As this is being written, the football bowl season is in full swing.
Although I’m doing all I can to do my part, I’m just not going to be able to watch all of the 41 contests on the schedule. During the many that I do get to see, I like to take special note of the sidelines and how this part of the game has evolved over the years.
This is of interest to me because for five seasons (1950-55), I was on the sidelines as one of the equipment managers for Ole Miss. In addition to the coaching staff, our sideline personnel consisted of two or three equipment managers, two trainers and the team doctor. These days there are more people on the sideline — equipment people, water folk, trainers and medical personnel — than you can count.
At some of the early bowls, there are almost more people on the sidelines than in the stands. Another major change: Many of these sideline folks are female. Sixty or so years ago, girls would not have found a welcoming atmosphere.
And the amount of equipment and other “stuff” has increased proportionally. We had three equipment trunks (3 feet by 4 feet by 4 feet deep) and everything we took on the road had to go in them. We learned to pack small items inside large items and to make sure we had spares of the equipment that was more likely to break.
Coaches hated equipment failure and usually blamed managers when a flap broke off a pair of shoulder pads or the sole tore off a shoe and you had not packed the exact replacement.
Now, look at any sideline today. There’s enough equipment to outfit another squad. There are exercise bikes to keep legs loose and a little tent for private medical treatment. I just wonder how all this stuff gets transported.
One thing that has not changed much is the chaos. It seemed that we operated from one crisis to another most of the time. One that I’ll never forget is the rain pants fiasco.
Back in the mid-1940s, Arkansas had a great tailback, Clyde “Smackover” Scott. His nickname came from his hometown.
One year Ole Miss played Arkansas in the rain. Arkansas’ backs wore rain pants made of lightweight, waterproof material that was extremely slick when wet. Scott was hard to tackle on a dry day, but in those slick rain pants, he was almost impossible to bring down. Ole Miss took a drubbing and the coaches decided that the rain pants were a major contributing factor. So, they purchased a set for our backs and ends.
When I arrived at Ole Miss in 1950, the rain pants had never been used, but we still had them. We were instructed to always have them available in the event the coaches wanted to use them.
So, they spent the football season in the bottom of one of the equipment trunks. At the season’s end, they were unpacked and placed on a shelf in the equipment room. But one fateful Saturday on a road trip, there was a lot of rain and word came down from on high: “Break out the rain pants.”
We went to the stadium early and got our backs and ends outfitted.
The pants made it through warmups but almost 10 years of non-use had taken its toll. They had dry-rotted. On the first play of the game, as one of our ends threw a down-field block, one of his thigh pads tore out and went skidding away on the wet grass. I ran out with a roll of tape and got him taped back together. This was only the beginning.
We spent the rest of the first half winding tape around players to keep their pants together and them on the field. Of course, the coaches were upset, cussing the pants and chewing us out because they were tearing up. At half time, we got the regular pants back out. Somehow, we managed to win the game.
As we were packing up after the game, I asked the trainer who was in charge of the manager corps what to do with the rain pants. He replied, “There’s a big trash can over there in the corner. I want every pair of those pants put in that can and I don’t want to hear anything about rain pants ever again.”
And that’s the way it was. It also gave us more room to pack other stuff.
Another memorable game — from the sidelines, anyway — was at LSU.
Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge has always been a rough place for a visiting team. The game was on a Saturday night. We got in early Friday afternoon and worked out in shells and T-shirts in balmy 75-degree weather.
The visitor’s locker room was a free-standing concrete block building under the stands. It had metal louvered openings on all sides for ventilation. Players did not hang any of their uniforms close to those openings because LSU fans would come in the night with straightened coat hangers and hook anything they could reach near those openings.
Apparently, in those days, nobody ever checked a weather forecast because on Friday night, one of those “blue northers” blew down the Mississippi Valley.
By dawn on Saturday the balmy 75 was in the 30s and dropping fast with high winds. Nobody had told us to pack any cold-weather gear. We did always carry a dozen or so military surplus heat packs that you put a little water in and kneaded it up to cause a chemical reaction.
Just before the game started, I was at one end of the bench working up the packs when our AD came out of the stands and took them all for the group of big donors he had with him. Then we got a good chewing out for not bringing enough hot packs.
At halftime, we had to wade through a throng of fans to get back and forth to our dressing room. And there was a group of fans at each louvered opening shouting obscenities and beating on the metal so that it was almost impossible for our players to hear the coaches’ adjustments.
By the way, did I say that LSU was a tough place to play?
We won the game and the fans at the louvers were more intense and louder than at halftime. The team left and we were left to pack up with fans still threatening to do bad things to us.
Thankfully, we managed to get away. LSU does not like to lose at home.
I learned a good bit in college classes. I also got quite an education those five seasons on the sidelines.