In 1633 a shipload of settlers from Dorchester, Mass. sailed down the Connecticut River to the Farmington River and on to what now is Windsor, Conn. Their descendants still live there. In 1932 the townspeople voted to observe Windsor's 300th anniversary by putting up a monument to their ancestors, if the cost was reasonable. The only dissenters were we members of the Sunday Afternoon Football Club, but our mournful cries went unrecorded. None of us was old enough to speak up at a town meeting, let alone vote. Further, we were betrayed by our mothers, who were tired of scrubbing at grass stains and mending the torn knees of our breeches. The site chosen for the monument was Palisado Green, our football field. That alone was enough to make the adult vote solidly pro-monument.
Palisado Green was shaped roughly like an egg. Outlined by trees, it was about 60 yards across at the south end, bellying out gently to 70 or 80 yards as it rolled up a slight slope, then tapering to a dozen or so yards at the north end. It was carpeted with grass, which, after a couple of centuries of mowing and rolling, was at least as fine as the 18th green of a good golf club. It was perhaps 150 yards long from tree line to tree line.
Smack in the center of this magnificent lawn was where the town built its monument, a great, walloping slab of granite with a scalloped top and names like Allyn, Ellsworth and Wolcott chiseled into it. Shrubbery was planted around it, arborvitae and rhododendron. The whole mess was 10 yards long north to south and 10 yards wide and the centerpiece soared 28 feet into the air.
And there, you might think, went our Sunday afternoon football games. Wrong. We adapted. The monument simply added new dimensions to our game, so to speak.
The game was touch football, and its few rules were vague and subject to debate. This, you must remember, was 1933, and the regimentation of children's play lay a generation ahead. The number on a side was elastic, as was age, ranging from kids of 7 or 8 to old men in their late teens. My brother Chas, for example, equaled all three Gunn brothers—Shot, Pop and Beebe. I equaled the two Anderson brothers, Dick and Normy, while Tony Vigiano equaled me plus the Andersons.
A note about Tony: he was a tawny-haired, blue-eyed, rosy-cheeked, cheerful chap, a barber much patronized by the grammar school set. His posted price for a haircut was a quarter, but if no parents were in evidence he always slipped each young customer a nickel refund, frequently recouping the nickel through the sale of a Baby Ruth candy bar from the big glass jar on the back counter.
Tony had lightning speed and quick moves, but he had poor hands and couldn't throw. The ball was rounder than it is today, and none of us could grip it. Throwing was a matter of balancing the ball on the palm of the hand, fingertips on laces, and hurling it with a sort of slinging motion. My brother Chas was the only one of us who could pass for any distance with accuracy.
Chas was short and squat, with thick arms and stubby fingers, but somehow he had mastered the knack of throwing the bloated football as far as 35 or 40 yards. His talent was largely wasted during our Sunday afternoon games, however, for I was the only player with any pass-catching ability.
Chas died a decade ago, but I see him on television several times each football season in the person of Bum Phillips, the coach of the Houston Oilers. Phillips is bigger all over, but put a cowboy hat on Chas, sit him next to Bum on the bench and, so help me, you couldn't tell them apart. Same jawline, same cheeks, same nose, same eyes in same setting, identical mouth and even the same type of glasses. The first time I saw Bum I damn near had a heart attack.
Before the incursion of the monument, our game was one of speed and elusiveness. Each team had four downs in which to cover the 150-yard length of the field and score a touchdown. Three downs, really, for the fourth was a kicking down and offered scoring opportunities. The team with the ball had to announce whether it was going to kick or run on fourth down. An announced kick could be made unmolested, but the receiving team had to be given time to station its members behind the trees to try to catch the ball. A punt that cleared the trees at the end of the field was worth one point if it dropped uncaught. A dropkick not caught by the defenders was good for three points. A touchdown, of course, was six points.