SI Vault
Myron Cope
October 13, 1969
In the decades that preceded the unblinking camera's eye, professional football was a very different life. Its famous figures can still be found—on a farm here, in a parlor there—and as they talk they evoke memories of an American sport—and an America—that is gone forever
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October 13, 1969

The Game That Was

In the decades that preceded the unblinking camera's eye, professional football was a very different life. Its famous figures can still be found—on a farm here, in a parlor there—and as they talk they evoke memories of an American sport—and an America—that is gone forever

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ED HEALEY (1920-1927: Rock Island Independents, Chicago Bears)

We had never met, but as I came through the gate and entered the South Bend air-terminal building I guessed from his size that the big man in the straw hat was Ed Healey. When Chicago Bears Owner George Halas, in 1922, purchased Healey's contract from the Rock Island Independents for $100, Healey became—so far as is known—the first pro football player to be sold. Now, in steel-framed glasses and a dark suit, his appearance was that of a successful man, a retired banker. We drove in his cream-colored Continental to the South Bend Club, where, in the card room, we were served lunch by his favorite waiter, Albert. Then we proceeded north across the line into Michigan and swung off the road into Riverbrook Farm. It was not a large farm, and when Ed Healey decided that his retirement, so to speak, should be one of activity, he let the help go in order to reduce the farming operation to what he could handle alone. We talked in a knotty-pine study whose walls were liberally appointed with remembrances of the past. Healey sat by an open window that looked out on a backyard running down through sycamores and walnuts and locusts to the St. Joseph River. A fine June breeze came up from the river and, like the movement of the breeze itself, vivid memories of an era long ended flowed across Ed Healey's mind. He had played the tackle position. Standing 6'1�" and 220 pounds, he earned a reputation in the 1920s for toughness—a reputation that carried him into the Hall of Fame. "He was as good a tackle as I've ever seen," Red Grange told me at another stop in my travels through pro football's past. "He was an absolutely vicious football player."

With reference to my fashioning a successful career in professional football, all that came about, as I witness it now, by reason of my growing up on a farm and putting on acts such as this: the hogs would get loose and Dad would say, "Now, Ed, we've got to get those hogs back in the pen before we start work today." He would turn me loose and I would come up with a flying tackle and snare that hog, and Father would say, "Eddie, you're a good boy. You're a good boy, Eddie." That's the way he encouraged me. My father taught me never to be afraid to work and to give of myself to the utmost. That led to punishing myself, particularly when it came to athletics. At the time it might have seemed a little burdensome, but it paid dividends later in life. As a matter of fact, here I am at 75 and I'm going all the time.

Our farm was located just outside of Springfield, Mass., and at Classical High in Springfield I was big enough that the coach asked me to come out for football, so I addressed Dad one day and said, "Dad, I've been asked to go out for football. How about it?" Father said that it would be with his approval. So I started to play football, and it came sort of natural for me. Fear was most remote in my makeup. I mean, I loved bodily contact. I just thrived on it. I ate it up. If you have the stuff inside you then you should be ignited by reason of being plugged by somebody.

In time I attended Dartmouth College. Now I should explain that Dad not only had the farm but also had a number of teams that conveyed traprock used for building roads. He had teamsters working for him who had come from Ireland. They were all tough Turks—I always called them Turks—and they were a grand group of men. But they loved the spirits, and sometimes somebody had to finish their work for them, which usually befell to me. When I got this offer to play for Dartmouth I said to Father, "Dad, really I'm getting kind of tired of this business that you're in, being exposed to these booze hounds that run into these saloons." And he said, "Well, Eddie, I've never had an education, and I want you to have one. I'm glad you're going to Dartmouth. It's up there where you won't be troubled with a lot of women, and you'll like the kind of things that they have there. You'll like the hunting and trapping and fishing." I loved Dartmouth.

After Dartmouth and a year in the war I landed in Omaha. My primary object was to get West into the open spaces, into the kind of country that I thought I might enjoy. I obtained employment loading beef into railroad cars. It was a comedown for a college man, yes, but let me say this to you—there wasn't very much to be had. It was 1920 and there was a recession on, there surely was. One day I ran into Ed (Buck) Shaw, who had been the captain of the University of Nebraska football team. He said to me, "You tell me you're from Dartmouth?" I said, "Yes, I am," and then he referred to a copy of the Spalding Guide that he was carrying. It had my picture in it. So he said, "I see they organized a pro league over at Canton, Ohio." I said, "Well, where is the nearest team?" and he told me it was in Rock Island, Ill., which was about 400 miles across Iowa, the state of tall corn. So on a Friday night I hopped the train and went over there. I announced to the Rock Island club that I was a Dartmouth football player, and they referred to the Spalding Guide and said, well, we're looking for men like you. I signed up and played for them two years.

In '22 the Rock Island Independents sold me to the Chicago Bears following a game that I remember as clearly as if it were just played today. Just listen carefully. We had a great team! We had lost just once. And on the Sunday prior to Thanksgiving we played the Bears at Wrigley Field.

Now understand, in Chicago the officialdom was such that on occasion it made it a little difficult for the outsider to win. On this day the game was really a tight one. In fact, it was going along 0-0. George Halas, who along with Dutch Sternaman owned the Bears and played for them, was at right end, the opponent for myself, who was the left tackle. Halas had a habit of grabbing ahold of my jersey, see? My sleeve. That would throw me a little off balance. It would twist me just enough so that my head wasn't going where I was going.

So I said to Halas on a couple of occasions, "You know, George, I've often heard that you were getting old awfully young." I didn't enjoy being the victim with reference to this holding, so I forewarned him of what I intended to do about it. Likewise it was necessary for me to forewarn the head linesman, whose name was Roy. I said, "Now, Roy, I understand to start with that you're on the payroll of the Bears. I know that your eyesight must be failing you, because this man Halas is holding me on occasion and it is completely destroying all the things that I'm designed to do." I said, "Roy, in the event that Halas holds me again I am going to commit mayhem."

Now bear in mind, please, that we had a squad of about 15 or 16 men. Neither Duke Slater, our right tackle, nor I had a substitute on the bench. So I said, "Roy, you can't put me out of the game, because we don't have another tackle. And I can't really afford to be put out of this ball game because of your failure to call Halas' holding. I have notified him, and now I am about to commit mayhem."

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