February 21, 2018

Offseason Knute Rockne Thoughts

For those who know me I have always told them I follow two sports, football and spring football. And for those who know me understand my love of the history of the game of football from its inception in 1869. Today’s game, obviously, is vastly different from when the legends of the gridiron took the field in the 20’s or the 30’s. The days of Knute Rockne have long passed. I guess I am trying to find the true football athlete of 2012–does he exist any more? I really do not know. To me, there are still some young men who play the sixty-minute battle on the gridiron by the rules for the love of the game and not for the commercialism that we may associate it with today.

Small college football still lives in our country and its games follow a predictable pattern and rhythm on its 100-yard field. I still enjoy Ivy League football although was very turned off by the tragedy which occurred before this past Yale-Harvard battle in 2011 when a U-Haul truck carrying beer kegs through a tailgating area outside of the Yale Bowl struck and killed a 30-year-old woman. RIP Nancy Barry!!

My thoughts turn to seasons of the past, at a time when Knute Rockne was the head coach at Notre Dame for such a brief time from 1918 to 1930. His brief life and legend was taken away from the gridiron in a tragic plane crash on March 31, 1931. I have always pondered what if he had not died at such a young age. What more could have been on the gridiron and for Notre Dame? He had a record of 105-12-5. Incredible if you think that his teams only lost 12 games in 13 years, a winning percentage of .881. His theories and coaching philosophies could be used by all coaches in today’s game–all should read and abide by his 25 Commandments for the game and life. It would do all of us good to bring back common sense to the gridiron rather than bounty hunting and the stale showboating of today’s game.

Thus, I wonder about the coming 2012 season. Can values and fair play come back to the game of football? When respect is a given between the goal posts and men play without the intent of permanent injury. Can it be a time of renewal for the game? When will the game becomes pure again rather than a stale commercialized mess of thrash talking and overweight shaking of flesh? It can be done and should be strived for by all who play and coach the game as they should remember the philosophies of Coach Rockne once again.


Bob Swick is Editor & Publisher of Gridiron Greats Magazine.


Tailgating in the Elm City

Yale’s 2011 football season was not a memorable one, but there is one element of it that will not be easily forgotten.

The team finished 5-5 overall with a 4-3 conference record, good for a four-way tie for second place in the Ivy League, behind 7-0 Harvard. An off-field incident made national news though.

Fellow Leatherheads Joe Williams, Bob Swick and Jon Daly met me at the Yale Bowl in New Haven, Conn., Nov. 19, an unseasonably warm and sunny Saturday, for the annual Harvard-Yale matchup, a.k.a., “The Game.” It was a pilgrimage of sorts. After all, a rivalry that has been contested over parts of three centuries (first played Nov. 13, 1875), is one that any real fan of the sport would consider with some degree of awe.

During the half-time intermission, the stadium’s public address announcer asked for a moment of silent prayer on behalf of a 30-year-old woman who had been struck and killed by a vehicle outside the stadium that morning.

The vehicle was a box truck. The location was a parking lot. The occasion was a tailgate party.

A U-Haul truck, driven by a Yale student (delivering the beer kegs for his fraternity’s bash), accelerated suddenly when entering the parking lot.

The vehicle plowed into a group of tailgaters striking three people. In addition to the woman who was killed, two others were hospitalized; one with serious injuries.

The driver’s attorney claimed the accident occurred as a result of vehicle malfunction. The incident remains under investigation and no charges have filed to date.

Tailgating is a part of the culture. Socializing, eating and drinking alcohol before football games takes place in hundreds of locations each and every weekend during the season. It’s one of the greatest manifestations of Americans’ obsession with football.

The thing is, at Yale, it’s not about football. It’s about the party.

For alumni, some of “tailgate” celebrations at Yale are professionally catered. They are mini reunions of sorts. For the students it’s an opportunity to party publicly, and on a large scale. The football game may be a convenient opportunity – or excuse – to party, but it is of little interest to many of those in attendance.

Many football fans are notorious for extending their tailgate parties up to and beyond the opening kickoff. IN the case of Yale-Harvard though, there were perhaps twice as many people tailgating as ultimately made it into the stadium.

The Yale Bowl is a WWI era structure. It seats some 60,000 fans and is a marvelous venue for football. Because it is so old however, it has many distinctions from modern athletic fields. For one, restrooms and food concessions are in separate buildings outside the stadium. The Bowl is not on campus but on the edge of New Haven in a somewhat residential area. There are open (grass) fields that serve as parking – and tailgating – areas, but there are also a number of city streets.

So, the tailgate crowd distinct from most other football enthusiasts and the tailgating area is not conducive to such widespread and jam-packed parties. These were, arguably, contributing factors to the tragedy of that day.

This past week Yale announced sweeping changes to its tailgating regulations. No more beer kegs, and no more box trucks, unless pre-authorized and operated by professional outside vendors. Also, all parties must disperse upon commencement of the game.

These are positive developments to be sure, but regulations that uniquely tailored to Yale. Its tailgate parties, particularly at every other year’s Harvard game at the Yale Bowl, are anomalies.

One expects the Ivy League should have refined distinctions, compared to other colleges and universities. In the case of Yale, those refinements were not enough.

