can be summed up in one word: booze. Who can forget in 2005 when Greg Gall sprinted onto the field at Paul Brown Stadium and stole the ball from Brett Favre? Or how about last week when a 31-year-old jogged pant-less—and underwear-less—onto the Miller Park field in Milwaukee during a Brewers game and was face-planted by security?
Yet there is no question that the stakes of streaking have been raised in the social media age. Back in the '80s and '90s, streaking was commonly viewed as harmless fun, and those caught were often let go without even being handcuffed. Back in the days before Facebook and Twitter, a person flush with liquid courage could run in the buff at, say, a Yankees game on a Saturday night, and on Monday morning they could return to work without their boss knowing about it.
But now? Not only can running naked in a stadium land you on the Sex Offender Registry in many states—the birthday suit streak can lead to an indecent exposure charge—but you will also be the water-cooler talk in every office in your region after you are outed on social media, which, of course, you will be.
"I'm sorry, but I can't talk about my streak," says a young man who took off most of his clothes for a field run a few years ago. "I work at a conservative company and my bosses were livid when they found out about it on Twitter. If I talk about it again, I'll be fired."
"I got death threats over social media after I did my thing, so I really don't want to get into specifics of my story," says a young woman, who recently disrupted a sporting event with a mad dash. "I never thought about the consequences before I ran. I just thought it would be fun. But there are consequences—big ones—because now everyone knows what you did almost the instant you did it."
Indeed, in so many ways, a streak can change a life. Long and Buchanan both can testify to that.
For weeks before the Army-Navy game, he plans it.
Jimi Long researches the layout of M&T Bank Stadium and notices where security normally is stationed while trying to pinpoint the best spot to enter the field. He purchases two tickets on StubHub for $500 each—one for himself and one for the person who will be his cameraman. The first seat is in the lower level of section 124, row 13 at the 20-yard line; the second is in section 112, row 26 of the Navy end zone.
"I've got a good understanding of security because of my military background," says Long, a former sergeant who served on the personal security details of Army commanders and colonels in Iraq. "I knew I'd have to poke the line of security, so to speak, until I found that sweet spot of where I could get through. Having those two seats gave me good options."
Long buys the tickets two weeks before the game after listening to the Drinkin' Bros podcast, which is hosted by a trio of vets (and one non-vet) and geared toward the military community.
"Before the Army-Navy game, we mentioned on the podcast, 'Wouldn't it be brilliant if someone streaked the field?'" says Ross Patterson, one of the Drinkin' Bros hosts. "Twenty people got back to us and said yes. But everyone backed out—everyone except one."
For Long, that podcast connected him to other veterans in a way nothing else did. Long was struggling with depression and major post-deployment issues, and that show allowed him to hear other veterans talk about the same problems.
"The Drinkin' Bros gave me hope," Long says. "So when they put out that challenge to streak, I immediately thought that I had to do it. This could be my way of showing other vets who are just as crazy as me that I'm here for them and willing to do something absolutely nuts for them."
On the morning of the game, Long pulls off the bed sheet from his room at the Knights Inn and spray-paints in black the number 22—the number of veterans who commit suicide each day. He plans to unfurl his makeshift flag and wave it high when he runs in front of President-elect Donald Trump and the rest of the free world.
Long parks his truck near the stadium in Baltimore. The former solider with a lumberjack's beard and tattoos covering his arms begins his march into the cold, late-autumn afternoon.
As Justin Buchanan, a former high school pitcher, nears the Great American Ballpark on this starry summer night in 2015, he ponders all the possible outcomes if he is caught streaking.
"In my research, I saw that some who were caught spent a night in jail, some were just told to leave the park and some did community service," Buchanan says. "I wasn't scared of any of that. I also saw that basically everyone got caught. That's when I thought, 'What if I can be the one who gets away?'"
Buchanan and his friends enter the stadium. Buchanan's mind whirs with possibilities as they take their seats behind third base. He's so enthralled with the idea of streaking that he can't pay attention to the on-field action. "What if I hop the rail, run along the infield grass—behind third, second and first—and then jump the first base rail and disappear into the bleachers?" he asks his friends. "I could do it."
