BERT WILSON ON THE GRIDIRON
BY J. W. DUFFIELD
AUTHOR OF "BERT WILSON AT THE WHEEL," "WIRELESS OPERATOR," "FADEAWAY BALL," "MARATHON WINNER," "AT PANAMA."
NEW YORK GEORGE SULLY & COMPANY PUBLISHERS
Copyright, 1914, By SULLY AND KLEINTEICH
All rights reserved.
Published and Printed, 1924, by Western Printing & Lithographing Company Racine, Wisconsin Printed in U.S.A.
CHAPTER PAGE I. NEVER SAY DIE 1 II. RAKED, FORE AND AFT 20 III. A THRILLING EXPLOIT 32 IV. BREAKING THE RULES 52 V. TACKLING THE ARMY 62 VI. REDDY'S RECOLLECTIONS 82 VII. THE LION'S ESCAPE 90 VIII. ON THE TOBOGGAN 108 IX. HAMMERED INTO SHAPE 127 X. IN THE ENEMY'S COUNTRY 140 XI. A DESPERATE FIGHT 153 XII. THE COACH ROBBERY 171 XIII. AN UNEXPECTED MEETING 186 XIV. A PLOT THAT FAILED 195 XV. THE DASH FOR THE GOAL 209
BERT WILSON ON THE GRIDIRON
NEVER SAY DIE
"HOLD 'em! Hold 'em! Buck up, fellows. Don't give an inch!"
A storm of cheers swept over the field, as it was seen that the scrubs were holding the 'Varsity on their ten-yard line.
Three times in succession the 'Varsity players plunged like enraged bulls against the defenders of the goal, only to be thrown back without a gain. One more fierce attempt, and the ball went to the scrubs on downs.
It was unprecedented. It was revolutionary. It shrieked unto heaven. The poor, despised scrubs were actually holding the haughty 'Varsity men on even terms. More than that; they even threatened to win. They seemed to forget that they were doormats for the "regulars," mere "sparring partners," to be straightened up with one punch and knocked down by the next. The "forlorn hope" had suddenly become a triumphant hope. The worm had turned, and turned with a vengeance. Pale and panting, plastered with mud and drenched with sweat, with "blood in their eyes" and here and there a little on their features, they faced the "big fellows" and gave as good as they took.
Reddy, the college trainer, danced up and down on the side lines and sputtered incoherently. "Bull" Hendricks, the head coach, stamped and stormed and yelled to his charges to "put it over." The things he said may not be set down here, but he gave the recording angel a busy afternoon. His words stung like whips, and under the lash of them the 'Varsity men braced themselves desperately. They burned with shame and rage. Were they to have a defeat "slapped" upon them by the scrubs? The college would ring with it, and it would be the sensation of the season.
But the scrubs were not to be denied. They had caught the 'Varsity "off its stride," and they fought like tigers to clinch their advantage. Every ounce of strength and determination that they possessed was called to the front by the prospect of impending victory. A daring run around the left end netted them twenty yards, and they gained fifteen more on downs. An easy forward pass was fumbled by the regulars, who were becoming so demoralized that the men fell all over themselves. The panic was growing into a rout that promised to end in a Waterloo.
The referee was poising his whistle and looking at his watch, ready to blow the signal that marked the end of play. There was but one chance left—a goal from the field. On the 'Varsity team only two men had seemed to keep their heads. The quarterback and fullback had sought to stem the tide, but in the general melting away of the defence had been able to do but little. The ball was now on the scrubs' forty-yard line. The player who had it fumbled in his eagerness to advance it, and the 'Varsity quarterback pounced on it like a hawk. With almost the same motion he passed it to the fullback. The opposing line bore down upon him frantically, but too late. One mighty kick and the pigskin rose in the air like a bird, soared over the bar between the goal posts, and the 'Varsity was three points to the good. An instant later and the whistle blew. The game was over.
The hearts of the scrubs went down into their boots. Another minute and the game would have ended with the ball in the middle of the field, and the score a tie; and a tie on the part of the scrubs was equivalent to a victory. But that last kick had dashed their hopes into ruin.
Still, they were not wholly cast down. They had deserved success, if they had not actually won it. They had really played the better game and beaten their foes to a standstill. The nominal victory of the 'Varsity was a virtual defeat.
