YOU CAN’T stop me, even if you have heard this one. It’s about the sub-deb viewing her first football game, wide-eyed. “How d’y’ like it, beautiful?” her escort enquired
at half time.
“Oo-oo !” the nitwit gurgled. “I think the players are just terribly wonderful. But who is the silly little man in the white sweater who runs around blowing a whistle and getting in everybody’s way?”
And that, Mr. Joseph O’Brien will tell you, just about represents the average football spectator’s rating of the referee.
Joseph O’Brien speaks as one having authority. He is still a young man, although his once raven locks are streaked heavily with silver, but in point of continuous service he is the patriarch of Canadian football referees. Since 1922 Joe O’Brien has been handling football games for eleven seasons without a miss, one year in the Big Four and ten in the Intercollegiate Union. He is back in there again this fall, calling them as he sees them and letting the curses fall where they may. This is his twelfth successive year as a football referee, which makes him either (a) a fool about football, or (b) a glutton for punishment. It may be that he is both.
Were you to meet Joseph O’Brien socially or in a business way—he is on the staff of an old established Montreal stockbrokerage house—you would never suspect him of this underlying passion for strife and fury and mud. He is polite and obliging and anxious to please. Physically, he is rather under average height and not especially sturdy to look at. But he’s got what it takes. Rudyard Kipling chanted it about one of Britain’s most famous soldiers:
“ ’E’s little but ’e’s wise;
’E’s a terror for ’is size ...”
Away back before the war, Joe O’Brien, weighing around 145 pounds after a full meal, played for the Montreal Amateur Athletic Association’s football team as a half-back
on what sports writers tagged “the rabbit line.” He got himself overseas with the Sixty-sixth Battery in 1916, served in France, and returned to Canada in 1919. That season he went out again with M.A.A.A. Coached by Bill Hughes, the Winged Wheelers won the Interprovincial championship that year, but Joe O’Brien was not among those present at the finish line. Halfway through the schedule an over-enthusiastic adversary laid his left eye open on his cheek bone, and, after a course of hospitalization, Mr. O’Brien and Mr. O’Brien’s family decided that from that time forward Joseph would be in football as a noncombatant.
For two years he sat in the stands. Then the Interprovincial suggested that he try his hand at refereeing. He’s been blowing whistles ever since.
It is more of an accomplishment than you might think to carry on for twelve successive years as a football referee in Canada. Our season is short. Feeling runs high, hot and fast. Usually there are at least two teams in both the Interprovincial and the Intercollegiate Union which are closely matched. Often three, and sometimes all four, may be tangled in a tight finish. Every game is important. A single adverse decision on a difficult play may cost the penalized club its chance at the championship. Coaches and managers have elephants’ memories, and a referee who offends gravely will be found biting his fingernails among the spectators by the time the next season rolls around.
Joe O’Brien has outguessed them all for two years over the decade. He has handled Interprovincial and Intercollegiate games, Dominion championships, as well as Intermediate and Junior contests. Over that period, at one time or another representatives of every football club in Canada of major standing have come under his control. He has worked in all sorts of weather to be found in late fall and early winter in Canada, which is a lot of weather. He had two toes frozen in one game, and he went through another on a field shin deep in snow water.
The Lure of the Game
WHY DOES he do it? Why do any of the recognized football officials do it? The DeGrouchys, Bob Isbister, John McKelvey, Ken Barwick, Hoddy Foster, Colonel Considine and the rest of them? Certainly not for the money they make. Net fees average less than $50 a game. Nobody with sense is going to take abuse and risk pneumonia for that amount. Again, it often happens that the officials donate their services to Intermediate or Junior clubs involved in a play-off game in foul weather. On at least one occasion the officials, of whom Joseph O’Brien was one, actually gave cash to the gate receipts to help out a junior club caught in a tough spot with a snowstorm raging, twenty-three people in the stands, and the visiting team’s expenses to be paid by somebody.
“This game gets you,” said Joseph O’Brien.
“Anyway, it gets me. And a lot of others like me.
It’s the thrill that comes from fierce personal contacts in a hard, tough contest. Only a certain type of competitive sport has this quality. Football, under any code of rules, has it. Hockey has it. So have polo and basketball and lacrosse.
That sort of game is different from games like tennis and baseball and cricket, where the man to man contact is absent. That’s why you’ll find that spectators and players alike get more wildly
excited over football and hockey than they do over the type of game.”
