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Huie Article: 1941 Collier's Magazine

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Who is Willaim Bradford Huie? From the University of Alabama Journalism Dept.

How to Keep Football Stars in College

by William Bradford Huie

Colliers Weekly Magazine - 1941

For fifteen years I've been a football fan-atic. Perhaps we've met somewhere. At the Rose Bowl? I've been there five times. Or at the polo Grounds? Or in New Orleans? Or Birmingham? I'm the little guy with the cane who always wears that big red-and-white Alabama button and seems to be having such a hell-raising time.

If you've ever seen 'Bama's Crimson Tide surge into action you've either seen me or heard that Comanche war whoop of mine. That whoop is some- thing to remember. It's a direct blood descendant of the Rebel Yell and never fails to leave me whispering hoarse for two days after a game. Except for a season when I was out of the country- and the Clippers weren't flying then - I haven't missed an Alabama game since New Year's Day, 1925, when Pooley Hubert and Johnny Mack Brown racked up our first Rose Bowl victory. I'm strictly a one-team fan. Alabama's my alma mater-class of '29- and the Tide's my team. I've never seen a college game in which Alabama wasn't a contestant. No other team matters to me. Take Notre Dame. Sure, the Irish are okay. So are Stanford and Fordham and Texas A. & M. But you take them. I'll take Alabama year in and year out. And I'll bet you my standard wager--one dollar, no odds.

I've felt all the great thrills of the Tide's modern history. I used the war whoop four times in '34 during the six minutes it took Dixie Howell and Don Hutson to score 24 points on the Stanford "vow" boys. And I wallowed in our deepest slough of despair when the California Golden Bears horse-collared us with our only Bowl defeat in '38.

As a hobby it's been exciting. We fellows in the alumni association have had a lot of fun. We've drunk a lot of good corn whisky and told a lot of swell stories. Our haven't-missed-a-game records have been as precious as our politics. And, yes, you've guessed it. We're guilty of all the sins in the book. We've recruited players from all points of the compass. We can quote you current on-the-hoof prices for tackles or tailbacks. We've helped build a feeder organization that's bigger than the New York Yankee farm system, and we've fought our big-time competitors on a nation-wide front.

But now I'm quitting. I'm not mad at anybody. I'm just walking out in good faith and good humor. During the season just ended I've seen the Tide play some great games. In the best Alabama tradition they were fought to the final whistle. But I've seen my last game. The fellows thought I was dead when I didn't show up at the last smoker. But I'm not. I've just quit.

The reasons? Well, maybe I'm going soft. Maybe I'm getting old. Maybe I'm developing a conscience. Or maybe I'm Hannibal looking back down the road to Rome and wondering if the victories were worth the price we've paid. But I guess I'm just fed up. I guess I'm tired of ducking out the back door when these All Americans I've recruited come around looking for jobs. I guess I'm fed up seeing a lot of fine kids waste their best years on something that's phony.

That look in their eyes when they realize it's phony isn't pleasant. And I guess I'm trying to kid myself into believing there is more good than bad in the collegiate football system.

It's not a spur-of-the-moment decision. It's a cumulative decision which had its beginning back in 1927-30 when I worked as a tutor for the Alabama athletic department and watched the building of a football machine.

In those days Hank Crisp, the real genius behind all the Alabama teams, was building the far-flung organization that today has become the standard for all the big-time schools. High-school coaches and alumni, concentrated in Alabama, Mississippi and Arkansas but scattered throughout the country, were the outposts, and between the outposts Crisp and his corps of scouts shuttled constantly.

Crisp occupied the same position in this system that Ed Barrow occupies in the Yankee baseball empire. He directed the task of producing two hundred prospective All Americans every year. Wallace Wade, who was head coach then, simply managed the varsity, as Joe McCarthy manages the Yankees. The same plan is in effect today except that Frank Thomas has replaced Wade in the line-up.

