Archived Story

Football season brings back memories

Published 12:03am Thursday, September 6, 2012

Football is back, thank goodness!

Those of us who watched Alabama last Saturday night shred Michigan’s defense by rushing for more than 250 yards and pinpoint passing while limiting Michigan’s “vaunted” aerial attack to just two missed assignments are relishing football’s return and anticipating an exciting new season.

Alabama’s running game was so devastating in that game, and it brings back old memories of a time when football really depended on the running game and an occasional pass which normally went astray.

As an old geezer, I recall back in the 1930s while living outside of Chicago and going with my parents to watch the football games at Northwestern, the then powerhouse teams of the Big 10 would come to Dyche Stadium and exhibit their talents. In the mid-30s, Minnesota won the Big 10 easily. Their coach was Bernie Biermann, and he believed strictly in the running game. His quarterback was used only to hand the ball off to either his halfback or his fullback. His halfback would have a running start at the opposing line and just before meeting them would jump over the opposing players and be met in their backfield by the linebackers for a 5 or 6 yard gain. You see, he was about 300 pounds of muscle, and he enjoyed running at defenders, seeing if they could stop him. Under Biermann, there was no need to pass the ball. Every play gained 5 or 6 yards on the ground. Minnesota scored virtually every time they got the ball.

Then in 1939, I watched as Coach Pappy Waldorff of Northwestern started his season with quarterback Bill DeCorivant. Bill was the veteran QB, but he was arrogant, and his teammates did not respect him. There was a freshman QB on the team that had promise. The first three series DeCorivant passed the ball several times to receivers who seemed intentionally to drop the ball. Finally, Waldorff replaced him with the new freshman, and thereafter the receivers caught just about all the balls thrown at them, and Northwestern went on to win that game.

The new quarterback was Otto Graham, and Northwestern tied for the Big 10 championship that year and went on to win it in 1940. Otto Graham changed football from Minnesota’s 5 yards and a cloud of dust to the modern football as we know it today.

Several years ago, we had as our guest Robert Wheeler, who wrote a biography on the world’s greatest athlete and football player, Jim Thorpe.

Jim was half Irish and half Apache. He was educated at the Carlisle Barracks in Pennsylvania in the early 1900s. Carlisle was an Indian school provided for by the Army. Although Jim and his teammates were learning at the high school level, they were older, bigger and more determined than any of the local high school footballers thereabout.

So Carlisle’s coach, Pop Warner, scheduled college teams for his team. Carlisle played Notre Dame, Army, Navy and the Ivy League schools, and won every game by lopsided scores.

That was in 1907. The following year, Carlisle lost two games, but Jim was becoming a star player. By 1911, he was the talk of the nation. No one could tackle Jim without assistance.

He ran through tacklers. On defense, he was formidable. He drop-kicked field goals. It was reported that he could accurately drop-kick field goals from 80 yards out! He could put the ball 100 yards! Dwight Eisenhower recalled how tough it was to play against Jim Thorpe while he was at Army. His estimation was that he was the greatest football player who ever played the game. One game against Army in 1912, “Thorpe caught an Army punt on the 10-yard line and went through the cadets like a salmon through minnows. He went 90 yards. But there was a penalty against Carlisle. West Point kicked again. Thorpe caught the ball on the 5-yard line. He went 95 yards.”

Jim was equally great in track. In the 1912 Olympics he won more gold medals than anyone had ever won before and set a record in the pentathlon that has never been equaled to this day! He pitched for the New York Giants baseball team from 1913 to 1919. He helped start professional football with the Canton Bulldogs, and in 1919 they became the champions. He went on to start his own all-Indian pro team in 1923, the Oorang Indians.

His career ended with the New York Giants football team later on in the 1920s. For those of you who would be interested in learning more about the greatest athlete of our times, Bob’s book is titled simply, “Jim Thorpe.”


Andrew Peabody is a Natchez resident.