SIDNEY UNDERWOOD- Recalls His Father, Calhoun Football Daze

(09/14/2017)

Sidney Underwood holding his father's Sports
Hall of Fame Award (Hur Herald photo 2001)

By Sidney Underwood 2013

From the beginning, it was assumed that any son of Wayne Underwood would someday be influenced by football.

After all, my namesake was, Sid Luckman, the quarterback of the Chicago Bears of the 1930’s. Those George Halas coached teams won several championships and were known as the Monsters of the Midway.

I have early memories of football when we were living on Hardman Alley in Grantsville and I was probably 6 years old. Late on Friday nights in the fall when the Red Devils were playing away, my mother would tell me to be quiet and listen as it was about time for the fans to be returning.

She told me to listen and if I heard car horns blowing in town, we would know that the Red Devils had won. Silence would indicate that we had lost.

I would look at the old regulator clock on the wall and listen for any suspected noise coming from uptown. The minutes would tick by slowly and it would be very quiet in the house. I would get sleepy and start to nod off when suddenly we would hear a crescendo of horns blowing in the distance and I would look at mother and she would be smiling.

Wayne Underwood at CHS football field

Mother and I always attended the home games together. I would sit beside her at the beginning of each game, but soon would become restless. I would get permission from her to leave and go behind the bleachers to play pickup football with my grade school friends.

Someone usually had a dime store football or, failing that, we would find a popcorn box and twist it into a serviceable “football.” We would play there in the semi-darkness, only stopping when the crowd roared. We would yell up to someone on the top row of the bleachers to ask what had happened. After learning the details, we would resume our game always making up the rules as we went along.

It seems funny now to think about this informal game occurring at the same time as the varsity game. A kid would drop out to go get a hotdog or coke and someone else would take their place and our marathon game would continue.

Sometimes the fans on the top row would yell down for us to shut up as we were making too much noise. When we heard that, we would move our game down the line to a different area and resume playing. At halftime, we would wander back to the field to watch the bands perform.

Our group would pay special attention to the majorettes as we were very much impressed by them. During the second half, we would walk the sidelines and shout encouragement to our team. We would often encounter a Mr. Poling who everyone seemed to know. He was called ”Hudepohl.” He always carried a cup of coffee and seemed to be a good luck charm for the Red Devils as he always roamed the sidelines of every game regardless of where it was played.

See   ARNOLDSBURG'S 'HUDEPOHL' WAS FANTASTICAL CHARACTER

I have no idea how he got that nickname because I only saw him drink coffee. I remember one time, someone saying that they had spotted “Hudepohl” on the sideline with his coffee and saying that since he was present, the game could start now.

I would always return to mother during the 4th quarter of the game and beg money for a coke and hotdog. She would give me the money with the condition that I return with her change and sit beside her for the rest of the game. Reluctantly, I would agree. Those hotdogs always tasted wonderful while sitting there on the bleachers in the cool nighttime autumn air.

FOOTBALL CAMP 1957

The players - (Front L-R) Bob Ash, French Stump, Tony Richards, Vearl Haynes, Kenneth Hughes and Don Burch; (Back L-R) Dave Hathaway, Oren Ward. This is a break in the afternoon practice. The practice uniforms were of plain cotton and devoid of numbers. Note the drying towels on the railing near the school buses indicating that the players had taken showers before the noon meal was served.

As I grew older, I would go with dad in the summertime when he made home visits in the county to see his players. He would hand out new football shoes with the instructions that they be well “broken in” when football camp started in mid-August.

He would tell the players to run in the cool of the evening after the chores were done. He spent more time talking with the parents than he did with the players. He would discuss with them the importance of nutrition and getting enough bed rest. He would talk with the mothers about their sons staying out of trouble and that they would be representing the school when wearing the Red Devil uniform.

Quite often the mothers would insist that we return home with fresh produce from their gardens such as sweet corn, tomatoes and half runner beans.

