February 18, 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.


Happy Birthday, Sid

Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow is a fun, refreshing, yet dangerous and retrograde fellow, single-handedly dragging the NFL back to its antediluvian days when offenses consisted of little more than repeatedly having one guy tuck the ball away and plow into the line in pursuit of yardage.  Watching Tebow ply his trade evokes grainy images from when football was young, the men were mean, and the forward pass was something of a dream.

One of those who helped transform the NFL from a blood-and-guts scrum for daylight into the more wide-open passing attack seen today was a man who would be celebrating his 95th birthday Monday, Hall of Fame Chicago Bears quarterback Sid Luckman.

Luckman and the Bears thrilled the nation with their T-formation from 1939 to 1950, winning four NFL championships.  Luckman was all-NFL five times, MVP in 1943 and was under center in perhaps the most famous game in NFL history when the Bears obliterated the Washington Redskins, 73-0, for the 1940 NFL title.

When Luckman hung up his leather helmet, he was the NFL’s all-time leader in passing yards, (14,686) and touchdowns, (157).  Yes, those are numbers that Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers or Tom Brady could put up in just a handful of seasons in today’s NFL but, at the time, Sid could fling it like few others.

As antiquated as Luckman’s numbers are at first glance, some of his records actually still hold.  Luckman was the first quarterback to ever throw for seven touchdowns in a game, in 1943 against the New York Giants, and he still shares that mark with four other players: Adrian Burk, (1954), Y. A. Tittle, (1962), George Blanda (1961), and Joe Kapp (1969). Strange, isn’t it, that despite all the chuckin’ that goes on these days, that mark hasn’t been reached in 42 years?

There’s another record that Luckman still holds all by himself and while some might consider it the equivalent of being the fastest man in a two-man race, it’s still worth noting.  Luckman is still the NFL’s all-time leading passer among Ivy League quarterbacks.  Luckman, who played his college ball at Columbia, stands tallest among the smart guys with his 14,686 yards.  He was threatened a few years ago by Dartmouth graduate Jay Fiedler, but the Dolphin fell short, finishing with 11,884 yards.

Buffalo Bills quarterback and Harvard alumnus Ryan Fitzpatrick seems to have Sid in his sights.  Through ten games this year, Fitzpatrick has accumulated 9,389 career passing yards.  If he stays healthy, it would seem Mr. F. will pass Luckman sometime in 2012 or 2013.

Does anyone care who holds the distinction of top passer, or top anything, among Ivy League guys?  We certainly should, because while the NFL is currently fed by the behemoth state schools scattered across the land, it’s the institutions of the rich and smart kids that probably deserve the most credit for pro football’s very existence.  A century ago, the Ivy League was football’s epicenter and today remains one of the few places that plays the game as close as possible to how it should be.

Sid Luckman played the game the way it should be.  He was skilled, tough and, by all accounts, humorous and kind.  When, years after his playing days were over, his alma mater tried to pay him for his help in working with young players, he returned the check to Columbia with a note asking that the money be used to help some “worthy student.”

So it can be said that one of the greatest plays ever made by one of the greatest quarterbacks was, in fact, a handoff.




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.