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THE TACKLE
John O'Hara
September 21, 1964
He was an All-America who wanted to forget his football past, and as the years went by he tried insult and irony and even a bloody brawl in his effort to escape it. A distinguished writer tells the story of...THE TACKLE
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September 21, 1964

The Tackle

He was an All-America who wanted to forget his football past, and as the years went by he tried insult and irony and even a bloody brawl in his effort to escape it. A distinguished writer tells the story of...THE TACKLE

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"Lydia Williamson sent it to me. Read it," said Gladys.

The article was a reasonably accurate report of the conversation that had taken place in the bar of the Furness liner Bermuda , and was signed by Edith Trapnell McGaver. The title of the article was Football for Girls, and the subhead was "Ex-Harvard Star Tutors N.Y. Society Girls in Grid Tactics."

Hugo read the article with horrified fascination. Mrs. McGaver had had to use her imagination to depict the Rainsfords' Locust Valley football field, and she did so. She had expanded Hugo's remark as to the comparative safety of football and fox hunting, and had inserted a few observations of her own on the character-building aspects of contact sport. But in general the interview, as she called it, stuck to Hugo's statements.

"I never should have left you alone with her," said Gladys. "You're going to have a fine time living this down."

"Well—Cleveland," said Hugo. "Nobody around here'll see it."

"You hope," said Gladys.

But a Yale man in the Cleveland branch of a stock brokerage sent a dozen copies of the interview to New York friends, and in no time at all Hugo was being greeted as "Coach" Rainsford. Wherever he went—The Lunch Club, the Down Town Association, The Recess—some wisecracker had something to say about the article. They rang all the changes, from the evils of proselytizing young athletes to the fun Hugo must have in the girls' locker room. Inevitably, the Rainsfords' daughters saw the article. Marjorie, the firstborn, was tearful. "Daddy, how could you?' she said. The younger one, Mary, said, "Well, I guess there goes the Junior Assembly." So many of Hugo's and Gladys's contemporaries asked to be shown the football field at Locust Valley that Gladys had to warn them beforehand that it was a touchy subject. Hugo put an end to the use of the "coach" nickname by his friends. "Do you want me to swat you?" he would say. The word got around that Hugo had swatted an unidentified friend, and as no one wanted to be swatted by those ham hands, the joke got to be unfunny. "Hereafter, you'll know better than to get tight with strange women," said Gladys.

"She was strange, all right," said Hugo.

More or less indirectly the episode of the Cleveland interview caused his friends to avoid the whole topic of football. They stifled the impulse to make humorous mention of the interview, and having become overconscious of that restriction they hesitated to speak of football in any connection. Except for rare and casual references to the Yale game and Harvard's prospects they finally had begun to relegate his football exertions to his youth—and he was already in his thirties. The sportswriters continued to celebrate his exploits; he was, after all, a kind of brand name. It was practically a tradition among the writers to compose at least one column a year in which the Golden Age of Sport was recalled, and the basic cast of characters was always the same: Babe Ruth, Walter Hagen, Bill Tilden, Tommy Hitchcock, Earl Sande, Jack Dempsey, and Red Grange. (No matter how plainly the writers stated that they were writing about the Twenties, they got angry letters from fans of Bobby Jones, who forgot that Jones's Grand Slam was in 1930, and from admirers of John L. Sullivan, who died in 1918.) Hugo Rainsford was an added starter, but he was legitimately of the glamorous decade, and his was a name that broke the monotony of the traditional list. "I saw your name in Grantland Rice's column the other day," someone would say.

"That's nothing," Hugo would say. "I saw Grantland Rice at the National the other day." He was in his thirties, and he was free.

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