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A Distant Replay
September 19, 2008 8:43 PM   Subscribe

The game as it was played in 1958 “is still an entertaining sport to watch, but it’s just not near as complicated,” Reid said. Writer Mark Bowden watches the 1958 NFL Championship game between the Baltimore Colts and the New York Giants with Eagle's coach to find how he thinks the game has evolved. They find a game that is at times barely recognizable as being in the same sport. (Via)
posted by octothorpe (53 comments total) 24 users marked this as a favorite

 
good article, thanks for posting. I do enjoy watching the NFL but sometimes I think if they could simplify it a bit and make the game faster like it was in the 50's it might be more fun.
posted by cell divide at 9:17 PM on September 19, 2008


just saw this on madden (via kottke) fwiw :P

cheers!
posted by kliuless at 9:19 PM on September 19, 2008


I just took a break from reading a Patrick O'Brian book to surf the web, only to read an article about football that references Patrick O'Brian. I'm going to bed.
posted by boubelium at 9:31 PM on September 19, 2008 [1 favorite]


That really was fun to read.
posted by Class Goat at 9:45 PM on September 19, 2008


My friend Bob Wolff announced this game. He is such a gentleman and a terrific broadcaster.
posted by sfts2 at 9:58 PM on September 19, 2008


My favorite quote on this topic is from Calvin Trillin. "In the 1950's men didn't complain and they didn't dance in the end zone."
posted by mlis at 10:04 PM on September 19, 2008


maybe the best football writing i've ever read. reminds me why i'm a fan. thanks octothorpe.
posted by aquanaut at 10:57 PM on September 19, 2008


My favorite type of writing: insightful, on a unique topic, trusts that the reader has some education in the topic but gives enough background to cover the gaps (e.g. what exactly a 4-3 defense entails).

I like football, but don't love it, and don't seek it out. Most of my knowledge of the game comes from playing NCAA '06. This article made me feel like I knew a lot more about the game once I finished it. And made me appreciate the game a lot more as well.

Good find.
posted by Navelgazer at 11:03 PM on September 19, 2008 [1 favorite]


That was a great read, and, as a born-and-raised Eagles fan, it was especially interesting to hear Coach Reid's take on the game. (Philly fans do nothing but complain about the guy, but he's the best coach we ever had and is one of the smartest in the game today.)
posted by dseaton at 12:25 AM on September 20, 2008


Most people don't know this, but much of the modern game was created by a Native American team.
posted by empath at 12:37 AM on September 20, 2008


Why would a Native American team be called 404 Error Message?
posted by Kirth Gerson at 1:19 AM on September 20, 2008 [3 favorites]


Corrected link.
posted by empath at 1:31 AM on September 20, 2008 [5 favorites]


I never watch football, but I thoroughly enjoyed this article.
posted by Stylus Happenstance at 1:47 AM on September 20, 2008


My favorite quote on this topic is from Calvin Trillin. "In the 1950's men didn't complain and they didn't dance in the end zone."

Fuck Calvin Trillin. You don't want a man to dance in the end zone, tackle him before he gets there.
posted by billyfleetwood at 1:47 AM on September 20, 2008 [11 favorites]


I'm not a football fan, but I liked both the original link and empath's corrected one.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 2:18 AM on September 20, 2008


Fuck Calvin Trillin. You don't want a man to dance in the end zone, tackle him before he gets there.

I am now a rabid D-FENCE fan.

They're stopping showboats from acting like little girls. It's God's work they do.
posted by codswallop at 5:17 AM on September 20, 2008


That was a really good piece. What I thought was so interesting about it was that it took such a different attitude than most writing about sports. Instead of lamenting some past golden age, this was looking at how the game had become more sophisticated and analytical, respectful of the past players while recognizing that the game had come a long way.

(As a resident of the Philly 'burbs, I also have to point out that this game was only 2 years before the last time the Eagles won a championship.)
posted by graymouser at 5:19 AM on September 20, 2008


Most pro players in the 1950s held down full-time jobs off the field. Huff was a salesman for the textile company J. P. Stevens. Unitas and many of his teammates worked at Bethlehem Steel. Art Donovan, the Colts’ hilarious defensive tackle known as Fatso, was a liquor salesman. Most of the men earned less than $10,000 a year playing football. The highest-paid stars made between $15,000 and $20,000—enough to support a middle-class lifestyle in 1958, but nothing like today’s hefty paychecks. Players who took off from their full-time jobs to play were often expected to make up the time by working long hours in the off-season. This made them better prepared for life after football than many of their modern counterparts are, but it also meant that they were less prepared for Sunday’s action.

