Football and Parenting Part I

As stated when this blog began last January, I wanted to celebrate the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta and thus I wanted the blog to always incorporate historical and geographic perspectives.
America’s first century, from 1790-1890 saw a largely agricultural nation just beginning to follow the British into industrialization. The idea of a “sport” was beyond the imagination of the vast majority of the nation, laboring from sunup to sundown. as the late, great comedian George Carlin would say, “Most people were just trying to get through the goddamn day.”
Baseball had its first professional team in 1870 and was the undisputed “national pasttime” for about a century. I grew up in Oklahoma which was the home of the nation’s most famous player, Mickey Mantle, in the 1950’s and early 1960’s. Just after Christmas, 1958 I was in my grandmother’s house and happened to see my first football game, the NFL Championship between the New York Giants and Baltimore Colts. By pure coincidence it was the first overtime game and widely considered the most exciting and historic professional football game of all time.
I was completely hooked on the sport and my new favorite team, the Colts, who seemed to have the game’s most exciting players: John Unitas, Raymond Berry and Lenny Moore, all of whom were voted into the NFL Hall of Fame. Being an Oklahoma resident, I also became hooked on the Oklahoma University Sooners, who still hold America’s longest college winning streak at 47 games.

I also started playing regularly in my neighborhood park.  It was tackle football but no one ever wore pads nor helmets and I can’t recall even a minor injury.   Of course this was the golden age for Baby Boomer kids and we also spent much of the day on bicycles, with nary a helmet in sight-injuries seemed to be the last thing on anyone’s mind, including our parents!

Although we also played baseball (and I attribute my love for numbers to calculating baseball batting averages back in the 50’s) it seemed rather staid and sedentary compared to football, especially with JFK playing it on the White House lawn!

My family moved to Dallas, Texas in 1963 (which allowed me to see that same JFK in person just a few minutes before his assassination) and my brother and I were able to see Dallas Cowboys games from the end zone for only a dollar-the team was so bad in those early years that, in the second half we were able to move our seats to the 50 yard line.

The whole idea of avoiding football due to dangers of a concussion never entered my, or my parents’ minds!  It quickly became a moot point when I was cut from the freshman team-seems they didn’t want a 6′ 140 pound string bean, even if he could catch most passes thrown his way. The next sport up was basketball but I was far too clumsy for that one.  That was followed by track and my first year was humiliating (losing to a classmate who was a chain smoker), but 18 months later I was able to reach the top as a two-time State of Texas two mile champion.

In that pre-Title IX era I was able to get a full athletic scholarship to the nearby Southern Methodist University, part of the football-crazy Southwest Conference. I ate all my meals in the athletic dining hall and got to know a few of the behemoth-demigods on the football team.  SMU, to its credit, was the first school in the conference (and one of the first in the entire South) to have a black player on scholarship, Jerry Levias.  We all thought it unusual that Jerry drove a brand new car although he came from a poor school in Beaumont.  My first spring at SMU began to clear up that mystery when I saw the Cowboy’s Don Meredith (an SMU alum) and a bevy of Southern belles help to recruit freshman prospects in the dining hall.  SMU was to become infamous in the annals of college football by being given the “Death Penalty” in the 1980’s for years of egregious recruiting violations-in essence turning the football team into a junior version of Dallas Cowboys!

Stay tuned for part two next week, when we’ll go into concussions and the domestic violence issue in pro football.

 

 

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