And the 'Varsity knew it. For an instant they felt an immense relief, as they crowded around Wilson, the fullback, and clapped him on the shoulder. But their momentary exultation was replaced by chagrin, as they filed past the coach on the way to the shower baths, and their eyes fell before the steely gleam in his.
"I won't say anything to you dubs, just now," he announced with ominous calmness, as they shambled along wearily and shamefacedly. "I don't dare to. What I'd have to say wouldn't be fit for the ears of young ladies like you. Besides, I don't want to commit murder. But I may have a few quiet remarks to make before practice to-morrow."
"A few quiet remarks," muttered Ellis, when they got beyond earshot. "Gee. I'll bet life in a boiler factory would be peaceful compared with the training quarters when he once gets going."
"I've always thought deafness an affliction," said Drake, "but I think I'd welcome it for the next twenty-four hours."
"Ten to one that's why they call a football field a gridiron," grumbled Axtell. "The fellows that play on it get such a fearful roasting."
Just then, Morley, the captain of the scrubs, came along with a broad grin on his face.
"Buck up, you fellows," he joshed, "the worst is yet to come. I can see just where you 'false alarms' get off. Your epitaph will be that of the office boy."
"What was that?" queried Martin, biting at the bait.
"Monday, hired-Tuesday, tired-Wednesday, fired," retorted Morley.
"Don't you worry about epitaphs," snapped Tom Henderson. "We're not dead ones yet, as you'll find out the next time we take your measure."
"What was that Satan said," asked Dick Trent, "about rather reigning in hell than serving in heaven? I'd rather be a boob on the 'Varsity than king of the scrubs."
"O, well," laughed Morley, "if you want to put yourself on a level with Satan, there's no one to prevent you. As for me, I'm a little particular about my company;" and with this Parthian shot he rejoined his exulting mates.
It was a disgruntled group of athletes that plunged into the tank and stood beneath the shower. And when it came to the rubdown, Reddy and his helpers seemed to take a fiendish delight in picking out the sore spots and getting even for the day's poor showing. But such vigorous health and splendid condition as theirs could not be long a prey to gloom, and when, refreshed and glowing, they wended their way to the training table, they were inclined to take a more cheerful view of life. They ate like famished wolves, and when they had made away with everything in sight, even the promised raking from "Bull" Hendricks had lost some of its terrors.
"O, well," remarked Tom, "while there's life there's hope. We won't be shot at sunrise, anyway, even if we deserve to be."
"No," assented Dick, yielding to his irrepressible habit of quotation:
"Somewhere 'tis always morning, and above The wakening continents from shore to shore, Somewhere the birds are singing evermore."
"The only bird you'll hear to-morrow," said practical Bert Wilson, "will be a crow. Poe's raven won't have a thing on Hendricks when he starts croaking."
One would have had to go far to find a finer group of young fellows than this trio, as they sauntered over the campus to the college buildings. They were tall, well-knit and muscular, and no one, looking at them, would "despair of the Republic," as long as she produced such sons. Outdoor life, clean living and vigorous exercise had left their stamp on face and frame. They were immensely popular in the college, leaders in fun and frolic, and in the very front rank as athletes. Each had won the right to wear the college jersey with the coveted "initial," proving that on hard fought fields they had brought glory to their Alma Mater.
This was preeminently the case in college baseball. Tom at third and Dick at first had starred in their positions, while Bert in the pitcher's box with his masterly "fadeaway" had cinched the pennant, after a heartbreaking struggle with the "Greys" and "Maroons," their leading rivals. The story of how he had plucked victory from defeat in that memorable fight was already a classic and had made his name famous in the college world. And now, in the early fall, the three comrades were seeking to win further laurels on the gridiron as they had previously won them on the diamond.
Provisionally, they had been placed by the keen-eyed coach on the 'Varsity team. Tom's quickness and adroitness had singled him out as especially fitted for quarterback. Dick, who had been the leading slugger on the nine, was peculiarly qualified by his "beef" and strength for the position of center. Bert's lightning speed—he had made the hundred yards in ten seconds, flat, and won a Marathon at the Olympic Games—together with his phenomenal kicking ability, made him the leading candidate for fullback.
