Pigskin Imports

Are we heading toward an All-American Canadian football team?

DINK CARROLL September 15 1936

Pigskin Imports

Are we heading toward an All-American Canadian football team?

DINK CARROLL September 15 1936

Pigskin Imports

Are we heading toward an All-American Canadian football team?


HE’S AWAY! He’s in the open. Watch him go. There’s nobody near him. Look at him run!”

“It looks like a touchdown.”

“He’s over. Hurrah! Hanson’s over. Touch-


“Hanson just scored a touchdown.”

“Listen to that crowd cheer Hanson.”

Hanson just ran eighty yards through the whole Hamilton Tiger team and scored a touchdown. I igers’ll never catch ’em now. Winnipegs are the new Dominion Champions. Some football player, that i Ianson.

Sure, he's some football player. Just a year previously he ran through the University of Minnesota team, national champions of the United States, with the same ease that you saw him flash past the Tigers. He scored two touchdowns against Minnesota. Only a year previously he was an All-American. Well, maybe not All-American, because he played for the University of North Dakota, a rather unimportant little college. But he got All-American mention. Now he’s All-Canadian. And how do you like

that? Pretty well, it seems, from the way you yelled your head off every time he broke loose in that Dominion Final clash last fall between Winnipeg and Hamilton.

And what about the rest of that ’Peg team, the present Dominion champions, the first winning team from the West in thirteen long years of challenging to lift the national title? Who are they and where do they come from?

Of the twelve men who started that game for the ’Pegs, only four were Canadians. The rest came from what is known south of the border as the Swede Belt the Dakotas. Minnesota and Wisconsin— a section of the country which produces the best football material in the entire United States. Fritz. Marquardt. Hanson, Peschel and Perpieh come from the Dakotas; Rebholz and Rabat from Wisconsin; and Oja from Minnesota. But nowadays you will find the same type of husky, fair-haired, sport-loving lad

with the Scandinaviansounding name on all our Canadian teams between the Great Lakes and the Pacific Coast. The West brought them in to lift that title, and they did.

The East, of course, started it all, this business of importing players from across the line. They started it hack in 1931, the year the forward pa'ss was first introduced into the Canadian code. They’ve kept it up, too. The key man on the Hamilton team which fell before the ’Pegs in that grand final game last December was Johnny Ferraro, who captained a Cornell University team a few years ago. Brock, the Tigers' snap, was a teammate of Ferraro at Cornell. Now shut your eyes and put your finger on the line-up of almost any Eastern team. It’s a fifty-fifty chance that the name you’ve stabbed is that of a player from the United States, for there were plenty of them up here last year, and the chances are there’ll be even more this year.

Is the presence of these United States stars on our learns a calamity to get all hot and bothered about, as some people seem to think? Must “drastic steps” be taken right away to save our Canadian game ol football? Are our players in danger of being besmirched by professionalism? Should we kick the “foreigners out and see to it that they don't come back?

I^t’s not do anything without first examining the subject a little and seeing if we can’t find ont the basic reasons for the presence of these “imports” among us. We may have to dig a little deeper than you think.

Spectators Demand Good Football

TT SEEMS fo me to go back to the year 1912. when 1 McGill University first retained Frank Shaughnessv to coach its football teams. When Frank took charge at McGill he started right in teaching his men to play American football as far as was possible under the Canadian code, lie was the man who first introduced the second

defense and showed us what a balanced defense in football really was. Other teams copied his methods, and by the time football was resumed after the war, a football game between two teams that were anywhere near evenly matched had become a pretty dull affair. Defense completely overshadowed attack. The scores of games sounded like pitchers’ battles in baseball. You usually won because you had a good kicker, plus good tackling and the breaks, for there was no such thing as a sustained drive to a touchdown. You kicked and prayed for a break, which meant a fumble, and then you kicked over the line for a ¡wint. A touchdown was an accident.

After a while the crowds in the stands began to dwindle; there just wasn’t enough excitement to hold them, not enough fireworks. By 1921 officials of the Intercollegiate Union were plenty worried. They wanted to do something to restore balance to the game; they wanted to build up the offensive end of it so that once again there would be action, excitement and thrills for the spectator. They dropped the two side-scrimmagers, which made it twelve men to a side instead of fourteen, and allowed the ball to be put into play by a direct pass from the snap in place of the old, cumbersome, haphazard method of heeling it out. Then they introduced the three-yard interference rule. They did all these things to give the ball carrier a better chance to break away.