I was director of the brain-trust division for Crisp. The scholastic welfare of all the various squads was my responsibility. These squads included the Tuscaloosa High School squad, the freshman squad, the Red Shirt squad, the varsity squad and the postgrad squad.

Now don't tell me you've been under the naive impression that the modem football organization has only two squads-the freshman and the varsity?

The Tuscaloosa High School squad was a most important incubator in the Tide hatchery. During the years I was at the university it was coached by Paul Burnum, who is noted for his thoroughness in teaching those twin fundamentals, blocking and tackling. It was generally understood that at least a part of his salary was paid by the university. He has since been promoted to freshman coach, and his rivals will tell you he is one of the cleverest recruiting agents in the business.

As proof of the esteem in which Burnum is held, he was selected to head the delegation that submitted Alabama's bid for Bill DeCorrevont, the much-publicized high-school halfback who finally chose Northwestern. Burnum returned empty-handed. "Hell, we could have gotten him," Burnum still explains. "But we didn't want him. He would never have fitted into the Alabama system."

But Burnum couldn't take full credit for his great high-school squads which usually won the state championship. For he was assisted by other Alabama scouts. Suppose a scout found a good prospect who could play another year or two in high school. And suppose the prospect had a poor coach who didn't teach the Alabama system and who might try to recruit the prospect for a competitor. The scout simply picked up the prospect and brought him to Tuscaloosa High School, where he could play on a championship team and where Burnum could start teaching him the Alabama system.

My task began with keeping these recruited players on Burnum's squad on speaking terms with their high-school teachers and getting them graduated so they could become college freshmen.

Hence this passing tip to Mr. Average Pan. Looking at your official program at the big game, you've probably wondered how the high school where your college is located happens to produce so many fine players. Don't be fooled any longer. Most of those players were transplanted from Podunk or Ishkooda during their high-school careers and are now calling the college town "home." If you are a Tennessee fan you may have noted that about a third of the 1940 varsity squad hails from Knoxville.

Cripple Courses are Safest

But back to the brain trust. The big push for us came in September when the freshmen brainless beef rolled in. Here were two hundred huskies who had been "eased through" high school an football and now we had to ease the best of them through college. In registering them we used our marked list of freshman professors. We placed the beef in classes where they would receive "sympathetic treatment" and steered them clear of those old sour apples who still insisted on flunking a guy just because he didn't know anything. But we had other limitations to consider, too. All science courses except the most elementary were out, for they would have long laboratory periods for which no beefer could find time. Courses leading to any form of higher mathematics were impossible. So commerce, law, medicine or any form of engineering were blacklisted from the start. This left us only the School of Arts and Sciences and the School of Education through which to route the beefers.

Our most successful plan was to enroll the beefer in the School of Education and point him toward a possible bachelor of science degree in physical education. One of the factors which may have caused us to prefer the education school was that Dr. James J. Doster, dean of this school, was a faculty adviser to the athletic department, and was usually selected to represent the faculty on the long football trips.

Accordingly, the typical course with which we loaded down the freshman beefer consisted of classes in Bible, Psychology 1, Astronomy, and Music Appreciation. All were "cripples" of the purest ray. Bible was taught by a lovable old gentleman who delivered lofty lectures and never bothered his sleeping class with details like questions or examinations. I once heard of a beefer about to Runk this course who was given a special examination by the professor. The professor asked him two questions: Who created the world? and How long did it take? The beefer answered only the first question correctly for a grade of fifty, but the kindly professor gave him an additional ten points for having tried the second to bring his grade to the sixty necessary for passing.

Astronomy, Psychology I and Music Appreciation were all taught by "fellowship" students and not by regular professors, so we had little difficulty here.

After registering the frosh we turned to the progressively harder task of making class schedules for the Red Shirts, the varsity and the postgrads. After all, you do eventually run out of "crip" courses and hit a bottleneck guarded by some unfriendly prof.

