By Dr. Ken


Before college athletic directors were guided strictly by the bottom line accounting of their department, college football games were played with an eye towards maintaining fan interest, engaging regional or local rivals, and exposing the players that were so heavily recruited to fans who could travel within a reasonable distance and watch them play. The aforementioned principles must seem as if they came off of Stone Age tablets or the directives of a geriatric former coach but in truth, the college football schedules of the 1950s and 1960s were built upon those very principles. This observation and what was very much a rule-of-thumb was the “guiding hand” of college football that made it a more popular game than pro football was and it remained that way until the late 1960s. The younger readers of HELMET HUT won’t recall and perhaps will not fathom the fact that “THE” game of 1966 was not the moderately attended and lukewarmly received Championship Game Between The NFL And AFL, better known now as Super Bowl I but the Notre Dame vs. Michigan State game played on November 19. The level of fan hysteria and media hyperbole was far above anything generated by the pros. By the end of the 1960s pro football clearly was the favorite sport of the American spectator, finally surpassing baseball but the December 6, 1969 clash between the University Of Texas and the University Of Arkansas was the game that made the nation of football fans hold their collective breathes, not the Chiefs monumental upset of the Vikings in that year’s Super Bowl. While I occasionally go back to view the tape of President Nixon visiting the locker rooms and speaking to the players and coaches of both the winners and losers of that game, I can’t remember him meandering through the Vikings or Chiefs changing areas.


The proliferation of local and regional rivalries was the hub around which fan interest rotated. A season where Texans did not play Oklahoma? Where Oklahoma did not play Nebraska? Where Pitt did not play Penn State nor Penn State battle Syracuse? All of the above are now games, highly competitive games, that are played “sometimes” but not every season and it is a crying shame. Even at lower level schools such as the University Of Cincinnati, the principle of playing conference games, fueling rivalries within the conference and among local or regional schools, and playing just one or two “bigger games” made for an interesting and exciting schedule.  At the local level, Cincinnati would play Xavier University that was literally a cross-town rival. It is unusual to have two universities in one city that play football on the same level. Many large cities have a “major” university that plays Division I football and basketball with a number of other “smaller” schools that either do not fund athletics or limit themselves to minor sports. “X” and UC for many years, fielded teams with similar playing ability making for terrific, hard fought games. During my stay in Cincinnati, future pro stand out Danny Abromowicz led the Muskateers with an athletic quarterback named Carroll Williams. Ed Biles was their coach and he of course later was the head coach of the Houston Oilers. Dayton and  Miami University (UC’s long time rival) were yearly regulars on the schedule allowing terrific home town exposure to most of the players as the bulk of recruiting was done in southern Ohio, northern Kentucky, and western Pennsylvania. Conference games included Louisville and Memphis State which weren’t that far away and then a bit more national exposure with games against Tulsa and Houston. Tulsa and Jerry Rhome, Howard Twilley and a boatload of other future professional players and Houston with an innovative high-powered offense were considered to be national level powers. We had games against Wichita State within the conference and Kansas State of the then Big Eight, certainly a step up in conference competition. The inclusion of a Texas Tech, Tulane, or Boston College made for a terrific season to look forward to, sort of “icing on the cake.”

The mix of conference rivals, regional rivals, and local rivals made each game important to coaches, players, and fans. For me, I would marvel at the presentation of team uniforms. It puzzled me why some of the larger and better known schools would have uniforms that looked as if they had been worn for the past dozen years while the lesser known or smaller schools would come onto the field each season with truly sharp looking helmets and jerseys. Some of the schools presented with helmets that were chipped, scraped, and had their decals peeling off. Others made it obvious to opponents that their equipment people and/or coaches cared enough to make the “right” impression as the helmets were painted before every game. For decades, every true college football fan has been aware that Notre Dame paints their helmet prior to each and every game and that the paint has actual gold mixed into it. You might bad mouth the state of Notre Dame football in recent years but if nothing else, they come on to the field looking as if they are ready to play. I know that the care of my uniform was important. I was from the Hank Stram school of “you look good, you play good” and I did my best to make sure that my cleats were shined, my jersey in good repair and my helmet well repaired, shiny, and waxed. Yes, some of the fellows rubbed wax into the helmet in order to make it glisten in the sun, a trick one of the seniors showed me and as I later learned in my research, a good injury preventative as the slick surface made for reduced contact time when hit by an opponent. When a team took the field I just believed that pride in the university, pride in their own appearance, and the coaches’ pride in their players was reflected in the appearance and condition of the uniform. Some coaches preferred to dress their players in all white when on the road, believing that it made each individual appear larger. Some preferred what was often referred to as a “high school look” with a white jersey paired with colored pants that matched the helmet. As a high school coach in later years, I heard reference by some coaches that they preferred to have their players enter the field with helmets that were battered and scarred, making them seem a bit more rugged perhaps than they actually were. Some uniforms were truly “busy” with an amalgam of stripes and logos while others, more typical of the era, had simple block numerals on the sides or back augmenting a single contrasting stripe. In all cases I felt that the helmet and jersey needed to be impeccable as it reflected one’s expectations once they reached the field of play.