There is a cure for this evil: let the exhibition games count a half game in the league standings. Then the stakes will be high enough to give the fan a run for his money and low enough to give the coach room to experiment, if experiment he must. If the exhibition counted at least a fraction in the league standings, the fan on the 50-yard line would be spared the sight of the Los Angeles Rams upending the Cleveland Browns by a rousing 38-21 in exhibition play, only to see the Browns demoralize the same Rams 38-14 when the marbles were down.
Another point. The pros of 1956 have a readymade farm system which costs them exactly nothing. A professional football player is rarely of any economic value until he has been the recipient of four years of skillful coaching, steaming platefuls of good training-table food and combat experience, all provided by the irreplaceable collegiate football nurseries. The pros, while gladly gobbling up the product of this vast, publicly financed farm system, still have no sensible plan for rewarding those fans who help provide it. They should, if they expect to make it pay off for both themselves and their supporters, revise the draft laws to provide for territorial rights. The Los Angeles Rams, for instance, should have first draft call on all players in the southern California area. The Detroit Lions should get Michiganders, and so on. This would give meaning to the competition and have the effect of heightening the emotional content of pro football, which, it seems to me, is its big lack at the moment.
There is potent argument for this innovation. Every football fan knows Texas is a hotbed of football enthusiasm. Yet when the pros moved a franchise (the New York Yankees, as it happens) into Dallas, the apathy—and the attendance—was so pitiful that the owners soon gave up, and Baltimore took over the franchise and breathed new life into it. Yet, when the Detroit Lions moved into Texas for a mere exhibition set, the fans broke down the doors. Why? Because the University of Texas' Bobby Layne was the Lions' quarterback; SMU's Doak Walker was the target of his passes; and Harley Sewell of Texas was smearing the Lions' opposition, Texas style. The folks in the string ties and Stetson hats had something to cheer for.
The New York Giants are another case in point. Currently one of the invalids of pro football, the Giants' franchise is suffering from nothing more or less than the fact that collegiate football died a strangling death in New York a decade ago. Football interest in general inevitably followed. The football Giants make a forlorn attempt every so often to sign an Army player or two, but Army players are not ordinarily New York boys (Tex Coulter was the last great ex-Army man in Giant uniform).
Certainly the pros should respect territorial rights for at least the first 10 draft choices. The fact that a boy who goes to school in Michigan, for instance, and would rather play football there should be taken into consideration as well.
All in all, though, pro football is the game for the real football filbert. For the fan who understands the arts and mysteries of slanting defenses, up-and-out pass patterns, "red-dogging" linebackers, wide flankers, flares and buttonhooks, there is nothing quite like it. The 33 bison-sized footballers in the livery of the home team are the super-practitioners of the art of football today, and, as a happy Detroit fan put it, they play "the best damn football in the world."