The Red Shirts composed the "suspension" squad. They were the fifty or more prospects who had already served their time on the freshman squad but had not yet been chosen for the varsity. You see, under the five-year eligibility rule in the Southeastern Conference a boy can play a year on the freshman squad, a year on some intermediate squad, and still play out his full three-year varsity career. Thus in the spring the coaches look over the varsity and see what is needed to fill the holes resulting from what the sports writers politely call "graduation." They look over the Red Shirts first since they are older and better developed. Then they pick up a few from the freshman squad. Next they consign the rest of the freshmen to the Red Shirt pool to grow and develop another year. The chaff portion of the Red Shirt squad is then fired off the pay roll, and the brain trust promptly allows them to flunk and fall out of school. This fate will already have caught up with more than a hundred freshmen before the end of the first semester.

Thus, because of the Red Shirt pool, it often develops that a Tide "sophomore sensation" is some lad who has already had four years of training under the Alabama coaching staff-two years at Tuscaloosa High School, a year with the frosh, and a year with the Red Shirts.

When you understand this, you can perhaps more easily understand how the great senior squad of '30 could score twenty-one points on Washington State in eight minutes, and how the next great senior squad of '33 could score twenty- four points on Stanford in six minutes. Flash Suther, the halfback star of the '30 game, had been playing under the Alabama coaching staff for eight years, and Hillman Holley, the sophomore sensation of the same game, had had five years, counting their years at Tuscaloosa High. Captain Foots Clements and others of the same team came from the Arkansas farms which have produced fellows like Don Hutson, Sandy Sanford and the Moseleys.

The squad of '37 lost to California when Thomas gambled with a sophomore tailback-Herky Moseley who had only had two years on one of the junior-college farms in Arkansas. But the team had reached the Bowl only because of two last-minute field goals from Sandy Sanford's $100,000 toe. And since Sanford was from the same farm as Moseley, the farm's record did not suffer.

Here's another tip. Watch the '41 edition go back to the Rose Bowl. Another great senior squad is in the making, and the sophomore sensations will be Don Hutson's twin brothers. Imagine, if you can, twin Hutsons on the same field, one throwing and the other receiving passes.

Great Heroes Deserve Degrees

But back to classes again. After we had found all the "crip" courses we could for the Red Shirts and the varsity men, we turned to our problem children. These were the postgrads.

This squad was composed exclusively of Great Heroes-the fellows who had played out all their years of eligibility and now had returned from the wars to rest on their laurels while we poor brain trusters sweated to get them some kind of degree. Hank Crisp, it seems, has a sense of honor. He doesn't mind firing off the inept by the hundreds, but when a guy has fought and bled for the alma mater for five or ten years, he not only deserves an all-something-or-other but he also deserves a college degree. And Crisp was one to see that he got it. Or rather Crisp was one to see that I saw that he got it.

We called these great heroes the postgrad squad for two reasons. First, because the sports writers had already mournfully announced the Tide was losing them through "graduation," and second, there was the morale to think of, as Dr. Goebbels might say. After all, when a worshipful freshman got inquisitive at the frat house, these great heroes had to have some explanation for their continued presence around the campus.

"Oh, I'm hanging around doing a little postgrad work," they would remark loftily.

They couldn't afford to tell the frosh they still hadn't passed freshman English. It would have been bad for the morale.

For the most part these postgrads were the fellows who abused the privilege of being dumb. The most affable, probably without degrees, would have already left the campus to sell bonds or insurance. Those who had been given degrees would be teaching and coaching in high schools and developing new prospects for the machine.

I could give you many amusing stories of my labors with these boys. From the day they had left elementary school they had been passed through their classes because of football. Consequently, they had the formal education of the average kid in the sixth grade. Algebra was a required subject for a degree at Alabama. Can you picture one of these big fellows trying to solve the simplest algebraic equation? Or scanning a line from Browning? There was usually nothing for me to do but find the right prof and make a deal.

I remember in particular one great hero who was an All-America guard. He had been on the campus for seven years, and we had labored and dragged him through everything but elementary English. I would sit and read to him and point out and define the various parts of speech. "Here, Spike," I would say, "is a noun. And here is a verb."

