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 Texas : Features : Columns : Spunky Flat and Beyond :
FOOTBALL IN THE THIRTIES
by George Lester
George Lester
When the football cach asked me what position I wanted to try out for I was at a loss for words. I didnít even know the names of all the positions much less what function they performed. I remembered that when I was playing sand lot football someone had said I was a pretty good tackler so I blurted out that I would like to be a tackle. The coach took a look at my 118-pound frame and decided I was not suited for the offensive line. He told me I would be better off in the backfield and so my gridiron career began. I would like to tell about all my great accomplishments during the three years I participated in the sport. I would like to, but the truth is I spent most of that time watching the game from the bench. I did, however, help the team out a lot as a blocking dummy and I have the broken collarbone to prove it along with many other injuries that manifest themselves as points of pain in my arthritic years.

Comparing the game then to now the equipment is the first thing that comes to mind. When I played there was no such thing as a facemask penalty. We had no facemasks. Our helmets were not made of sturdy plastics like the ones of today. We had just gotten away from the old leather helmets and gone to some kind of synthetic but they were almost as thin and offered little protection from shock. A player could choose whether or not to wear a helmet. We had one running back that was deaf in one ear and couldnít hear the signals while wearing a helmet. After about five minutes into the game he would fling his helmet to the sidelines. The crowd would go wild because heíd often run for a touch down on the next play. The modern uniforms not only look great compared to the ones of my day but they are much more functional. With the advent of Spandex the snug fit keeps the pads in place. In our days the pants were made of rayon. They were awfully baggy allowing the pads to flop around our legs and becoming almost useless. We tried to tape them into place but that didnít work very well either. We all wore high top shoes. They seemed perfectly natural in those days but the few you see used today stand out like a sore thumb.

Rules have changed drastically also. In the thirties the referee had a little horn strapped to his hand that he would blow for a penalty. He also carried a whistle around his neck to signal for the play to stop. It was quite confusing and no matter how many times the coach drilled it into us to keep playing when you hear a horn and stop when you hear a whistle we would get mixed up sometime. They later went to a flag for a penalty. The color red was chosen but they soon found that it was difficult to see with all the red jerseys around so they switched to the yellow that is used today. I remember the beginning of my second season when the coach went over some of the rules that changed since last we practiced. The one that I remember most is that you could now intercept a pass in the end zone, down it and get the ball on the twenty-yard line. I still think that rule change gives an unfair advantage to the intercepting team. Before the chang we were told to never intercept in the end zone but to just slap it to the ground. Up until then you had to run it out lest you get tackled in the end zone for a two-point safety going to the other team. In those days there was no such thing as two-platoon system or free substitution. We couldnít have done it even if the rules allowed because our school was so small. In order to field a team the band director and the football coach met and decided to let us participate in both activities. I was a much better clarinet player than a running back. Each player stayed in the entire game and played both offense and defense. If a player was taken out of the game for any reason other than an injury he could not come back later on. He was out of the contest for good. In those days the silent rule was enforced. A substitute entering the game had to be absolutely silent for a length of time. This was to prevent the player from bringing in a play from the coach. Sometimes the sub would forget and shout encouragement to the team and receive a fifteen-yard penalty.

After sitting on the bench for three years if finally got word from the coach that next season I would be a starting pass receiver. About the same time the band director informed me that I would get the prized position of drum major in the band. I had dreamed of achieving both goals for years but I faced a dilemma. I could not have both. I would lie in bed awake each night trying to decide which to choose. The issue became moot when I decided to enlist in the Marines and leave both of these choices behind.
© George Lester
Spunky Flat and Beyond - A Memoir

September 16, 2004
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