Gunderman’s Travels, or ‘How I Got to Venezuela Without Really Trying’

Everyone gets lost. But in December 1982, one Maryland football player got REALLY lost. We’re talking SEPARATE CONTINENT lost.

As the Terrapin football team embarked on a trip for Honolulu and the Aloha Bowl on Christmas Day, defensive back Bob Gunderman stayed behind to see the doctor for a hand injury. The day after the team left, he boarded a flight for New York, transferring to a cross-country flight to Los Angeles.

Bob Gunderman, c.1982
Bob Gunderman, c.1982

Once on board, Gunderman (whose father, Tom—seen below, was All-ACC in 1959) became puzzled when folks around him began speaking a different language. He approached a flight attendant, who told him that it was Spanish, because the plane he was on was headed for Caracas—the capital of Venezuela. Somehow at JFK airport he’d been directed onto the wrong plane—and no-one had noticed. Now Gunderman was en route to South America—with no money, no passport, and no knowledge of Spanish. And in 1982, a time before cell phones, personal computers, and e-mail, he also had no way to tell anyone where he was.

After a long, lonely night in the Caracas airport, he was finally allowed to leave on a flight to L.A. When he arrived in L.A., however, security personnel failed to believe his story and thought him a drug smuggler. It was only when he produced tickets to the Aloha Bowl that they realized he was telling the truth. He finally contacted his parents and the team, and arrived in Hawaii almost two days late to a standing ovation. The entire escapade quickly became known as “Gunderman’s Travels,” a story that remained popular well into the 1983 season, when broadcaster Al Michaels recounted the story during a TV game against North Carolina.

Tom Gunderman, c.1959
Tom Gunderman, c.1959

In a final insult, Pan Am, the airline that allowed a passenger to board an international flight with the wrong ticket and no passport, blamed it on him! A Pan Am spokesperson was later quoted as saying “the burden these days…is on the passenger to make sure they’re on the right airplane.”

Pan Am
If only ONE of them had been willing to give proper directions…

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