Don't sell short football players of 100 years ago

Friday, November 9, 2007

Reprinted from The Times and Democrat

ISSUE: Football in 1907

OUR VIEW: SCSU inaugural year a key one in changing the game

SC State celebrates 100 years of Bulldog Football, Nov. 9 By the standards of today, comparatively little was written about college football and football in general in 1907. Or maybe it's that we don't take time to really look at what was recorded because of the gap in years. Memories can be short.

South Carolina State University climaxes its celebration of 100 years of football tonight with an extravaganza in Orangeburg. It will put the focus on the top 100 players of the Bulldogs' century that began in 1907.

Not a lot is written about the SCSU team of that first year, and not a whole lot more for several thereafter. But that doesn't mean football was not making news in 1907.

The players of 2007 may be bigger, stronger and better equipped -- and thank goodness, because that may be why fewer of them are injured. Football is a violent game in 2007, but the rules are strictly enforced and safety is a priority.

It was a priority in 1907, too, with rules having been changed to "debrutalize" the game. A story from the New York Times of that era is revealing in a look back at what it was like 100 years ago.

Headlined "Football's Death Record for 1907," the story begins: "The season of 'debrutalized' football practically ended today with a record of eleven deaths and ninety-eight players more or less seriously injured. There is no decrease in the number of killed and only a slight reduction with last year's figures."

A table shows three deaths in Ohio and two in New Jersey, with other states recording one.

The story attributes to the Chicago Tribune numbers that do show a decline in deaths among high school and college players compared to 1905 and 1906. It cites as causes of death among players: body blows, injuries to the spine, concussion of the brain and blood poisoning.

"All the college and high school games were played under the new rules adopted at the closing of 1905 season to satisfy the demand of less dangerous football.

"In that year and preceding ones, the casualties fell heaviest on high school players, who played the game exactly as it was played by the college men. In college teams the chief requisite was weight, strength and ability to stand the terrific punishment in line-smashing and mass plays."

The story goes on to state that weaker players seldom came through games unscathed. Major colleges -- then the Yales and Harvards of the East and Michigans in the West -- were quick to adapt the rule changes and saw less injuries. Colleges from other regions were slower and, as the story states, "suffered in consequence."

"The heavy death rate among 'outsiders' or independent players this year confirms the view of coaches generally that the new rules, if followed, will eliminate much of the danger of the gridiron."

Wow! "Will eliminate much of the danger of the gridiron."

As S.C. State celebrates the team that began it all here in 1907 and the players since, let it not be forgotten that the game has changed but the challenges are not necessarily greater than for those athletes of 100 years ago. The excitement of the gridiron is real -- and so are the dangers.