by Keith Aksel
Rules governing uniforms in some sports affect how the game is played. Football is definitely one example. The standard under scrutiny in this piece is the NFL’s mandating of facemasks in the 1960s, which finalized the modern football uniform into what we generally identify as normal today. But, in doing so, the NFL turned the football player into a full-fledged zord (as in Power Rangers), losing a bit of humanity in the process. Players now look and act like bionic beings, and their padding makes the game less competitive.
Overall, the notion of the football helmet evolved over a long period of time. At the turn of the 20th century, players didn’t wear helmets at all, and the first widely used helmets were of the famous “leatherhead” style we see in old photos. Equipment outfitters then developed plastic helmets with new padding, like dense vinyl foam. The helmet we know and associate with the sport today didn’t become commonplace until the 1950s with the one-bar facemask (worn by stars like the Rams’ Norm van Brocklin) and wasn’t standard for all players until the early 1960s.
by Alex Langer
Rules-what are they good for? That is the focus of the next few weeks here at the Tattered Pennant. Each of us are looking at a rule change in a major sport and letting you, the reader, know what we think of it. Today we’re beginning with baseball’s, biggest rule change of the past fifty years. No, it’s not the addition of the designated hitter to the American League; rather, it has to do with the mound. Since 1893, the pitching rubber (the place the pitcher must throw from) has been 60 and ½ feet from home plate. It sits just a few feet closer to home plate than it does from second base, almost perfectly in the center of the baseball diamond. Originally, pitchers threw from flat ground, but the pitcher’s box (as they originally called it) rose slightly throughout baseball’s early decades. Between 1903 and 1968, the height limit was 15 inches off the ground. Then came the big shift in 1969, when the MLB changed the maximum height from 15 to 10 inches, where it has stayed ever since.
Rule changes in sports generally come about in order to make the game more watchable, or more even between offense and defense. Lowering the mound was a little bit of both. MLB lowered the mound to level the playing field (pardon the pun) between pitchers and batters. It lowered the mound to make it more difficult for pitchers to dominate games, and to give batters a better chance to hit the ball. Spoiler alert: it worked. It worked so well that three seasons ago, as bats went cold, talk grew about lowering the mound again.
By Chris Foss
I spent much of my winter break reading new engrossing books about two of the NFL’s great quarterbacks of the 1990s: Gunslinger, Jeff Pearlman’s Brett Favre biography; and QB: My Life Behind the Spiral, Steve Young’s memoir. These books give the reader much insight into the quarterbacks’ growth and development, their fight to overcome doubters to be successful in college and in the NFL, and their physical deterioration and eventual fade into the sunset. These books are very similar in many ways, but we have to be careful to discern the differences between biography and memoir in considering their usefulness in understanding the legacies of two men widely perceived as living legends of the NFL.
Biography is a traditional form of historical writing: it is a work undertaken by a third-party source, one usually with no direct links to the subject, who works from sources she or he has painstakingly combed through to tell the story of the life of their subject. Jeff Pearlman utilized every book ever written about Brett Favre; cited tons of local newspaper articles from Favre’s Mississippi childhood years and from his professional days in Atlanta, Green Bay, New York, and Minnesota; and conducted over 500 original interviews with Favre’s various family friends, family, and adversaries to put together what he claims is a balanced telling of Favre’s life.
by Keith Aksel
A couple of years ago, an article was penned by Chantel Jennings for ESPN.com profiling the life of Washington State’s head football coach, Mike Leach, in small-town Pullman, Washington. Titled “Mike Leach Feels at Home in Pullman,” the article didn’t garner a lot of attention, and didn’t have some huge, ambitious aim. The article just plainly explained what the daily routine was like for the eccentric coach in a place that seemed quiet and unexciting. That said, the article taught me something about the culture of football in East Washington, and the ways coaches contribute to the communities in which they work. I got smarter, ever so slightly, while reading this article.
Yet, articles like this are rare. If you’ve happened to frequent any sports information outlets in the last decade or so, you would have noticed that there’s a lot of stuff written about sports every day. You have long form articles, predictions, and game summaries from every college and pro competition out there. In fact, today some websites major in tweet analysis, simply reporting on things athletes already said on Twitter. Then there’s us. Although we try to present something different when writing about sports, we are contributing in our own way to the sports information overload. It’s safe to say that we have reached a saturation point as fans with sports reporting.
by Alex Langer
The 103rd Tournament of Roses Game was played on January 2 this year. The game is known by many names, from simply “the Rose Bowl,” to the more correct “the Rose Bowl Game,” the nickname “the granddaddy of them all,” or the technical term, “the Rose Bowl Game presented by Northwestern Mutual.” Regardless of its name, the Rose Bowl is and has been one of the biggest games in college football since the first “East-West” game in 1902. The game pits the Pac-12 and the Big Ten against each other every year on New Year’s Day, except for years like this year, when New Year’s Day is a Sunday. At least it used to. The oldest postseason football game in America has become part of the newest attempt at crowning a champion. Because of that, one of the oldest traditions in college football is often set aside in the endless pursuit of crowning a champion. What began as a way of bringing tourists to warm, sunny, Southern California, has turned into part of an attempt to find an ultimate champion out of 128 eligible teams.