But then, as the innings pass, he sees several security guards are standing sentinel in the stands.
"Why don't you jump the centerfield wall?" one of his friends asks. "Players rob home runs all the time. You can make it over the fence."
Buchanan smiles. He grabs his iPhone and tweets to his 800 followers, "Stay tuned."
With kickoff 20 minutes away, Long and his cameraman sidle toward their gate outside of M&T Bank Stadium. Above they hear a rumble in the gray December sky: Four F-22 jets, followed by four Apache helicopters, buzz the stadium.
Closer to their gate, Long and his cameraman are standing on a sidewalk when sirens blare in the distance. The motorcade of the president-elect rumbles by. Long spots Trump through a tinted window, and he says the two seemed to briefly lock eyes.
"He's going to see me again today," Long tells his cameraman.
Inside the stadium, Long scans his surroundings. In the crowd, he picks out the Secret Service detail, the local police officers and the stadium security guards. He determines the best spot to launch his offensive is from his end-zone seat.
He picks up his phone and texts Ross Patterson, one of the Drinkin' Bros hosts. "Dude, I'm in prime position here," Long writes. "I can't wait."
Patterson nearly drops his phone when he reads these words. He's in a Midtown Manhattan hotel with his wife, and the two are preparing to head to dinner. But a night on the town will have to wait. Patterson, his eyes riveted to his hotel room television, tells his wife that something big could be brewing at the Army-Navy game.
Patterson texts Long back. "Is this really happening?"
"Yes," Long responds. "In the third quarter."
More outs are recorded at Great American Ballpark. It's now the top of the seventh. Buchanan tells his friends to move to seats in the outfield so they can capture his streak on their iPhones; he wants them to have it for posterity and for the world on social media.
"Start recording in the eighth inning after the first out," Buchanan tells his buddies. "Don't miss it."
Buchanan tightens his shoelaces. He tweets to his followers.
The top of the eighth inning arrives. Buchanan rises from his seat. He beelines to a bathroom—"nervous pee," he calls it—then walks down the steps toward third base. Keep moving your feet, he says to himself, keep moving your feet.
The Cubs' Kyle Schwarber strikes out swinging for the first out.
Buchanan tweets: "Here goes nothing."
He's two steps away from the railing—two steps from jumping and doing something he hopes he'll one day be able to tell his grandchildren about, two steps from…the ball is fouled into the stands.
Buchanan backs away from the railing, not wanting to run during an extended break in the action. A woman seated near him points and yells, "What's he doing?"
Buchanan considers aborting his plan. Reds pitcher Jumbo Diaz unleashes a fastball into the mitt of catcher Brayan Pena.
It's now or never. Buchanan turns on the video camera on his phone. Swallowing hard, he takes a few steps forward, hops over the railing and runs.
In an instant, a roar from the crowd rolls like thunder into the nighttime sky.
Long rises from his end-zone seat near the end of the third quarter. It is go time.
His cameraman follows him down the stadium steps to the first row. Long eyes a security guard on the field directly in front of him. The guard is looking into the stands. But then the guard can't help himself: He turns his gaze to watch a play.
This is Long's moment. He keeps on his sweatshirt, but sheds his jacket and pants to reveal his "ranger panties"—tight fitting shorts—and then he jumps down onto the field. Holding his 22 flag, he strides forward.
In an instant, the crowd is whipped into a boiling froth.
Buchanan sprints onto the baseball field. Time moves in a slow motion, dream-like sequence for him. "I've never felt such a rush of adrenaline in my life," he says. "It was the ultimate high."
He blazes into the outfield, his iPhone camera trained on his smiling face. He approaches Reds centerfielder Billy Hamilton for a high-five. "Hey, what's up Billy?" Buchanan asks as his legs keep pumping.
"Get the f--k out of here," he remembers Hamilton saying.
Buchanan nears the centerfield wall. Two security guards are closing fast. Buchanan tries to put his cellphone in his right shorts pocket once, then twice, but can't. Now the wall is five feet away. He tosses his phone into a grassy area beyond the wall, leaps, grabs the top of the wall and lifts himself over in one fluid act—an impressive display of athleticism. The crowd is on its feet and in a fever, rooting for Buchanan to elude the law, cheering him on as if he's the Road Runner and security is Wile E. Coyote.
