A book by Cathryn Johnson Pyle entitled The Care and Feeding of Right Tackles, Together with Some Notes on Golf, Fishing for the Small-mouth Bass, Amateur Wrestling, Softball, Tennis and Putting the 16-pound Shot; with Additional Observations on the Need for Faith in the Chicago Cubs and Certain Basic Flaws in the Offense of the Professional Football Team Known as the Chicago Bears will not be found on the shelves of any bookstore or on any publisher's list. As a matter of fact, Mrs. Pyle, a tall, slender, brunette housewife of Winnetka, Ill., has not written such a book. But she sure could.
As for right tackles, Mrs. Pyle is such an authority on the subject that both Big Ten and Ivy League football will be in her debt next season. Her eldest son, William Palmer Pyle Jr., 20, is described by Coach Duffy Daugherty of Michigan State as "one of the fastest tackles I've ever seen, with a very good chance to make All-America." A second son, Michael Johnson Pyle, 18, is regarded highly at Yale where an admiring sports-writer called his play in the Yale-Harvard freshman game last November "murderous" and judged him to be a cinch to start at right tackle for the varsity next fall. Both boys were all-state tackles while they were playing for New Trier High School in Winnetka. Mike also won the state high school heavyweight wrestling championship and broke the state shotput record.
A third son, Harlen Pyle, is presently concentrating on kite flying and backyard soccer. Just a few weeks ago Harlen tried fishing at a quarry outside Keokuk, Iowa, and took two sunfish with only token assistance from his brother Palmer. He is also being groomed for his debut as sports spectator at the big football games. Last year he found even minor affairs rather too stimulating. At one of Mike's wrestling matches, for instance, fearing that the crowd might be unaware that Mike's brother was in the stands, he felt obliged to make loud announcements to this effect. Mike found his remarks distracting, but managed to win anyway. Harlen, now 6, is a first year man at Hubbard Woods Grammar School in Winnetka where his prestige as brother of two football heroes is sometimes almost more than he can bear.
May 18, 1958
The two football heroes did not emerge from any conscious planning by Mrs. Pyle, but they came as no particular surprise. The household of William Palmer Pyle, a central division products manager for Kraft Foods, has always fairly crackled with sports talk and sports activity, and when it became apparent that two young men on the premises were growing to rather startling dimensions (both Palmer and Mike stand 6 feet 2 and weigh well over 200), their mother soon learned to take the press notices about their exploits almost (if not quite) as a matter of course.
Taking things as a matter of course is a discipline that Mrs. Pyle forced herself to master long ago. As she was saying the other day in the living room of the Pyles' white-frame-and-green-shuttered home on Scott Avenue in Winnetka, "I've found myself gradually becoming conditioned to many things. People have asked me about the boys getting hurt. Well, of course there are inevitable injuries and they aren't necessarily limited to actual games. We've had some casualties right here in the living room and out in the backyard."
Mrs. Pyle looked at her husband across the room and said, "You remember some of them, Pinny?"
Pinny (a nickname from his childhood), an athletic-looking 6-footer who wears a look, around the house, of unshakable bemusement, simply raised his eyes to heaven by way of comment.
At that moment, the front door flew open and Harlen and three companions his own age staggered dramatically into the living room and collapsed into various attitudes on the floor.
"We can't get that kite up, Mom!" cried Harlen, holding his head to signify great mental anguish.
"Go out and try again, dear," said Mrs. Pyle mildly.
"We're thirsty," said Harlen.
"Take the boys in the kitchen," said Mrs. Pyle. "There's some soda in the refrigerator."
The boys continued to writhe on the rug and then Pinny Pyle spoke up in tones that were soft, but had good carry.
"Out," he said, "out, out, out."
The detachment sprang up and headed for the kitchen.
Mrs. Pyle took a deep breath and continued: "I was speaking of injuries and how you become conditioned to them. One day, I remember, Mike called to me, 'Mom, I'm going out to play touch football for a while.' I called back that that was fine and I went about my housework. It must have been an hour or so later when the doorbell rang. I opened the door and a friend of the boys, Bernie Magnussen—he's now at Stanford—was standing there with what I remember as a very cheerful expression on his face. 'Hello, Bernie,' I said, and he said brightly, 'Hello, Mrs. Pyle, how's Mike?'