But still it didn’t work.« What happened was that defensive work merely became a little sharper and continued to hold its edge over the attack. Now the Rules Commission really had to do something. In 1921 they had turned thumbs down on the forward pass as being too radical a change in our garije; by 1931 they were ready to give it a trial.

Other games had had the same problem and had solved it. The big crowds love action that leads to scores. They wanted scoring in baseball, so the rabbit ball was devised and the home-run era ushered in. They wanted scoring in gqlf, and a rabbit ball for golf was fabricated—plenty of them, each one livelier than the other-and clubs were designed in scientifically matched sets of wood and iron. They wanted scoring in hockey, so the number of players on a team was reduced from seven to six, the goal mouth was widened, and the ice surface was divided into zones to permit a modified forward pass. They wanted scoring in football, so the Rules Commission finally had to resort to the forward pass.

You, the spectator, are much more important at a football game than you may think. Haven’t you noticed all along that each change as it was introduced was brought in as a crowd pleaser? It costs money to operate a football club. Equipment is expensive. Coaches and trainers and doctors and officials do not give their services free. A training table is a big item. And overnight trips, which include transportation and hotel expenses, add enormously to the cost. The money to meet these expenses must come from somewhere and that, somewhere is the gate. So when we talk about improving our game, what we really mean is making it more exciting and attractive to you, the spectator. the person who pays the freight.

So far. so good. But here is where things went a hit awry: When the forward pass was first drafted into our code, it was undoubtedly the intention of the Canadian Rugby Football Union that the play be learned by Canadians: it hadn’t considered any development beyond that. Hut the Montreal Club in the Big Four, while realizing the possibilities of the play, could not take advantage of it because they had no passer. So. probably thinking in more or less of a straight line, they went out and got one. Warren Stevens, who had learned his football at the University of Syracuse, was the player they imported. The club had a very successful year, though that may he something of an understatement; the club really had a banner year. They won the Dominion title and they attracted huge crowds, •both at home and away, for everybody was anxious to see Stevens perform. The experiment was so successful that other clubs quickly followed Montreal’s lead, and the next year the business of imix>rting stars from the United States was on in earnest.

Some very funny incidents have happened since. We saw the University of Toronto, who had long declared their opposition to professional coaches, make a sudden

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wild grab for Warren Stevens and place him in complete charge of their athletic activities. Then there was the MastersCarlston incident, when that pair of allround athletes from the University of Pennsylvania played through a whole Big Four schedule with the Ottawa Club before it was discovered that they were professional baseball players. At the end of last: season we witnessed the same kind of an

exposure in the case of Bohn Hilliard, the ex-Texas University star also with the Ottawa Club, only this time it was complicated by Hilliard's having played under an assumed name. But the highlight of all these antics was the strike staged by the Montreal Club’s imports in midseason, last year, it was a little difficult for the club to explain what that was all about, but most people got the impression that it was a salary tangle, though the league was

supposed to be operating on a strictly amateur basis.

Nobody wants to uphold sham amateurism, but there really hasn’t been so much of it as you might suspect; the papers have overplayed it badly in the few instances when it did crop up. The O.R.F.U. has done no importing and neither has the Intercollegiate Union. Western Canada teams and the Big Four clubs have done most of it. But even in the old days jobs were al ways being found for football stars, which is all that lias been done to date for most of the imports. It has been argued that these jobs would go to Canadians if the boys from the States weren’t up here, but that works both ways; for there are certainly more Canadian lads making a living out of hockey in the United States than there are Americans making a living out of football up here, and a far better living,.at that.

The Amateur Athletic Union of Canada discussed the importation question at its annual meeting a couple of years ago and resolved that the importation of players for Canadian football was undesirable. Their executive discussed the subject with governing rugby bodies, but right there they ran into a snag. The Dominion organization, which is called the Canadian Rugby Football Union, promised to and did enact legislation aimed at curtailing the practice of importing players; but the various unions over which the C.R.F.l . is supposed to have jurisdiction have never paid much attention to its edicts. They run their own show regardless of the C.R.F.U. This was never better demonstrated than this year, when the C.R.F.l . announced that all players to be eligible for a team must begin to reside in the city which that team represents by a certain date—and not one of the other unions recognizes that date. For example, the residence rule in the Big Four is June 1, while the date fixed by the parent union is somewhere around January 1. The C.R.F.U. date was fixed with imports in mind, but it does not look from this distance as if it’s going to get much cooperation on the question from its member unions. That is the weakness of our football organization. But there may be a showdown bv the time the play-offs roll around, for you may be sure the C.R.F.l. will try to exclude players from the playoffs who did not comply with its residence rule.

