Football is a game of exactitude. It is calculated and precise. The game is about evaluation, preparation, stamina, endurance and strength. There is action and drama, accomplishments amidst a battle and conflicts.
NFL teams spend millions of dollars on scouting, even more millions on a crack coaching staff and gazillions on the player roster.
And sometimes, football can be outright weird.
Wacky players, odd plays, crazed fans, equipment malfunctions, strange coaching antics, and even IRS interventions have all become part of the lore of the exactitude of professional football. Let’s take a look at some.
NFL: Not For Long
Coach John Ralston was dismissed as head coach of the Denver Broncos after the 1976 season. Before leaving the complex, he left two envelopes in his soon-to-be former desk drawer, both addressed to the next coach. One envelope was labeled “Open when you have lost three games.” Inside was written three words: “Blame Your Predecessor.” The second envelope was labeled “Open when you have lost three more games.” Inside that envelope was inscribed: “Prepare Two Envelopes.”
After the 1921 season, the Green Bay Packers were expelled from the league when it was revealed they had used undergraduate college players using assumed names. Coach Curly Lambeau wanted the franchise back and had the $50 required to re-instate his team, yet did not have the traveling funds. His friend Don Murphy said he could come up with the money if Lambeau would allow him to play in a game. Murphy sold his car, and then he and Lambeau traveled to Canton, Ohio and bought back the franchise. Murphy played the first minute of the opening game of 1922 at tackle.
In the 1980s, one man became a fixture in sports culture by wearing a rainbow wig. “The Rainbow Man” appeared behind NFL goal posts and would hold up signs with the Bible scripture inscribed “John 3:16.” His real name is Rollen Stewart and he is currently serving three life sentences for kidnapping charges. He came up before the parole board in 2017 but was denied.
The inaugural “World Bowl” of the World Football League was to be the pinnacle of a drama-filled season. As the Birmingham Americans prepared to play the Florida Blazers on December 5, 1974, the IRS shut the league championship game down. The Americans owed back-taxes and were not in a position to pay. Ultimately, the IRS decided that the game should be played and they would get a share of the gate receipts, deciding that a share of something was better than the whole of nothing. The players got a small percentage, and after expenses were paid, the IRS got the bulk of what remained. Even the game uniforms were confiscated.
After the Houston Oilers left for Nashville in 1997, they first moved to Memphis, Tenn. for one year. When their brand new stadium was not completed in time for the 1998 season, the club then relocated to their future home in Nashville but had to play at Vanderbilt Stadium until construction was completed. The temporary practice facilities were horrible. The Oilers shared a doctor’s office for team meetings. When the weather was bad outside, the entire team resorted to practices in the parking lot.
“The Baltimore Colts Marching Band” was formed in 1947. After the Colts left Baltimore in 1984, the band stuck together and still played at an empty Memorial Stadium every Sunday that the Colts had a home game in Indianapolis. After the NFL awarded another club to the city called the Ravens, the band retained the same old name for the 1996-1997 seasons before changing its moniker to “Baltimore’s Marching Ravens” in 1998.
During the Seahawks-Saints game on Oct. 17, 2007 in Seattle, the overhead roving game camera “Skycam,” usually 12-feet above ground, made an unscheduled plunge onto the playing field and nearly took out Seahawks quarterback Matt Hasselback and wide receiver Bobby Engram. The fall was blamed on gnomes.
In 1956, fullback Joe Perry of the 49ers burst through the middle of the line from the 2-yard line against the Giants. At the goal line he was immediately knocked unconscious. Perry had hit the goal post which in those days was placed on the goal line, not on the back line as it is today. As Perry regained consciousness, Giants safety Jimmy Patton was looking down on him and exclaimed, “You run past me again and I’ll cold-cock you again.”
In the 1940 NFL Championship game, the Bears defeated the Redskins, 73-0. So many touchdowns were scored that the teams began to run out of footballs as the PATs would go into the stands and be kept by fans. Bears long snapper Bulldog Turner was instructed by Coach George Halas to start making bad passes to the holder because they were losing too many game balls. Turner refused stating, “I have never made a bad pass in my life and I’m not about to start.” Instead, the holder would bobble the pass.
The Lions had a field dilemma in 1950. The team shared Briggs Stadium with the baseball Tigers, but during baseball season the Lions had to play their home games at Detroit University. For practices, the team worked out at a place called Jayne Playfield, which was a public playground. Not only would team officials have to fend off neighborhood children who wished to use the playground in order to practice, but opposing teams could sit in their cars and watch.
Player of the day
Y. A. Tittle of the Giants had a field day against the Redskins in 1962 as he tossed seven touchdowns. It seems Washington’s defense played a single safety formation and featured a rookie safety named Claude Crabb. Tittle repeatedly sent wide receiver Del Shofner on a deep left-to-right crossing pattern, and at the same time flanker Frank Gifford on a deep right-to-left crossing pattern. As both players met in the center of the field Crabb had to decide which player to cover. At one point late in the game, the compassionate Gifford yelled as he approached Crabb, “It’s Shofner! It’s Shofner!” Shofner amassed 269 receiving yards for the game.
For the Browns first season in 1946, the team signed defensive tackle Bill Willis. There was an instant problem, however, as Willis was the lone black player and in 1946 America (even pro football) was still segregated. The Browns needed someone to room with Willis, i.e. another black player. The team “settled” on fullback Marion Motley who was only supposed to be a roommate for Willis. Motley would go on to a glorious nine-year career, later inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame (1968) and included on the NFL’s “75th Anniversary All-Time Team.”
Don Hutson is widely considered to be one of the three greatest wide receivers in NFL history. Most of the Packers in Hudson’s rookie season of 1935 were paid $75-$100 a game. After Hudson signed for $175 a game, Coach Curly Lambeau did not want the other players to know how much he was making, so Hutson got two separate checks every week—one for $100 and the other for $75 drawn on two different banks.
The 49ers were behind 16-13 against the Bengals with 3:20 left on the clock in Super Bowl XXIII. The game was intense, and the Niners were faced with a 92-yard drive to tie or win the contest. As the team drove to midfield, the two-minute warning was issued. During the TV timeout, Montana stood gazing at the crowd and said to his teammates, “Isn’t that (actor) John Candy in the stands?” The calming moment worked and with 39 seconds left in the game, Montana finished the drive with a 10-yard touchdown pass to John Taylor, giving the 49ers the lead for good.
Emlen Tunnell, an All-Pro defensive back for the Giants, announced his last season would be 1958. In his final home game, several men stopped him outside the stadium. The men, all homeless, gave Tunnell a gift of $28 they had collected. These were the same men that Tunnell had handed dimes and quarters to over the years while active as a player.