"That question didn't sound quite right to me, but I said, 'Why, Mike's just fine, Bernie. He's out playing touch football.' Bernie shook his head. He said, 'Oh, no, Mrs. Pyle, that was before.'
"That didn't sound quite right either, so I asked Bernie, 'Before what?' He said, again quite cheerfully, 'Before they took him to the hospital.' "
Not entirely unaccustomed to having startling bits of news reach her in this way, Mrs. Pyle recalls that she moved with all deliberate speed in the direction of coat and car keys and soon was being reassured by a doctor who had just finished stitching Mike's upper lip, which had been cut by a savage, if basically cordial, thrust of an opponent's elbow.
Against such hazards of body-contact sports Mrs. Pyle measures the plus values of sports in the Pyle household, and if she shudders to think about anything, it is not the battering and bruising that is the lot of right tackles, but rather of what would happen if there were no sports interests around the place. She thinks the entire family probably would have to go into politics to fill the void. That's not wholly true, because the Pyles have time for other things right now. Mrs. Pyle is active in church and club work and, of course, the PTA and, with her husband, she tries her best not to miss any play that comes to Chicago.
But there is no denying that between fishing and football, sports colors a lot of conversation and claims almost all vacation time. When the two older boys were playing for New Trier High School, the area of operations was pretty well localized. But now, of course, the Pyles find it necessary to study all the teams in both the Big Ten Conference and the Ivy League, and spend many an evening planning trips that will accommodate their mushrooming sports interests.
Last year the Pyles maintained a commuter's schedule to East Lansing to see Palmer play for Michigan State and extended one trip all the way to New Haven to watch Mike in the Harvard-Yale freshman game.
"Mike's game was a brand-new experience for me as a spectator," Mrs. Pyle recalled. "It was played on one of the fields outside the Yale Bowl and there were no stands. I have no inhibitions about yelling in the stadium at East Lansing, but this was the first time I ever found myself not only yelling, but running up and down the sidelines."
Last year produced some especially good conversational fodder in the Pyle household as it appeared possible for a time that Michigan State would get the Rose Bowl bid and that the Chicago Bears would be playing for the Western championship of the National Football League at Wrigley Field on December 29. (Both Mr. and Mrs. Pyle are fans of the Bears and have missed only one of their games in the last five years. Their devotion to the Chicago Cubs is less passionate, but equally steadfast.)
"Of course, we would have gone to the Rose Bowl," said Mrs. Pyle, "but we couldn't go with good conscience if we had deserted the Bears at such a critical time. It took a great deal of arranging for Pinny to put off some business appointments and get airline reservations that would get us to the West Coast on New Year's Eve after seeing the Bears on the 29th."
Pinny Pyle spoke up from his chair across the room.
"I forget now," he said, "were the Bears supposed to play on the 29th?"
"Yes," said Mrs. Pyle, "I remember because Mike cut his lip playing touch football on the 28th."
Pinny nodded. "That's right," he said, "I remember now. I was thinking it was closer to when Palmer sprained his ankle."
This year there are some happy complications in planning the fall sports schedule. For the first time in many summers, Pinny Pyle will put off his Canadian fishing vacation. Instead, he will take time off in October. The Pyles will see a Michigan State game in East Lansing, then go to Cape Cod to try a kind of fishing new to both of them (they want to try for striped bass) and then they'll see a Yale game at New Haven. If 6-year-old Harlen continues to measure up in tests as spectator sportsman, he will be taken along. Previously, he has always been routed to fond relatives in Keokuk.
Incidentally, with information he picks up at the dinner table and from radio and television sports commentators, Harlen has given his grandmothers in Iowa a thoroughgoing briefing on collegiate and professional football. The grandmothers, neither of whom had ever paid the slightest attention to sports of any kind previously, now speak a knowledgeable lingo that would get them by at Toots Shor's. Quoting Harlen (who was quoting his father), one grandmother told Mrs. Pyle recently that the Bears would get nowhere until "George Halas beefs up that backfield."