So far, the results had seemed to indicate that no mistake had been made. But no one knew better than they how insecure their positions were, and how desperate a fight they would have to wage in order to hold their places. The competition was fierce, and the least sign of wavering on their part might send them back to the scrubs. Bull Hendricks played no favorites. He was "from Missouri" and "had to be shown." His eagle eye was always looking for the weak places in the armor of his players, and no one was quicker to detect the least touch of "yellow." He had no use for any one but a winner. He watched unceasingly for any failure of body or spirit and pounced upon it as a cat upon a mouse. Nor could any past success atone for present "flunking."
Not that he acted hastily or upon impulse. Had he done so, he would have been unfitted for his position. He knew that everybody had his "off days." The speediest thoroughbred will sometimes run like a cart horse. No one can be always at the "top of his form." But after making all allowances for human weakness and occasional lapses, when he once reached a definite conclusion he was as abrupt and remorseless as a guillotine. Many a hopeful athlete had been decapitated so swiftly and neatly, that, like the man in the fable, he did not know his head was off until he tried to sneeze.
It was a sharp but wholesome discipline, and kept his men "on their toes" all the time. It gave hope and energy also to the scrubs. They knew that they had a chance to "make" the 'Varsity team, if they could prove themselves better than the men opposed to them. The scrub of to-day might be the regular of to-morrow. They felt like the soldiers in Napoleon's army where it was said that "every private carried a marshal's baton in his knapsack." So they fought like tigers, and many a battle between them and the 'Varsity was worthy of a vaster audience than the yelling crowds of students that watched it rage up and down the field.
But the rivalry, though bitter, was also generous. There was nothing mean or petty about it. After all, it was "all in the family." Everybody, scrub or 'Varsity, was crazy to win from the other colleges. If it could be shown that the team could be strengthened thereby, any 'Varsity man would go back to the scrubs without grumbling and "root" just as hard as ever for the team to make good. It was a pure democracy where only merit counted and where the individual effaced himself for the common good of all. So that while the 'Varsity and scrubs were bitter enemies on the gridiron, they were chums as soon as they had shed their football "togs."
"We certainly did put up a rotten game to-day," ruminated Tom. "I don't wonder that the coach was sore. We ought to have eaten those fellows up, but they walked all over us. What was the matter with us, anyway?"
"Aw," snorted Dick, disgustedly, "why is it that an elephant runs away from a mouse? They simply threw a scare into us and we lost our nerve. We can thank our stars it was only a practice game."
"It goes that way sometimes," said Bert philosophically. "It's just the same in other games. I've seen the Giants and Athletics play like a lot of schoolboys. One fellow will muff an easy fly and then the whole infield will go to pieces. They'll fumble and boot anything that comes along."
"Yes," assented Tom, "and the pitchers get theirs too. There's Matty, the king of them all. There are days, when even Ty Cobb, if he were batting against him, couldn't do anything but fan. Then again, there are other days when he hasn't anything on the ball but his glove. I saw him in an opening game in New York before thirty-five thousand people, when he was batted out of the box like any bush leaguer."
"Even Homer sometimes nods and Milton droops his wing," quoted Dick. "If our playing is rank sometimes, it's a comfort to feel that we have lots of company. But speaking of baseball, fellows, how do you think it compares with chasing the pigskin?"
"Well," said Bert slowly, "it's hard to tell. They're both glorious games, and personally I'm like the donkey between the two bundles of hay. I wouldn't know which to nibble at first."
"Of course," he went on, "they're so different that it's hard to compare them. Both of them demand every bit of speed and nerve a fellow has, if he plays them right. And a bonehead can't make good in either. There are lots of times in each game when a man has to think like lightning. As for courage, it's about a stand off. With three men on bases in the ninth, nobody out, and only one run needed to win, it's a sure enough test of pluck for either nine. But it needs just as much for a losing eleven to buck its way up the field and carry the ball over the goal line, when there's only three minutes left of playing time. Both games take out of a fellow all there is in him. As for brute strength, there's no doubt that football makes the greater demand. But when it comes to saying which I prefer, I'm up a tree. I'd rather play either one than eat."
"How happy could I be with either, were 'tother dear charmer away," laughed Dick.
"Well," remarked Tom, "it's lucky that they come at different seasons so that we can play both. But when you speak of 'brute' strength, Bert, you're giving 'aid and comfort' to the enemies of football. That's just the point they make. It's so 'awfully brutal'," he mimicked, in a high falsetto voice.