He would nod his head, and I would read on. After six lines I would point back to the two words and ask him what they were. He would give me a blank stare, and the session would be ended.

I got Spike his pass in English, however, and the night he marched up and received his degree his professor and I sat in Tuscaloosa's most respectable bar and drank a toast to the great American system of public education.

A Triumph for Education

The classic story of the Alabama campus is the one about the football player in the history class. Having failed all his exams, the professor consented to give him one last special exam.

"I'm going to give you one question," he said. "If you can answer it, I will pass you. The question is: What is the capital of Alabama?"

The beefer studied for a long moment and answered: "Wetumpka."

"All right," replied the professor. "Had you answered 'Montgomery, your grade would have been 100. Since Wetumpka is 18 miles from Montgomery, I'll subtract 18 from 100 and your grade will be 82 for the course. I congratulate you.

Seriously, however, most of the passing was done through the system of fellowship students at the university. These students teach some of the elementary classes, and they grade virtually all the examination papers. They know that the football team is an asset to the school, and they know what must be done to keep many of the players eligible. They are the ones who furnish most of the elastic consciences.

But the colossal injustice only begins when the great hero gets his degree. He now becomes a favored applicant for a coaching position in some high school. But high schools in the South can't afford full-time coaches. The coach has to be a member of the faculty and spend part of his time teaching history or math or chemistry. And I had to sell those great heroes to school boards as teachers as well as coaches.

When I think of some of the scenes that must have transpired in Alabama schoolrooms during the past ten years, I wonder if I can ever atone for the sins I have committed against the rising generation.

Having been connected with the machine, I naturally dropped into the ranks of "active alumni" when I left the university. I choked back my cynicism with all the usual arguments about the value of team play and high ideals and die-for-dear-old-Siwash. And think of those fellows who would never get an "education" if it weren't for football. Besides, I enjoyed the spectacle, the business rivalry, and, as one ambitious for my school, I couldn't deny that football was our most negotiable asset.

Alabama is now the largest state university in the South, and its growth parallels exactly the growth of its football team in national prestige. Its huge stadium was paid for out of the half-million derived from Rose Bowl games.

But as the Great Dane would say, here's the rub for me now. I know that as my son grows up I'm going to do everything in my power to keep him from being sucked into the football mill. I was saved myself by being too little. Then how can I honestly go on recruiting other men's sons for a system in which I know the cards are stacked against them?

Boys are Only Human

Take the average American boy today in first or second year high school. The day he goes out and makes the football squad he takes a dangerous step. For he soon begins to neglect his classwork. He learns that he belongs to a favored group-that he doesn't have to study- that if he's good at football he's going to be passed anyway. Human nature being what it is, most of them take the easy way. From the day a boy starts playing football until he falls out somewhere up the ladder, his chief interest is going to be football. It has to be. The system demands it. And the day he falls out-whether it's on the freshman squad or whether he goes on to join the great heroes-he is going to discover that he knows how to do just one thing-play football. He is going to find out that during the years in which he might have been fitting himself to earn a living, he has been occupied with mousetraps and cross-blocks.

Some weeks ago, with Collier's cameraman Hans Groenhoff, I examined the records of a hundred or more products of the Alabama machine. We traveled many miles and interviewed boys all the way from the Tennessee Valley to the Black Belt fans in southern Alabama. Many of them were coaching and "teaching" in small-town high schools-manufacturing new prospects for the Tide-at salaries of $900 to $1,350 a year. The rest ranged from complete unemployment with "no prospect of work" up to Big John Miller, All-Southern guard in 1931, who, as premier snuff salesman in four TVA counties, seemed to be faring best of all.

We found Roy "The Ripper" White living in the teacherage at a D.A.R. high school on Sand Mountain. His wife teaches home economics at the school, and The Ripper, unemployed, hunts squirrels and helps around the house. A smashed knee has given him a deep limp. His younger brother died a few weeks ago after lying paralyzed for a month as a result of injuries received in a high-school football scrimmage.

