SI Vault
Gerald Holland
August 16, 1954
For world-wide interest, for widespread participation, for shattered records, for thrilling triumphs of the human spirit, this is the greatest sports era in history
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August 16, 1954

The Golden Age Is Now

For world-wide interest, for widespread participation, for shattered records, for thrilling triumphs of the human spirit, this is the greatest sports era in history

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Less than a year after the great victory of Francis Ouimet in golf, the drama was almost exactly duplicated in tennis. The backdrops were the same, the cast of characters played roles uncannily similar.

Tennis had also been regarded as an upper-class, much too ladylike, game. Its capital was the ultrafashionable resort of Newport, R.I. and Eastern newspapers usually sent more society reporters than sports writers to the tournaments. But in August of 1914, exactly 40 years ago this week, the West Side Tennis Club of Forest Hills, Long Island, was host to the Davis Cup players for the first time. With all of New York City to draw on, the matches attracted daily crowds of 12,000 and more, including many rank and file sports fans who, if they came to scoff at the garden party game, remained to be thrilled by a monumental upset. They saw Maurice "Red" McLoughlin, a 24-year-old California real estate salesman, overwhelm the Vardon and Ray of the tennis world: Norman Brookes and Anthony Wilding of the Australian Davis Cup team.

McLoughlin, who had learned the game on the public courts of his home town of Carson City, Nevada before moving to California, brought to Forest Hills a more devastating service, a more savage net attack than had ever been seen up to that time. He defeated Brookes, No. 1 player of the world, with scores that tell the story: 17-15, 6-3, 6-3. Next he whipped Wilding, the No. 2 player, 6-2, 6-3, 2-6, 6-3.

In years to come, it was McLoughlin's style which became the foundation for the even greater games of Big Bill Tilden, Little Bill Johnston, R. Norris Williams and the others. But tennis, in this new golden age when Australia again has most of the top players in the men's game, still honors the name of McLoughlin, the young man who smashed the tyranny of the tea cups and made the racquet another symbol of red-blooded sport.


If tennis needed a transfusion of red blood, a large share of football's troubles have come from having too much. Growing out of the English games of soccer and rugby, the first game of American college football was played by Harvard and McGill University of Montreal, Canada in 1874.

It was an instant hit, but it quickly became a crushing, bruising, punishing game. With the flying wedge introduced by Harvard in 1892 and flying interference originated by the University of Pennsylvania in 1894, the early game placed its emphasis on brute strength. It had become so filled with violence by 1905 that the whole country was appalled and President Theodore Roosevelt had to step in to save it. Roosevelt, a football fan as well as a warm admirer of all other sports, summoned college officials to the White House for a meeting which led to a drastic change in rules. Out of these changes came a more open style of play and the use of the forward pass. This last was quickly exploited by St. Louis University but it was not widely employed until Gus Dorais and Knute Rockne used it brilliantly as Notre Dame, then little known, upset Army in 1913.

All these events were concerned with the playing field, but in 1914 Yale University looked to the spectators. The Yale Bowl was built at New Haven and it started a trend toward the king-sized stadium demanded by the ever-increasing crowds that boomed football into a major U.S. sport.

Today football provides Americans present at the scene with an opportunity to yell in unison and in rhythm over swift-moving events that are not always precisely clear to them, to hear the music of smart-stepping bands, to pound one another on the back, to sing, to weep, to laugh and, with social propriety, to drink whiskey straight from the bottle. On one day of the year, New Year's Day, when the big bowl games are played and broadcast, football receives America's almost undivided attention.

But on all days, from the close of Baseball's World Series to New Year's night, football is very much on America's mind. It is kept there by high school, college and professional teams which play before an estimated 35 million spectators. It is kept there not only by the games that are played, but by the build-ups and letdowns, the wild claims of brash coaches, the banshee wails of those who affect a chronic pessimism. It is kept there by radio broadcasts of all leading games and network telecasts of a Game of the Week.

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