The Pyles' sporting horizons are ever widening. This fall, they confidently count on Michigan State making the Rose Bowl for sure. But they are looking far beyond that. Mike is not only an odds-on bet for right tackle on the Yale varsity, but he is no less likely to make the track and field team that Yale will send to England for a dual meet with Oxford-Cambridge in the summer of 1959. Cathryn and Pinny Pyle will be there. In the fall they will go to Miami to see Michigan State play the final game of its schedule.
In the Pyles' living room it was now suggested that with all this sports activity, there must be considerable sports equipment around the house. Mrs. Pyle nodded vigorously and began ticking off items from memory.
"Well, let me see," she began, "there are uniforms. Football, baseball, basketball, hockey and softball uniforms."
"Footballs," Pinny Pyle took up the count, "basketballs, volleyballs, soccer balls, baseballs. Hockey sticks, pucks, tennis rackets."
"Two sets of golf clubs," said Mrs. Pyle, "roller skates and ice skates and gym shoes, football and baseball shoes and tennis shoes and golf shoes."
"Tell about the Red Ball Jets," said Pinny Pyle.
Mrs. Pyle blushed a little. "Oh, I don't know, Pinny. Mike and Pege [William Palmer Jr.'s nickname, rhymes with ledge] say that's an awfully corny story."
"Tell it anyway," said Pinny Pyle.
"Well," said Mrs. Pyle, "Red Ball Jets are gym shoes for small boys. Last Christmas, Harlen wanted a pair of Red Ball Jets more than anything else in the world. He said all the other boys were beating him at running because his shoes were too heavy. Well, we got him the Red Ball Jets and he spent all Christmas Day running races with his friends. He did very well, too, and he was so exhausted that night that he went to bed right after supper. He said it was the best Christmas he had ever had and after I had said good night to him and tucked him in, he said, 'Mom, I sure do love you.' I said, 'Thank you, Harlen, and I love you, too.' Then as I started out of the room, he called to me and said, 'Mom, I love you almost as much as my Red Ball Jets.' "
Pinny sat up straight in his chair and raised a hand. "Outboard motor," he said, returning to the sports equipment inventory. "Seven fishing rods. Ten reels. More flies and lures than we could count."
"Two pairs of boxing gloves," said Mrs. Pyle.
(Harlen and his friends had staggered back into the living room. They stopped to listen.)
"We've got a shotgun," said Pinny Pyle.
"And a canoe paddle," said Mrs. Pyle.
"A kite," said Harlen Pyle, heading for the door.
Mr. Pyle waited until the front door had slammed and then added, "Mike's 16-pound shot. Weight-lifting bar bells."
Mrs. Pyle frowned, trying to remember. Then she said, "I've got a polo mallet. I used to play at school out West."
Cathryn Pyle, like her husband a native of Keokuk, Iowa, attended the University of Wyoming for three years and then returned to take her degree at the University of Iowa. While she was a student at Wyoming, she played basketball and, as noted, polo, and ran the 50-yard dash with the women's track team well enough to compete in an intercollegiate meet with the University of Colorado at Boulder. This background of competitive sport was to serve her well when the right tackles came along.
But even before that, there was a full sports schedule in the Pyle household. Pinny Pyle, who didn't attend college, played a complete quota of high school sports before graduating and taking a job in California. When he returned some years later, he met Cathryn Johnson for the first time (although they had attended the same high school) and they quickly discovered that they saw eye to eye on most things.
Very early in the marriage Pinny confessed that in his view a summer vacation spent at anything but fishing for smallmouth bass was a waste of time. They have been taking Canadian fishing trips ever since. Mrs. Pyle has never caught a smallmouth (a fish that challenges such distinguished anglers as Justice William O. Douglas of the Supreme Court), but she has hooked plenty of walleyed pike which abound in Canada too.
When Palmer and Mike were old enough, they were taken along. However, their collegiate football careers are already threatening, temporarily, the family fishing schedule. Last summer, for instance, the boys begged off, having obtained two ditch-digging jobs on a pipeline project that they felt they couldn't afford to turn down. It was a rush job, calling for lots of overtime, and in six weeks the boys cleared almost $1,000 each.
