David Bruce: Sports Anecdotes

One of country comedian Jerry Clower’s greatest disappointments was being in the hospital in 1969 when No. 2 ranked Yahoo City played No. 1 ranked Murrah in high school football. This was disappointing for several reasons: His son was playing for Yahoo City, and Mr. Clower had led the team in prayer before each and every game. Still, Mr. Clower yahooed as he listened on the radio, and Yazoo City beat Murrah 20-6. The next day, he received a wonderful surprise. Members of the Yahoo City football team came to his hospital bedroom, and they presented him with the game football. (By the way, Yazoo City remained undefeated for the rest of the season and finished ranked No. 1 in the state.)

In 1982, when the Super Bowl pitted Cincinnati against San Francisco, a young church-going woman admitted that she had bet $2 on Cincinnati, and after Mass on Super Bowl Sunday, she asked her priest, Msgr. Vincent Fecher, if that were wrong. He replied, “This is so important, I don’t want to decide. But I’ll tell you what: I was going back into church for something; why don’t I just ask the Lord if it was wrong?” Father Vincent returned in a few moments, and the young woman asked, “What did He say?” Father Vincent replied, “He said yes, it was wrong. You should have bet the $2 on San Francisco.” (By the way, San Francisco defeated Cincinnati, 26-21.)

As kids growing up in St. Louis, Missouri, Yogi Berra and his friends had little money. Fortunately, Yogi was smart and figured out a way to get footballs to play with in the streets. St. Louis University had a football team which played its games only one mile from the kids’ neighborhood, and Yogi and his friends stood in the street outside the stadium. They formed a relay line with the kids standing about 30 feet apart, and whenever a football came flying over the stadium wall, Yogi would grab it and throw it to the next kid, who threw it to the next kid, until the football was safely in the kids’ neighborhood and no student manager had a chance of retrieving it.

Izzy Einstein and Moe Smith were very successful law enforcement officers during Prohibition. To make arrests, they frequently used disguises. Once, they and some other law enforcement officers went to a speakeasy while dressed in muddy football uniforms. They announced that they had just played the last game of a winning season, and when the bartender poured a celebratory round of drinks, they arrested him. Unfortunately, Mr. Einstein and Mr. Smith were so successful that they made other law enforcement officers look bad, and they were fired in 1925.

Late in the game, a football team got the ball while holding a slight lead. The domineering coach told his quarterback, “Run play A-1 two times, then punt — no matter what happens.” The play worked extremely well. After running it twice, the team was third-down-and-goal. Then the quarterback called for a punt, and the football was punted right out of the stadium. The coach screamed at the quarterback, “You were third-down-and-goal. What were you thinking when you called for a punt?” The quarterback replied, “I was thinking, ‘Our coach sure is dumb.’”

At a football game between Harvard and North Carolina, Harvard took the lead in the first half, but in the second half the North Carolina team dominated, rolling right over the Harvard football players. After North Carolina had won the game, a reporter asked the coach what he had said to fire up his players at halftime. The coach said, “I told them not to forget that every man on the Harvard team was a Republican.”

In 1915, Jim Thorpe played his first professional football game. His team, the Canton Bulldogs, played the Massillon Tigers, one of whose stars was Knute Rockne. Mr. Rockne tackled Mr Thorpe twice in a row, then Mr. Thorpe ran right over Mr. Rockne, knocking him out. When Mr. Rockne regained consciousness, Mr. Thorpe told him, “That’s better, Knute. These people want to see Big Jim run!”

When Elfi Schlegel was competing in gymnastics at the University of Florida, football running back Neal Anderson, who played for the Chicago Bears in the 1980s, was a frequent visitor to the gymnastics practices. He had a good reason for working on his tumbling: After scoring a touchdown, he would perform a back flip in the end zone while still dressed in his football uniform.

The Kennedy family was well known for playing touch football, a game that can sometimes be hazardous. Before marrying John F. Kennedy, Jackie Bouvier played touch football with his family — and suffered a broken ankle. And when John and Jackie were finally married, the groom had scratches and bruises on his face from a touch football game he had played earlier that day.

During the 1946 game between Notre Dame and Army, Notre Dame quarterback Johnny Lujack was intercepted three times by Army safety man Arnold Tucker. After the game, Notre Dame coach Frank Leahy asked his quarterback, “Tell me, Johnny, why did you throw so many passes to Tucker?” Mr. Lujack replied, “Coach, he was the only man open.”

In 1952, fumbles resulted in an Oklahoma loss to Notre Dame. All during during the first half, the Sooners just couldn’t hold onto the football. At halftime, the Sooners waited for the band to get off the field. An Oklahoma majorette threw a baton, and when it came, she dropped it. A fan witnessed the fumble and told Coach Bud Wilkinson, “I see you coach the band, too.”

In 1952, Notre Dame player Johnny Lattner played badly in a game against Purdue, fumbling five times. His coach, Frank Leahy, was not pleased. As punishment, he ordered that a special football — one with a handle for easy holding on to — be manufactured, and he ordered Mr. Lattner to carry it around campus.

Years ago, sportscasters Chris Schenkel, Bud Wilkerson, and O.J. Simpson were on TV commenting on the Hula Bowl, which is played in Hawaii. At a pause in the game, a TV camera showed a young lady, and Mr. Schenkel asked, “Bud, isn’t that the young lady who gave us a lei before the game?”

Gymnasts tend to be small. When Kurt Thomas was a hall monitor in school, he worked with another boy named Elvis Peacock, who became a star football player at Oklahoma. Mr. Thomas remembers, “If I asked a guy for his pass when Peacock wasn’t around, it was like I wasn’t even there.”

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Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

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