"Nonsense," retorted Bert. "Of course, no fellow can be a 'perfect lady' and play the game. Even a militant suffragette might find it too rough. There are plenty of hard knocks to be taken and given. It's no game for prigs or dudes. But for healthy, strong young fellows with good red blood in their veins, there's no finer game in the world to develop pluck and determination and self-control and all the other qualities that make a man successful in life. He has to keep himself in first-class physical condition, and cut out all booze and dissipation. He must learn to keep his temper, under great provocation. He must forget his selfish interests for the good of the team. And above all he has to fight, fight, fight,—fight to the last minute, fight to the last ditch, fight to the last ounce. It's a case of 'the Old Guard dies, but never surrenders.' He's like old General Couch at the battle of Kenesaw Mountain, who, when Sherman asked him if he could hold out a little longer, sent back word that 'he'd lost one eye and a piece of his ear, but he could lick all Hades yet.'"
"Hear, hear," cried Tom. "Listen, ladies and gentlemen, to our eloquent young Demosthenes, the only one in captivity."
He skilfully dodged the pass made at him and Bert went on:
"I don't deny that there was a time when the game was a little too rough, but most of that has been done away with. There has been progress in football as in everything else. There's no wholesale slugging as in the early days, when the football field was more like a prize ring than a gridiron. Of course, once in a while, even now, you'll be handed a nifty little uppercut, if the referee isn't looking. But if they catch on to it, the fellow is yanked out of the game and his team loses half the distance to its goal line as a penalty. So that it doesn't pay to take chances. Then, too, a fellow used to strain himself by trying to creep along even when the whole eleven was piled on him. They've cut that out. Making it four downs instead of three has led to a more open game, and the flying wedge has been done away with altogether. The game is just as fierce, but the open play has put a premium on speed instead of mass plays, and made it more interesting for the spectators and less dangerous for the players. And the most timid of mothers and anxious of aunties needn't go into hysterics for fear that their Algernon or Percival may try to 'make' the team."
"This seems to be quite an animated discussion," said a pleasant voice behind them; and wheeling about they saw Professor Benton, who held the chair of History in the college.
They greeted him cordially. Although a scholar of international reputation, he was genial and approachable, and a great favorite with the students. In connection with his other duties, he was also a member of the Athletic Association and took a keen interest in college sports. He himself had been a famous left end in his undergraduate days, and his enthusiasm for the game had not lessened with the passing of the years and the piling up of scholastic honors.
"We were talking about football, Professor," explained Bert, "and agreeing that many of the rough edges had been planed off in the last few years."
"I could have guessed that you weren't talking about your studies," said the Professor quizzically. "You fellows seldom betray undue enthusiasm about those. But you are right about the changes brought in by the new rules. It surely was a bone-breaking, back-breaking game during my own student days.
"And yet," he went on with a reminiscent smile, "even that was child's play compared with what it was a thousand years ago."
"What!" cried Dick. "Is the game as old as that?"
"Much older," was the reply. "The Greeks and Romans played it two or three thousand years ago. But I was referring especially to the beginning of the game in England. In the tenth century, they commenced by using human skulls as footballs."
"What!" exclaimed the boys in chorus.
"It's a fact beyond all question," reaffirmed the Professor. "In the year 962, when the Danes were invading England, a resident of Chester captured a Dane, cut off his head and kicked it around the streets. The gentle populace of that time took a huge liking to the game and the idea spread like wildfire. You see, it didn't cost much to run a football team in those days. Whenever they ran short of material, they could go out and kill a Dane, and there were always plenty swarming about."
"Those good old days of yore," quoted Dick.
"Plenty of bonehead plays in those days as well as now," murmured Tom.
"Of course," resumed the Professor, "that sort of thing couldn't go on forever. The Danes withdrew, and naturally no Englishman was sport enough to offer his own head for the good of the game. So they substituted a leather ball. But the game itself was about as rough as ever. It was usually played in the streets, and very often, when some dispute arose about the rules, it developed into a battle royal, and the players chased each other all over the town with ready fists and readier clubs. Heads were broken and lives lost, and the King issued an edict forbidding the game. But under other rulers it was resumed, though in a somewhat milder form, and has continued up to the present.
