Tuesday, June 28, 2011

If only it were true

For a couple of years, I saved a particular article located while researching Jay Berwanger (pictured) for my biography. It came from the College Football Historical Society newsletter of May 2002.

I planned to use an anecdote in the article when I finally wrote about Berwanger's career as a college football referee in the late 1940s to mid-1950s.

Here is what I typed into my manuscript:

Berwanger was working the Minnesota-Purdue game in 1948 when he encountered a never-seen-that-before situation. After a Minnesota touchdown late in the first half, the Gophers lined up for the ensuing kickoff. Billy Bye was the holder and Gordy Soltau the kicker. Game film shows Soltau running up and extending through a full kick. The Gophers raced down to make a tackle and the Boilermakers prepared to block. After a moment or two, nearly all the players were glancing about in apparent confusion. Where was the ball? It was soon located under a prostrate Bye. Soltau never kicked the ball. Bye pulled it away, a la Lucy and Charlie Brown. That was a new one on Berwanger, who conferred with the rest of his officiating crew before calling a penalty on Minnesota for delay of game.

It's a fun little story. Unfortunately, there are a couple of problems.

I decided to look up newspaper accounts of the game to see how sportswriters described the odd play. The Chicago Tribune and Associated Press accounts didn't mention it at all.

Further, looking in the fine print, I don't see Berwanger listed as a member of the officiating crew. (Coincidentally, the referee in Minneapolis was someone else with Dubuque ties -- William Blake, a graduate of Loras College.)

If Berwanger wasn't on that crew, did he work another game? In scanning the boxscores of major college games, I finally located him. Berwanger was not in Minneapolis that afternoon but in Madison, serving as referee of Northwestern at Wisconsin.

So, with some reluctance -- it's a fun little anecdote -- the false-start kickoff won't be in my Berwanger biography.

No comments: