Joe Krol Says — They’re Ruining Rugby

As told to C. ALLAN ACRES September 15 1949

Joe Krol Says — They’re Ruining Rugby

As told to C. ALLAN ACRES September 15 1949

Joe Krol Says — They’re Ruining Rugby

As told to C. ALLAN ACRES

ANADIAN RUGBY, a good game to play and a wonderful game to watch, is being ruined by Americanization.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I like to see American boys come up here and play Canadian rugby. I’ve made some good friends among my football foes. I blame the officials who are beating our Canadian game out of shape with a rule book.

Is our game going to become more and more American both in rules and players, or are we going

to retain what we now have and possibly regain some of what we have already lost?

I’d like to go on record with some of the reasons why I’m afraid our game is likely to become more Americanized.

I don’t want to belittle American coaches — Bob Masterson of Varsity, Johnny Metras of Western, Vic Obeck of McGill, or Lew Hayman of Montreal Alouettes but these men, and you can’t blame them, are preaching American football all the time. It’s the game they learned first and understand best. Only Hayman and Metras have seen Canadian football at its best.

Oddly enough, the Toronto Argonauts, for which team 1 play, for the three years right after the war won three Canadian titles in a row, using a very Canadian brand of ball and using no imports. Ask the crowd in any town Argos played in in those years, if their game was good to watch. It looks as though the Argos, however, will be using some American players this fall.

I’m not decrying the achievements of the coaches I’ve mentioned. Hayman has done a wonderful job of making Montreal footballconscious; Obeck is doing a lot in both senior and junior circles with his grid clinics and after-dinner speeches to keep Quebec on ifs toes. But it strikes me that we who believe in the Canadian game ought to put up a battle for the sport we love with equal zeal.

If the American game is so wonderful why don’t the Americans stay down there and play it? I know they can make more money at home. Oh yes, and before I forget—and, mind you, this is not intended as a beef—the 1948 Canadian Press selection for the Canadian Big Four All-Star team contained only two Canadians, Tony Golab of Ottawa Roughriders and myself. And in the All-Canadian team Ted Reeve picked for Maclean’s last December there were only five Canadians.

Don’t you see that this all adds up to undue influence on players, fans and future players to the end that our already sufficiently American game will be further radically changed?

And speaking of Americanization, I think the process has been hastened by the steady stream of American reading material which glorifies the U. S. gridiron hero. I think our own radio commentators are unwittingly strengthening the trend by the use of American football terminology.

Why should we use American labels? Why call a middle a tackle? Why call an inside a guard?

And, too, why should an American coach, who has never heard of Conacher, Foster or Batstone, let alone ever seen any of them play, be asked at halftime to give his views over the air on future rule changes and his comments on kicking, at the end of one, or possibly two, years in Canada?

I don’t think for a minute that any Canadian would be asked to air his views on sport over a national network in the U. S. unless everyone concerned had first found out that he knew what he was talking about.

The Gamble Would Be Gone

Some clubs with American coaches have put pressure on the Rules Commi ttee for the adoption of certain American regulations. Some of these, to my mind, have been fine and dandy; some, not so good.

The year before last saw' 10 yards blocking for linemen from the line of scrimmage brought in. I think this was a darn good thing. Why? Because it made our game even more fluid.

Also, I personally like the T formation which was perfected in the States. It improves the standard and number of deceptive plays from the standpoint of coach and players, though I’m not so sure the average fan can follow the play as well. But 1 do think that a smart combination of deception and our own open style of play will please both fan and player alike.

This brings up something I’d like to mention about both 10 yards blocking and intricate plays from the centre of the line from a T formation. You can talk your head off and tell Mr. Fan to watch the blocking and the ball handling from the quarterback position. But what Mr. Fan is really interested in is the boy who carries the ball.

If the plays are so well disguised that the fan can’t follow them the game loses part of its thrill as a spectator sport. Good blocking ahead of the ball is never as sensational as a ball carrier or ball carriers running the broken field, whether it’s through the centre of the line or around the end.

Now some coaches are pushing for the adoption of a rule to allow the backfield to block 10 yards in advance of the line of scrimmage. At present the backfield is allowed to block only one yard in advance of this line. In the American game only one man is allowed to be in motion before the ball is snapped out. In our game, with unlimited motion allowed in the backfield, the play can be put in action so quickly that this amendment isn’t needed. The rule, I figure, is okay as it now' stands. Introduction of the

10-yard blocking ruje for ^ 1¡ne has

cut down on enu rung an^ if the 10_ yard blocking rue forjtjiie backfield is brought in, you ,9a1' ifegg the end run gofld-by,rt the m‘

I ttuIVh^. is likely to foil agree that the end run ià't^yiçanizejjÂsational play in Canadian rugbyN«^' japlny which has always dazzled AiT.ë ”is who’ve come up to see our game. :, ’ wonder

at the ability of our men to rui. nd toss lateral passes with the speefo and accuracy that are typical of a good end run. This play can literally run American-style teams off their feet and out of the ball park.