"No longer ago than yesterday," he added, taking out his memorandum book, "I ran across a criticism of the game, by an Englishman named Stubbs, way back in 1583. He goes for it right and left, so bitterly and yet so quaintly, that I thought it worth while preserving, old-fashioned spelling and all. Here's the way it goes:
"'As concerning footballe, I protest unto you it may rather be called a friendlie kind of a fight than a play or recreation, a bloody and murthering practice than a felowy sort of pastime. For doth not every one lie in wait for his adversary, seeking to overthrow him and kicke him on the nose, though it be on hard stones or ditch or dale, or valley or hill, so he has him down, and he that can serve the most of this fashion is counted the only fellow, and who but he, so that by this means their necks are broken, sometimes their backs, sometimes their arms, sometimes their noses gush forth with blood, sometimes their eyes start out; for they have the sleights to mix one between two, to dash him against the heart with their elbows, to butt him under the short ribs with their gripped fists, and with their knees to catch him on the hip and kicke him on his neck with a hundred murthering devices.'"
"Phew," said Tom, "that's a hot one right off the bat."
"He hits straight from the shoulder," agreed Dick. "I'll bet the old boy himself would have been a dandy football rusher, if he'd ever got into the game."
"He certainly leaves no doubt as to where he stands on the question," assented the Professor, "and I think we'll admit, after that, that the game has improved. The most rabid critic of to-day wouldn't go so far as this old Briton. The game as played to-day offers very little danger to life and not much more to limb. Of course, accidents happen now and then, but that's true of every game. The old French proverb says that 'he who risks nothing, has nothing.' The element of risk in football is more than counterbalanced by the character it develops. The whole secret of success in life is to 'never say die.' And I don't know of any game that teaches this as well as football. But I must be going," he concluded, with a glance at his watch; and, turning off to the right with a farewell wave of the hand, he left the boys to finish their interrupted stroll.
"The Prof's all right," said Tom emphatically.
"They say that he was the bright particular star on his football team," contributed Dick.
"And he's starred just as brightly in his profession since then," chimed in Bert.
"I guess that 'never say die' motto has stuck by him all the time," mused Tom. "It's a bully motto, too. By the way, have you fellows ever heard the story of the mouse that fell in the milk pail?"
They stared at him suspiciously. Long experience with that facetious youth had taught them the folly of biting too quickly, when he put a question.
"No catch," protested Tom. "This is on the level."
"Well," said Dick, "if a crook like you can be on the level, shoot."
"It was this way," continued Tom, cheerfully accepting the reflection on his character. "Two mice fell into a bucket of milk. They swam about for a while and then one of them gave it up and sank. The other one, though, was made of different stuff and wouldn't give up. He kept on kicking until he had churned the milk into butter. Then he climbed on top of it, made a flying leap for the edge of the bucket and got away. You see, he was a kicker from Kickersville and his motto was 'Never say die'."
They looked at him reproachfully, but Tom never "batted an eye."
"That mouse was a smooth proposition," murmured Dick softly.
"A slippery customer," echoed Bert. "But, Tom," he asked, in mock innocence, "is that story true?"
"True?" snorted Tom, "you'd butter believe that it's true. Why——"
But this crowning outrage on the English language was too much, and he took to his heels, barely escaping a flying tackle as they launched themselves toward him.
RAKED, FORE AND AFT
IN the training quarters, "Bull" Hendricks paced to and fro, his forehead creased by deep lines as he wrestled with the problems that beset him.
Six feet two inches in height and built in proportion, he was a fine figure of a man. Despite his weight and bulk, there was nothing ungainly or awkward about him. If he had not the grace of an Apollo, he had what was better—the mighty thews and sinews of a twentieth century Hercules. His massive chest and broad shoulders were capped by a leonine head, from which looked the imperious eyes of a born leader of men. Few men cared to encounter those eyes when their owner was angered. He was a good man to have as an ally, but a bad one to have as an antagonist.
How he had obtained his nickname was a disputed question in college tradition. Some maintained that it was due to a habit of plunging through the opposing lines with the power and momentum of an enraged buffalo. Others with equal likelihood held that it was an abbreviation of "bulldog," and had been won by the grit and grip that never let go when he had closed with an enemy. But whatever the origin of the term, all agreed that either definition was good enough to express the courage and power and tenacity of the man. Force—physical force, mental force, moral force—was the supreme characteristic that summed him up.