"I played two years of freshman and Red Shirt ball," The Ripper said, "and in '33 1 was third man behind Dixie Howell at left half. I got in the Stan- ford game for two minutes. But in '34 I got hurt and crossed up with Thomas, and they threw me to the 'automatics.' I transferred to a smaller school and tried to carry on with my education, but it was no use." (By being "thrown to the automatics," The Ripper was referring to the university rule which automatically expels any student who fails to pass eight semester hours of work. When a football-scholarship player is dropped from any of the various squads, "the automatics" usually catch him, since he no longer receives tutoring or influential aid.)

Tony Holm, All-America fullback in '29, played pro football for six seasons, but when "five freight trains" hit him on a kickoff in Pittsburgh, a knee buckled the wrong way and his playing days were over. He has worked as a bouncer in a gambling house outside Birmingham, a clerk in a state whisky store and now has a commission job in a Birmingham furniture store.

Jimmie Moss was playing with his two children the night we called at his four-room farmhouse in Morgan County. Jimmie and I were kids together. In elementary school he was smart enough. But in high school he learned he was a star tackle. He went to Alabama the year I did, on a football scholarship. I remember the day he left the university. It was three months after he had entered. His knee had been wrenched the first week out and he had had no chance to make himself seen among those scores of striving freshmen. His scholarship had soon played out. He was a picture of dejection. He was heading back to the small town we came from, and there'd be no band to meet him.

"How can I go on?" he asked me. "If I had studied in high school and planned my education, I wouldn't mind working my way through. There's nothing for me to do now but go back home and try to get a job." Jimmie is now working as a helper in a Decatur steel-fabricating plant, trying at thirty-three to learn a trade he might have learned in high school. I've been told that when the rest of his crew are cocking their ears toward the football broadcasts on Saturday afternoon, Jimmie hammers doggedly on and on and doesn't bother to listen.

In 1928 Dwight "Pug" Deal, a sophomore at the university, was hailed as the toughest blocking back in the school's history, but he was fired off the squad by Coach Wade after Alabama lost to Tennessee.

We found Deal working on a farm in Tuscaloosa County. "It's been tough since those days," he said. "But I've gotten over my bitterness. Wade knew I wasn't any more guilty of taking a drink than the other fellows, but he had to make an example of somebody."

N. A. "Nap" Powell now drives a soft-drink truck in Selma, Alabama, after spending several years "taking in washing" for a laundry. Alumni from Thomasville, Alabama, recruited him from Selma for their high-school team, and then sent him to Alabama. He fell out of the Red Shirts.

Neil Rogers is a WPA interviewer in Florence. Don Campbell has fought back to become the announcer for a tiny radio station in Selma after buckling a knee with the Red Shirts.

Three thousand hopeful young men have entered the University of Alabama to play football during the fifteen years I have been close to that machine. Fifteen hundred fell out by the end of the first semester. All of these initial casualties had played football in high school and had learned little else. When the athletic department dropped them, what could they do? Even if their parents could afford to send them to classes, they were not prepared. They had come to college prepared only to play football. Had football not robbed them of their opportunities in high school some of them might have worked out successful college careers.

Yet the 1,500 who fell out first were more fortunate than most of those who stuck. They got their jolts sooner and have had more time to recover.

Why Football's Lost a Fan

Of all the 3,000 1 don't know a single one today, outside coaching or professional football, who could be pointed out as an eminent success. I have known only one who was unusually intelligent. He was Freddie Sington, All-America tackle in 1930. Sington, a Phi Beta Kappa student, wanted to study law but found it impossible with his football activities. He played professional baseball for a while and is now selling automobiles in Decatur, Georgia.

We fellows who have helped make football what it is today may as well face the facts. We've come a cropper. In the name of sportsmanship we've built a rah-rah empire that's phony to its roots. We've taken a fine game and converted it into a monster which takes from a boy his formative years and leaves him nothing but a letter to wear on his chest, a spavined knee and a false sense of values.