The Game: Harvard-Yale for the 128th Time

I will be at the Yale Bowl this Saturday along with a few of my Leatherheads of the Gridiron friends, Joe Williams and Pete Sonski, for the 128th Edition of “The Game”.

“The Game” is special to me as I went to my first Harvard-Yale matchup on November 25, 1967 when Yale beat Harvard 24-20.  My father and I were rope guards for the game and to a nine-year-old it was an incredible game and the most people I had ever seen in one place in my life.  We all know what happen the next year in 1968 when Harvard scored 16 points in the final 42 seconds as I could not believe my AM radio that Harvard came back and tied Yale 29-29.  I have been to many Harvard-Yale games over the years including the 100th meeting in 1983 as I sat in the next to last top row in the Bowl to watch Harvard spoil the anniversary for Yale, outscoring the Bulldogs 16-7.  Revenge was sweet in 1985 at another packed Bowl with Yale beating the Crimson 17-6.  At that game I was forced to sit on Harvard’s side with a group of screaming Harvard fanatics–such are the seats for “The Game”.  I take them where I can find them.

This year Yale has a chance to blemish Harvard’s perfect Ivy League record by beating them at home.  Harvard is 8-1 overall and 6-0 in the Ivy while Yale has been a disappointing 5-4 overall and 4-2 in the Ivy.  Harvard has a strong defense this season and on offense they are led by running backs Zach Boden and Treavor Scales with quarterback Collier Winters behind the center calling the plays.  Boden is explosive in my opinion while Scales can score.  Yale is led by workhorse running back Alex Thomas, a fan favorite from Ansonia , CT.  Quarterback Patrick Witt has a favorite target in wide receiver Jackson Liguori.  On paper it is a classic matchup with the edge to Harvard, but anything can happen this Saturday.

Harvard has won the last nine out of ten matches and Yale leads overall 65-54-8 going into the game.  I still have a special place in my heart for Ivy League football.  And this game will be no different as I can still remember that special November afternoon with my father back in 1967.  “THE GAME” is football at its best.

Book Review: The Big Scrum

These days it’s pretty tough to get a job without an edge.

Back when Teddy Roosevelt recruited men for his Rough Riders, one word set you apart. Football.

In the midst of an escalating conflict with Spain in 1898, letters pledging support in arms poured in. Roosevelt could afford to be selective. Among the men he chose was Dudley Dean, “perhaps the best quarterback who ever played on a Harvard Eleven” as well as men who rivaled Dean in pigskin prowess. This week, take the handoff of “The Big Scrum: How Teddy Roosevelt Saved Football” by John J. Miller.

Read this book because:

1. Football and TR grew up together.

Roosevelt suffered from asthma and other ailments as a youth. That’s when he first read about a primal game some say was founded in 1823. The game was football. Tom Brown’s Schooldays reads “It’s no joke playing up in a match, I can tell you. Why, there’s been two collar-bones broken this half, and a dozen fellows lamed.” (28, Big)  Where’s the training table when you need it? Everyone, it seemed, played his own version of the game.

Harvard’s game was called “Bloody Monday.” The Crimson’s objective was to “kick the other and bark their shins as much as possible.” (58)  Roosevelt was a Harvard freshman in 1876 when he saw the first-ever contest with 11 players on each side.

2. Talk about blood sport! That was football before Roosevelt and his friends grabbed hold of the game.

Sometimes the rewards outweigh the risks. There is the potential for serious accidents with cars, but efficiency supersedes the minimal risk. Football offered spectators enjoyment and participants gained physical fitness, but without any sort of protective equipment in the middle of a free-for-all, public outcry continued to rise. Surely there had to be better entertainment options. Newspapers blared “They saw real fighting, savage blows that drew blood, and falls that seemed like they must crack all the bones and drive the life from those who sustained them.” (107)  Roosevelt again and again championed football as part of his “strenuous life,” but cries of greed and eligibility issues would not subside on college campuses.

At the White House, Roosevelt told a group of Ivy Leaguers that “Football is on trial. Because I believe in the game, I want to do all I can to save it.” (187-88)  The six guests left the two-hour meeting with the basis of what would ultimately become the NCAA.

3. At the height of politics, the pigskin was never far from the leader’s mind.

After the football committee meeting, The New York Times wrote, “Having ended the war in the Far East [and] grappled with the railroad rate question, President Roosevelt today took up another question of vital interest to the American people. He started a campaign for reform in football.” (191)

Following an ugly fight between Harvard and Penn players, Roosevelt invited Crimson coach Bill Reid to the White House for lunch. Nevermind that the luncheon also included German ambassador Baron Speck von Sternberg and others. When they were finished dining, Roosevelt said to the others, “Will you please go out on the porch for a few minutes? I want to have a talk with Mr. Reid.” (195)

Pick up “The Big Scrum” and you won’t stop short of the end zone.


Sam Miller is a graduate of the University of Illinois where he worked with various teams in sports information and received the Freedom Forum – NCAA Sports Journalism Scholarship for his achievements. At the University of Illinois, Miller regularly wrote feature stories about the football team. He has also served as communications intern for the Angels’ Triple-A affiliate. Prior to that, he worked as a communications intern for USA Basketball and as an associate reporter for MLB.com.