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COMMENTARY BY LUKE BOYD: Grey on Gray - Football: Some Things I Remember

As I’m writing this piece, the 2012 football season is winding down. The high school season has ended, the end of the college season is on the horizon and the NFL is in the midst of its playoff/count down to the Super Bowl. I have been an observer of the Southern-American football scene for 70-plus years now. Things have not always been as we see them now.

I remember leather helmets. They did not provide a lot of protection but they were durable. If the leather tore or the stitching broke, you just took it down to your local shoe repair shop and had it patched. Some old helmets might have six-to-eight patches sewn over the original panels. And a player made sure he did not “lead with his head” in making a block or tackle. It hurt too badly. That’s what your shoulder pads were for.

I remember one practice we were running laps that our coach insisted we do with helmets on. He yelled across the field at a bareheaded runner who fetched his leather head protection from the back waist of his pants, unfolded it, and put it on.

I remember that Michigan was the last major college to give up leather helmets because the makers of plastic headgears could not replicate their distinctive look—gold shield on the front with three gold stripes across the crown. When technology finally was able to do this, Michigan went to plastic.

I remember players without helmets. There have always been football players, especially linemen, with over size heads. Special-made helmets were very expensive with only affluent college programs able to afford them. Players at other levels just grew a thick head of hair and played on.

I remember rubber nose guards. They were of molded rubber with wide bases for the forehead and the cheeks. There were holes at the corners of these bases to which you attached shoelaces and tied them in the back, securing the device. They were bulky and hampered your vision and were not much used in the 1940s when I first played.  However, one high school I attended had a box full of them stored with the football equipment. In team pictures taken in the early 1900s, many players have these hanging around their necks.

I remember when missing front teeth was a sure sign of an interior lineman. Many bad and unseen things often occurred in the trenches away from the eyes of the officials. In the early 1950s at Ole Miss, we had a guard who had no front teeth top or bottom. When he peeled back his lips and snarled you could see his uvula. Quite often he would forget to remove his bridges before getting to the practice field. I was one of the equipment managers so he would give them to me to keep. I’d roll them up in a towel. He said he had a fear of seeing his teeth sail across the practice field one day as I threw a towel to someone. But I was careful and he always got his teeth back.

I remember when concussions were “no big deal.” It was fairly common for a player to get knocked silly and play most of the game without knowing who or where he was and not remember anything about it afterward. They would often make absurd statements to the amusement of their teammates. Thank goodness we now know that any injury that scrambles the brain is a bad injury and playing with one is doubly bad. Wonder why it took us so long to come to this conclusion?

I remember when the quarterback called his own plays on the field—at all levels. The only way a coach on the sideline was supposed to communicate with anyone on the field was through a substitute. And with limited substitution rules, sometimes this was not easy. I think it was the Cleveland Browns who perfected the rotating guards to get plays in. Any unauthorized communication from the sidelines was subject to a penalty. In one game at Ole Miss, I was sent on the field during a time out to adjust some equipment AND to relay what play to run. As I adjusted shoulder pad laces, one official followed me around to make sure I didn’t do what I’d been sent to do. I got a good chewing from Coach Vaught for my failure. Nowadays the game, both offense and defense, is run from the sideline and/or press box.

I do remember a few more things but I’m out of space. Maybe later.


Dr. Lucas G. (Luke) Boyd is the retired principal of Battle Ground Academy. He lives in Franklin and may be contacted at


Posted on: 1/16/2013


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