Incidentally most Americans, as a natural result of their type of backfield play, are very poor lateral passers. The end run as we know it is seldom used in their game. I would hate to see the end run and all that goes with it disappear. It’s more exciting by a jugful to see some slight player like Fred Doty of Argos scoot through the line or around the end for a touchdown than to see the ball (if you can see it) merely bucked up the field in a series of downs.

The adoption of 10 yards blocking for the backfield would, in my opinion, completely eliminate the end run and make every play a plunge through centre or a wide buck. The element of chance, the gamble, the breath-taking zip and swing of a whip-cracking end run, or an extension, developing into broken-field running with plenty of accurate lateral passing—the whole essence and the greatest feature of Canadian football—would be gone forever.

The Rules Committee has brought in a new regulation regarding forward passing behind the line of scrimmage. True, only an underhand, or basketball, pass is allowed, but I think that here again is an American importation not needed in our game and one that is likely to put another crimp in the freewheeling, end-run style of play formerly seen on the Canadian gridiron.

I’m going to stick my neck out now by letting it be known that many of the boys who do the chores on the playing fields sometimes wonder why their opinions are seldom consulted in making these rule changes.

Where Are Our Kickers ?

Some of the Ameriqan missionaries are preaching the gospel of four downs. As I mentioned earlier in the American game only one man is allowed to be in motion before the ball is snapped and he can move only to the left or to the right, not forward. Now just picture a powerhouse plunging back like Golab, and four downs to gain 10 yards. With the running start allowed in our game and a man like Golab’s calibre, there’d be no need for any other play than a buck through the centre of the line.

It’s been suggested by some critics that the rouge, or kick for single point, should be weeded out of our game. This would, of course, deprive us of another of the most spectacular happenings in Canadian football—the run-back of kicks from behind the goal line. There’s not much to be gained by tampering with the regulations as they stand, just as long as we stick to our standard Canadian 110-yard field, and don’t go for the American idea of a pockethandkerchief gridiron 100 yards long with no end zone.

In last year’s East-West final between Ottawa and Calgary we were treated to a very poor display of kicking. Kicking used to be a thrilling feature of Canadian football—in fact many games were won by single points, and the type of fan who didn’t understand intricate plays still got a whale of a bang out of a60-yard punt.

Vic Obeck, McGill coach, said in a recent article that “the reason why Canada had so many great punters in bygone days w? mainly because line men working r»rds interference would , up, and

bv so doinf dg Ticker plenty of time to ge^lïaway. Now, with ten yardC^ Sitien are taught to charge all the "ay, which allows the kicker approximately two seconds to get the ball away.”

I’d like to take issue. The reason we have no great kickers in the game today is that the guys who can kick don’t kick enough, and didn’t start, to

practice kicking young enough.

Good kicking depends on the defensive formation used to protect the kicker and the kicker’s ability to get the ball away quickly in all weather, and the number of men detailed and capable of going down the field in time to tackle the catching halfback before he has had time to make much of a

run-back.

If your kicker is a natural and capable of kicking under bad conditions it isn’t necessary to give him complete protection and more attention can be devoted to deployment down the field with the idea of trapping the enemy

halves.

If the kicking half is merely average then you’ve got to take great care to give him real protection for a fumbled or hobbled ball is still the game’s best play (from the other team’s point of view) and can prove pretty demoralizing or maybe disastrous. There never has been anything in our rules to prevent a hard-charging line blocking a kick.

The Hamilton Tigers in the great days of Brian Timmis and Frank Turville used a unique kick formation called the “slaughterhouse.” Five fast men stayed on the line of scrimmage and moved about at will (onside of course), their one and only aim being to get down the field and nab the man who was going to catch the ball. The rest of the line, large fellows like Timmis and Denman, bunched up close together, five or six yards behind the line of scrimmage, and in front of the kicker, giving Frank Turville time to wipe off his hands and autograph the pigskin before kicking.

This wasn’t general practice with other teams. Don’t get me wrong— I’m not implying Turville was an average kicker. He was a great kicker. This was just the defensive formation used by Coach Mike Rodden to the best advantage with the A-l material at his disposal. Turville would have been a mighty kicker with a Kiwanis or pee-wee team protecting him.

It’s the Man That Counts

In the old days the kicker was often roughed and sometimes carried or knocked backward 15 or 20 feet by hard-charging linemen. No, the answer doesn’t lie in protection. Kicking was better in the old days, and it was better because there wasn’t any forward pass in those times.