Mrs. Pyle recalls that the jobs had the effect of bringing out hitherto unsuspected habits of thrift in her sons.
"The first day on the job," said Mrs. Pyle, "I packed what I thought were tremendous lunches. That night Palmer and Mike complained that I hadn't given them nearly enough. They said they had to buy more sandwiches. 'You got to give us more stuff, Mom,' they said. 'We mean a lot of stuff.' I finally managed to pack enough 'stuff' to satisfy them, but then another crisis developed. When Pinny and I announced we were going fishing in Canada, Pege and Mike were aghast. 'What will we do for lunches?' they said. I suggested they might buy their lunches. They said that was quite out of the question.
DAZE OF SANDWICHES
"Well, I finally solved the problem. I started to make sandwiches. I worked for three days. I made ham, roast beef, meat loaf and cheese sandwiches, and as fast as I made them I put them in the deep freeze. Then I gave the boys a list of what I had made and asked them if they thought they could get by on the supply. They decided they might just possibly. And when Pinny and I started off in the car, the boys were very sweet. They said, 'Have a good time, Mom, and don't worry about the lunches. If the worst comes to the worst we'll spend a little of our own money.' "
Mrs. Pyle turned and looked up at the mantel over the fireplace. It was crowded with trophies her sons had won. Among them, too, was a cup that Pinny Pyle's father had won in the president's golf tournament at the Keokuk Country Club.
Pinny Pyle suggested a look at the boys' bedroom. The walls were covered with framed certificates that recorded the selection of Mike and Pege as all-state tackles, as wrestling champions, as breakers of records in track and field events. Also posted was a clipping from a magazine (this one) in which Coach Bud Wilkinson of Oklahoma gave his rules for football training. Mrs. Pyle had hung it there.
In a bookcase there were envelopes of clippings, filed by Mrs. Pyle. There are fat envelopes for Mike and Pege and there is even one for Harlen, who made the local papers once as ring bearer at a wedding.
Cathryn Pyle looked around the room and at her husband. And then she said: "We couldn't help but be pleased and proud of what the boys have done in sports. And because of sports, they've been better students. Palmer wouldn't mind me saying that he could be a little more industrious, but Mike was an honor student at high school and one of the trophies on the mantel is for scholastic achievement. I think they'll both do very well in college. Palmer is majoring in economics at Michigan State and Mike in industrial administration at Yale."
The question immediately suggested itself: how in the world did Mike ever get away from persuasive Coach Duffy Daugherty of Michigan State?
"Well, frankly," smiled Mrs. Pyle, "Pinny and I would have been delighted if Mike had decided on Michigan State. But we've made it a firm rule not to try to influence the boys in the choice of a university. Both of them were approached by dozens of schools, but they made up their own minds."
(Palmer is on athletic scholarship at Michigan State and Duffy Daugherty says today that Mike would have been eligible for both athletic and scholastic scholarships at East Lansing. Mike, strongly influenced by the fact that several of his friends had chosen Yale, decided it was for him. Yale offered no inducements at all, and Pinny Pyle pays full tuition for Mike.)
There was a commotion outside the living room window. Everyone looked out. Harlen and his friends raced by, yelling in triumph. The kite was finally in orbit.
Note to Duffy Daugherty, Michigan State University, East Lansing, Mich.:
"Pyle, Harlen. Big for age and growing. Charges well. Lots spirit. Real holler guy. Also top student at Hubbard Woods Grammar School. Looks like natural lineman. Maybe tackle. Don't let THIS boy get away."
Mrs. Pyle exhibits her sprouting linemen-to-be Palmer (at left) is 5 and brother Mike is 3. The Pyles then lived in Quincy, Ill.
At age 8, Mike Pyle strikes a big league slugger's pose.
Ice skating was (and still is) an activity much enjoyed by all the family.
Fishermen are born: Palmer and Mike pose with lodge owner's son and first big catch.
Mr. and Mrs. Pyle submit evidence of day well spent at lake near Canadian border.