Tuesday, March 26, 2013


Jim Taylor
Hall of Famer, Jim Taylor was often compared with Jim Brown, the Cleveland fullback, who played at the same time (1960s). There were many different viewpoints but Lombardi's summation was most succinct. "Jim Brown will give you that leg and then take it away from you. Jim Taylor will give it to you and then ram it through your chest!"

The last posting brought a number of comments, including one from a close EH friend who took issue with Paul’s belief that the game should be left alone with respect to changing the tackling rules.  It got me thinking more closely about those few years, so many years ago.  Paul and a couple of others shared further thoughts on the topic and I thought it might be interesting to do a little illustrated look back.  What fun this look back was.  

Paul wrote, 

"Gus, your recollections of our schoolboy football gear pretty much match mine.  It was pretty raggedy at Meadowbrook and I do recall there being helmets both with and without face masks.  I don’t think I ever played without a face mask, and wouldn’t have wanted to.

"I sent you a picture of my very first football team, a 1957 seventh grade gang at Richland Jr. Hi.  When we played Haltom HS as seniors in 1962, some of the kids in that 1957 picture were on the Haltom team.  They beat us 6-0.  If you look at the picture closely, you will see a mix of helmets with and without face masks.”


I suppose the reason those who played this game are very slow to accept rule changes that could substantially change the game is only partly attributable to tradition.  It’s also probably attributable to a kind of kinship with other players and a reluctance to accept rulings put forth by those who aren’t part of the club.  I think commercial pilots, doctors, and attorneys share similar feelings about external pressures encroaching on their specialized fields.

The following picture sequence clearly shows the evolution of football helmets from the 1920s to 1970.  A couple of things are apparent with respect to our recollections of the arrival of face masks; one, the arrival started from about 1956-57 and was essentially complete by 1960.  After 1960, it appears that changes to the helmet face masks are minimal—a little heavier, another few structural pieces.  The masks provided good protection from fists, fingers, knees, and assorted other body parts bashing the faces.  

I think current concerns leading to rule change proposals have to do with concussions resulting from head to head collisions.  Such collisions have always been a possibility, but I would suggest that they were rarely a regular occurrence...everyone playing knew those kinds of collisions could be dangerous and took care to avoid them as much as possible. 

As has been discussed elsewhere in this blog, within EHHS any given year, and therefore in essentially every high school in the United States, there were just a few boys and young men that actually “suited up” for competitive football.  There were more of them when they were younger, where most kids wanting to give the game a try had the opportunity.  I would estimate that about 5-6% of the EH male population those years had tried contact football at some point in their schooling....after all, it was one way to impress the girls with one's growing masculinity--a powerful motivator!

Each year there were something on the order of less than 1% of the total high school student body (at EH) on the field, playing the game in competition with other schools.  That percentage would decline at the larger schools, such as Paschal where the number on the field relative to their student population was something on the order of ¼%.  Extend and reduce those small percentages to college and professional football and it’s obvious that at the pro level, the players are rare birds, indeed.

Further, at the high school level, most of the lads had been playing organized, contact football for 6-8 years by the time they were seniors.  They had a good idea of what was effective and relatively safe for them to do.  And, of course, their experience increased the longer they stayed with the game.  The game as we know it got its start in the late 19th century.

So, while I’m sympathetic to the expressions of concern coming from interested observers and health care professionals, I would still suggest to them that while their concern is appreciated, please leave the game alone.  The lads understand the risks and even at the high school level, they understand the game much better than any of the unsolicited, well-intentioned advisers.  There's that kinship notion again.

Although I haven’t kept up with the game or with this current issue, while preparing this posting, it seems possible that over time, players and coaches may have begun to place an unwarranted trust in safety margins provided by their improved equipment—they may have started to use their heads with more abandon.

Further, it’s possible that those involved in playing the game might have overlooked a substantial increase in the brain’s momentum within the cranial cavity resulting from more aggressive collisions.

Anyway, those are my thoughts on the matter.  And absent clear statistical evidence describing an increasing problem, I would still want the game left alone.  I’m relatively certain that Jim Taylor, shown at the start of this posting would agree.  It’s never been a game for sissies and the game's veterans at all levels probably retain the same pride in their participation as Mr. Taylor obviously reflects.  Perhaps it's just a man-cave thing more fully understood by those who played.

Paul added,

"Although I didn't play as much nor as well as I would have wanted, the time I did play was a significant experience in my life and I've given it quite a bit of thought over the years.

"Every play was choreographed on a chalk board and later on a mimeographed handout sheetEvery player at every position had an assigned task for each and every play.  While it may have looked like chaos to a casual observer, it wasn't and isn't.  

"Most play assignments singled out a specific opposing player that you had to handle...either by blocking or tackling him.  Often there were more than one opposing players that you had to deal withA defensive player would not often know what to expect or from where...there was a guessing game going on, nearly every play.  So the prime assets were quickness, decisiveness, and athleticism. 

"The thing about the game that kind of awes me even today, is that football was more a metaphor for life than we likely knew at the time.  Every time the ball was/is snapped there are as many as a dozen personal wars occurring on the field.  And each of those wars are conducted at a sort of primal level, each participant seeking supremacy of the moment.  Doing it well was exhilarating.  As you pointed out, not very many folks have had the experience and I agree...leave the game alone."   



cj64 said...

1940 - Tommy Harmon, Michigan
1955 - Howard (Hopalong) Cassidy Ohio State
1957 - John David Crow, Texas A&M (vs. Rice)
1977 - Earl Campbell (vs. Notre Dame)

Gus said...

Spot on.

Charles Hodges said...

Interesting that Doug Hart was not on the 1957 Handley varsity team, although he would go on to win multiple world championships playing with the Green Bay Packers. Also, your math is a little off when you say only 1% of the high schoolers played football, because that would mean the school would have to have 5,000 students to field a varsity team of 50. It's probably more like 5% or more.

Gus said...

I hadn't heard of Doug Hart while at EH during the 1960-63 period. George Mitcham was still our head coach, a holdover from Handley and he liked to talk about some of his former players...surprised he wouldn't have been mentioning Hart.

Had to revisit this article to consider your 5% estimate....my 1% number is more discrete in that it includes only those who held starting or 1st string positions. For our '62 team that would have been 16 players of a 45-member squad...some started both on offense and defense. Although our 16 from a 2-class, 350 male pool would have been about 5% as you suggest, we were a small school in that 4A classification. A lot of the other schools were 2-4X larger than ours which would have lowered the percentage.