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Matinee: 'Football 100 Years Ago' Share This on LinkedIn   Share This on Google   Tweet This   Forward This

2 February 2019

Saturday matinees long ago let us escape from the ordinary world to the island of the Swiss Family Robinson or the mutinous decks of the Bounty. Why not, we thought, escape the usual fare here with Saturday matinees of our favorite photography films?

So we're pleased to present the 277th in our series of Saturday matinees today: Football 100 Years Ago.

Well, roughly 100 years ago. Some of these shots are over 115 years old. They come from the archives at Shorpy, courtesy of the Library of Congress. And the "video" is from Thomas Edison, also courtesy of the Library of Congress.

So don't think Congress doesn't do anything.

We're presenting this clip today for obvious reasons. Tomorrow the Super Bowl will be played in Atlanta. The despised New England Patriots will try to keep the ball away from America's Darlings, the Los Angeles Rams.

A few convicts in striped shirts, as Andy Griffith once accurately described them, will eventually pick one side to favor, deciding the game. The winner will be immediately forgotten, as is the custom.

The acrobat catches, the adroit runs, the clever schemes were what attracted us to the game.

We find it harder and harder to watch these events, knowing what we now know about the head injuries and life-long disabilities the participants suffer. We remember a physical therapist we knew shaking her head that anyone would risk such severe injury. She spent painstaking months helping rehab people disabled by far less.

We can hardly cast the first stone, though.

We played tackle football in the swamp at the park as a kid (with no pads or adults). And we took the field as a kick returner and running back in high school.

That wasn't any fun so we organized an informal league of misfits who played a whole season at the Polo Grounds in Golden Gate Park before the top two teams faced off in what we called the Toilet Bowl.

It was not located in Flushing Meadows, unfortunately.

The hitting was never the point. The acrobatic catches, the adroit runs, the clever schemes were what attracted us to the game. But back then we could catch the ball and outrun everyone. They couldn't hit us. And we didn't have to hit them.

We did in high school, though. We knocked a kid out on a kickoff return. We didn't mean to (although we didn't feel any obligation to apologize). He actually ran into us and vectors of force being vectors of force, he knocked himself out.

Our teammates applauded us with awe and respect. The other team targeted us. It wasn't a pleasant afternoon on the gridiron.

But it never is. These days when we want to indulge our appetite for acrobatic catches, adroit runs and clever schemes we're better advised to go to the ballet.

They even play music the whole time.

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