He quickly swoops up his cellphone and vanishes into the stadium concourse.
His body wiggling and jiggling, Long runs like he is experiencing freedom for the first time. "It was the biggest jolt of adrenaline I'd ever felt," Long says. "I took time to look at as many faces as I could, and all of them were smiling at me."
As Long crosses the middle of the field, a few Navy players flash him the thumbs-up sign. Dozens of Army players clap.
He reaches the far end zone—he's already dashed 110 yards—and, to Long, the stadium feels like it's shaking with noise. He doesn't see any security charging in his direction, so he flips a U-turn and takes off back up the field.
The crowd is thundering. Long covers another 100 yards before dropping to his knees and surrendering in the end zone where the streak began. Up in the broadcast booth, Verne Lundquist, chuckling, notes that the running man has "given himself up."
A police officer escorts Long off the field. The officer, laughing, says, "You should have taken off your shorts."
"Dude," Long replies, "I'm more of a grower than a shower."
A luminous smile stretches across Long's face as he disappears into the concrete catacombs of the stadium. He has done it. Now he's ready for jail.
But he's not ready for what social media is about to do to his life.
Inside Great American Park, Buchanan slows to a walk in the outfield concourse, trying to blend in with the crowd. He strolls past a police officer and walks toward an exit, even though a security guard is at the gate. "Have a good one," Buchanan says to the guard.
The guard nods. But a few seconds later, with Buchanan only steps outside the stadium, a police officer 30 yards away yells: "Grab him! Grab him now!"
Buchanan bolts down a flight of stairs. One fan recognizes him and says, "You better get your ass moving if you want to stay out of jail!"
Buchanan makes it to a nearby park, where he sits on a bench to catch his breath. But after a minute, Buchanan, fearful police will spot him, ducks into a Porta Potty and locks the door.
He calls his friends roughly 50 times, desperate for the getaway car. But no one answers. A woman who had spotted Buchanan entering the Porta Potty knocks on the door, concerned that something is amiss.
"Me and my buddies are just playing a game and I need to hide in here," Buchanan calmly tells her from behind the door. "I'll be out in a few minutes."
The woman leaves. But within minutes, a police officer pounds on the door. Buchanan fires a text to his friends: "Cop at Porta Potty." A minute later, he opens the door to give himself up…and the police officer has left.
Buchanan moves to a nearby parking lot, hiding behind cars. Two teenage girls point at him and one asks, "Are you the kid who ran across the field?"
"Yes," Buchanan says, breathing heavy. "Do you have a car I could hide in?"
They chaperone Buchanan into their car. Once inside, they take selfies with him and immediately post them on Twitter.
His buddies arrive 30 minutes later. Buchanan, still with streams of sweat pouring down his face, collapses into the back seat of his friend's car, keeping his head down. On the 130-mile ride back to Indiana, his phone freezes from a flood of text messages and voice mails. In the span of the next few hours, he will gain 6,000 followers on Twitter.
That night, alone in his bed, he struggles to slip into dreamland. Deep down, Buchanan knows his hour of reckoning is coming.
Long is locked in a holding cell inside M&T Bank Stadium that isn't much bigger than a walk-in closet. At 9 p.m., he is transferred to a jail in Baltimore.
Long's cameraman—who requested anonymity because he has plans to streak at a high-profile football game in 2017—texts Ross Patterson: "Hey, man, Jimi is in jail, but he's fine." Patterson and the Drinkin' Bros pay Long's bail money. Long is released the following afternoon.
Out of jail, Long finally checks his cellphone. He is flabbergasted: He has more than 500 text messages, voice mails and Facebook notifications. And when he checks his email, he finds that women from around the world are sending him racy, raunchy videos.
"My inbox could have been classified as a porn site," Long says. "I was blown away, man."
That night, as Long drives back to Tennessee, his cellphone rings and rings and rings. Veterans who he has never met are reaching out, telling him their stories, detailing their struggles, saying they need help. Suddenly, as Long rolls through the frigid darkness at 75 mph, he realizes he's experiencing something he hasn't felt in years:
A sense of purpose.
