Sam Burnham. Curator
People always seem to think I’m an old curmudgeon when it comes to all the fancy modern bling that is overtaking the football landscape like The Blob. Alternative uniforms, shoe deals, fake plastic grass, hype videos, you know, all that garbage. I hate that garbage.
My critics on the issue like to excuse it because of the ability of such nonsense to attract players or that this somehow makes the game fun. Those claims would have some merit if they just weren’t so ridiculous.
I present to you an inadvertent case study. Twelve Mighty Orphans by Jim Dent is probably the best book ever written about football. It is even better than Dent’s The Junction Boys. These two books were excellent not just because of the outstanding writing and research behind them but because of the amazing stories being documented. I don’t think there should be anyone coaching football in America today that hasn’t read Twelve Mighty Orphans.
This story takes place in Ft. Worth, Texas during the lean years of the Great Depression. “The Home” was The Masonic Home and School of Texas. This was an orphanage and school provided to the children of Freemasons who died while in good standing with the lodge. The size of the school meant that only about a dozen kids ever played football during any one season. Theirs was the first “Dirty Dozen,” the original “Friday Night Lights.”
The Mighty Mites, as the team came to be known, played in makeshift jerseys, often just shirts with painted on numbers. Their helmets were old and scarred. They didn’t even own a football when Rusty Russell became the coach. The most respected players were among those who woke early to walk down to the barn to milk the cows so the school would have milk for the day’s meals. The school owned no bus so Russell drove his kids to games in the old flatbed truck the home owned. The kids just piled onto the back and rode all over Texas.
You would think that these conditions would make it hard for these kids kids to compete. And you’d be wrong. When that flatbed came to a halt, it unloaded one of the best football teams in Texas history. Despite poor equipment, substandard transportation, and giving up about 30 pounds per man, The Mighty Mites wreaked havoc on their opponents. The Mites were mean, scrappy, tenacious, disciplined, and loyal. They didn’t have anything in this world but each other. And that’s how they played.
In the end, that’s why I hate the bling. Because it’s fake. It’s hollow. The characteristics I’ve listed above is what makes a great team. These kids developed a monumental following. They had a huge fan base that followed them everywhere. When some of their fans purchased fancy new uniforms, the boys turned them down. They didn’t want to be something they weren’t.
I don’t begrudge kids good equipment or even a decent place to play. It’s the focus that bothers me. Both my local high school team and my college alma mater unveiled new uniforms for their season openers. The two teams lost by a combined score of 65-26. Fancy uniforms don’t win football games. What wins football games is being mean, scrappy, tenacious, disciplined, and loyal.
I’m going to continue to support both of my teams. That’s just how I am. The high school coach blocked me on Twitter for publicly opposing his idea to replace the grass field with blue AstroTurf, which I politely explained was an abomination. I’d much rather him focus on the lessons that will help the kids not only win ballgames but will also make them successful in life, lessons that will make them men.
Oh, I almost forgot, several of those Mighty Mites made their way to big time college football and even to the NFL. These kids, even the ones who didn’t go pro, grew up to be successful people because of the lessons they learned playing ball for “The Home.” Not bad for a bunch of kids who literally had nothing but each other...which made them far wealthier than kids who just have fancy uniforms and fake plastic grass. It didn’t just make them wealthier, it made them a better team as well.
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