August 18, 2017

Veterans Day, 1933

If you go back almost eighty years, you might recognize a football game.  But it has changed more than baseball; our other big American sport.  As of 1933, coaches could not call plays.  If a sub was sent into the game, he could not speak in the huddle.  Substitution was allowed, but it was very limited.  Once a player came out, he couldn’t return until the next quarter.  Many men played all 60 minutes.

The forward pass was legal and had been a tactic for at least 20 years after Notre Dame beat Army in 1913.  But the rules committees enacted rules that discouraged the aerial game.  The passer had to be five yards behind the line of scrimmage.  A team was only allowed one incompletion during a drive.  And an incomplete pass thrown in the end zone resulted in a touchback for the other team.  Single wing tactics reigned supreme.   It was like the Wildcat that some teams use for a change of pace.

In 1933, at the depths of the Depression, Veterans Day (known as Armistice Day at the time) fell on a Saturday.  Michigan beat Iowa 10-6 that day. The Wolverines were on their way to the national championship.  A few hundred miles to the south and west of Ann Arbor, a young announcer in Davenport was recreating the game for Hawkeye fans.  He was reading the play-by-play off the teletype.  His name was Ronald Reagan.  Michigan did not allow broadcasters at the Big House, so he stayed home.  Had he gone to the game, his path might have crossed that of a benchwarmer from Grand Rapids.  The sub would later be a standout center, but the Wolverines had a senior named Chuck Bernard.  The world knows that benchwarmer better as Gerald Ford.  Ford and Reagan’s paths did cross on the campaign trail in 1976, but they might have crossed that day 43 years earlier.

Bubba Smith

Bubba Smith passed away last week and joined his teammate John Mackey in the great Super Bowl in the sky. His playing days were a bit before my time. I mainly remember him from Miller Lite ads. I forget if he was part of the “Tastes Great” or the “Less Filling” camp, but he’d rip the cans open.

Joe Williams here calls me Mr. Connection. I caught the bug when my buddy, the White Rhino, turned me on to the Kevin Bacon game. That’s where you name an actor and try to link him to Bacon in the fewest steps. I came up with the ultimate Kevin Bacon game earlier this year; The Diner at The Center of The Universe. It transcends the screen. Bacon played Fenwick in Diner. Barry Levinson directed it and two of the other cast members were Mickey Rourke and Ellen Barkin. Bacon’s father, Edmund, was a city planner who knew Buckminster Fuller. Levinson once roomed with Boston George Jung. Jung was a drug smuggler and was played by Johnny Depp in the movie Blow. Rourke tried his fists at boxing. Freddie Roach trained him for some of his fights. Roach now trains Manny Pacquiao. Barkin was married to Ron Perelman for a while. Perelman was a buyout artist who purchased Revlon with the help of Michael Milken’s junk bonds (or high yield, if you prefer.) The worlds of genius, cocaine, boxing, and Wall Street are all within two degrees of separation from Bacon. But one connection didn’t occur to me until last week.

The movie Diner is about young men growing up in Baltimore fifty-some years ago. One of the gang, Eddie Simmons, is getting married. Before he ties the knot, though, he wants to ensure that his bride to be has a firm grasp on Colts trivia. He makes her take a 140-question test on the team. Steve Guttenberg played Simmons. Guttenberg would go on to the Police Academy movies where he’d play Carey Mahoney. Bubba Smith played Moses Hightower in those flicks.

Smith, of course was a Baltimore Colt. He played with Johnny Unitas. Unitas had a long career and he quarterbacked the team in the famous 1958 championship game. Alan Ameche ended that game with a touchdown run. Ameche was a Heisman trophy winner and he made a big splash in his NFL debut. He had a 79-yard run from scrimmage on opening day 1955 against Chicago. Tying things together, this was the answer to one of Simmons’s quiz questions: “What was the longest run from scrimmage by a rookie in his first game?”

You unlock this door with the key of imagination. Beyond it is another dimension— a dimension of sound, a dimension of sight, a dimension of mind. You’re moving into a land of both shadow and substance, of things and ideas. You’ve just crossed over into the Red Zone.

Let’s Get It On

Alex Karras was an Iowa Hawkeye. He almost won the Heisman in 1957.  This is rare for a lineman.  Only one other lineman came in second in the voting.  That was John Hicks of Ohio State in 1973.  The year before, Karras helped lead the team to its first Rose Bowl.  They went 9-1 in the Big Ten.  But if you’d ask Alex, his biggest college win was the season finale in 1956 versus Notre Dame.  Iowa beat them 48-8.  The Karras clan grew up not far from Notre Dame and they hated them with a passion.  That 1956 Notre Dame team won only twice.  Nonetheless, all purpose back Paul Hornung was the Heisman winner.  1957 was also a year that Chevy pumped out a classic.  Ford may have outsold Chevy that year, but hot-rodders would later revere the Chevy.  And Jimmy Hoffa took over the Teamsters that year.  George Meany responded by kicking the International Brotherhood out of the AFL-CIO.  Robert F. Kennedy was out to get Hoffa after serving as lead counsel for the Senate Select Committee on Improper Activities in Labor and Management.