What's happening at my alma mater is only typical of what is happening in all sections of the country. And I said all sections. We who have recruited Alabama's players know who our competitors have been. And we've offered no higher prices than were necessary to compete in the open market.

Millions of my fellow fanatics will have seen some great grid shows when this season with its bowl games is over. But I won't be there any more. I'm going to be down on my farm using the war whoop to call my hogs.

On those days when I'm riding around over the state, instead of recruiting a couple of blocking backs, I'm going to stop at the playgrounds and chat with the boys. They'll ask me about the Tide. And I'm going to say:

"Sure, the Tide's all right. But say, did you fellows ever play badminton. Now there's a real man's game."

I know. Next time I go around most of them will still be playing football. But ten years from now when they come to see me wearing those All-America pins, I won't have to duck out the back door or squirm guiltily in my chair. I can look them in the eye and say:

"Old friend, you remember I told you badminton was a swell game."







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  • 3 years later...

And confirmed by Time Magazine here.


Four-Gram Jitters

Monday, May. 30, 1949Print

Handsome, white-haired William Bradford Huie is a free-lance writer whose most sensational stories sometimes blow up in his editors' faces. In 1941, Huie attacked the University 'of Alabama (his alma mater) in a Collier's expose of subsidized football. After some Rebel yells, the magazine backtracked on Huie's story. A World War II Navy officer, Huie later ghostwrote an attack on the "obsolete" Navy for an Air Force general; it was so violent that the general disowned it, and the book (The Case Against the Admirals) came out over Huie's byline. Boiled down, his case for airpower got the Reader's Digest into boiling water with the Navy.

A month ago, 38-year-old Bradford Huie stumbled across what looked to him like a red-hot newspaper story on the Atomic Energy Commission. He sold it to the New York Daily News, which has lately been after the scalp of AEC Chairman David Lilienthal. The News assigned Reporter Jerry Greene of its Washington staff to check Huie's tip. Last week, in five lines of Page One scareheads and five columns inside, the News broke the Huie-Greene scoop: ATOM BOMB URANIUM VANISHES; SECRET MATERIAL LOST OR STOLEN AT CHICAGO PLANT.

The story was that "three-quarters of a pound of Uranium 235 compound, explosive heart of the atom bomb . . . has vanished from the Chicago laboratories of the Atomic Energy Commission. Counter-intelligence officers . . . believe that the uranium is in Russian hands. The loss—or mare probable theft—is considered the greatest threat to national security ever to be discovered in peacetime. There is a sufficient amount [for] experiments . . . leading to the perfection of a detonating mechanism . . ."

32 Lost. The Washington Times-Herald, Oave the Daily News story the same kind of prominent play. But their kissing cousin, the Chicago Tribune, refused to print the story—or even transmit it over its eased wires—for security reasons.

When reporters descended on AEC to check the News story, AEC at first refused to comment because it was "highly classified information." Then Deputy General Manager Carleton Shugg admitted that there was one pinch of truth in the News story: some U-235 was missing. But that was all, according to AEC, that was true.

AEC said that 32 grams of U-235—about one ounce—had been missed in a February inventory at the Argonne National Laboratory in Chicago. The laboratory immediately had begun the tedious process of analyzing all experimental wastes, in which valuable materials frequently turn up. A month later AEC notified the FBI, which found "no espionage involved in this case."

28 Found. By last week, 28 grams of U-235 had been recovered, and there was still unexamined waste. The remaining four grams were "not believed to have been stolen or lost." In any case, AEC did not think the Russians would be interested in such a small amount; they have long been able to make larger amounts by ordinary laboratory methods. Sighed Chairman Lilienthal, who was having other troubles last week (see NATIONAL AFFAIRS) not so easy to explain away: "A case of four-gram jitters." But this week Senator Brien McMahon's Joint Atomic Energy Committee began an investigation.

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