Published in The Lebanon Democrat, Tuesday, November 25, 2014. There are many stories related to these two men, their son and son-in-law, and my memories of football as it was for me way back then. i am considering publishing many stories like this on this website at the beginning of next year, including stories which could not be published in a local newspaper.
SAN DIEGO – On Sunday, I recorded and watched the San Diego Chargers squeak past the Rams.
I recorded the game and fast forwarded through the gob of repeating commercials, and the self-congratulatory half-time analyses (sic) by ex-players, ex-coaches, and some talking heads.
After my fourth NFL game attended about 20 years ago, I vowed to never attend another professional game. It was just too boring. I guess if you were into pretty cheerleaders, and nuts dressed like they were auditioning for a Looney Tunes role screaming incoherently while holding up a ridiculous sign, it might be okay. I’m too old to watch young women through binoculars and “fans” trying to have to five seconds on the stadium big screen or national television.
I have been devoted to football since my Uncle Snooks Hall gave me one for my first Christmas. I followed Lebanon High School, Middle Tennessee, Vanderbilt, and Tennessee. I wanted to be like SMU’s Doak Walker, the Vols’ Johnny, “The Drum” Majors, Bobby Lane at Detroit and Pittsburgh, and the Blue Devil’s Clifton Tribble.
In short, I have loved the game for most of my life…until now.
There is little I like about today’s professional game except the playing: the hype, focus on money, over-analysis, fans out of whack priorities, the worst in human nature exhibited on every play, the commercials ad nauseam, and the silliness of playing political football with football is the opposite of enjoyable.
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My first recollection of pro football was watching games on black and white television while Red Grange, the Hall of Famer “Galloping Ghost” described the action. Soon after we got our first television, my father and I watched as Red called the play of Chicago Cardinals’ Charley Trippi breaking through for an apparent touchdown. A defender dove for a shoestring tackle. Charley did a summersault without losing stride and went on to score.
They had different rules back then. In the pro game, a runner wasn’t considered down until he had stopped moving forward. His knee touching the ground was irrelevant. It was a bit more violent.
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I have been very fortunate to have known two players from that era, and their stories have verified it was very different. One difference was unlimited substitution. It was allowed in the NCAA 1941-1952 initially because the war had limited the number and quality of players. Michigan’s Fritz Crisler initiated mass substitutions from offense to defense. Army’s Red Blaik adopted it, and UT’s Neyland called it “chicken…football” when limited substitution was reinstated for the 1955 season . Until unlimited substitution was reinstated in 1964, most college and pro players played both offense and defense. I still prefer it that way.
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Don Linville and his family, circa 1954
I met Don Linville at a golf course. His son and my golfing buddy, Marty, introduced us. Don was a big man. After serving on a submarine in the war — I always wondered how he fit into those racks to sleep — he was a Little All- American at Kansas State Teachers College (now Pittsburg State). He joined the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1947 after graduating his junior year. He played offensive center and middle linebacker.
Don played for four years but gave it up because of the low pay (imagine that now). He became a school teacher, increasing his pay substantially. Don passed away in 1994.
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Ben Reiges, UCLA, 1946-48
I also met Ben Reiges at a golf course. Ben is the father-in-law of another golfing partner, Pete Toennies. From Boston, Ben played for a year at Georgetown, went to war and came back for his last three years as the quarterback/tailback for the Bruins. He had six interceptions in 1946 (remember, they played both ways). After being drafted by the Los Angeles Rams, he turned them down, tried out for the Chicago Bears, and was on the preseason team of the New York Yankees in 1947. Ben decided playing wasn’t worth the low salary and returned to UCLA to get his masters in education.
Ben, at 95, still occasionally playing nine holes, lives down the street from Pete and Nancy in Coronado. His beloved wife, Dot, passed away this month.
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These two men played when football was a sport, not entertainment. They didn’t change the rules because players got hurt. It was what it was. There were no known problems with abuse and other crimes: the world wasn’t as transparent back then. Football players were heroes. The press didn’t follow every player and report his faults. As with almost everything, there were some things that were better and some that were worse than now.
But there are two things I wish were still true today. It would be wonderful if sportsmanship were most important for players, coaches, and fans. And wouldn’t it be incredible if teachers still got more pay than professional athletes?