Sixty-one years ago today, Sgt. Pepper taught the band to play… No. It was 61 years ago today that I spent the first entire day of my youth watching football on television.
Mind you, it was a back and white TV and I could only get three channels, but two of them carried the entire day’s lineup of New Year’s Bowl games on Jan.1, 1957. It was the Sugar Bowl and Rose Bowl on NBC (Channel 8) and the Orange Bowl and Cotton Bowl on CBS (Channel 3).
I did channel surfing without the aid of a remote. I had to get up and change the channel every time a commercial came on. It was an extraordinary day for me when I was just a child.
I was wide-eyed while taking in undefeated Tennessee’s upset 13-7 loss to Baylor in the Sugar Bowl. I was rooting for and glad to see Colorado defeat Clemson 27-21 in the Orange Bowl. I was pleased that Big Ten representative Iowa won 35-19 over Oregon State in the Rose Bowl.
But the most memorable game of the day was the Cotton Bowl, in which Texas Christian University edged Syracuse 28-27. It was memorable because it was my first glimpse of “Everybody’s All-American” Jim Brown of Syracuse, the same guy who today is rated as perhaps the only running back who was better than Barry Sanders.
I had heard of Brown because he supposedly once scored 43 points for his team in just one game. He was famous for doing everything on the gridiron, including the kicking. I’ll bet not many fans remember that tidbit.
Brown didn’t do the kicking when he went to the Cleveland Browns in the NFL because they already had a lineman named Lou (the Toe) Groza who was famously handling those chores.
Another interesting tidbit was that Jim Brown’s missed extra point was the difference in his team’s one-point loss to the Horned Frogs that day.
I was watching a small back and white television alone in Croton, Mich., because my parents had taken off that morning for another trip Up North to where Wayne Goodwin was the traveling lineman and they and two children were living in a mobile home.
To be sure, my Aunt Margie was in the house, but she had absolutely no interest in football and was busy in another room.
Looking back, I am struck by the fact all bowl games back then were not named according to their official corporate sponsors. It was the Sugar, Orange, Cotton and Rose Bowls on new Year’s Day and the Gator Bowl a few days before. That was it.
And after the New Year’s Day spectacles were completed, there was no more football until the following late summer. I swear it’s true — it was a time when America hadn’t yet become obsessed by Big Game America. It was a time when the NCAA basketball championship game was played on a Saturday night and few if any of us knew who won it until Monday.
The frequency and intensity of watching sports in our lives back then were so much weaker than today. It was a time before we became constant spectators, taking in our modern Bread and Circuses. It was a time when television was just beginning to become that indispensable household appliance.
And another thing… About 15 years later, I remember so well the career of Detroit Lions linebacker and head football coach Joe Schmidt coming to an end. Schmidt had been hammered mercilessly by Detroit media for conservative offensive game plans and he finally called it quits among the clamor for his head. He had a 38-27-4 record, and no full-time Detroit Lions coach afterward was able to produce an overall winning record for more than 40 years.
Breaking this losing streak was Jim Caldwell, who went 36-28 in his four seasons. He officially was fired Monday.
And we wonder why the 60 years of the Curse of Bobby Layne hasn’t been broken?