David Bruce: Football Anecdotes

Red Friesell

On November 16, 1940, Dartmouth played Cornell, a team that was on track to win the national championship, having won 18 games in a row. Dartmouth was a heavy underdog, but coach Red Blaik used a defense that hung back to see what play Cornell was running, then swarmed the ball carrier. Late in the game, Dartmouth led, 3-0. On fourth down, Dartmouth stopped Cornell with six seconds to go. Unfortunately, referee Red Friesell erred and thought it had been third down. Therefore, over the protests of Dartmouth captain Lou Young, he gave the ball and another down to Cornell, which scored, winning 7-3. After the game, Cornell University officials reviewed the game film and saw that they had been awarded an extra down, and they passed the information on to the conference officials. Referee Friesell immediately wrote the Dartmouth captain: “I want to apologize to you, your players, coach Blaik, and all assistant coaches. I assume full responsibility. I want to thank you all for the very fair treatment accorded me after the game.” Because the game had been completed, the win had been officially given to Cornell — the award of an extra down was an uncorrectable error. However, Cornell did the right thing and gave the win to Dartmouth. Cornell athletic director Jim Lynah sent this telegram to Dartmouth: “In view of the conclusion reached by officials that the Cornell touchdown was scored on a fifth down, Cornell relinquishes claim to the victory and extends congratulations to Dartmouth.” Cornell coach Carl Snavely was a competitive man and would have loved to win the national championship, but he agreed with his athletic director. He sent this telegram to Dartmouth: “I accept the final conclusion of the officials and without reservation concede the victory to Dartmouth with hearty congratulations to the gallant Dartmouth team.”

Veronica Walker, the sister of NBA great Herschel Walker, was a track star. When Herschel was young, he wanted to beat her in a race, but he was pudgy and he could not beat her. Getting tired of losing all the time, he asked Tom Jordan, the coach of the Johnson County (Georgia) track and field team, what he had to do to beat her. Coach Jordan, who was full of common sense, told him, “Do pushups. Do situps. Run sprints.” Herschel worked hard at pushups, situps, and sprints, and after much, much work, he beat his sister in a race. Immediately, he set a new goal — he tried to beat a pet horse in a race. His mother, who was full of common sense, told him, “Herschel, you can’t outrun a horse.” She was right. He tried a beat a pet horse in a race, but he lost. His father was another person who was full of common sense. Herschel and his siblings wanted to practice their jumping, and they talked about jumping over their father’s car. Their father quickly put an end to such talk: “You fool kids, that’s my car! You’ll get hurt. I’ve got no money to pay for hospitals.” All of Herschel’s hard work paid off. In high school, he did not lift weights, but when his high school got some new weightlifting equipment, he decided to give it a try. He lifted 250 pounds a few times, and then he told his coach, “Coach, 250 pounds isn’t heavy.”

When he was a kid, NFL quarterback Jim Kelly and his five brothers used to put on helmets and play football in the living room with the couch serving as the end zone. As you would expect, the family furniture paid a heavy price for these indoor games. Their mother once said, “I always said I wouldn’t trade my boys for anything, but there were days I would have gladly given them away.” Even as a kid, Jim knew he wanted to play in the NFL. At age 11, he got to meet his hero — Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Terry Bradshaw — and told him, “I’m going to take your job away, Mr. Bradshaw.” By the way, when Mr. Kelly attended the University of Miami his freshman year, he ran into problems getting his favorite number. At first, he wanted the number 11 because that was his number in high school. That number was already taken, so then he wanted Terry Bradshaw’s number: 12. That number was also already taken. Finally, Mr. Kelly settled for number 7 because that was the only number left on a jersey that fit him!

Animal mascots can play a big role in college football. Handsome Dan XIII, a bulldog, was the mascot of Yale University. When his keeper, Chris Getman, would ask him which he preferred, going to Harvard University or being dead, Handsome Dan XIIII would roll on his back and pretend to be dead. One of Handsome Dan’s predecessors was Handsome Dan II, who was dognapped the day before the Harvard-Yale football game in 1934. The dastardly Harvards photographed Handsome Dan II licking the boots of a statue of the man whom Harvard is named after: John Harvard. (The boots had been smeared with hamburger.) Yale won, 14-0, but the Yalies still felt humiliated by their mascot, and the Yale crew team even adopted another bulldog as its mascot, resulting in what is known as the canine Great Schism.

When NFL player Esera Tuaolo decided to come out of the closet, the media took notice. New York Times sportswriter Bob Lipsyte wrote a sensitive article. Real Sports With Bryant Gumbel on HBO did a very good piece. Mr. Tualo then appeared on Good Morning America, and the show was broadcast live on a JumboTron screen in Times Square. The Good Morning America studios overlook Times Square, and after the interview Mr. Tualo was a hero on Times Square. Celebrity publicist Howard Bragman, who has helped many athletes and actors come out, says, “Real New Yorkers — the hot dog vendors and cops on the street, no quiche eaters they — hailed Tuaolo as a star and a hero for his courage. They were giving him free hot dogs, free T-shirts — you would never have believed it was New York.”

“Football is, after all, a wonderful way to get rid of aggressions without going to jail for it.” — Heywood Hale Broun.


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