Rocky Rhodes: Everything Old Is New Again

Grant “Rocky” Rhodes is America’s oldest living sportswriter. He first rose to prominence in 1921, when he struck an early blow for civil rights with his groundbreaking article on the Negro Leagues (“Colored Players Not Totally Inhuman”). His weekly sports column, “The Cat’s Pajamas”, appears in 7000 newspapers nationwide when not bumped for “Hints from Heloise” or “Gardening Weekly”. Today, he graces Scratchbomb with his nine decades of sports wisdom to talk about Sunday’s NFC Championship game.


We got this one attendant at the home, Frankie. A little stupid, but a good kid. So this morning he tells me that the Giants are playing the Packers in the NFC championship game. “That probably reminds you of old times, huh?” he says. “Back in the days of Vince Lombardi and stuff like that. I bet Lambeau Field was a pretty exciting place to be back then.”

Sure, it was exciting, if your idea of exciting is freezing your nuts off in the middle of Ass-Nowheresville. Ask a sportswriter his idea of hell, and he’ll say “Green Bay.” That place makes Amish country look like Weimar Berlin. I knew a guy who cut off his pinky rather than go there for the ’61 NFL Championship. A week of eating nothing but cheese and brats and I 0couldn’t get unblocked if I stuck a stick of dynamite up my rear end.

It was nothing like the championship games of the real old NFL. I mean, the real Paleolithic days, when there were no helmets, cheerleaders, or common sense. Guys sacrificed their bodies and minds every Sunday, for little money and even less notoriety. But I’m sure all of them would do it all over again if they could, and if their softened brains could still grasp the concept of decision making.

You wanna talk about a championship game? In 1937, I saw the Providence Steamroller beat the Chicago Cardinals 2-0 in the parking lot of a Studebaker dealership in Davenport, Iowa. It was definitely the best damn football game I’ve ever seen, and I’m sure my fellow spectators, all three dozen or so, would agree.

1937 was the year the NFL tried to increase scoring by changing the ball’s shape to oblong. Before that, it was angular, metallic and sharp. Of course, the old shape was totally impractical, but the league held on to it for a long time because they paid a lot of money to some fella named Calder to design it.

Of course, they hadn’t started filling the balls with air yet. No siree, they still filled ’em up with good ol’ fashioned concrete. The only score in the game came when the Cardinals’ quarterback dropped dead from exhaustion in his own end zone. A linebacker tripped on his corpse and fell on it to record the safety. He was the championship’s only casualty, which was quite rare in those days. Most every game back then would end with at least three guys in the morgue.

Providence’s star player was Stan “Running Back” Wisniewski. He was the perfect man for the team’s patented “run straight up the middle” offense. Stan only averaged 1.2 yards per carry, but he still led the league in yardage every year–mostly because they handed him the ball on every single play.

Back then, you were allowed to  call one play in your first game of the year, and you had to stick with that same play all season. It would be another few years before Weeb Ewbank invented something called “strategy”.

“Yup, you really missed out by being born so late,” I told Frankie. “Those were the days where men were men, and football was football. You’ll never get to see something like that in your life so long as you live.”

“Yeah, but I also don’t have to pee in a bag,” he said.

Touché, Frankie.