When I don’t have too many pressing things to do, which is getting to be more often these days, I tend to think about odd things that have caught my attention.
Have you ever noticed how many people and how much equipment occupy the sidelines during a college or pro football game?
Because I was one of the equipment managers at Ole Miss back in the John Vaught era, I like to check out sideline activity. Starting soon after Thanksgiving and ending with the championship game in January, we were treated — or maybe mistreated — to between 30 and 40 bowl games.
I’ll have to admit I did not see them all. Holiday gatherings and trips to the grocery store had to be worked in.
Some of the early minor bowl games had more people on the sidelines than in the stands. TV folk tried to keep from showing too much of the stands, but every so often, viewers got glimpses of mostly empty seats. But the sidelines were always crowded and a bee hive of activity.
First, there’s all the equipment: large containers filled with all sorts of medical stuff and extra uniform pieces, large Gatorade coolers and individual water bottles, a large net for kickers to use during warm-ups, a stationary bike for players to keep their legs loose, a little, square pop-up tent where players can be re-taped or treated right next to the field. One has to wonder what might be going on behind those flaps. In my day if the trainer had to take a player’s pants down to work on him, he just got some big linemen to stand in a circle.
At one bowl game, I’m almost certain I saw two port-a-potties behind one end of the bench area. We should not be surprised at this, considering all the people on the sidelines.
To start with, there are about 60 players. Add coaches, trainers, managers and team doctors, and that numbers rises to 80 or 90. It seems as if each player has his own water girl to squirt a drink through his face mask when he comes off the field. And there’s always the “sideline woman” who lurks about the bench, picking up tidbits of information. She is called upon by the announcer every so often to report on a player’s injury status or what Joe Big Star said after he threw an interception that just put his team behind.
Then there are several TV and camera folk and a whole bunch of people who seem to be spectators. At one time, getting a sideline pass was as hard to get as a ticket to “Hamilton.” Obviously, this has changed.
As I watched the UT-Indiana game, I was taken by the restraint shown by the booth announcers. Indiana had a good player named Jones. He was mentioned quite a few times, but at no point was he called “Indiana Jones.”
This brought to mind a similar incident in the Dick Tracey comic strip in the 1940s. Some of you will remember many of the criminals Tracey hunted down: Prune Face, Flat Top, The Mole, 88 Keys (who played piano), et al. You also may remember the hit pop song of that time, “Open the Door, Richard.”
The strip also featured several odd characters who were not criminals. One of these was Diet Smith. He always carried a bottle of pills that he popped into his mouth on a regular basis. I don’t recall whether they were diet pills or medicine for his ulcers, which he continually complained about.
It so happened that in the midst of Tracey’s chasing down some villain, Smith got jailed by mistake. He would stand at his cell door and shout, “I want to see Richard Tracey. I want Richard Tracey to open this door. Please get Richard Tracey for me so he can open this cell door.”
For at least two weeks, the strip would have a panel captioned, “meanwhile back at the station,” with Smith standing at his cell door and demanding that Richard Tracey come get it open. Readers knew what his final plea would be and eagerly turned to the comic page each day in anticipation. However, just like those disciplined football announcers a few weeks ago, Diet Smith never shouted, "Open the Door, Richard.”
Planes have been in the news a lot lately. After two fatal crashes, a new fleet of airliners has been grounded for several months now waiting for engineers to figure out how to keep them in the air. In an emergency, another dumped fuel over a populated area. Several smaller planes have crashed into houses and Iran shot a commercial plane down, killing everyone on board.
Although tragic, air mishaps are not new. Some years ago, a pilot was flying a load of passengers into Jackson, Mississippi, in a two-engine prop DC-3. It was in a rain storm at night. The pilot was on the radio to the Jackson airport, but he was looking at the much smaller grass strip port at Yazoo City a few miles away.
He put the plane down on the too-short runway. After several days of rain, it was very soggy and acted as a natural brake, keeping the plane from running off the end.
When the plane stopped, it sank up to the axles in mud. No one was injured. Passengers were taken to Jackson by bus. Since the runway was too short for a takeoff, the plane had to be taken apart and hauled away by truck.
The pilot lost his job, but considering the impossible landing, I thought he should have gotten some citation for merit.
That’s enough odd thoughts for today.