Bad Play Proven in a Court of Law, Helium-Filled Footballs and Other Oddities from the SI Archives
In order to beef up on NFL history this summer, I frequented the Sports Illustrated library, a treasure chest of newspaper clippings, archives, memos from SI stringers across the country, game programs, photos and more. While I learned a lot about football’s storied past, I found amusement in a few quirky stories. Here are a few I think are worth sharing.
1. I think a 1956 issue of SI illuminated what has to be one of the greatest football-related courtroom scenes ever. The anecdote: “A onetime halfback named Joe Pertuzzo told the jury that the Giants started him in a preseason game with Los Angeles, back in 1954, then dropped him because he suffered a broken thumb in the game; Joe wanted $6,000. No, indeed, the Giants said; Joe just wasn’t good enough for the Giants. In a darkened courtroom, Coach Jim Lee Howell and Halfback Petruzzo reviewed film for the jury.
Howell: See, the ball carrier comes through…. He should have been duck soup for Petruzzo.
Petruzzo: Watch the next play and see if I didn’t take care of the outside. I turned the play in.
Howell: You didn’t make the tackle….On this play you can see Joe come in, but he slips…
Petruzzo: A lot of good players slip, Coach.
Howell: Good players don’t slip, Joe boy.
The jury voted for Howell.”
• THOUGHTS ON THE EAGLES’ ROSTER OVERHAUL: A recent quote from Chip Kelly help explains the rationale behind Philadelphia’s turnover. Plus, insight into international scouting, the two running backs who are poised for a big year, and Osi’s retirement are among Jenny Vrentas’ “10 Things I Think.”
2. I think I love a 1961 story by Dave Warner of The Sporting News explaining how dependent coaches had become on watching film. The story included this phenomenal subhead: “Cameraman Now Vital Part of Game; He Eats, Sleeps and Suffers with Players.” Among the examples Warner uses for why film is revolutionizing the game: “Jimmy Brown, the Cleveland Browns’ super-star, used to drop his left knee when he was going to carry the ball as a terrorizing halfback at Syracuse. ‘We spotted this in the movies, worked on him, and corrected the tell-tale habit,’ [Syracuse coach Ben] Schwartzwalder said.’” Thank goodness for the movies!
3. I think a New York Times story by William N. Wallace from Nov. 6, 1968, titled “Winning the Women” shows pro football has been wooing women for many years. From the piece: “There were, and perhaps still are, decision makers in the television world who believe pro football, or any sports event, cannot compete successfully in the week night prime-time hours (8-11 P.M.) when the audiences are the largest and the stakes the highest. Their belief is that the wife gives up on Sunday afternoons and lets the men have their football. But on the week nights she becomes defiant and will have no truck with the clashing of bodies on her TV screen….. Art Modell, president of the Cleveland Browns and the National Football League, likes to believe that pro football is capturing the women. ‘At cocktail parties,’ he says, ‘I hear them talking red-dog, square-out and play action. Why not? We’ve got the country’s No. 1 game.’”
4. I think Dick Butkus was a fascinating and complex star, especially after reading Robert F. Jones’ Sports Illustrated feature on the Bear from Sept. 16, 1970. From the story: “Sometimes it gets tough, going out to dinner,” Butkus confides. “Always there are guys wanting to buy you beers. If you won’t let them do it, then they want to fight you. I suppose a broken nose from Dick Butkus is some kind of status symbol. Haw, haw.”
5. I think I am reminded that the integrity of game balls is not a new discussion. In 1977, Oilers coach Bum Phillips suspected Raider Ray Guy was punting helium-filled footballs. In a New York Times story, which reminds readers that Phillips “did not major in physics at Lamar College,” reports: “After one kick, the Oiler equipment manager received the ball and after the game Phillips said he would have it tested at Rice University. He changed his mind, however, and even denied any knowledge of the ball.”
6. I think I wonder what happened to the Gil-Mac portable football dryer and cleaner. In an undated ad, the product features the tagline “Toasty Footballs on Frosty Nights” and involves three simple steps for operation: (1) Insert the dirty and wet ball in the machine; (2) Set time switch for desired time of 0 to 60 seconds and close; (3) Open machine and play with a nice clean and dry ball. The product, by the way, kind of looks like gumball dispenser.
7. I think this was one of the most ridiculous studies I found: A 1988 piece published by the American Psychological Association entitled The Dark Side of Self and Social Perception: Black Uniforms and Aggression in Professional Sports. As a part of the study, the authors tallied NFL penalties between 1970 and 1986. They conclude: “As predicted, teams with black uniforms in the NFL are uncommonly aggressive. In all but one of the last 17 years [the five black-clad teams] were penalized more yards than one would expect.” The Raiders were atop their list.
• WHAT IT TAKES TO BUILD A SUPER BOWL CONTENDER: Brandon Browner explains what made his Seahawks and Patriots teams so special, and George Iloka dissects what’s kept the Bengals from winning in the playoffs (don’t blame Andy Dalton). Plus, the reaction to Jordy Nelson’s lost season and training camp observations are among Robert Klemko’s “10 Things I Think.”
8. I think I thoroughly enjoyed reading 1970 report from Sports Illustrated stringer Steve Guback in D.C. about Vince Lombardi’s arrival as Washington’s coach. It begins: “On the day Vince Lombardi came to Washington, Feb. 6, 1969, President Nixon held his second press conference on his new administration. Nixon spoke into one microphone. For Lombardi’s press conference at the plush Chandelier Room at the Sheraton-Carlton, 23 microphones were set up. ‘Maybe,’ a guy quipped. ‘The state of the nation is not so critical as the state of the Redskins.’” Later in the report, Guback describes Lombardi walking to the podium: “‘Let me make one thing clear, gentleman,’ he said, with a faint trace of his famous smile, ‘I can’t walk on water, not even when the Potomac is frozen.’”
9. I think the program for Super Bowl I features fantastic advertisements. I imagine the Don Drapers of the world poured great imagination into a very of-the-era full-page placement for Tang. Next to a large illustration of a family inexplicably eating breakfast on a table set up in the middle of The Coliseum—complete with yellow-and-white plaid tablecloth, a high chair, real utensils and a vase of daisies—the ad features the menu of “an actual NFL breakfast training table”: TANG Instant Breakfast Drink, Nabisco shredded wheat, eggs prepared to order, link sausage, toast, jelly, sweet rolls, coffee, tea, milk.
10. I think editors at Sports Illustrated and Time Magazine must have chuckled when they received a pitch from a freelancer on April 8, 1970. The memo is titled “Joe Namath’s Hair—Suggestion” and reads, “Though he has no publicity agent here, we have it on good authority that Namath is having his locks sheared (once again) for filming of a new movie (C.C. Ryder & Co.) to be made in Tucson. The event is to happen at Whisky-A-Go-Go, the Swinging Joint on the Sunset Strip—tomorrow. Interested?” It appears that both magazines passed on the opportunity. (The writer’s information, however, was good, and the August 17, 1970 cover of SI was Namath with Ann-Margret on the set of C.C. and Company.)
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