Well, I did not know that. Thanks, there was a lot of good stuff in that article.

They're stopping showboats from acting like little girls

*rolls eyes*

Celebrating is feminine now?
posted by mediareport at 5:23 AM on September 20, 2008


Why has this game never been shown on ESPN Classic? Or has it and I've just missed it every time. I've heard and read so much about this game I can't believe I've never seen it.
posted by any major dude at 6:08 AM on September 20, 2008


"Why has this game never been shown on ESPN Classic? Or has it and I've just missed it every time. I've heard and read so much about this game I can't believe I've never seen it."

In the article they mention that the original TV broadcast has been lost. They were watching and commenting on the coaches tape which was shot from a high angle and had no audio.
posted by mygoditsbob at 6:38 AM on September 20, 2008


Any major dude: The article mentions that the network broadcast of the game has been lost and that Bowden and Reid had to watch a silent movie filmed for coaches reviews.
posted by octothorpe at 6:38 AM on September 20, 2008


Two great articles, and I am not even a big football fan. Thanks.
posted by bashos_frog at 6:38 AM on September 20, 2008


Great link, thanks.
posted by briank at 6:48 AM on September 20, 2008


Now I want someone to compare modern football video games to the vibrating football games of the past.
posted by drezdn at 7:24 AM on September 20, 2008 [1 favorite]


Yes, an excellent article even for a non-football fan. Mark Bowden is a strong contender for being the best journalist in the business. He's a master of making complex topics comprehensible (as anyone who read Black Hawk Down can attest).
posted by Bookhouse at 8:27 AM on September 20, 2008


Any major dude: The article mentions that the network broadcast of the game has been lost and that Bowden and Reid had to watch a silent movie filmed for coaches reviews.

How hard would it be to add some color commentating to it after the fact? I think a lot of people would like to see this game.
posted by any major dude at 8:35 AM on September 20, 2008


How hard would it be to add some color commentating to it after the fact? I think a lot of people would like to see this game.

The NBC radio broadcast still exists, so this is actually doable. I'm going to look into it!
posted by stargell at 9:03 AM on September 20, 2008


The highest-paid stars made between $15,000 and $20,000—enough to support a middle-class lifestyle in 1958, but nothing like today’s hefty paychecks.

Is this accurate? I thought for 1958, even $10,000 a year was a pretty darn nice salary.
posted by maxwelton at 9:33 AM on September 20, 2008 [1 favorite]


According to this census report, the average family income in the United States for 1958 was $5,100. If you made $10,000, you were in the top 7% of earners, and if you made $15,000 you were in the top 2%.

Still a neat article, but I boggled a bit at that contention. If you made $10,000 as a football player and still needed to work elsewhere, I would think it was because your lifestyle was pretty luxurious.
posted by maxwelton at 9:40 AM on September 20, 2008


Hey, this is football I would enjoy watching. When I tell people I saw a great rugby game on the weekend, they look at me quizzically, and I explain, "Rugby—it's like football, but without the forward pass, the pads, or the never-ending dicking around between downs."
posted by eritain at 10:30 AM on September 20, 2008


Hey, gamer nerds, can you program your console games to run set-plays? In other words, could this game be reconstructed as machinima using the coaches film in referenced in the article?
posted by mwhybark at 10:49 AM on September 20, 2008


I want more over-the-shoulder journalism like this. Along the same lines, the New York Times had a feature series for a while involving the reporter watching old movies with famous directors and actors. That was great, although looking today I can't find it.

I'd also like to be with Tony LaRussa watching some classic baseball game, Karl Rove watching a presidential debate, with Jenna Jameson watching a porno, and Lorne Michaels watching an episode of SNL.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 11:12 AM on September 20, 2008 [1 favorite]


stupidsexyFlanders: WATCHING MOVIES WITH...
posted by dhartung at 11:32 AM on September 20, 2008 [1 favorite]


thanks d.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 11:35 AM on September 20, 2008


Whenever I read a detailed piece on professional sports, I feel like some sort of weird alien studying earth's culture from a distance and being baffled by its idiosyncrasies. How can one get so wrapped up in a game of football?
posted by tehloki at 11:50 AM on September 20, 2008


Cool post. Don't forgt it was only in - I think - 1946 that coaching from the sidelines was deemed to be acceptable. Prior to that, coaches picked the team and off they went. If a team sent on a replacement, a ref listened in at the huddle to make sure that the replacement didn't relay coaching advice.