In his college days, ten years earlier, he had been a tower of strength on the greatest football team that had ever worn the Blue, and the part he played in its triumphs was still a matter of college song and story. It was the day when mass play counted heavily, when the "guards back" and the "flying wedge" were the favorite formations; and the Blue would never forget how, after a series of line plunging, bone-breaking rushes, he had dragged himself over the enemy's goal line with the whole frantic eleven piled on him, while the Blue stands went stark raving mad over the prowess of their champion. That famous goal had won him an undisputed place on the All-American team for that year and the captaincy of his own team the following season.
His reputation clung to him after he had graduated, and even among his business associates he was commonly and affectionately referred to as "Bull." The same qualities of courage and tenacity that had marked his student days had followed him into the broader arena of business life, and he had speedily become prosperous. But the tug of the old college had drawn him back for more or less time every year to help "lick the cubs into shape" and renew the memories of the past. This year the call had been particularly insistent, owing to two bad seasons in succession, when the Blues had been forced to lower their colors to their exulting rivals who had so many defeats to avenge. A hurry call had gone out for the very best man available to stop the "tobogganing" of the team; and as this by universal consent was "Bull" Hendricks, he had, at a great sacrifice, laid aside his personal interests and come to the rescue.
A few days on the ground had been sufficient to show him that he was "up against it." A herculean task awaited him. The material he had to work with was none too good. The line was lacking in "beef" and the backs in speed. There were exceptions, notably at center and full and quarter; and here his falcon eye detected the stuff of which stars are made. But it takes eleven men to make a team and no individual brilliancy can atone for a lack of combination work. "A chain is no stronger than its weakest link," and, in a modified sense, a team is no stronger than its weakest player. That one weaker player would be unerringly "sized up" by the sharp-eyed scouts of the opposition and they would plunge against him like a battering ram.
Usually, at the beginning of the fall season, there would be an influx of promising candidates from the leading academies and preparatory schools. Fellows who had starred at Andover and Exeter and Lawrenceville, some of them giants in bulk or racehorses in speed, would come in as Freshmen and give the Sophs or Juniors a tussle for the team. But "nothing succeeds like success," and the failure of the Blues for two seasons in succession had tarnished their prestige and turned toward other colleges the players emulous of football glory. The "Greys" and "Maroons" had "gobbled" the most likely "future greats" and the Blues had been replenished by a number limited in quantity and mediocre in quality. Of his veterans, the right guard and left tackle had graduated that summer, and their places in the line would be hard to fill.
Not that the coach felt discouraged. He didn't know the meaning of the word. It simply meant that he would have to work the harder. Like Napoleon, the word "impossible" was not in his dictionary. It was said once of a famous educator that "Mark Hopkins at one end of a log and a student at the other would make a university." With equal truth it could be declared that "Bull" Hendricks on the coaching line and eleven men on the field would turn out a 'Varsity team.
His task was the more difficult just now because he was practically alone. It was too early in the season for the "old grads" to put in an appearance. By and by they would come flocking in droves from all quarters of the compass, eager to renew their youth, and to infuse into the raw recruits some of the undying enthusiasm that they felt for their old Alma Mater. Then every separate player on the team could have the benefit of the advice of some famous former player in his own position, who would teach him every trick and turn by which he had won his own reputation. But at present most of the work devolved on him. He had to teach the backs how to kick, the ends how to run down under a punt, the guards and tackles how to interfere; and into all he had to infuse the deathless determination to win that is the very heart and core of the game. Like a new Atlas, he was carrying the football world on his shoulders, alone.
No, not quite alone. There was "Reddy." And that sorrel-topped individual was a host in himself.
Not one fellow out of ten could have told his real name. He was simply "Reddy" and they let it go at that. His flaming mop of hair to which he owed his nickname covered a shrewd if uneducated mind. For many years he had been connected with the college as head trainer, and in this capacity he had turned out so many winners that he had become famous in the athletic world. He had supreme control of the physical training of all the teams turned out by the college—track, baseball and football—and none excelled him in sending their men to the post in superb condition. He had an unerring eye for an athlete and knew how to bring each individual to the very top of his form. Whatever was in him he brought out to the full. He was a universal favorite in the college. All the boys swore by him, although at times perhaps—for his temper was as red as his hair—they were tempted to swear at him. But if they ever did, it was under their breath, for Reddy was an autocrat, and in his own domain ruled with an iron hand.