Make no mistake, I’m all for the forward pass. But youngsters today, if you watch them playing on comer lots and in the parks, will spend a whole afternoon passing the ball, and will seldom kick it.

Kickers are made, not born. To develop the necessary leg muscles, co-ordination and timing, a boy ought to start early if he wants to wind up a great kicker.

Here again we can lay the change to the pressure of the American influence on Canadian football. In the American game there’s no incentive to kick for distance because there is no single point to be gained by it and also the field is 10 yards shorter.

Sure, the slightly different shape of «.he ball used in recent years has something to do with it. The present-day ball, shorter and more pointed, is a handier missile for the passer to handle, and at the same time a more difficult object to kick spirals with. Just the same, the real jet propulsion is provided by the guy behind the ball, and where today in all Canada will you find a hooter who not only connects with the ball with a resounding thwack but leaves the ground three feet while doing it? This was a fairly common spectacle in years gone by.

There’s another American device which crops up in our discussion about here—the habit of gambling with anything from three to seven yards on third down and plunging the ball instead of kicking it. Only 50% or less of these gambles are pay off, and the result is loss of the ball at the time, hence fewer run-backs, another spectacular feature of Canadian football.

1 quote McGill’s Vic Obeck again . . . “It’s plain murder to expect a fellow to receive a punt with only five yards between him and a raft of guys bent on ripping him apart.” But we know plenty of Canadian halfbacks who enjoy catching and running back a punt without benefit of convoy, and I think that here again to allow blocking to interfere with would-be taeklers would subtract a sensational element of our game—broken-field running on a run-back.

Ted Reeve talks of the great Balmy Beach halfback, Yip Foster, who was taken one day by Miles Lane, the All-American who played hockey for Bruins, to a Boston college to show the boys how to lateral. In Reeve’s own words, “Yipper in his running shoes hoofed a couple of 70-yard spirals for a warmup, and in his street clothes ran for about seven touchdowns in the practice match without waiting for the interference.”

Facts About the Fumble

There’s another strategy that I’d like to see used more often in our game —the quick kick. Perhaps modesty should forbid my speaking of the crucial moment in the East-West final between Argos and Winnipeg in 1947 when I used a quick kick from the Winnipeg 49-yard line on second down, which eventually resulted in two points. It was in the last minute of play. This quick kick tied the score at the critical moment when anything else in the way of a play would have been too slow. Then, after the Bomber halfback was trapped behind his goal line for the single, Winnipeg scrimmaged on their 25-yard line and were ! held on the third down gamble when | Frankie Morris stopped the play cold. And Argos won the title.

This brings us back to the point 1 made earlier about the American habit of gambling on third down instead of kicking out of danger. The result in the 1947 final was a first down for Argos, and the ball was kicked beyond the deadline thus breaking the tie and winning the game.

To give credit where credit is due, the quick kick is a feature of the American game little understood by Canadian halfbacks who very often | take too much time in getting the ball j away. Properly done it is a simple, ! rocking movement executed by step, ping back on the left foot as the ball is | snapped and stepping forward smartly on the same foot as the ball is received in the hands and simultaneously kicked.

And while we’re still in the kicking department I’d like to put in a word for the lowly and much-despised onside kick. There are lots worse plays and I think perhaps we aren’t taking full advantage of this one. It can pay off at times.

While we’re comparing the advantages of the two types of football here’s a thought regarding the fumble. In American pro circles there’s no such thing as recovery of a fumble as we understand it-—once the ball touches the ground it’s dead. If it’s a hobbled ball—that is, dropped from somebody’s hands in the course of play—and snapped up before it touched the ground—the play continues.

In our game the fumble gives even the heftiest lineman a golden opportunity to snap up the elusive apple and display his wares by waddling down the field. This makes for more alertness by players and provides more excitement from the fans’ point of view. Many’s the game that has been pulled out of the fire in its dying moments by a recovered fumble and 60or 70-yard run by some unknown.

The same may be said for the dribble, with the fumbled ball kicked down the field and the team dribbling it in full cry like a pack of hounds, eventually to fall on it behind the goal line for a major score.

Let’s get back to that rule book. This year the unlimited substitution rule was brought over from across the border. I know it has its good points. But it has a tendency, if used too freely, to lead to a crazy, superspecialized type of game with an offensive line and a defensive line, offensive backfield and defensive backfield. It’s a cinch that its wholesale use will take most of the sporting zip and fight out of the game, and wash out almost any need for real training, hardness or condition.

I don’t think there’s much interest in the game for the man who plays a whole season without throwing a block or making a tackle and who is simply put on the field a few brief seconds for some little chore, then hustled back to the blanket again without even getting his pants muddied.