 

Vince Lombardi couldn’t get a head coaching job in the college ranks.  He felt administrators were prejudiced against an Italian like him.  So he became the offensive coordinator of the New York Giants.  The pros were having some fun of their own.  In 1958, the championship game went to sudden death for the first time and the Colts beat New York on Alan Ameche’s TD.  It has been called the Greatest Game.  What impact did it really have?  Well, Lamar Hunt wanted to own a sports team.  He couldn’t decide between baseball (in Branch Rickey’s proposed Continental League) or football.  He wound up starting his own league.

 

Jack Kemp was on the Giants taxi squad in 1958.  He was cut after the season then washed out of the Canadian Football League.  He was going to hang up his cleats, but Hunt’s AFL opened for business the next year and Kemp got another chance.  Rosey Grier did play in that game along with Frank Gifford, Andy Robustelli, Sam Huff, Charlie Connerly, and others.  And although New York lost the title game, the coordinators went on to head coaching jobs.  Tom Landry returned to his home state of Texas to take over the expansion Cowboys.  Lombardi went up to moribund Green Bay.

 

Ernie Barnes didn’t have the pedigree of such college stars as Hornung, Karras, or Cannon.  He was a fat, unathletic kid who liked art until a gym teacher inspired him to take up football.  He was good enough to get drafted by the Washington Redskins.  They repudiated the pick when they found out he was black.  The Redskins wouldn’t integrate until RFK forced them to.  Forget the morality of that policy for a moment.  Barnes played for a historically black college.  Prejudice is one thing.  Stupidity is another.  He would wind up on the Chargers along with Jack Kemp and the two would become friends.

 

Karras went on to the Detroit Lions and had a great career despite losing a year due to a suspension for gambling and only appearing in one playoff game.  He was a jack of all trades.  He tried his hand at the shot put, wrestling, and acting.

 

George Plimpton was Walter Mitty with a typewriter.  He practically invented participatory journalism.  Plimpton wrote Out of My League about facing an all-star baseball lineup.  In 1963, he went to the Detroit Lions training camp to play Jack Kemp’s role of last string quarterback.  The result was Paper Lion.  Karras was on that team, but he was suspended for gambling.  The previous preseason, Karras rode back to Detroit from a game in Cleveland in a party bus with gangster Anthony Giacalone. This led to an NFL investigation into player gambling that wound up in fines for his teammates who bet on the title game and suspensions for Karras and Paul Hornung.

 

Jimmy Hoffa was put away in 1964, thanks, in part to the testimony of Edward Grady Partin.  He was a baaad man.  Partin helped tamper with a jury that acquitted Hoffa.

 

After their glory days, the Giants fell on hard times and their players dispersed to other teams.  Sam Huff went to Washington.  Rosey Grier joined the Fearsome Foursome frontline in LA that included Merlin Olsen, Lamar Lundy, and Deacon Jones.  Jones had a mean head slap, which, before the league outlawed it, befuddled opposing o linemen.  He also coined the term quarterback sack; like he was looting the defeated city of Johnny Unitas.  He also sang R & B with a band called Nightshift.  They would go on to become War and would sing about society and politics with a funky beat.

 

In 1968, LBJ declined to seek another term and the race for the Democrat nomination was wide open. RFK decided to run, but Sirhan Sirhan assassinated him after the California primary.  Rosey Grier was his bodyguard.  Grier, decathlete Rafer Johnson and George Plimpton wrestled Sirhan to the ground.  Plimpton was an old college chum of RFK.

 

One of Karras’ Lion teammates was Lem Barney.  Barney and Mel Farr befriended Motown star Marvin Gaye.  Gaye was depressed by the death of his duet partner Tammi Terrell and decided that he wanted to become a wide receiver.  No word on whether or not he was inspired by Plimpton.  He got Barney and Farr to help him work out and beef up.   The pair of Lions wound up singing backup on “What’s Going On.”  Gaye wanted to become more relevant and recorded that song against the wishes of studio head honcho Berry Gordy.

 

Meanwhile, Barnes’s football career ended quietly and he returned to painting.  His work was described as neo-Mannerist.  He had an exhibition called The Beauty of the Ghetto, which was hosted by Jack Kemp along with Ethel Kennedy.