Change in Public’s Attitude

BUT LET’S get back to the game itself for a moment and see what basiceffects the forward pass has had on it. It certainly has put an end to the era of low scores, of few first downs and many injuries, and the monotonous two-bucksand-a-kick formula. The old, dangerous, close-packed style of play has given warte the fast, spectacular, open brand. The threat of the pass keeps the defense bade and spread, with the result that end runs, spinners and line smashes are much more effective than they used to be. Scoring is more prolific, light teams now have a chance to ride over heavier opponents by taking to the air. no team is licked until the final whistle because it has the pass as a desperate, last-minute weapon of attack.

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and the spectator is having the time of his life because there is plenty to cheer about.

One thing you’ll have to admit about the players from the United States who have shown their stuff up here thus far: they’ve certainly provided us with some grand entertainment. The whole parade of themStevens. Baysinger, Eliowitz. Ferraro. Masters, Carlston, O’Neill. Hilliard. Tindall. Blum. Brock, Ferina, Newton, Bacon, Beach, Farsaca. Marks. Connelly, Ryan, Pierce, Adkins. Pendergast, Hanson. Fritz. Oja, Rabat, Rebholz and the rest have played some swell football. Fast, hard-hitting, well-poised lads, they seemed to glory in the rugged contacts their assignments on the field called for. and we’ve had thrills galore watching them.

Then again, they’ve been doing something which most of their critics seem to have overlooked. They’ve been educating the youngsters who are just coming up. the boys in the high schools and on the sand lots. not. only in the use of the pass but in the general science of football. Anyone who has ever played football, baseball, tennis, hockey, golf, or almost any sport, knows the value of having a good model to emulate. You can’t learn how to play these games by reading books. You learn by watching the good ones, and Canadian lads won’t find any better models among football players throughout the land than these same imports. The kids know this, and if you want to check up on it for yourself, all you have to do is stop at any street corner one of these evenings where there's a vacant lot.

“I’m Johnny Ferraro,” you’ll hear one of them shout. Or, "I’m Abe Eliowitz. Gimme that ball!”

It won’t last though. The Amateur Athletic Union of Canada and the Canadian Rugby Football Union have pointed the direction it is all going to go. The visiting boys from the United States will have to pick up their dibs and go home one of these days. Perhaps not for two or three years more, but eventually they’re going to be ordered off the premises. Let’s hope for the sake of our players that it. doesn't happen for sdme time: they don’t know enough about the forward pass yet.

There is one other contingency which may conceivably come to pass: The Big Four or one of the other unions may tell the C.R.F.U. to go take a jump in the lake. In that case the maverick union would operate independently and the imports would continue to be with us. Suppose this were to happen. What then? Would you. a spectator, stay away from their games because the A.A.U. of C. and the C.R.F.U. had blacklisted them? You know you wouldn’t, and now we’re getting closer to the meat of the matter.

The truth is that there has been a change in the public’s attitude toward professionalism in sport. We said a while back that nobody wanted to uphold sham amateurism. That’s true, but it’s also true that the sport-loving public is indifferent about it. It’s hard to say how, when, where or why this change came about, but maybe hockey had something to do with it. An official of one of the hockey unions said recently that there was no such tiling as amateur hockey in Canada today outside the colleges, m l it wasn’t the bombshell he thought it was. The public does not resent the idea of hockey players being paid for their efforts; in fact, it seems to expect it. What is there to make anyone think the public’s attitude toward football players would be any different? The answer is nothing; absolutely nothing. The people whom the public resent are the officials or executives behind amateur teams who might be getting something out of it.

But whatever happens, you and ! want to get a real thrill out of our autumn Saturday afternoons, and well go to any game which promises good football, a lot of excitement or something in the way of novelty which is going to make it tough for the reformers if the separate unions defy them.