David Bruce: Football Anecdotes

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Early in Walter Payton’s NFL career, his helmet cracked in back—something that is not supposed to happen. The manufacturer of the helmet wanted to look at the helmet to see why it had cracked, but Mr. Payton was fond of the helmet and didn’t want to give it up since he was afraid that any tests would destroy the helmet. However, the manufacturers of the helmet explained that lots of high school football players were wearing the same kind of helmet and for their protection it was important to find out why the helmet had cracked. This made Mr. Payton pay attention. He brought in the helmet, and the manufacturers did tests and discovered that the paint on the helmet had attacked the plastic, weakening it. Of course, the manufacturers began using another kind of paint. Mr. Payton’s concern was for the high school football players, and he asked, “Are you sure that the kids will be safe?”

Notre Dame football player George Gipp was athletically gifted in more than one sport, although he was inclined to be lazy unless the game was close or Notre Dame was behind. In a baseball game, he was ordered to bunt, but instead he hit a home run. Why? He explained that he didn’t want to spend much time standing on the bases because it was too hot. When he was a star football player, he talked to a newcomer to the varsity team, Roger Kiley, giving him a thrill because a star was noticing him. Unfortunately, Mr. Kiley dropped the first forward pass that Mr. Gipp threw to him in a game. Mr. Kiley hung his head, but Mr. Gipp told him, “Forget it. On the next play, I’m going to throw you a pass so soft that you couldn’t drop it if you tried.” Mr. Kiley caught the next pass and soon became a fine Notre Dame receiver.

The 1925 Rose Bowl featured Notre Dame against Stanford. In one play, Stanford fullback Ernie Nevers came close to scoring a touchdown, but when players were pulled off the pileup, Mr. Nevers was discovered to be inches short. This play was controversial, and fans of both sides argued about it for years. At a gathering of football fans and former players, a Stanford booster claimed that Mr. Nevers had scored on the play: “I used high-powered binoculars, and my seat was exactly on the goal line.” Another person, however, said, “I say he didn’t score. I also saw the play.” “Where were you sitting?” asked the Stanford booster. The other person answered, “On Nevers’ head. I’m Harry Stuhldreher, the Notre Dame quarterback that day.” (By the way, Notre Dame won, 27-10.)

Growing up during the Great Depression in Morgantown, West Virginia, comedian Don Knotts and his childhood friends used to sneak into West Virginia football games. Before one game, they were having trouble getting in, as the gates seemed to have overly vigilant guards. Fortunately, they noticed the football team, wearing regular clothing since they dressed for games in the field house, going into the stadium. They joined the team and enjoyed themselves while the fans cheered the football team until someone yelled, “Those kids! Grab those goddamned kids!” They took off running and successfully disappeared into the stands as the crowd now cheered for them.

Women do play professional tackle football, although probably no one makes a living—or even a profit—from it. For example, in 2006 the New York Sharks had an annual budget of $85,000. According to team owner Andra Douglas, about half of the budget “comes from the National Bank of Andra.” Players have to raise money to be on the team, and in 2006 the grand total of $5,000 went to the team’s six coaches. According to Ms. Douglas, this money “probably covered their gas and tolls.” Sponsors of the team tend to be, Ms. Douglas says, “mom-and-pop shops—people we know.” Obviously, everyone on the team is involved because of love of the sport.

In 1940, the Chicago Bears battled the Washington Redskins for the world football championship. Just three weeks earlier, the Redskins had defeated the Bears, 7-3. This time, however, the Bears won in a stunningly lopsided upset, 73-0. The offense of the Bears was so powerful that late in the game, when the Bears were preparing to kick for yet another point after yet another touchdown, a referee begged them, “Look, fellers! Already, you’ve kicked so many balls into the stands that now we have only one left. How about passing or running with the ball for the extra point? Otherwise, we won’t have a ball to play with to finish the game.”

At age 14 Larry Doby, the second African-American athlete to integrate major-league baseball, moved to Paterson, New Jersey. In Paterson, prejudice existed, but also a lack of prejudice existed. He played sports in high school, and sometimes he and some friends, including white friends, would go to a movie together, but at the movie they would have to split up. Blacks sat in the balcony, while whites sat downstairs. But when his high school football team won the state championship, and everyone on the team except for Larry was invited to play a game in Florida, his teammates voted not to accept the invitation to play in Florida.

Chicago Bear Walter Payton developed his running ability in part through a training program that he and his brother devised that included running up and down the sandy banks of the Pearl River — when the sun was hottest. This training program forced him to adjust to the shifting sand beneath his feet and developed his balance and ability to cut. Of course, it also built up his endurance — other athletes who tried the same training program sometimes had to be carried away — after they finished vomiting.

How much of a football town is Green Bay, Wisconsin? When Brett Favre became a quarterback for Green Bay, all the games were always sold out, and the waiting list for tickets was 35 years long. Parents used to put their infants’ names on the waiting list in hopes that the infants could see a game live and in person before they were middle-aged.

Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

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