Walk your way past young people in flip-flops and cutoffs to a secluded nook on the third floor of the University of Arizona main library, and – whoosh! – you can travel back in time to the early days of football.
On a shelf unexceptional and anonymous there are bound volumes of “Spalding’s Official Football Guide.” It begins with the years 1911-1914 and inside the front cover, as a mark of ownership, is the signature of J.F. McKale, the Knute Rockne of Arizona athletics.
Pop served as football and baseball coach and then as director of athletics at UA from 1914 until 1957. He died June 1, 1967. Among his countless gifts to the school is this priceless collection of old Spalding guides.
To run your fingers across pages once touched by Pop McKale is reward enough. To read the words of an article written by no less than Walter Camp, considered the “Father of American Football,” is a buzz like you cannot believe.
As Arizona football zooms forward into a new era of wide-open offense, the wild and vagrant vibes of fans who love it contrast dramatically with what must have been the feelings of those spectators of nearly a century ago.
For one thing, there are a whole lot more of them today.
Camp, who worked for the New Haven Clock Co. and was an unpaid adviser to the Yale football team as well as the No. 1 promoter of the sport nationally, suggests a lack of fan support, at least regionally.
In his article, he writes: “The only section of the country where the American intercollegiate game does not hold full sway in the fall is on the Pacific Coast. Stanford and California gave up the game three years ago and adopted rugby in its place.”
Most interesting is Camp’s coverage of that cutting-edge invention, the forward pass.
Sonny Dykes, the offensive coordinator who brought fast-break football to UA from Texas Tech, would enjoy this passage in the Spalding guide of 1911.
“It is rather a strange commentary upon the use of the forward pass,” writes Camp, “that Yale and Michigan should each have won one of their most important contests of the year by means of this play. Yale won her main contest with one of these plays in the initial year of its introduction.
“Others, though using this play more frequently, usually lost rather than gained through its employment, just as did Harvard in her chief contest of 1909.”
Camp warned about the dangers of such a radical strategy as the pass play.
“It is a treacherous play, and the occasions for its use are so dependent upon the very immediate conditions surrounding it at the moment, that it should be placed in a special category by every quarterback and captain,” he writes.
“A forward pass,” Camp explains, “when it fails, may result in changing the entire complexion of the play in a moment.”
No kidding. Well, some things never change, Walter.
But offensive football, thankfully, does change. From that early day when the forward pass was used in the same manner as the late, lamented “fumblerooski” – as a trick play – the sport itself has evolved into mostly an aerial attack.
In the old books, there are photographs of players mostly bareheaded – though some have flimsy leather helmets resembling early aviators’ caps – and wearing woolen jerseys and moleskins. What pads there were hardly protected that which they covered.
Camp not only sired American-style football, he also gave us the first “All-America Eleven.”
Although none of the Arizona players made his All-America team in 1911, Camp did list among “men deserving honorable mention,” Wildcats Charles John Rolletti and Miles Miller Carpenter.
And since it is doubtful Mr. Camp ever saw Arizona play, you can bet your season tickets that Rolletti and Carpenter were nominated – and campaigned for – by Pop McKale.
Retired columnist Corky Simpson writes for the Citizen every Saturday.