Sixty-seven years ago at the close of the 1889 football season a magazine called The Week's Sports published the names of the 11 best players of the season and called them All-America. Of the 11, three each were from Yale and Harvard, five from Princeton. Claim to the authorship of this first All-America team later was the cause of a dispute between Walter Camp, then coach at Yale, and Caspar Whitney, manager of the magazine. The dispute is all but forgotten in this era of All-America plenty, but the idea has become a legend.
From its obscure birth in 1889 the All-America concept has grown to rival Yankee Doodle and the Fourth of July as a symbol of national virtue. It is a friendly, righteous concept in full demand. Who, indeed, is not proud to know the balding, full-vested fellow around the corner who once made someone's selection? America is a hero-worshiping nation and the All-America idea gave the country an idol to venerate every weekend—a Saturday hero.
This year will produce another vintage harvest of these celebrities, 13 of whom are seen on the following four pages. They are, in the accepted All-America tradition, from the halls of football leadership. There is a man from Notre Dame, of course, for who will deny that the Fighting Irish are synonymous with gridiron greatness? He is Paul Hornung, seen on the opposite page as he listens from the bench to the telephoned observations of a scout in the press box—one of the quarterback's essential duties in the electronic age. Hornung's ability alone makes him a good bet for All-America honors, but the magic label of Notre Dame practically insures his chances.
Yale, impregnable gridiron bastion in the bygone days of Camp, is suddenly resurgent after decades of living on its All-America memories. So the Bulldog has his candidates in the four rugged athletes resting impatiently on the bench during the 1955 Yale-Dartmouth game. Any member of this quartet is capable of playing big-time football anywhere in the U.S., although Fullback Gene Coker was so badly injured in preseason practice that he may be sidelined for most of the 1956 campaign.
Pittsburgh, a most imposing name in football during the 1930s when the late Jock Sutherland was at his coaching prime, is again on the rise. Like the Joe Skladanys and Marshall Goldbergs of that earlier time, Quarterback Corny Salvaterra, who led the Panthers to a Sugar Bowl date against Georgia Tech last New Year's Day, must occupy a place in the gallery of stars.
Times have changed since Camp's day when the temples of the football gods were tightly clustered on the eastern seaboard. The religion has spread west and south and produced new temples with names like Texas Christian, Oklahoma and Michigan State; and they, too, must have their All-Americas. In this case, they are Jim Swink, Tommy McDonald and Walt Kowalczyk.
In the South the tradition has deeper roots due in no small way to Georgia Tech and Tennessee, long the symbols of football southern-style. Nowadays the Engineers of Tech practice the newer vogues such as the split-T, so their contribution to the roll of honor is the split-T's all-important quarterback—in this case, Wade Mitchell. Tennessee, on the other hand, still prefers the old-fashioned virtues of single-wing power football, a holdover from the days when players grew their hair long and matted as a primitive protection against cracked skulls. Hence, their candidate for All-America turns out to be a tailback, Johnny Majors, one of the noteworthy students of this brand of football. It is fitting that he is shown all but eclipsing two of the linemen who will doggedly open the road to glory for this coming season.
That is the way of football. The lineman is doomed to anonymity. To be sure, seven of the men up front will be named to each All-America squad in December, but the selection is almost an afterthought.
The players in this gallery did not arrive there by chance. Diligent scouts and alumni from the large colleges watched them grow into maturity and extolled to them the glories of the alma mater. Anxious friends and occasional tutors worried over their scholastic progress. The finest coaches drilled them in the niceties of the game. Facile press agents ground out press releases on their feats. And finally they made it. They are Saturday heroes; they have arrived at the threshold of All-America.
Ivy league prestige is on the rise, thanks to Yale's veteran backfield of (I. to r.) Fullback Curtis Coker, Halfback Dennis McGill, Quarterback Dean Loucks and Halfback Al Ward—all first stringers on the 1955 varsity.