The Piggyback Bandit, aka Sherwin Shayegan, is the bogeyman of high school sports. As chronicled by Grantland's Bryan Curtis, the 31-year-old Shayegan has spent the last few years showing up randomly at sporting events, pretending to be a player, manager, reporter—anything to get close enough to the players to hop on their backs for a quick piggyback ride.
His parents say he has Asperger syndrome and is obsessed with athletes, and that he is harmless. But he's been banned from attending games in five states, from Washington to Minnesota, and he seems to be making his way east. This weekend, he popped up in Illinois. Thomas Bruch, a sports writer for The Daily Illini, shares his story of a pair of run-ins with the elusive Shayegan, who has apparently moved up to the college game.
The University of Illinois football team had just suffered a 52-24 home loss at the hands of Louisiana Tech in a rare primetime game, and my friends and I—seniors at Illinois—needed a nightcap. After spending most of the night at one of the most popular bars on campus, we exited with the rest of the tired revelers at closing time. Green Street, the major artery of debauchery on Saturday nights, was as crowded as ever.
As we strolled on the sidewalk on our way home, a pudgy man clad in shabby clothes spots me in my orange Illinois jersey and addressed me with unbridled joy.
"Go Illini!!" he yelled at me.
"I guess," I replied. "But we just got our ass kicked by Louisiana Tech."
Not wanting to deal with a man that I believed to be some combination of intoxicated and homeless, I abruptly ended the chat and continued walking. Within seconds, a crushing weight wrapped around my neck and upper back, and, craning my head to get a proper view, I saw the haggard man elevated off the concrete, held up only by my upper torso.
I swiftly bucked him off my back and ran across the street, yelling "Piggyback Bandit" in jest as I distanced myself from this crazy person. I was aware of the Piggyback Bandit's exploits but considered them a myth from the West, not unlike the cowboys of old. This was a humorous piggybacking coincidence and nothing more. Even after witnessing the same man piggyback my buddy Nick moments later, I still didn't realistically associate this seemingly eccentric homeless man with the famed Piggyback Bandit.
The next day, as some of us were recounting the night's events, the odd piggybacking incident eventually surfaced. With coffee and breakfast in me at this point, my mind finally triggered and I dashed to my computer, immediately recognizing the mugshot photos on Google as the man who leapt on my back the previous night. It was surreal; a man who is banned at high school athletic events in five different states for numerous piggybacking offenses somehow had wound up in Champaign, Ill.
But his presence made sense. Night games clog the campus more than usual and loitering in a bar-heavy part of campus would nearly guarantee that everyone would label him as a drunken homeless guy while tolerating the piggybacking episodes. Three other friends verified that they had either seen or talked to the Piggyback Bandit outside the bar at some point in the night, too.
Later on Sunday evening, my friend Alec called and said the Piggyback Bandit was at the campus soccer field for an intramural soccer game. There was no hesitation. I corralled my roommates and drove to the fields, wondering if we'd see the Bandit in his natural piggybacking environment. The flashing blue lights of a police car lit up the intersection of First Street and Stadium Drive when we arrived, and there he was! The Bandit had two duffel bags hoisted on his stocky shoulders as a lone police officer questioned him.
We quickly parked and found two Campus Recreation officials who just finished talking to the police. They told us the Bandit had been asking the soccer players, including Alec, to give him a yellow card, even offering to purchase one off them. The yellow card was presumably one of the final props in his referee outfit for a future piggybacking endeavor. Campus Recreation asked him to leave the premises and the police arrived shortly after.
One Campus Rec official wondered aloud if the Bandit should be escorted to jail. The others seemed confused and concerned about the safety of the intramural players. The Bandit was placed in the back of the police unit but not taken into custody. There were no outstanding warrants under his given name, Sherwin Shayegan, and he wasn't technically trespassing at the soccer match.
The police drove him to a nearby bus stop. The Bandit had a ticket for a bus departing in two hours, to where I do not know. Without suffering any serious legal blowback, the Piggyback Bandit had left his imprint on the heart of Illinois and vanished.