Transportation to football camp was always a problem. Dad frowned on players driving themselves to camp because he feared that their old cars were not safe. He also knew that having several players riding in an unsupervised car might result in a bad outcome.

He would contact Hope and Cabot employees in the county who would be driving to Grantsville in the early morning hours and try to arrange transportation for players living near them.

He did not want “his boys” hitchhiking, always preferring some sort of arrangement be made in advance. This was a time before the “activity buses” that are so common now.

The August weather was always hot when football camp started. After the practice uniforms were issued, the players would run wind sprints and Dad would soon see who was in shape and who needed work. There was no weight training back then as the emphasis was always on quickness for the linemen and speed for the backs.

Players would get water breaks at regular intervals. There was a water spigot on the outside wall of the dressing room near the old bus garage. That was a popular place to be during the brief rest periods. Another gathering place was at the opposite end of the field as there was a large maple tree just beyond the end zone. It provided afternoon shade for many players over the years. Sadly, It was cut down several years ago.

The two man blocking sled always got a lot of work. Often the players would be sent over behind the bleachers for the ”two on one” blocking drill. This was a signature component of camp. The grass would be chewed up by the cleats and the dust would fly as the participants strained to execute the perfect blocks.

Everyone participated in this ritual and there were no exceptions as the "two on one” drill was definitely a rite of passage to be remembered long after those young men moved on with their lives.

As a kid at camp, I shagged footballs and brought out supplies such as pads, tape, iodine, bandages and shoe strings when called upon to do so.

I remember one time when Billy Wilson, who lived on the ridge beyond Big Springs, was playing for the Red Devils. It was a seriously hot day in August of 1955. Billy might have been a junior that year. He motioned for me to come over to him. He said that he was dying of thirst and asked me to smuggle some water to him, but not let Coach know about it.

Dutifully, I filled a coke bottle with water and put it under my shirt and sneaked onto the field and slyly handed it to him. He turned his back and took a long swallow. He thanked me and said that I had saved his life. I think that I just might have earned a friend for life that day.

One of the best memories of football camp was the food served up by Lorena Kelley and Virginia Tucker for the noon day meal in the cafeteria.

As the coach’s son, I got to eat with the players. I can still taste those melt-in-your-mouth hot rolls that were made fresh each day.

The players could certainly put away enormous amounts of food. The all-time eating champion would have to be Bull Williams who lived at Big Bend. He was a huge tackle who played in the early 1950’s. He would fill his tray three times and leave nary a scrap.

Afterwards, he would drag outside and lie on the grass in the shade of the high school and tell everyone that he couldn’t move and that someone needed to get Dr. Toepher to come and attend to him. Bull was quite a character as well as being a good football player.

These are just a few of the memories that I have of that time so long ago. If I wrote down everything that I could recall, it would fill several volumes.

One final thought that I would like to mention is the fact that my Dad enjoyed so much whenever one of his former players would drop by for a visit.

He enjoyed the visiting and reminiscing and soon they would be laughing together over something funny that they had shared in the past.

He genuinely cared for “his boys” and was always pleased upon hearing that they had succeeded in life.

I still encounter former players today who tell me that he was like a father and was a major influence in their life.

As the coach’s son trailing along behind, I saw it all unfold. I watched this man that I loved, this father, husband, educator and coach become the legend that he is today.

SHORT STORY: MEMORIES OF HARDMAN ALLEY - Underwood Recalls Grantsville Life, Cow Milk, Cowboys, BBs, Bikes And Tingling Ears

SHORT STORY: GRANTSVILLE BOY LOVED HIS CARS - Merrily Underwood Reminiscences, You Can Too

SHORT STORY: MEMORIES OF GRANTSVILLE GRADE SCHOOL - "Silent Sentinel Of Time Gone By" Sidney Underwood

CALHOUN'S ILLUSTRIOUS WAYNE UNDERWOOD - "He Was Not A Great Man Because He Was A Great Coach, He Was a Great Coach Because He Was A Great Man"


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