is high school football ‘trophy’
“You’ve got to be a football hero to get along with the beautiful girls…” Song written in 1933
For someone who started out (at age 14) wanting to be a sterling high school football player at 135 pounds (growing to a “hefty” 150 by age 17), I didn’t want to hear about the potential for crippling injuries.
Maybe I should’ve listened to my mother and the other detractors about the dangers on the gridiron.
Peer pressure being what it has always been — do the popular, accepted thing — has led many of us down paths that is deemed by many to be too dangerous.
I was not quite a Don Watson, a high school football foe from Franklin, whose lightning speed via his 150-pound frame led to a college scholarship at Texas A&M. Though, I was only three-tenths of a second behind him in the 100-yard dash in track, that wasn’t quite good enough to pay for my college education.
Being a high school football “hero” to a girl or two and, hopefully, the coaches and my parents, I did not suffer from any further delusions of grandeur.
Neither did I figure on getting beat up physically enough to still be paying the price 60 years later.
While our equipment was considered reasonably safe in that day (early and mid-1950s), it doesn’t approach today’s protective gear that still can’t prevent truly severe injuries, even a rare death. Yet, football has become America’s game.
And, Texas high school football provides “gladiators” for the cheering, sometimes-jeering crowds in almost every town.
Through my junior year, there seemed to be a lot of concussions, perhaps even more percentage-wise than now, due to the old suspension helmets. They had a webbing inside the helmet that kept it suspended an inch or two away from your head, but there were too many concussions. So, my senior year, the school came up with enough money to give everyone a helmet that was lined inside with an inch of foam rubber padding. It was definitely an improvement…my bell didn’t get rung nearly as often.
Fifties shoulder pads seemed ample to protect your shoulders although some separations and breaks are inevitable despite every safety device and precaution.
Hips, legs and knees seem to be more vulnerable.
In the 1950s, we were given padding that was one-piece and buckled around your waist, with padding extending in three rounded extensions — one for the tailbone and one for each hip.
Thigh pads, which inserted into special pockets within the football pants, gave some modest protection to your thighs, although those particular pads’ top area came to a rounded point just at the top of the thighs.
Kneepads also were placed in pockets in each pant leg and the foam rubber pieces probably saved a significant amount of bruising, but overall, didn’t offer insurance against injuries that often lead to surgery.
Not only has equipment improved dramatically, so has on-the-spot treatment, sometimes by team doctors on the scene or at least by a team trainer.
Techniques have also greatly improved. In the ‘50s, we were taught in downfield blocking to throw our body at the opponent, in as guided-aimed-frontal fashion as possible, aiming for the area between the ankles and the waist. That block was designed to take an opponent completely off their feet. Doing that on a regular basis led to enough wear and tear that 55 years later my left hip (most often the “blocking hip”) had to be replaced.
When running with the ball in those days, one was more often than not going to be tackled or knocked down. The natural inclination, and you were taught, to do everything possible to keep going as far ahead as possible, even when falling. I almost always landed first on my right knee in trying to gain another foot or inch. Now a bone-on-bone situation necessitates a cane to assist me in minimizing further wear and tear on the joint.
At least, that’s my plan and I’ll stick to it until they handcuff me and drag me into surgery.
And, I’d play high school football all over again.
Oh, and I did marry a beautiful girl.
Willis Webb is a retired community newspaper editor-publisher of more than 50 years experience. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.