Naturally, I’m not in favor of a man being left on the field when he should be teken off, but I do think that any game or contest should be a test of staying power and endurance and not just a chess board on which a coach, with a flick of the wrist and a whisper in the ear, moves his men about like pawns, and thereby demonstrates to (he assembled multitude that as a coach he’s a really smart cookie.

Now I’m going to sound off about imports, and I’ve already said there’s

nothing personal in this. I’m not in favor of wholesale^ importation of American talent. The' more American talent we impôt the m* >re Americanized our gane, is likely -become; and the more Ame^Sgn\zJf^|. our game becomes the more A^n ,Lan talent we’ll have to import to pi.^’this type of football, until we have tiLJhed our junior players to play the Stahà and Stripes version of the game.

I think that if the money poured down this drain pipe were spent in developing our own up-and-coming players we’d be a lot farther ahead in the long run from club, player and spectator standpoint.

That leads me to a suggestion. Highschool football, both junior and senior, needs, in my opinion, a thorough overhauling. There’s no question that students these days are lighter and relatively younger. There just isn’t the keen interest in sports in general now as there was in other days.

The juke box, hamburger joints and the Coca Cola bottle fill far too much of the student’s recreational time. The heroes of today’s high-school boys, instead of being men like Lionel Conacher and Ab Box, are apt to be such gents as Gene Krupa and Tex Beneke. This trend away from sports, coupled with haphazard coaching, particularly in the case of junior highschool teams, is one of the main stumbling blocks to be removed.

Try the Home-grown Product

How often today do we see a highschool player experienced enough, or physically able, to step from high school to Big Four competition? And don’t think for a minute that the Big Four teams today are that much better than the teams of 10 or 15 years ago. I imagine that almost everybody will agree with me that the Ottawa team of 1938, with Sprague, Wadsworth, Griffin, et al., could step on any gridiron today on better than equal terms with the teams of the present.

Where did all the material come from for those great teams of the past? Where did Mike Rodden get the manpower for his immortal Tigers? It all came from Canada without benefit of lend lease.

We can still do it but we must start to work now. We’ve got to realize that replacements are necessary from time to time and make up our minds whether we’re going to import them or develop our own material. Doubtless Lew Hayman in Montreal would like to see American rules adopted wholesale throughout Canada, and for a very good reason from his point of view.

Hayman would, I think, like to have the Álouettes a farm team for the Brooklyn Dodgers. Then he could get his team by mail order two weeks before the season opened, from the culls of the Dodgers, fresh from a twomonth training grind and ready to step on to the field—potential Canadian champions. Very nice for Mr. Hayman, but what a dismal outlook for the upand-coming Canadian juniors who aspire to the big time.

Only Naturals Get Help

Why couldn’t we have a junior big four, or intermediate league, sponsored possibly by Kiwanis, Rotary, or some such service club, with financial assistance from taxes taken from gate receipts of senior games?

Or would the recently formed National Council for Physical Fitness consider drawing on its resources in a worthy cause of this kind?

This would solve the problems of the boy who isn’t going to college, but still wants to play football after leaving high school, but who isn’t yet good enough for the Big Four.

I’d like to see a play-off between such an intermediate league and the university champions. Junior teams in the States, by and large, receive better, much better, coaching than do our junior teams. They’re trained better; their equipment fits better; they take the game more seriously.

Now our kids are no melon heads. Every Canadian boy has two hands, two feet, two eyes and a brain, which in

many instances are used with an eye toward a hockey career. Some of this is potential football material, and yet wall end up going to waste altogether.

I realize that a typical Canadian high - school ¡budget is necessarily smaller than its opposite number across the line, and that many of the high-school coaches are giving their time entirely free in addition to a full academic schedule; but surely there is nothing to prevent the high-school coach in Canada from taking courses, attending football clinics and generally increasing his knowledge of the game, and improving his coaching technique.

An effort should be made to secure the services of assistant coaches from outside if the high-school master looking after football is not well versed enough in the sport to impart a good working knowledge to his charges, and some system should be installed which would allow these men a full opportunity, with adequate pay, to become proficient in the very important things they are teaching outside the classroom, as well as inside.

It’s possible that Canada’s lamentable showing in recent Olympic Games stems from the dep orable lack of instruction given to jurior athletes. There is a tendency to treat only the natural athlete with any show of encouragement. If a boy is really outstanding he gets every break. But many who, with a little real encouragement might prove in a year’s time equally outstanding, are turned away, daunted, by lack of proper coaching.

The whole problem would be solved if we could draw sufficiently from junior ranks to fill the gaps that occur from year to year in senior teams, without importing outside talent. ★