Now they get radios in their helmets.
posted by Nick Verstayne at 12:27 PM on September 20, 2008


How can one get so wrapped up in a game of football?

Did you read the article? I think it answers that question pretty well. History, innovation, unexpected outcomes, shared experience,and the joy of seeing a thing done as well as a thing can possibly be done. Pretty much the same reasons any of us get wrapped up in anything.

Although from an "alien" perspective, the human desire for innovation, competition and testing probability are indeed of interest, seeing as how the inevitable end is destruction at our own hand. Football is merely a symptom, not the disease.
posted by billyfleetwood at 12:48 PM on September 20, 2008


How can one get so wrapped up in a game of football?

In pretty much the same way you get wrapped up in whatever floats YOUR boat.
posted by the bricabrac man at 1:31 PM on September 20, 2008


Yeah, for tehloki the answer would appear to be:

people get so wrapped up in a game football in the same way that you get wrapped up in weird trippy electronic drug music.
posted by Justinian at 2:22 PM on September 20, 2008


That was fun to read. Good on ya, Mr. Bowden, and thanks, octothorpe. Head coaches are an interesting breed of fellow. There's a nice piece on Bill Parcells in the New York Times. It's from a few years ago when he was with the Cowboys.
posted by Trochanter at 5:47 PM on September 20, 2008


Fun fact is that the game was played at Yankee Stadium.
posted by smackfu at 6:55 PM on September 20, 2008


Whenever I read a detailed piece on professional sports, I feel like some sort of weird alien studying earth's culture from a distance and being baffled by its idiosyncrasies. How can one get so wrapped up...?

You *really* need to read David Foster Wallace's piece about athletic genius and Tracy Austin in Consider the Lobster. It's got probably the best answer possible to the question you just posed.
posted by mediareport at 7:37 PM on September 20, 2008


The highest-paid stars made between $15,000 and $20,000—enough to support a middle-class lifestyle in 1958, but nothing like today’s hefty paychecks.

maxwelton Is this accurate? I thought for 1958, even $10,000 a year was a pretty darn nice salary.

Yes it is accurate. $10,000 in 1958 dollars works out to almost $71,000 in 2008 dollars.

Consider that the minimum salary a player will earn during the 2008-09 season is $285,000 and the 25 highest paid stars of the 2007-08 season earned between $11-$30 million.
posted by mlis at 10:48 PM on September 20, 2008


Yes it is accurate.

But I wouldn't say the top 7% of households is "middle class." I don't doubt that the guys who play today get buckets more money, that's obvious. It's the idea that if you were making $10,000 a year in 1958 you needed a second job just to pay the bills.
posted by maxwelton at 11:24 PM on September 20, 2008


re: the bricabrac man, Justinian:

The thing is, I'm not particularly obsessive about anything in particular. Sure, I do listen to trippy electronic drug music, but I don't own a dozen DJ t-shirts and a meticulously catalogued collection of glow sticks. I don't glue myself to the television every time there's an electronic music broadcast. I don't devote large portions of my spare time and conversations with friends to analyzing the intricacies of each artist's composition skill, beatmaking equipment, and chart statistics. The parallels sort of break down after the basic surface fact that I, too, enjoy something.
posted by tehloki at 1:14 AM on September 21, 2008


I tried to read it, I really did, but even 50-year-old American Football confuses me. I even find Rugby League a little convoluted - and I'm no Rugby fan, but at least I can follow a game of Rugby Union usually.
posted by sycophant at 3:04 AM on September 21, 2008


The thing is, I'm not particularly obsessive about anything in particular.

