By: Loran Smith - onlineathens.com
When Bob Casciola retired as President of the National Football Foundation in 2005, transitioning from the cold climes of the Northeast to sunny Arizona, that was about the same time that critics of the game of football were mobilizing.
Certainly not having anything to do with its popularity, which was intact, but its liabilities, mostly the fallout over concussion-related issues.
A former coach, Casciola, was willing to address that subject, but he had heard so many passionate testimonials to football from captains of industry, Presidents, Admirals and Generals, he came to believe that the other side of the story should be told.
His book, “1st And Forever,” with Jon Land (foreword by Archie Manning and afterword by Bobby Bowden) is a treatise on the good things that can come about for those who love the game of football. Already, the book has won the American Book Fest 2018 “Best Books Award” in the Sports category.
Having played and taught the game, Casciola agonized and winched at the legion of detractors and gadflys who were taking shots at the grand old game.
Finally, he chose to speak out—to call for reason and to look closer at the positives that had served the game so well for decades. First, he had to admit that football, influenced by the speed of the game and the growth of the participants (literally, the advent of 350 pound linemen, who could move with the alacrity of a grizzly bear), meant that the game had become more violent.
He was willing to address that issue, but along with it, tell you about the men who influenced his life for the better by using football to identify with leadership principles that inspire kids to achieve and overachieve.
He had rubbed shoulders with the leading coaches along the way, he was in the company of Heisman Trophy winners, such as Roger Staubach, the one-time Navy All-America quarterback who was every bit as good of a businessman as he was a Super Bowl winning quarterback in the National Football League.
Casciola knew the feelings of such luminaries, their high regard for the game and their belief that football had far more redeeming values than critics were willing to admit. “Let’s take the head out of the game and see where we are,” he preached.
Every conversation I have regarding the concussion issue, I always think about driving five minutes from my house in Athens over to where my friend and Georgia legend Charley Trippi lives. Unless there is precipitation, I will likely find the 97-year-old Trippi in his yard, raking leaves. Trippi and Casciola have the same Italian heritage and the work ethic is unflinchingly imbued in their makeup.
Trippi won the Maxwell Award as the nation’s outstanding football player in 1946 after coming home from the war. (It was a foregone conclusion that Heisman voters would award the Heisman to Army’s Doc Blanchard one year and Glenn Davis the next.) Trippi, who could have turned pro after the war, nonetheless finished his career for Coach Wallace Butts, the pass oriented pioneer who made his protégé a triple threat left halfback (actually quintuple threat...Trippi excelled at running, passing, receiving, punting and playing defense) in the Clark Shaughnessy created T-formation which became the rage of college football after World War II.
To sum up Trippi’s personal life, for example, he daily functioned with moderation in mind. While he spent much of his football afterlife selling spirits, I have never seen him order more than two drinks. Usually it was only one. I never saw him reach for a second dessert. He could have worn the same belt on his 40th birthday that he wore during his campus days.
Once, I asked Trippi about hunting and he seemed to become flushed with angst. “Oh no,” he said softly, “I could never kill something like a harmless little bird.” On the football field, however, he would scratch your eyes out to achieve victory.
The inevitable question arose regarding football contact. Trippi, who played the game for over 20 years a stylist, yet rugged running back had this explanation.
“They don’t hit any harder today than they did in my day. After all, there is only one way to hit and that is to hit as hard as you can. The difference was that we led with our shoulder and not the head.”
Casciola’s collection of testimonies and colorful vignettes, well worth the read, includes his connection with two players who literally changed the game of football: Pete and Charlie Gogolak, the Hungarian refugee soccer style kickers. The Gogolaks are, perhaps, the only good news to evolve from the Hungarian Revolution.
“1st and Forever,” makes the valid point that taught right by leaders and coaches who want the game to serve the best interests of youth, football has redeeming values which has helped make America a great nation.