Picture a mild, golden afternoon in early October, the yellowing green of Sailors’ Field mellow and warm in the sunlight, the river winding its sluggish way through the broad level marshes like a ribbon of molten gold, and the few great fleecy bundles of white clouds sailing across the deep blue of the sky like froth upon some placid stream. Imagine a sound of fresh voices, mellowed by a little distance, from where, to and fro, walking, trotting, darting, but ever moving like the particles in a kaleidoscope, many squads of players were practicing on the football field. Such, then, is the picture that would have rewarded your gaze had you passed through the gate and stood near the simple granite shaft which rises under the shade of the trees to commemorate the little handful of names it bears.
Had you gone on across the intervening turf until the lengthened shadow of the nearest goal post was reached you would have seen first a squad—a veritable awkward squad—arranged in a ragged circle and passing a football with much mishandling and many fumbles. Further along you would have seen a long line of youths standing. Their general expression was one of alertness bordering on alarm. The casual observer would have thought each and every one insane, as, suddenly darting from the line, one after another, they flung themselves upon the ground, rolled frantically about as though in spasms, and then arose and went back into the rank. But had you observed carefully you would have noticed that each spasm was caused by a rolling ball, wobbling its erratic way across the turf before them.
Around about, in and out, forms darted after descending spheroids, or seized a ball from outstretched hands, started desperately into motion, charged a few yards, and then, as though reconsidering, turned and trotted back, only to repeat the performance the next moment. And footballs banged against broad backs with hollow sounds, or rolled about between stoutly clad feet, or ascended into the air in great arching flights. And a babel of voices was on all sides, cries of warning, sharp commands, scathing denouncements.
“Straighten your arm, man; that’s not a baseball!” “Faster, faster! Put some ginger into it!” “Get on your toes, Smith. Start when you see the ball coming. This isn’t a funeral!” “Don’t stoop for the ball; fall on it! The ground will catch you!” “Jones, what are you doing? Wake up.” “No, no, NO! Great Scott, the ball won’t bite you!”
The period was that exasperating one known as “the first two weeks,” when coaches are continually upon the border of insanity and players wonder dumbly if the game is worth the candle. To-day Joel, one of a squad of unfortunates, was relearning the art of tackling. It was Joel’s first experience with that marvelous contrivance, “the dummy.” One after another the squad was sent at a sharp spurt to grapple the inanimate canvas-covered bag hanging inoffensively there, like a body from a gallows, between the uprights.