 

Ben Davidson was the first mustachioed football player and this was years before the Oakland A’s became the Mustache Gang.  He did some acting.  He appeared in the football game at the end of the movie M*A*S*H.  CBS would adapt it to television after their rural purge of such comedies like Green Acres and The Andy Griffith Show.  They were looking for more seriocomic shows.  Gary Burghoff was the only actor from the movie cast who reprised his role in the TV show.  Alan Alda got the lead part as Hawkeye Pierce.  He broke through by playing the role of Plimpton in the movie adaptation of Paper Lion.

 

Besides, M*A*SH, CBS also added some shows by Norman Lear to their lineup.  Most notably, All in the Family looked at the blue collar Bunker family from Queens.  It spawned some spin-offs like The Jeffersons and MaudeMaude begat Good TimesGood Times introduced America to Jimmy Walker.  (I had a “Dyn-O-Mite” t-shirt as a lad.)  The show featured a painting by Ernie Barnes called “Sugar Shack.”  Marvin Gaye liked it so much that he’d go on to use it for the cover of his album I Want You.

 

Epilogue

Karras would appear in Blazing Saddles and later on in the sitcom Webster.

 

Jimmy Hoffa was last seen in 1975.  Word is that Anthony Giacalone killed him.  There used to be whispers that his body was in the end zone of Giants Stadium.

 

Edward Grady Partin died in 1990.  One of his honorary pallbearers was Billy Cannon.  Cannon was the 1959 Heisman winner and would later go to federal prison for counterfeiting.

The Life of Daly – A Glimpse

I think I first became aware of football when I read that Darryl Stingley got hit.  Then came Joe Pisarcik.  Despite this, I became a fan of the game.  My dad liked the Giants even though we lived in New England.  I think that he considered the Patriots to be an expansion team.  I didn’t see a conflict in liking both teams, even though I was a Giants fan first.  Many Sundays, you could watch both teams.

As I grew up and went to high school, the Giants started to get better.  Lawrence Taylor was on the team and I’d plan my breaks from viewing when the offense was in the game.  For whatever reason, one of my uncles gave me a gold San Francisco 49ers jacket and I’d wear it.  I think I found Bill Walsh’s offense interesting at first, but I grew tired of it.  Anyways, I met Steve Lukas in high school. He really was a San Fran fan and thought that I was one too.  He was disappointed in me when I told him I just wore the jacket.

Steve, Jim Kitteredge, and John Hutson went to East Catholic after going to Saint Bernard’s for elementary school.  They turned me on to Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band.  Hutson was a huge fan.  This was before “Born In The USA,” so we were ahead of the curve.  I wasn’t a diehard, but I did appreciate the music.   Later on, I had an opportunity to see them live in Oakland while I was in the Army.  Clarence Clemons passed away last month.  I didn’t realize it until afterwards, but the Big Man played football in college.  He was a lineman at Maryland State College.  One of his teammates did make it in the pros, but Clemons got hurt before trying out with the Cleveland Browns.

Clemons wasn’t the only multi-talented performer in the E Street Band.  Little Steven, Miami Steve Van Zandt has gone on to be a DJ with his syndicated “Little Steven’s Underground Garage.”  He’s also acted.  Played Silvio Dante in The Sopranos.  One of the directorial crew for that show was Timothy Van Patten.  He also directed episodes of Deadwood and Boardwalk Empire among other shows.  Van Patten is the much younger half brother of Dick Van Patten (who I always thought bore a resemblance to Jack Pardee).  In a previous life, Van Patten was Salami on The White Shadow.

Salami would sometimes wear a Massapequa High wrestling shirt.  He did wrestle there under the tutelage of coach Al Bevilacqua.  Bevilacqua’s been immortalized in Born On The Fourth of July and Seinfeld where he called George Costanza “Can’tstandya.”  Ron Kovic and Jerry Seinfeld attended the Long Island high school.  Van Patten himself was a classmate of Jessica Hahn and Brian Setzer.

There was a wrestling coach on The White Shadow.  Rosey Grier played him.  As a kid, I was aware of Grier from his appearance on the “Free To Be You and Me” album.  He was also a bodyguard for RFK. But before that he was a defensive lineman for the Rams and Giants.  Grier appeared in what some consider the greatest football game ever; the sudden death playoff between the Giants and Colts in 1958.  One of the other Giants on that team was Don Maynard.  He didn’t play much but his career received a boost when the AFL was formed.  He moved on over to the New York Jets.

I knew about these Jets teams even though I was an infant when Namath and crew won the Super Bowl.  The first adult football book I read was The Thinking Man’s Guide to Pro Football by sportswriter and former LSD guinea pig Paul Zimmerman.  I still recall how he divided receivers into two groups; workers and flyers.  George Sauer, the team’s GM’s son was a worker.  Maynard was a flyer.  They had a backfield that consisted of Joe Namath, Matt Snell and Emerson Boozer.  Boozer went to Maryland State with Clarence Clemons.