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Our changing football heroes.

One hundred years ago this year a writer for an obscure sports tabloid put together a team from the country's best college players and called them "All-American."

Bob Hope introduces today's all-American football players on his TV Christmas special. And always with a joke: "This tackle is so big that the coach puts a white shirt on him and uses him as a movie screen to show the game film." Or: "This running back always tips off the play. The other three backfield men come out of the huddle laughing-he's as white as a sheet."

It's a far cry from the days when the somber Ed Sullivan began bringing the players to nationwide attention o "Toast of the Town," his Sunday-night show.

Each year, usually in December, Sullivan would call forth the Collier's magazine all-American football team. Eleven modest, even shy, young men (who, incidentally, played both defense and offense) would emerge from behind the curtain to the music of "You've Got to Be a Football Hero" or perhaps a college fight song. The studio audience's wild applause left no doubt that these were heroes to be emulated.

* * *

Collier's had not originated the idea of recognizing the year's outstanding football players. That distinction goes to Chaspar Whitney, a writer for the obscure This Week's Sports, a New York tabloid. In 1889 Whitney polled knowledgeable football men, most notable among these his friend Walter Camp of Yale, to help him select an "All-National" team-which he changed to "AllAmerican" before press time. Hence the team and name were born. (The future college-football coaching legend Amos Alonzo Stagg was one undergraduate chosen.)

After 1891, Whitney's team appeared in Harper's Weekly.

Walter Camp Takes Over

In 1897 Walter Camp selected the Harper's Weekly team when Whitney went abroad, The following year, Camp's team appeared in Collier's. It continued to be the most prestigious such team until Camp's death in 1925.

Camp was the most knowledgeable football man of his time. Although he had been a star player at Yale for six years, he was most famous as Yale's advisory coach in the 1880s and 1890s. He would work full-time for the New Haven Clock Company and send his wife, Alice, to the team's practice each day to confer with the captains and observe. Over dinner, Walter and Alice would discuss practice. Later in the evening he would give instructions to the team captains.

The early all-American teams were almost exclusively culled from the Ivy League, In fact, the first five teams were from the "big three": Harvard, Yale, and Princeton. But as college football gained prominence, Camp began to include players from other regions of the country, and even some blacks and Indians.

Among the most notable of these were Isaac Seneca, the first Indian all-American, and Jim Thorpe, who would be named to the 1911 and 1912 teams. Both players were from the Carlisle Indian School. Thorpe would also win two gold medals in the 1912 Olympics.

Paul Robeson, an end from Rutgers and the second black all-American (the first being Harvard's William Lewis in 1893), would become a singer and actor, most famous for his version of "Old Man River." Still later, he became a Communist sympathizer, and during the 1950s a number of unsuccessful attempts were made to have his name erased from all-American status.

College Football Sees Red

College football's popularity grew phenomenally in the 1920s. Star players from top-ranked teams came from every section of the country. And the number of allAmerican elevens grew like dandelions in a wet spring. Virtually every daily newspaper, wire service, and magazine had sportswriters, coaches, or a "panel of experts" make its selections.

Grantland Rice, perhaps the most famous of all sportswriters, took over the Collier's team in 1925 and made consensus" team. Players most often named on the major lists then joined a consensus all-American team. The highest honor, of course, was to be a unanimous all-American (picked on every team).

The print media became more and more important in the building of a college player's reputation. One of their darlings was Notre Dame, the home of Knute Rockne and th"Four Horsemen," as Grantland Rice had nicknamed the team's backfield.

Movies and newsreels played their parts too in changing the hero game. Red Grange was everybody's hero in the 1920s. In print, he was portrayed as a modest, goodlooking, college football player from Illinois with excellent statistics. But in short, flickering clips of black-andwhite newsreels, Grange's dazzling runs appeared almost ethereal as he evaded gangs of would-be tacklers. Sportswriters gave him the sobriquet of "Galloping Ghost."

Grange's popularity soon exceeded that of college football. He became bigger than the sport. Not everyone read the sports pages, but nearly everybody in those preTV days went to the movies.

Perhaps nothing more definitely represented our country's "melting pot" than all-American teams of the 1930s. As the sons of first-generation immigrants pursued the American dream in the halls of ivy, they also romped across the nearby football fields. On the 1937 team, names like Alex Wojciechowicz (Fordham) and Tony Matsi (Pitt) joine"Whizzer" White (Colorado) and Marshal Goldberg (Tennessee). The 1939 allAmerican team, the last word in "ethnic name" teams, had Esco Sarkkinen (Ohio State), Ed Molinski (Tennessee), and Nile Kinnick (Iowa) teamed with plain Harry Smith (Southern Cal).

World War II severely reduced college football squads-except at the military academies, which, with the exception of Notre Dame, dominated the all-American teams. Army, led by the three-time allAmerican Felix "Doc" Blanchard and Glenn Davis, had 12 allAmericans, Navy had 5, and Notre Dame placed an astounding 18 players.

No More Heroes?

The 1950s was the last great era of heroes, before the probing eyes of news media and television began to make heroes appear somehow more human and mortal. The print reporters, pressured by television's instant news, became more critical and analytical.

Television made pro football and the college game race to emulate the fast-paced, wide-open, colorful "media package." Specialization was in: by the mid-1960s, the NCAA named both an offensive and defensive all-American team. The colleges became training grounds for the pros, and being allAmerican meant becoming a high draft choice, which meant increasingly bigge "bucks."

Then in the 1970s came the Vietnam War protests. The clean-cut, short-haired all-American came to symbolize the military industrial complex. Being a hero was no longer cool.

Despite the image problems of the 1960s and 1970s, college football and the all-American team not only survive but are currently undergoing a resurgence in popularity. In the 1980s, the 600-plus NCAA football teams annually attract more than 35 million fans.

Today, not only must all-American hopefuls perform well on the field every week, but players must handle the pressure of constant media attention as well.

"A young man who can do well early in his career and become known has a good shot," says Mike Treps, the sports-information director at Oklahoma and a veteran all-American maker. "Your all-Americans are made by having a good season the year before. Then in the spring, you plant the seeds by sending stories and pictures to magazines like Street and Smith, Sports Illustrated, and Game Plan that pick pre-season all-American teams. That sets the stage."

The ability of a player to communicate is important for receiving allAmerican votes. "If he can do a radio show or talk with newspaper men or handle a ten o'clock night interview with grace, then you have a good allAmerican candidate," Oklahoma's Mike Treps says.

In the end, the press that generates the publicity for an all-American can also hurt the player's chances. Before the 1987 season, Coach Lou Holtz of Notre Dame talked to his player, the eventual Heisman Trophy winner, Tim Brown: "I told Tim Brown last year that everything you do will be magnified positively or negatively. If you do something good, everyone in the world is going to hear about it, but if you happen to make a mistake, everyone will hear about that too."

Chuck Long, the 1986 all-American quarterback from Iowa, summarized the situation well: "There are a few bad apples, but I know the vast majority study, work hard, keep their noses clean, and try to live up to the all-American image."

For the most part, all-Americans are still the young men that the likes of Amos Alonzo Stagg and Red Grange would be proud of.
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Author:Barnett, Bob
Publication:Saturday Evening Post
Date:Jan 1, 1989
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