, Newburyport, MA

October 16, 2012

Football in the '40s vs. today

As I See It Bob 'Boots' Chouinard
Newburyport Daily News

---- — My career as a football player extended from the fall of 1938 to December 1949, with a couple of years of interruption due to World War II. It came close to extending beyond that during my senior year at Boston College, when I received a letter from the Green Bay Packers. It pleased me greatly that they invited me to their training camp for the fall of 1950. Because of a couple of reasons I decided not to go. Had I gone and made the squad, who knows how much longer I would have played.

While playing college football, it was difficult to hold my weight. In those days, you would play both offensive and defensive. Therefore you had to be in excellent condition. My weight would drop down to 190 pounds each season. I was the center on offense and linebacker on defense. This required a good deal of training. While on defense, I had to cover pass receivers.

A fellow teammate on the team was Art Spinney. We were both the same size. He went on to play for the Baltimore Colts. To make the team, he had to play offensive guard. He was an end at Boston College. In the pros he played at 235 pounds. If I had made it with the Packers, I would have played at 220 pounds on defense.

The tackling game was my forte. To make it in the pro ranks I’d have to be heavier. I’m sure I could have held my weight there at 220 pounds; that would have been sufficient.

You must remember in 1950, there were only about eight teams in the league. Many of my teammates went into the pro’s and made it big. The salaries then were very low. If I made the squad, I’d get $5,000 per season. Consider what the salaries are now — all the players make it into the millions of dollars.

Football during my days was quite different than it is today. There are so many differences that I’ll have to write about it in parts.

In the 1940s we ran the ball most of the time. We only passed to keep the defense honest. Otherwise they would bunch up on us. It was more rock’em, sock’em football. When the ball was centered, you could hear the pads colliding up into the stands. We went after each other head to head. We couldn’t use our hands while blocking. Our hands couldn’t be more than 6 inches from our chest; otherwise, you’d get penalized 15 yards for illegal use of the hands. So when we blocked we would have to drive our face right along the side of the opponent by his hips. With our neck and the forearm we would try to control the other player. This took a lot of practice to be able to do that effectively, realizing we didn’t have

face masks nor did we use mouth guards. Our faces got scraped up most of the time. I had a scar on my nose each season that wouldn’t heal. Thank goodness I didn’t lose any teeth.

In today’s game the blocking is all done with the hands, making it much easier to block. It is less skillful. Unfortunately, this causes “holding,” which can go on for most of the play. It’s only called when the runner is close to the blocking. I really prefer playing in my day. It was so satisfying being successful making a good block.

Because you blocked and played low, you became a better tackler. The tackling in our day was much better; we didn’t tackle high at all. If you blocked or tackled high, generally you wouldn’t be too successful.

When I see some of the tackling today, it’s sometimes disgraceful. The pass receivers take a beating. Most often when they catch a ball, someone would drive their head into their chest or neck. That’s so damaging. I thought sportsmanship is supposed to be part of the game. It’s gotten too brutal for my money.

It would please me if they would make a ruling to ban face masks. Without them I doubt you’d see so much head ramming as you do now.

There is no doubt that the football today is more exciting to watch. The professionals give you a good game all the time. I can’t think of any other sport that holds you on the edge of your seat more than that does. Often you can’t relax watching a game until the final second. It will always be my favorite sport.


Bob “Boots” Chouinard lives in Salisbury.