IN THE THIRTIES
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.
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
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.