Football was a slightly different game in the 1950's. Television exposure was extremely limited, and fans relied on the College Football Scoreboard show or the Sunday newspaper to learn about what happened around the country. The television program had zero film of the day's action. Instead, you could only look at the commentator for thirty minutes, while he read brief game summaries from the wire services.

Back in those days, college football rules were radically different from today, and seem downright bizarre in retrospect. For instance, all players were on both offense and defense line-ups. If he came out of the game, he wasn't allowed to return until there were four minutes or less to go in the half.

This led to some pretty weird strategy at times. If the game was 14-13 with four minutes and ten seconds to go, and the trailing team was in field goal position but their kicker was out of the game, the defense would call time out to keep him on the sidelines. In another scenario, a team down by three points, they would intentionally run a play that would NOT score, in order for the four-minute mark to pass when the kicker could return to the game.

A second rule that seems crazy in today's world of big business, was applied to post-season play. If your team played in a bowl game in 1954, you were banned from any bowl game in 1955. They believed that it was "more fair" for the other teams in the league, giving everyone a chance to play. It effectively prevented anyone from building a dynasty, becoming dominant, and "win" the sport's highest honors consistently. Who'd want that?

Bowl games back then, were supposed to be festive occasions. The actual competition was secondary in importance. Believe it or not, for a time in the 1950's, the national champion was selected Before the bowl games in the spirit of fair play (or something modern football fans can't fathom). Oklahoma won the national championship in 1950, even though they lost their bowl game. Three years later they didn't win the national championship even though they defeated the national champion in a bowl game. It was illogical and nonsensical.

Another rule that changed, concerned the injury time-out. In the 1950's the clock was stopped for any injury, offense or defense, regardless of the situation in the game. In the most famous abuse of this rule, Notre Dame was knocking on the touchdown door against Iowa, while they were out of time-outs and out of time. Knowing that his team couldn't set up for one more play before the half ended. So, a Notre Dame player went sprawling on the ground, writhing in "pain." The clock was stopped, the player was helped off the field, and Notre Dame ran the final play of the half for a touchdown. He then came back and played the entire second half. A remarkable recovery! They also scored on the final play of the game for a memorable 14-14 tie. Why go for a tie? There was no other option in those days, as the two-point conversion didn't come into existence until later.

Pro football was slightly different, too. You might remember that for years, the goal posts were right on the goal line, and Lou "The Toe" Groza would split them with regularity when he kicked off for the Cleveland Browns. It also was fairly common to see an end running a crossing pattern and...WHAM!...right into the goal posts.

The game clock was the ultimate in inefficiency. Time was kept on the field, and the scoreboard clock was unofficial. More than once, a team would be on the two-yard line, barking out a play with a seemingly safe 30 seconds to go on the scoreboard clock, when the gun would sound, ending the half (or the game). The quarterback would throw the ball on the ground in disgust and the announcers would comment for the millionth time, that something needed to be done about that problem.

A professional exhibition game was played in my hometown of Norman, Oklahoma, in the 1950's between the Detroit Lions and the New York Giants. A group of kids, myself included, hung-out during the practices, bugging the players for autographs. I remember one time, when a player was sitting on a rolled-up tarp underneath the stadium and I asked him for his autograph. The signature looked like Mmmm Tunnnl. It was, of course, the great Hall of Famer, Emlen Tunnell, who played for the Packers and Giants, appeared in nine Pro Bowls and was named NFL's all time leading safety in 1969. I'm ashamed to admit that I didn't even know who he was at the time, because he didn't play in the backfield.

Another event that happened to our little pack of autographs hounds, was written up in the local newspaper. One of us (no, it wasn't me) went up to a strapping young man as he exited the locker rooms. He was asked to sign, and he did so obligingly. He then walked to his laundry truck, got in, and drove off, much to our embarrassment.

Ah yes, times have changed...


Bruce Amspacher has been a professional writer since the 1950s and a professional numismatist since the 1960s. He won the OIPA sportswriting award in 1958 and again in 1959, then spent eight years in college studying American Literature. This background somehow led him to become a professional numismatist in 1968. Since then he has published hundreds of articles on rare coins in dozens of publications as well as publishing his own newsletter, the "Bruce Amspacher Investment Report," for more than a decade. His areas of expertise include Liberty Seated dollars, Morgan and Peace dollars, United States gold coins, sports trivia, Western history, modern literature and the poetry of Emily Dickinson. In 1986 he was a co-founder of the Professional Coin Grading Service (PCGS).