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Friday, May 6, 2016

Sites, weather change, game still same

Friday, October 17, 2008

The 2007 edition of the Thayer Bobcat football team made us old "Bobcodgers" proud.

They put Thayer on the map, so to speak.

What a thrill it must have been for those boys and the coaches to run out on that smooth carpet in the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis before several thousand spectators and come within a whisker of winning the state championship.

Back in the early 1950s when I played ball at Thayer High School, there were no domes, not even the Astrodome, the first of the great indoor sports venues of it's kind, which was opened in Houston in 1965.

Missouri schools inaugurated the playoff system in 1968.

The largest indoor facility that we had seen was the Brewer Field House at the University of Missouri, but it was only large enough for basketball and indoor track.

Some of these new outdoor high school stadiums near where I live (in Texas) have underground drainage systems, which permits games to be played soon after heavy rains.

Matter of fact, it would be near impossible to have a dirty uniform playing on those manicured grass surfaces.

When I go there, I invariably recall games we played in less than ideal conditions at Thayer.

I think it was the fall of 1950 when the Bobcats played a game at Rolla in the mud.

A heavy blanket of snow had fallen, then the sun came out and melted the snow the afternoon of the game, leaving giant puddles on the field.

The player's cleats soon mixed the dirt and water into pig-pen quality.

That kept the score down, because no one could tell which team a player was on, and at times, the referees had to wipe their hand on a helmet to see the color.

In the fall of 1947 the Bobcats played at West Plains after a heavy rain in near the same muddy conditions.

But the game of games, as far as the weather was concerned, that I can recall, was when the Bobcats played at Mountain View in the fall of 1951.

A steady drizzle turned the field into a virtual ice rink, and then the temperature dropped dramatically just before game time.

Indeed the players were slipping and sliding, but Thayer managed to score.

That's when the Mountain View coach out-foxed us.

He arranged for a local merchant to bring each of his players a pair of tennis shoes (I know, they're athletic shoes, but we called all rubber soled canvas shoes, tennis shoes in those days).

The Mountain View players changed into the rubber-soled shoes, which gave them a tremendous advantage and no doubt gave them a win that night.

At that time, players furnished everything but pads and the football uniform itself.

Some of us were lax in taking our socks and T-shirts home to be washed, which produced some crusty, foot-shaped socks, and after a week or so, an indescribable smelling shirt.

Our damp pads were laid on the retaining wall behind the school on sunny days to help dry them.

I notice teams now have several trainers, some of them girls, which is shocking for us old dudes.

Do girls go into the dressing room? How'd that get started? Time stops and they hover over a shaken player and gingerly walk him off the field. I remember a guy on our team limping to the sideline.

"What's the matter?" coach asked.

"I guess I have a charley horse (We called everything a charley horse then)," the player said.

"Come out and run it off!" coach said, yelling for a substitute to "get in there."

Our coach inherited a beat-up metal tool box that carried the team's first aid gear, if you could call it that.

There was a roll of adhesive tape, a tube of analgesic balm, salt tablets and a vial of ammonia, marked "smelling salts" in the box, along with spare screws in hard rubber cleats and a wrench.

We searched everywhere for the aluminum cleats we once saw on an opposing player but could never find the source.

A large piece of foam rubber showed up in the box once and it went fast. It looked real football like to tape a piece on our arm or shin.

I'll never forget those long school bus rides to places like Mountain Grove and Rolla.

It gave the younger boys a chance to hear dirty jokes and learn the "facts of life," part of our education, you might say.

It would have been easy to complain in my day, but the older alumni guys wouldn't allow it.

They said, "How'd you like to ride in the back of an open truck on a dusty road to Imboden, like we did? (U.S. 63 south of Mammoth Spring was not paved until about 1953).

I'd be the first to admit, high school players are bigger, faster and better, light years actually from some 60 years ago, but they must concede that we didn't have it as good.

It would be fun to play on a nice field with fancy gear, but on second thought, maybe us old guys will just watch and tell how rough we had it back when.

Editors note: Max Evans is a 1953 graduate of Thayer High School who now resides in Texas. From time to time, he will share some of his pictures and stories from "back in the day" when he was a proud Bobcat. -- TM

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