Buchanan is at his landscaping job the next morning when his mother calls. In tears, she says the police are looking for him. "I'll handle it, Mom," Buchanan says.
The police bloodhounds sniffed Buchanan's trail on social media. Not only did he tweet out his streak, but dozens of his friends also revealed his identity on social media before he had even left the stadium.
After confessing to his boss—it turned out, he already knew about his employee's prank—Buchanan drives to Cincinnati and turns himself in to the police. He eventually pleads guilty to criminal trespassing and earns a punishment that includes one year of probation, 100 hours of community service and a $400 fine. For part of his community service, he pulls weeds at a dilapidated baseball field in a rundown Cincinnati neighborhood. This gives him hours to think about what he's done.
Now a junior at IUPUI in Indianapolis and majoring in business marketing—he hopes to one day go into medical sales—Buchanan is recognized for his streak at the oddest of times. Once, during a job interview at a car dealership, his future boss stopped mid-sentence and asked, "Hey, are you that kid who streaked?" Now at college parties, he is queried about it once a month.
"I absolutely would do it again," says Buchanan, sitting in his off-campus apartment in Indianapolis on a recent spring evening. "Let me put it this way: If I hadn't done it, I would have regretted it. Yes, dealing with the court system really sucked, but now I can say I did something really unique. So no, I have no regrets.''
Radio stations have called him about it. MTV interviewed him. He was on ESPN.
"Sometimes in life, you have to take chances and live with the consequences,'' he says. "Sometimes in life, you have to dare to be different."
Long returns to Baltimore a month after his streak for his court appearance. He leaves his truck at the house of a former Marine who saw him run, but before then, had never laid eyes on him. "He was a guy who was really messed up, who I started to talk to after the Army-Navy game," Long says. "He went to court with me."
On the morning of his court appearance, Long puts on a suit and tie for the first time in his life and even learns how to tie a Windsor knot from a YouTube video. A former Army sergeant who also lives in the Baltimore area and reached out to Long for help drives him to the courthouse, where Long faces a misdemeanor charge of criminal trespassing.
In the courtroom, the judge watches a video clip of Long's streak. She then asks if Long has anything to say. Long stands and pulls out a piece of paper.
"It was not long ago that I was almost one of the 22," Long says. "Since I left the Army in March, 2011, almost every day has been a struggle. … In an obviously pro-veteran setting, my emotions overwhelmed and got the best of me."
The judge tells Long that he is not alone and she invites him into her chambers to talk "as long as you want" after the proceedings. She then gives him a sentence of 20 hours of community service and $1,000 in fines and court costs—a fee the Drinkin' Bros pick up.
Leaving the courthouse, Long and his two new friends drive to a nearby Irish pub and toast the streak one last time. As the three hug and revel in the moment, a stranger walks up to Long. The man asks, "Hey, aren't you that guy from the Army-Navy game?"
It's a blue-sky, spring afternoon in downtown Clarksville, Tennessee, and Long is sipping his third beer at the Blackhorse Pub and Brewery. Long, a dean's list student at nearby Austin Peay State University, is working on his master's degree in social work. He hopes to one day earn his PhD and help rehabilitate ex-convicts.
"My only regret is that my flag didn't get unfurled correctly and so it was hard to see the 22," Long says. "I also had planned to drop down and do 22 push-ups, but I got so excited that I forgot.
"But the streak changed my life. It was my way of showing other veterans that I'm here for them and that I care about them. I've literally heard from people all around the world. But my main thing is supporting the guys who could become part of the 22. I tell anyone who calls, 'Hey brother, I love you. Everything is going to be OK. You need anything from me, you got it. S--t, I went to jail for you.'"
As Long speaks, his cell rings. He excuses himself from the table.
It's a call he has to take.
Lars Anderson is a senior writer at B/R Mag. A 20-year veteran of Sports Illustrated, Anderson is the New York Times best-selling author of seven books, including The Mannings, The Storm and the Tide and Carlisle vs. Army. Follow him on Twitter: @LarsAnderson71.