Looking over the college lineups this year and at all those bright young faces, I felt then that something would be missing for me, and I can only record it sadly. College football has never been the same since they exiled the tramp athlete.
Before my alma mater Lehigh went mad with self-righteousness, we used to have some fine Homeric creatures on campus, men who looked like Paul Bunyan or Mike Fink and had as little formal education as a goat. They were loud, jolly individuals who dutifully attended classes and made life a joy for jaded instructors, since they made no pretense of understanding inverted cosines and answered all the classroom queries with a gargantuan laugh that shook the rafters. They always had trouble at roll call, for they had played under so many different names that they often forgot their present one. If they answered to Arbuthnet when their Lehigh name was Dingle, they would say apologetically:
"That must be the one I went by at Southwest College of Chiropracty."
Nothing was more heartwarming in the head cheerleader exhorting the student body to give one short flicker for the left tackle, who happened to be his father. Somewhere in the background must have been a mother, but she probably stayed home, cashed the monthly check and kept an eye out for institutions that would need papa when he had graduated from Lehigh.
On one occasion we brought in a trainload of Swedes from Minnesota, some of them with Western Conference records. This proved to be one of our worst investments, for the Swedes discovered the Pennsylvania Dutch society of Allentown and were so tired out from dancing at Mealey's with the silk-mill girls that they were useless on the gridiron. All it did was give us a wrong impression of Midwest football, with the result that I still lose money on the Rose Bowl and will probably die convinced that any victory for Michigan or Illinois or Minnesota is a fluke.
In the strictest sense this contingent was not a group of tramps, for they were fired after one season and with the proceeds went into business. One of them, a big handsome end, is today a distinguished investment broker in Wall Street and, if truthful, will be compelled to state that he got his first notions of finance from his football experience. This gentleman had been an All-Conference choice at Minnesota, with a great reputation for grabbing forward passes. His dreams of Eastern glory, if any, ended on that day when we played Muhlenberg and he was hit by a tackle named Blenheim, who was in his early 40s and had started years ago in the hard-coal region around Scranton under his original name of Wczthzyski. Blenheim split our Swede left him for dead.
The Swede had sense enough to retire with honor, and we had the fun of following Blenheim's career. He had still been Wczthzyski when he enrolled as a youngster at Bucknell, had been Oscar P. Cameron at the Rolla School of Mines in Missouri, had been Seymour Kiesel at Ouachita Baptist College, Arkadelphia, Ark. His last station was at Sul Ross Teachers College, Texas.
The great treat of our day at Lehigh was to go out to early fall football practice and find what Santa Claus had brought us for the new season. Since we had no professional scouts, the tramps must have been operating their traditional grapevine system, perhaps making a cross on the gates of Taylor Field to indicate that this was a friendly household. But it could be very confusing. We would fall in love with a big guard and find him gone next day. Before our distress became acute, another strange mastodon would appear. Sometimes there would be a complete turnover in the first few weeks of practice, but we always opened the season with a full roster.
Oldtimers still talk with reverence of the day when a halfback appeared, was fitted into a suit and proceeded to make a monkey of the Lehigh varsity. Training had already progressed to the point of scrimmage and our hero, inserted at left half on the scrubs, took the ball on the first play and ran 80 yards for a touchdown. Since this was obviously an accident, the teams lined up again. Our man, given the ball once more, weaved through our gritted-toothed huskies like a wraith and was next seen sitting on the ball behind the far goalposts. When he repeated the performance on the third and fourth attempts, the coach led him gently to the athletic offices, where the treasurer was reposing lightly on a bag of bullion. The financial details were settled with a minimum of discussion, and then the coach said:
"Now, you go up to the registrar's office and sign in."