Just now, he was, as he himself put it, "as busy as a one-armed paperhanger with the hives." Dinner was over and the football candidates, scrub and 'Varsity alike, were getting into their togs and undergoing the searching scrutiny of Reddy. There were bad knees and ankles and shoulders galore. He began at the soles of the feet and went up to the crown of the head.
"Take off those shoes, Kincaid," he commanded. "The soles are worn so thin that you can't help feeling the cleats through them. Before you know it, your feet'll be so bruised that you'll be wanting a crutch."
"Those phony ankles again, eh," he remarked, as he noticed a slight wobbling on the part of Anderson. "Here," to an assistant, "give me that tape." And with the skill of a surgeon he applied strips of adhesive tape along each ligament, leaving a narrow space down the instep free from bandaging to allow free circulation of the blood. And when he got through, the "phony" ankle was so protected that it was practically impossible for it to turn under its owner.
So, step by step, he went up the human frame that he knew so well. Shin guards were handed out to the forwards to help them against the fierce hammering that they would have to meet. Pads were strapped below the knee and left loose above to give free play to the joints. The thighs were protected by fiber, and large felt pads covered the hips and kidneys. Then with shoulder and collarbone pads, topped by a head guard, the costume was complete. Then Reddy stood in the door that led to the presence of the coach and not a man went through until the trainer's critical eye pronounced him ready for the fray.
"Don't hurry," he said goodnaturedly, as some crowded past him. "'Tis quick enough ye'll be getting in there, I'm thinking," and his eyes twinkled, as he thought of the castigation that awaited them.
To tell the truth, they did not hurry. There were no bouquets awaiting them. They knew that they were due for a raking fore and aft and that they deserved it. No one could tell which one or how many would be "fired" back into the scrubs. More than one of them, on waking in the morning, wondered what made his heart so heavy, until with a qualm the thought of "Bull" Hendricks came to enlighten him. That thought had persisted all through the morning hours, and, if they were distrait in the recitation rooms, the reason was not far to seek. Even Tom's irrepressible spirits were somewhat tamed, although he had less to fear than some of the others.
"Gee," he whispered, "it's like a funeral."
"Don't cheer, boys, the poor devils are dying," murmured Bert.
"They piled the stiffs outside the door, There must have been a cord or more,"
The subdued way in which the boys filed in gave the coach his cue.
"Nice little flock of sheep," he purred. "Little Bo-Peep will miss you pretty soon and come down here looking for you."
"There was a time," he flashed, "when a Blue football team was a pack of wolves. But you're just sheep and the 'Greys' and 'Maroons' will make mutton of you, all right."
"A football team!" he went on scornfully. "Why, you don't know the rudiments of the game. You're a bunch of counterfeits. You can't tackle, you can't interfere, you can't kick, you can't buck the line. Outside of that, you're all right.
"Now this kind of work has got to stop. As a comic opera football team, you're a scream. If the 'Greys' or 'Maroons' had seen you yesterday, they'd have laughed themselves to death. But no Blue team has ever been a joke in my time, and you're not going to get away with it, if I can pound any brains into your heads or any strength in your muscles. If Nature hasn't done it already, I don't know that I can, but I'm going to try. The team I'm going to send into the field may be licked but it shan't be disgraced. It's going to be an eleven made up of men—not female impersonators. And I'll get them if I have to rake the college with a comb."
From generals he came down to particulars, and his rasping tongue spared no one, as he went over the plays of the day before and described their sins of omission and commission. The men writhed beneath the lash and their faces tingled with shame. But they were game and stood the "lacing" with what grace they might, the more so as they realized that the criticism, though bitter, was just. His whip tore the flesh and he rubbed vitriol into the wounds, but behind it all was his immense passion for victory and his pride in the old college that they loved and wanted to serve as ardently as he did. It was a wry dose and they swallowed it with a gulp, but it braced them to new endeavor, and deep down in their hearts was forming a resolution that boded ill for the scrubs, who had been gloating while the 'Varsity "got theirs."
