It seems to me that the decision by various governing bodies to have football this fall is most appropriate.
You see, to me — and surely many others — fall is football season. I suppose that ingrained conviction can be traced to my upbringing here in the Buckeye state where playing football was what boys of my generation did. Each fall — never any other time of the year — we played lots of pickup games with the number on each side depending on how many players were available.
The games were held on whatever empty space was available and the play calling was often something like, “George, you go down to that big tree on the right, then cut to the middle. Bill, you run the same route but on the left using that big rock for your cut to the middle. I’ll hit whichever of you is open. On three.”
These were always two-hand touch contests but could still get a bit rough. I recall one game in which a player broke his leg but don’t remember the exact circumstances.
We started playing organized football in junior high. Our school was next to a very busy railroad with our practice area being between the school building and the railroad track. Now this was back in the days of coal-fired railroad engines and they puffed out small cinders as they chugged their way past our school. As a result, our practice field had very little grass but consisted of a mixture of hard dirt and ground-in cinders. Learning to play nose-to-nose, knock-em-down football on that surface sure toughened us up. Our junior high games were played at the senior high stadium that had real grass which felt like a soft cushion.
Thursday nights were special during football season. The high school team practiced under the lights at the stadium — which had concrete stands built under a Work Progress Administration (WPA) project during the Great Depression. The purpose of the practice was two-fold. It gave the team an opportunity to work out under the lights — which is considerably different from playing during daylight. It also gave fans an opportunity to see their team “in action” because all players participated, not just those who would play during a game.
To further enhance this fall football evening, the high school band would assemble in uniform at the school and march through the streets to the stadium while playing various marching tunes. At the stadium, the band would perform several numbers including the unique school “fight song” which had been composed by a student some years before. It gave the band a chance to perform before its fans.
Smaller high schools played a six-man instead of the standard 11-man version of football. This was a very fast game with special rules but was also very exciting and their Saturday night games drew fair-sized crowds that included fans who weren’t necessarily supporters of either team. They just liked to see football.
With this type of football activity being played out all over the state, it’s no wonder that “football fever” became the normal state of things during the fall. I can recall on Saturday afternoons walking from store to store in my home town and hardly ever missing a play of an Ohio State game because every store had the game on its radio so customers could track its progress while shopping. Of course, THE game between Ohio State and “that team up north” dominated everything on the Saturday after Thanksgiving. It just wouldn’t work for the Saturday after Easter.
During the tours I spent overseas in the military years ago, fall remained the football season for the troops. Teams made up of former high school and college players representing the different bases played in regular leagues complete with championship playoffs with the level of play being really good and highly competitive. As a touch of home, these fall football games drew overflow crowds.
Before TV and pro football dominated fall Sunday afternoons, semi-pro football flourished. Businesses sponsored local teams consisting of former high school and college players — although I personally knew of some active college players who played under assumed names to earn the $20 paid per game. Lots of fans.
Well, fall football is back as it should be. After all it’s been an American tradition for 150 or so years and it’s important that we don’t let it fall victim to this insidious virus stalking our country.
At least that’s how it seems to me.
Bill Taylor, a regular contributing columnist and local area resident, may be contacted at [email protected]