Modern Football is Best
Y'OU’LL GET no support from Joseph O’Brien for notion, often expressed, that the good old days of football were better than the present game.
“In twenty years of close study of football,” he said, have seen a lot of changes in the rules, and consequently lot of changes in the style of play. I have seen no one these changes that was not an improvement on the rules years ago. The whole trend, especially in the last few years, has been toward opening up the play, getting away from bone, brawn and bruise style of football, giving the men all weights, the light man as well as the beefy chap, equal break.
“The first important change was the reduction of number of players from fourteen to twelve. This operated bring the ball out in the open, where the spectators see it. Then we introduced the snap-back system to Canadian game, legalized interference, and so made possible for holes to be opened in the defending line through which a fast clever light man could run, instead of having be shoved, jammed and forced through by sheer weight. We have rules now to eliminate unnecessary piling
“In the old fourteen-man game one unhappy player chanced to be carrying the ball might find himself with nose six inches in the mud and twenty-seven men sitting his neck. I have seen more split ribs, cracked arms broken ankles come up from those old-time tackles than like to think about. Unless a man was absolutely flat on ground, if any of his limbs were twisted or arched when fell, it was an odds-on bet that something would beneath the weight of a dozen hefty men on top of
“Now we are using fewer men on the scrimmage line. believe it was Frank Shaughnessy who introduced secondary line of defense to the Canadian game, and it has proved a valuable factor in the opening up of play. Now our first line uses seven or eight men at the most, and the secondary line does most of the tackling. The result is that the defense is superior to the offense in two evenly matched teams. With the forward pass added, the game has been still further opened up. I am well satisfied that the game we
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are playing today is far keener and far more interesting to the spectator than the old game was.”
One important factor of football government as it has developed during the past few years is the unification of the rules in the Interprovincial and the Intercollegiate Unions. Until a few years ago there were differences between the college game and the senior amateur code confusing to spectators and officials alike.
Recently the whole business has been placed in the hands of the Rules Committee of the Canadian Rugby Union, the parent body of the game, which was organized in 1882, reorganized in 1891, incorporated in 1894, and again reorganized in 1921. Acceptance by the Intercollegiate Union of the C. R. U. as the supreme governing body has greatly simplified the formerly somewhat complicated business of rule making and rule changing.
Changes in 1934 Rules
THE PRESENT Rules Committee responsible for this season’s code has Dr. E. A. McCusker, of Regina, President of the Canadian Rugby Union, as its chairman. With him are associated Dave McCann, of Ottawa, R. H. Bailey, of Toronto, R. P. Isbister, of Hamilton, Major Stuart Forbes, of Montreal, W. C. Foulds, of Toronto, and J. A. deLalanne, of Montreal. If you don’t like the 1934 regulations, blame these gentlemen. On the other hand, if you find this year’s game faster, more interesting to watch than the old game was, don’t forget to give them a kind word. They sat up nights drawing diagrams down to their last lead pencil to make Canadian football what it is today.
Most vital of all changes—there are not many of them—in the 1934 Rule Book is the one which extends the scope of interference behind the line of scrimmage. Hitherto the only interference permitted in this area came into play in the case of a forward pass or a kick. The effect was that every pass and every kick was telegraphed to the opposing side as players moved into interference positions. This year’s rule allowing interference to protect the ball carrier as well as the passer or the kicker, is designed to open up play still wider and to make it more difficult for the defending side to anticipate the play and block it before it has a chance to get going.
An important change this year stiffens the penalty for deliberate rough play. The new rule banishes the offending player “for the remainder of the game.” Immediate substitution is permitted, but the lawmakers feel that a man who yields to the impulse to
sock somebody in the nose will think twice before he risks relegation to the bench for the rest of the playing time. In the case of a star performer, the loss to his side might easily mean the difference between triumph and disaster.
Other alterations in the rules for 1934 are of minor consequence, things for the officials and not the spectators to worry about. What is more important, the conviction is growing now among the officials that this season’s rules may be regarded as reasonably permanent, that the constant change of the last few seasons is ended. A good job, too. It was getting to be that the earnest football fan had to take an intensive course in the new rules every season if he was to know what it was all about. That phase, says the Rules Committee, is past.
