Tiger Walk from the 2014 season opener against Arkansas on August 30. (Wade Rackley photo)
FROM THE DESK OF DAVID HOUSEL (August 30, 2014)
The more things change, the more they remain the same...
Same song, second verse, third verse, fourth verse.
Auburn-Arkansas, August 30, 2014.
Same song, umpteenth verse of college football's oldest controversy.
It is a controversy, a conflict, a difference of philosophy, that goes back to the earliest days of college football. Auburn-Arkansas is but another chapter, another case study, of that on-going, enduring controversy.
In the early days of college football, Walter Camp, considered the Father of Modern Football, abhorred the idea of the forward pass. John Heisman, a former Auburn coach and the man for whom the Heisman Trophy is named, loved the idea. Heisman saw what may have been the first forward pass in 1895 while scouting a Georgia-North Carolina game in Atlanta for Auburn. In an effort to prevent a blocked punt, the North Carolina punter threw the ball forward to a North Carolina player who raced 70 yards for the game winning touchdown. The play was illegal but the officials allowed it to stand over the strong objection of Pop Warner, Georgia's coach, since they had not seen the pass and did not know how the ball got from the punter to runner.
Heisman immediately saw the forward pass as the salvation and future of football, a way to open the game up, make it more exciting for the fans and safer for the players, moving the game away from masses of brute strength to a more skillful game in which brain could compete with brawn for victory.
Camp was just the opposite. He thought the forward pass would lead to the death of college football, a game he had nurtured and shaped since its infancy. He believed the forward pass would take "manliness" out of the game. Two opposing positions that sound very familiar even today.
Camp, as Chairman of the Rules Committee, adamantly refused to let the committee even consider legalizing the forward pass. But Heisman pushed and pushed, ultimately getting on the Rules Committee, and, with the help of two long forgotten men, John Bell and Paul Daskiell, eventually carried the day, and the forward pass became a part, an exciting part, of college football forevermore.
All of this and more, from then until now, is covered in Michael Weinreb's very fine book, Season of Saturdays--A History of College Football in 14 Games. It is, simply, the best college football history written in the last 50 years. It is history as history should be written and told, a very human story of coaches, players and events, some funny, some serious, some tragic and some ironic, that shaped the game we play and love today.
What does all of this have to do with today's Auburn-Arkansas game? Perhaps everything.
Just last winter, Arkansas coach Brett Bielema and Alabama coach Nick Saban went to the NCAA Rules Committee and tried to get legislation passed that would slow down the game of college football as many, including Auburn, play it today.
The HUNH--Hurry Up No Huddle--offense has replaced the forward pass as the matter of concern but the issue remains the same. Same song, umpteenth verse. The century-old never-ending debate to be played out again today on the turf of Jordan-Hare Stadium. The more things change, the more they remain the same...
Arkansas' Brett Bielema plays the role of Walter Camp: slow it down, be deliberate, powerful and effective. Auburn's Gus Malzahn plays the role of John Heisman--hurry up, snap the ball, keep it moving, keep it exciting. Play the clock, not the opponent. Keep it moving.
This much is certain: somewhere in the Great Somewhere, if football is important there, Walter Camp, the traditionalist, will be pulling hard for Arkansas today, and John Heisman, the innovator, will be doing the same for his old school, Auburn.
Here's hoping Coach Heisman is a happy man tonight.
From the Desk of David Housel is published each home game in Auburn Football Illustrated, the official game program of Auburn Football.