But you acknowledge that some people are, right? It just seems strange to single out sports for scorn, when there are plenty of people who see the same musician play 50 times, or endlessly talk about a TV show that's been off the air for years.
posted by smackfu at 8:13 AM on September 21, 2008


I can recognize the merits of those two things you've mentioned, smackfu, or at least envision them. Music and television are forms of art; they express ideas and convey information and emotion. I don't think I will ever be able to see what makes groups of large, heavy men trying to move a ball across a white line on a field as compelling as that.
posted by tehloki at 9:37 AM on September 21, 2008


I'm just going to try and make myself look like a little bit less of a jackass here by saying that I don't hold any negative opinions of sports fans in general, just that I cannot see the game from their perspective. There is nothing wrong with enjoying a good game of football.
posted by tehloki at 9:39 AM on September 21, 2008


sycophant: The thing that made American football click for me was the realisation that it isn't a team sport, it's one on one. It's a game played between coaches. Think of it as singles tennis played through the medium of enormous armoured men, moving according to abstruse strategies and rules. (I used to think of it as human chess, but that implies a sequential flow. Perhaps a series of speed chess games?)

I was once stuck in the aliens' line at the San Francisco Airport, moving glacially towards the passport officer. The powers that be had decided that the best possible way to entertain these foreigners was the world's game, American football, shown on its natural format, the big, big screen. I can't remember which teams were playing, but an international collaboration of football scientists were soon empaneled, with three Australians, two Argentinians, an Italian, and a guy from Ireland trying to determine the rules of gridiron from empirical observation. We made some important discoveries about the ruleset, but the collaboration was marred by dissension between researchers on the relative virtues of Rugby (League and Union), Aussie Rules, Gaelic, and football. I think the takeaway lesson was that just like bands, everyone's favourite sport sucks.
posted by zamboni at 10:21 AM on September 21, 2008 [2 favorites]


I can recognize the merits of those two things you've mentioned, smackfu, or at least envision them. Music and television are forms of art; they express ideas and convey information and emotion. I don't think I will ever be able to see what makes groups of large, heavy men trying to move a ball across a white line on a field as compelling as that.

I'm the type of person who thinks that all human endeavor is compelling. We're a weird species and everyday someone does or says something that leaves me scratching my head. So purely in the interest of knowledge, i give you this. 3 reasons why football can be compelling. I know I'm not going to convince you in the here and now to all of a sudden love football. Should you ever find yourself watching a game of football, hopefully these three things should at least make it a more interesting experience, and maybe even spark an on going interest.

1) 10 yards. 30 feet. at it's most basic, football is an attempt to carry a ball 10 yards. Imagine yourself walking 10 steps across the room. Now imagine someone is trying to stop you from walking that 10 steps. Could you do it in 4 tries? If the person trying to stop you is bigger than you, could you trick him in some way to give yourself an advantage?

2)Gambling. All sports is about gambling. Even if you don't bet money, you watch because you've given yourself a vested interest in one outcome over another. Pick a team based on whatever, The one with the best colors, or closest to your hometown, something arbitrary. Would you bet a dollar on that team winning based on that criteria? If I told you that I was going to give you a hundred dollars if you could pick the winning team what questions would you ask me to make that choice?

3) Simulated Battle. Chess, Risk, Dungeons and Dragons, Halo, Capture The Flag, Hide And Seek, Freeze-Tag. One of the earliest games we all learn is tic-tac-toe, which like many other human games is a simulation of war. Think back to the dawn of man. One guy has a piece of Meat,the other guy has a stick. Now one guy has a stick and a piece of Meat, and the other guy has nothing. We've been analyzing this situation as a species pretty much constantly ever since. Imagine the football is something else. A bomb, a bag of money, a hostage. Imagine the players are chess pieces, each with their own strengths, weaknesses, available moves. Imagine the field is a continent, each team trying to conquer the other half. Wit a little bit of imagination, anybody who's ever played and enjoyed a game of strategy can find a way to enjoy watching a game of football.
posted by billyfleetwood at 11:15 AM on September 21, 2008 [3 favorites]


My next-door neighbor played for the Colts in the early 1950s, although he had retired prior to the 1958 championship. He had a lucrative second career (both during and after his playing days) selling insurance. From him, I understand that most players at his level - collegiate stars who only played 3-4 years in the pros, at most - topped out at $4,000 or so in football salary in the mid-1950s.

What's remarkable to me is how many players established permanent residency in the cities in which they played. The Colts may have been an extreme example, but it always has seemed like an enormous number of former players remained in Baltimore for the rest of their lives.

I thoroughly enjoyed the article in print and the opportunity to see it again on the blue. Thanks, octothorpe.
posted by cheapskatebay at 5:51 AM on September 22, 2008


Really interesting read, and it made me admire Andy Reid even more than I already do.
posted by geeky at 12:48 PM on September 22, 2008


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