Remarks from the Gallery
PERHAPS you have wondered what a referee thinks about out there in the mud, with his whistle at his lips and his eyes on the ball if and when the ball is visible. Joe O’Brien says he’s too dam busy to think about much of anything except the play immediately in front of him.
“I used to worry about the nasty remarks hurled at me from the stands,” he confessed. “But not any more. Most of them are drowned in the general uproar anyway, but when I had to move over toward the touch lines, I couldn’t help hearing some. You can’t let it get you down. After all, I know I’m not a cock-eyed louse, or a blind so-andso, or a robber or even a thief—just to quote a few of the milder epithets. After a year or so a football referee grows an extra layer of rhinoceros hide and the rude talk bounces right back. What of it? The boys pay their money at the gate. If they are having fun calling me names they’re entitled to their
“Bob Isbister, who to my mind is the finest referee we have ever had in Canada, got just as big a kick out of being booed as he did out of playing in his playing days. For some reason the Queen’s boys for years had a particular and violent hate on Bob. I recall one occasion when Isbister and I were handling a Queen’s—Varsity game in Toronto. Every time Bob went into action on the touch lines in front of the Queen’s cheering section, the students would let go a blast that rocked the stands. The first time I heard it I thought somebody must have made a touchdown; but it was only the Queen’s crowd taking it out of Isbister. And Isbister came away with his face split wide open in a broad grin every time.
“There’s one angle about this thing that always gives me a chuckle. On a football
field the umpire is equally qualified with the referee to call fouls as he sees them; but the referee has to impose the penalty. The spectators are not always aware of that condition. They see the referee penalizing their favorites, and it is at his head that they hurl their uncomplimentary comments, when, as a matter of fact, he may have had nothing whatever to do with calling the foul.”
Rules and Sportsmanship
JOE O’BRIEN mourns that so small a proportion of the average football crowd is even vaguely familiar with the rules. On the other hand, he admits that the football public is not entirely to blame for this condition. For some reason, the C. R. U. prefers to keep its rules a state secret. It is impossible to buy a rule book, because the rule books are not placed on sale. If you have a friend who has a friend who knows a chap whose cousin is on friendly terms with the maid in the home of one of the football Head Men, you may be able to get a glimpse of one of these sacred publications, but not otherwise. Referee O’Brien would like to see something done about this. So would a lot of other football fanatics.
My chat with Joseph O’Brien finished on a grand note. He said:
“You asked me what there is about this football game that grips a man. I’ve been thinking that over, and now I’ll tell you something.
“A few seasons back I was refereeing a game between Queen’s and Varsity in Toronto. Warren Snyder was Varsity’s captain that season. Queen’s was leading 14—13 in the last quarter, but the Kingston boys had shot their bolt, and Varsity was on the march toward the Queen’s line and victory.
“Harry Batstone, Queen’s great kicker, was in that game. With only a few minutes to play, Batstone had the boot tom clean off his right foot. He couldn’t walk on it, much less run or kick.
“Now the rules said that a man taken out of the game in the last quarter could not return to play. Against that, time could be taken out only for two minutes, no longei, and that was not sufficient time for the team manager to get a new boot to fit Batstone’s foot, take off the old one and lace on the good one. With Batstone out of the game or crippled because of his tom shoe, Varsity was almost sure to win.
“I called Warren Snyder’s attention to Batstone’s plight, showed him the shoe. Snyder said: ‘Let him change it.’ So, with Warren’s consent, I took out about five minutes, Batstone got his new shoe, and Queen’s held off the Varsity rush and won.
“You see what I mean? To my mind, that’s sportsmanship of the finest type. That’s football, too; and that’s why I love the game.”
* * *
Detecting Dope in Race Horses
ATEN-MINUTE test with a mouse will show whether or not a horse has been “doped” with morphine or heroin before a race. Dr. James C. Munch of Temple University and the Sharp and Dohme research laboratories has reported to the American Pharmaceutical Association.
A quarter of a teaspoonful of the horse’s saliva is injected into the mouse. Within ten minutes the mouse’s tail curves up into a letter S, if the horse has been given morphine or heroin. In addition, the mouse humps up his back, his hair stands on end and his hindlegs become twittery. Other substances produce this effect on the mouse’s tail, but the combination of tail curve and the other symptoms described are produced only by morphine, heroin, or other opiate, Dr. Munch said. He was the first person to work out these details and to apply them to the problem of detecting “doping” of race horses.—Science Service.