-- CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. -- John Risher watched construction begin on the new football stadium in the town where he lived, and being a curious, energetic young man, he could not waste a perfect opportunity to get his hands a little dirty.
He and his friends took full advantage of the vast, open lot and played war games in the dirt, the ultimate "boys will be boys" outing in what would become the ultimate "boys will be boys" venue.
Risher had no idea that a few years later, he would be standing in the same spot with bleachers around him and grass underneath him. Incredibly, Risher played for the Virginia football team when Scott Stadium opened.
It was 1931.
Before you start calculating his age, Risher has more stories to tell. Stories that go further back.
He still remembers the first time he saw Virginia play from an apartment building by the old stadium, Lambeth Field. Circa 1920.
"I climbed up there, looked out the window and watched my first game," he said. "I don't think we won."
That game sparked an interest in athletics and a love for Virginia that has lasted 95 years. Risher still watches Virginia football at Scott Stadium from a seat inside the press box, where he works on the stat crew.
At 104, Risher is the oldest living Virginia football alum. He has seen every modern-day Virginia All-American, from Bill Dudley to Anthony Poindexter to Heath Miller to Chris Long. He has been alive for more than half the university's existence (189 years). But Risher just sees himself as a stat guy watching the team he always has loved.
His routine on game days takes him up U.S. 29 North from his home in Lynchburg, Virginia, about an hour drive from campus. Sometimes he drives himself. Most times, he hitches a ride with a friend. He arrives about 30 minutes before kickoff wearing a UVa ball cap and UVa attire. Risher shakes hands and greets well-wishers -- he is, after all, a bit of a press box legend.
He takes his seat and pulls out his calculator. He takes all stats by hand.
"I like the game, I like the association, I like to snoop on the press," he said with a laugh. "Sometimes, I learn something. Not often -- but sometimes. I'm just interested. I just like to do it. Don't you do things you like sometimes?"
Risher truly believes there is nothing special about him because he continues to do what he always has done. What did not set him apart when he first started keeping stats in the 1960s should not set him apart now.
He loves Virginia football, so he goes to games. He loves Virginia baseball, basketball and lacrosse, so he goes to those games, too. He ushers at his church on Sundays. He still attends Jefferson Society meetings.
So he is 104. So what?
For one, the 2010 census reported 53,364 centenarians. That was the year Risher turned 100, and he celebrated by playing nine holes of golf.
So Risher already is exceptional. What makes Risher even more remarkable is he has relatively few health problems, the product of good genes (his mother lived to her late 90s) and good care.
He has a pacemaker, a hearing aid and glasses. He looks 20 years younger than he actually is and is known for being quick with a joke. The only thing he says is wrong with him?
"I'm as deaf as a post."
He has no need for a walker, a wheelchair or a cane. His mind remains clear -- perhaps clearer than most, given that he can recall stories back to 1919, when his mother moved the family to Charlottesville after his father died from cancer. Risher was 9.
After he watched his first football game, Risher wanted to see more -- in person. He could not afford a ticket, so he worked games when he got older and sold gum, peanuts, candy and soda to get in for free. He played baseball in high school and joined the football team as an end, offensive and defensive. High school players got into games for free, too.
It was a given he would attend Virginia. But he was not much of a football player. He got into one game, only because somebody got hurt during pregame warmups. The next week, Risher hurt his ankle, and his playing days were over. He became a manager instead.
His brief playing career gives him the oldest living Virginia football alum distinction, a fact Risher calls "ridiculous" because he only got in for a few snaps. But playing is playing, and Risher has a career and life worth celebrating.
He planned to become a doctor once he graduated, but he was drafted to serve in World War II and spent nearly six years in the service. When he returned, he went back to medical school and became an ear, nose and throat doctor. He signed up for Virginia season tickets in 1950 and began keeping stats thanks to a friend, Paul Wisman, now 88. The two still sit next to each other at home games.
"When I started out about 1960, we weren't very sophisticated," Risher said. "What I did was rather important, but now, the way they handle things, they could do away with me. All I do is keep track of the line of scrimmage and punts and a few things. But I don't think they'll fire me because of the grandfather clause."
He laughs again.
"Going to the games, that has kept him young," said his only child, Alice Tainter, 66, who lives in Los Alamos, New Mexico. "My dad has always been very optimistic and always looking to the future, full of energy and very thoughtful, very outgoing. He was always busy, busy, busy."
That much has not changed.
Risher keeps himself busy going to Virginia for various sporting events, though he only keeps football stats.
On this particular Saturday afternoon, Risher is nervous because the Hoos are playing North Carolina -- more than just a division opponent. The teams have met 119 total times, which makes theirs the oldest rivalry in the South. For old-timers such as Risher, North Carolina remains Virginia's top rival, ahead of Virginia Tech.
He has a terrific view, perched at the 50-yard line in the open-air box right above the lower bowl, on a perfect fall day. When one drive ends, he hands his stat page to assistant media relations director Vince Briedis, who is in charge of the stat crew.
Although Virginia uses computers to input play-by-play, what Risher does is valuable as a way to double-check the stats are accurate. His jokes liven up the mood. More than that, his presence alone serves as an inspiration.
"It is humbling to know him for sure," Briedis said. "When he walks in, flashes me a smile and gives me a sturdy handshake, that is always one of the highlights of game day at Scott Stadium."
Risher will be in his customary seat at the final home game of the season next week against Miami, and he plans on being back again in 2015, as long as his health allows. He recalls his days spent on the UVa campus as a student, both before and after the war, and shares yet another quip.
"Someone said they'd have to burn down the Rotunda to get rid of me!"
The truth is, there will never be any getting rid of John Risher.