Christopher Meloni is probably most recognizable for playing Detective Elliot Stabler for a dozen seasons of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. Or maybe you know him as convicted murderer Chris Keller on HBO’s Oz. Or as the midriff-bearing cook in the cult film Wet Hot American Summer, a role he reprised in last year’s Netflix reboot. But if you were a St. Stephen’s School student in Alexandria in 1978, you likely remember him best as captain and quarterback of the undefeated football team. Here, he recalls his glory days.
What was it like to grow up in Alexandria?
I was born in DC. We moved out there when I was 11. We lived right off Seminary Road. I always thought of Alexandria as two places. One was very suburban, especially when you’re coming from DC—that’s a city to me. Downtown Alexandria was a different world. It was really cool, with a sense of history and our Colonial past. I’m more of an urban guy, which is probably why I liked Old Town so much.
Where did you hang out?
The Fish Market on the end of King Street, down on the waterfront. Then there was the Shed, I think it was called, where you could hear live music. Old Town was pretty cool, but it’s become far more polite. Back then, it was kind of rundown. That’s what kids always gravitate towards—edgy places. By the time I graduated, it had [undergone] a complete urban renewal. They made it for adults, not kids. We’d go into DC sometimes. Georgetown, basically. Behaving questionably in Georgetown.
You sound nostalgic for the way it used to be.
Oh yeah, I like run down. I love dilapidated. I think it’s the sense of edge and danger.
Is it true you’re in the St. Stephen’s Hall of Fame?
That’s true. The whole ’78 team is. I spoke for the team at the induction ceremony. The opening sentence of my speech was “It begins with the sound: the unmistakable click-clack of cleats on the asphalt as you make your way to the field.” And it ended with “The long shadows of November, as the weather turns cold and you end practice in the dark.” I liked it. I was very proud of that. That moment it time meant a lot to me. I knew I was going to be quarterback that season, but to be a captain and to go undefeated? That’s all I wanted. And I remember, once that happened, thinking: “I literally can do anything I put my mind to.” That’s how I felt. That’s how deeply that season affected me.
Any specific memories from the season?
My God, I remember every game vividly. The same team beat us my sophomore and junior years. So then we go back down to their place again, senior year. Friday-night lights in the drizzle, and we promptly fall behind 13 to nothing. I remember thinking, “Wait, wait, wait—this isn’t how this is written.” Almost as if the score was a mistake. We wound up beating them 41–21, and I’ll never forget the look on my coach’s face. Sleepy Thompson was a legendary guy in the area. I think he coached for almost 50 years.
Was there a big local rivalry?
We went up against one of our rivals, St. Alban’s, and by the time we met up we were both undefeated, 5 and 0. And this was trumped up as “This is it. Whoever wins this will win the division.” We just beat them senseless. It was devastating. By the second quarter, we were looking at each other going, “Do you want to go home?” We crushed them. I almost felt bad for them. I remember it like it was yesterday. I remember almost every play and I don’t remember anything. From 1979, almost 40 years ago. I can’t tell you how much it hurt just to say that.
Have you come home for your high school reunions?
I have. It was interesting. You look in everyone’s face and you realize, “Oh, you’re an echo. This is how time ripples.” And these ripples change us. We get old through these ripples. That’s the image I just kept having. I knew all these people in high school, and I had this image: that’s when the pebble hit the water. I knew you when you were 15. And now I’m looking at you and we’re 40. Some people get fat and don’t take care of themselves, others are just blossoming, finding themselves. It’s just weird.
Did you do theater in high school?
No, but my sister did a performance at a local theater in Alexandria. It was a really bawdy play, and it was fantastic. I took some acting classes in college, had the nerve to think I might be okay at it, and went to New York and learned how to act there. That’s my roadmap.
Do you have any favorite TV shows or movies set in DC?
Veep (Meloni guest starred as Julia Louis-Dreyfus’ character’s personal trainer). I love it. I love them. They’re so much fun to work with.
Do you come back to Old Town often?
Not as much as I’d like to. That’s a normal lament, but I was just down there a couple months back to visit my mother and my sister. My family is in the area. I appreciate Old Town. I do the King Street stroll.
A version of this article appears in our June 2016 issue of Washingtonian.