SI Vault
Jack Olsen
September 23, 1957
Iowa's Forest Evashevski, a shatterer of cherished football concepts as well as enemy teams, punctures some shibboleths of the game
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September 23, 1957

A Heretic Speaks His Mind

Iowa's Forest Evashevski, a shatterer of cherished football concepts as well as enemy teams, punctures some shibboleths of the game

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"You've got to play to win. There's a very tricky shading of meaning here. When the game is over, it's not important whether you won. But during the game, it's vitally important that you win. Not to look good, but to win!

"And then if you've left your guts on the football field and you can say to yourself, 'I left everything I had out there, and if I had it to do tomorrow I couldn't do it any better,' then there's no disgrace in losing.

"If you can teach a boy to stay within the rules and yet go all-out and knock somebody down, and if he gets whipped set his jaw for next Saturday—if you can teach a kid that, you have provided him with the only carryover value of college football.

"And you can take a kid like that and send him out to be a real competitor in the world, and I don't care if he sells insurance or what he does. If he gets his foot in the door first and maybe kicks two other guys out ahead of him and makes the sale, or if he's a member of a church and he goes out and raises more money for the church than anybody else, if whatever he's doing he's doing it to win, then he's a better citizen for having played football. That's what's important about football, not being an All-America or having broad shoulders or a locomotive yell for old Harvard or good sportsmanship."

With a philosophy like this, it comes as no surprise that Evashevski's efforts during a football game are coolly aimed at making the best possible showing on the gridiron, squeezing the last ounce of effort out of his football team by the most direct means. Accordingly, half time is spent studying spotters' reports and discussing defects. "Sure," he agreed, "I don't go in for rah-rah talks and prayer meetings. Not that I knock Rockne and the fight-fight-fight coaches. It's just that I'm not that kind. There's room for all kinds of coaches. Rockne was the great motivator; Bernie Bierman was the cold calculator; he never talked to his players about anything except how to knock the other fellow down. We try to make the kids want to win but, as far as yelling and screaming at them is concerned, that went out with the '20s.

"The coach who tries to get his kids sky-high emotionally," the former dual major in psychology and sociology at Michigan went on, "is the coach who's always gonna have that big letdown during the season. He's the guy whose kids are gonna get knocked off by that last-place club. You keep giving the kids that needle every Saturday and that point's gonna get awfully dull. Anyway, all kids react differently. You can tell one kid something and you'll get him jumping right out of his shoes with enthusiasm, and you tell another guy the same thing and he'll look at you and say, 'Hell, you're a little balmy.' My own concentration is on football, not emotion."

And football, in the lexicon of the baby-faced, boom-voiced Evashevski, means "knocking men down. Hell, that's how intercollegiate football got started. They wanted to see who's the toughest. Kids at one school wanted to see who could knock each other down the hardest. Then kids at other schools wanted to test their skills against one another. Friends got together to watch, then there was a rematch, and more interest, and that's how intercollegiate football came about. It was born on the idea that one group ought to lick the other group. It wasn't that they wanted to go out and lead cheers or develop good sportsmanship. They simply wanted to see if they could whip a like number of men. And the lasting value is the fact that you learn to want to win, you learn to be a winner, and this you can use on all levels of life.

"In that respect, the essence of the game hasn't changed much over the years. You tackle and you block, and that's the guts of football. The people who have promoted football as a great spectator sport have been very, very clever. They've sold it on the idea of color and touchdown runs and field goals and glamour.

"I don't care what system you use; if you block hard enough and tackle hard enough you're gonna win. The end result of good blocking and tackling is good spectacular football. Poor tackling and blocking will lead to dull, unspectacular football no matter how many fancy backs you have.

"The people who sell football to the kids have always publicized the long touchdown run and the thousands cheering. They've never tried to publicize the 40 kids out there all week with their noses in the mud, grinding each other up in scrimmage to see who'll make the team. That's football. I try to make it fun for the boys, but believe me—it's not always easy.

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