"Of course," he went on, "I said to myself, 'I'll show you.' I went back out the next day and I was off on an athletic career that brought me nine letters at Chicago. I was a pitcher in baseball, a standing guard in basketball, an end in football. But if the Old Man hadn't come riding by on his bike at that precise moment that day, I wouldn't be sitting here now with all these pictures and souvenirs and mementos on the walls."
The walls reflected a career that is the Great American Dream as it is cherished by young men who enter the profession of football coaching. Forced to drop out of medical school for lack of money, Crisler became Stagg's first assistant. At 25 he was offered the head coaching job at Minnesota. He asked his mentor for counsel, and Stagg said, "Fritz, you're not ready to fly." When Minnesota came after him again six years later and this time wanted him to be athletic director as well as head coach, the Old Man said, "Now you're ready to fly, Fritz. Go to it." And go to it he did. At Minnesota, Crisler won 10, lost seven and tied one. When he moved to Princeton, as the first non-alumnus ever to coach in the Big Three, he ran up a record of 35-9-5. At Michigan, from 1938 to 1948, Crisler-coached teams won 71 games, lost 16 and tied three.
"In every move I made," said Crisler, "there was only one way you could go—up. Minnesota had had bad seasons. Princeton and Michigan as well."
He got up and looked at the photograph of his 1947 undefeated Michigan team, the 49-0 Rose Bowl victors.
"They were a marvelous bunch of kids. A coach gets a group like that every once in a lifetime. Some never get one. Greatest bunch of ball handlers I ever saw. The offensive line averaged only 188. Today they don't recruit tackles unless they weigh 230."
Was it true that the lighter teams were not as injury-prone as those of today?
"I don't know," said Crisler, "if that was because they were light or not. I am one who is concerned about the equipment we're using today. I have the feeling that it is contributing to injuries. The equipment was supposed to protect the wearer from injury, and now I'm wondering if it isn't causing injuries.
"I would like to see a rule on the subject of equipment—the face mask, the headgear, this unyielding armor we're putting these kids into. I've declared myself. I am convinced that we ought to take off the face mask and review the helmet. You see, you get the depth of this unyielding plastic in the back of the neck and you get this face mask out front. A blow of some sort underneath the mask can cause a whiplash in the back of the neck, in the area of the cervical vertebrae. A blow of this kind could be fatal. It has been fatal. There is also the danger that, with grasping the mask itself, you will get a sharp head rotation and a disabling injury.
"There is another serious point to be made in this same connection. The face mask and headgear are changing the mechanics of football, and blocking in particular. Now they're blocking with the head. The shoulder blocks and side body blocks are gradually disappearing. This use of the headgear as a weapon is called spearing. They have spearing drills. Some call it goring. Now, if you took the face mask off, it isn't likely that they would be able to do that sort of thing."
The 1964 Rules Committee meeting voted to make it a personal foul for a player to ram an opponent in the head, face or neck with his helmet or neck. Nothing was said about changing the helmet or removing the mask, as Crisler so strongly recommends. Was anything being done about that problem?