Of yellow footballs and questionable ethics
In the fall of 1954 (my senior year in high school), my hometown of Teague moved up a classification for University Interscholastic League competition. The Lions moved into Class AA from Class A in an era when Class 4A had the largest schools and Class B the smallest.
Teague, with 10 students over the minimum, moved from Class A into a AA district whose other members were four much larger schools. To underscore some broad disparity, after two years in that district, Teague returned to A and two district teams moved up to 3A.
That was also the (ONLY) season in which UIL allowed experimentation with yellow footballs. Supposedly, the compelling reason for such an experiment was that yellow would be easier to see in the poorly lit stadiums of that time and since almost all high school football was played on Friday night, the change was expected to be beneficial to all. Beware of such declarations. Additionally, the experimentation was the option of home teams in any game, but had to have the approval of the visiting school as well. It was also required that a list of officials (referees) for the game be approved by visiting teams’ coaches.
Teague’s coach, one Ed Hepler, checked out the yellow footballs and determined (1) they were a fraction of an inch smaller than the brown pigskins in use for many years, and (2) the yellow balls were somewhat slicker, thus harder to hang onto. Hepler opted to use the traditional brown at Lion home games. Supposedly, if anything other than the brown balls were used, the visiting team had the option of refusing to use them.
The Lions opened district play on the road to find nothing but yellow game balls available. Of course, our host team had “Firm Grip,” a wax substance that enabled better handling of the ball. Plus, the set of officials were entirely different than the ones approved by Hepler for the game. Just prior to the kickoff was the first and only time I ever heard him curse.
Now, before we go any further, the disparities I’m describing were the work of the other team’s head coach and, determined at a later time, to be unknown to the rest of that school’s officials.
The game was a defensive battle. Teague’s opponent managed a TD and extra point on a long pass, with the Lions blowing the coverage on a running back slipping out of the backfield to make the scoring catch. Finally, Teague mounted a late scoring drive, most of it by a big (by that day’s standards) 200-pound running back.
Teague established a first and goal from the opponent’s seven yard line late in the game. The big back got the ball and rammed five yards to the two. Same play on second down: TD. Penalty flag. Illegal motion. Second and goal from the seven. Big back for five yards. Third and goal from the two. Same play. TD. Flag. Illegal motion. Third and goal from the seven. Same play. Five yards. Fourth and goal from the two.
Teague faked the same play to the big back and the entire opposing defense rushed to that spot. Meanwhile, a Teague receiver had run a simple out route just over the goal line and the quarterback flipped the pass toward the open man. You could almost see the grins on the faces of the quarterback and receiver.
Then, an official who had his back to the line of scrimmage, stepped into the path of the ball, it bounced off his head and Teague’s opponent gained possession on the two and ran out the clock for a 7-0 win.
That’s the only time in my life I thought something was fishy in a high school football game, but there was little to be done about it. Teague had several chances up to that point to win the game and failed to do so.
I warned you I was still sore.