"Now," the coach concluded, "I'd about made up my mind to fire half this gang of quitters back into the scrubs, but I'm going to give you one more chance. Do you get me? Just one more. For the next hour, you'll practice tackling and passing and interference. Then when you've limbered up your poor old joints, I'm going to line you up against the scrubs. I want you to rip them up, eat them alive, tear them to pieces. And heaven help the 'Varsity man that falls down on the job."
The boys saw some real practice that day. The coach was merciless. They flung themselves against the dummy tackle until they were bruised and sore. They ran down the field under punts until their breath came in gasps. They practiced the forward pass until they were dizzy and seemed to see ten balls flying over the field instead of one. But no one complained or shirked, although every separate bone and muscle seemed to have its own particular ache. A short respite, the 'Varsity and scrub faced each other as they had the day before.
But the hour had struck for the scrubs. They faced their doom. To be sure, they faced it gallantly, but it was doom none the less. From the beginning they never had a chance. All the pent up rage of the 'Varsity that had accumulated while they were being flayed by the coach was poured out on the devoted heads of their opponents. They wiped out the stigma of the day before and paid their debt with interest. It was a "slaughter grim and great," and before their furious attack the scrub line crumpled up like paper.
In vain Morley yelled to his little band to stand fast. They might as well have tried to stem Niagara. Warren and Hodge tackled like fiends. Dick at center and Tom at quarter worked together with the precision of a machine. Bert's mighty kicks were sure to find Caldwell or Drake under them when they came down, and three times he lifted the pigskin over the bars. Then as the play was most of the time in the scrubs' territory, the kicking game gave place to line bucking. Bert was given the ball, and through the holes that Boyd and Ellis made for him in the enemy's line he plunged like a locomotive. There was no stopping them, and the game became a massacre. They simply stood the scrubs "on their heads." Their own goal line was not even threatened, let alone crossed. Touchdown followed touchdown, until when the whistle blew, the 'Varsity had rolled up a score of 54 to 0 and their humiliation had been gloriously avenged.
"Well, Morley," taunted Drake, as the panting warriors left the field, "how about that 'false alarm' stuff?"
"Who's loony now?" crowed Tom.
"Only a spasm," countered Morley, with a sickly grin. "We'll get you yet."
"Bull" Hendricks said never a word as the fellows filed past, but, as he turned to leave the field, his eyes encountered Reddy's, and he favored that grinning individual with a drawing down of the right eyelid that closely resembled a wink. And when he was alone in his own quarters, he indulged in a low chuckle.
"Pretty strong medicine," he said to himself as he lighted his pipe, "but it worked. I guess I'm some doctor."
A THRILLING EXPLOIT
A PLEASANT surprise awaited the boys that evening as they went from the training table to their rooms. Under the elms in front of their dormitory, two men were pacing up and down. The close resemblance between them indicated that they were father and son. As they turned toward the boys there was an instant recognition, and they hurried forward in eager greeting.
"Mr. Quinby—Ralph," they cried in chorus.
"We can't tell you how glad we are to see you," said Bert. "What lucky wind blew you so far from California?"
"Business, as usual," responded Mr. Quinby, evidently pleased by the warmth of his welcome. "I had to attend a meeting of directors in New York, and while I was so near, I thought I'd take a day off and run down here for a look around."
"That's what he says," laughed Ralph, "but, as a matter of fact, Dad gets hungry to see the old college every once in so often, and I think he fakes up the 'business' talk just as an excuse."
"Impudent young cub, isn't he?" said Mr. Quinby with mock severity. "But I refuse to say anything in defense, on the ground that I might incriminate myself. Anyway, I'm here, and that's the main point. How are things going with you fellows?"
"Fine," was the response. "But come right on up to our rooms. We're not going to let you get away from us in a hurry, now that we've laid hands on you."
"We'll surrender," smiled Mr. Quinby. "Lead on MacDuff." And they mounted to the rooms that Bert and Dick occupied together, a floor higher up than Tom.
A flood of memories had swept over Bert at the unexpected meeting. Two years had passed since they had been closely associated and many things had happened since that time. Yet all the experiences of that memorable summer stood out in his mind as clearly as the events of yesterday.
Mr. Quinby had been the owner of a fleet of vessels plying between San Francisco and China. Needing a wireless operator on one of his ships, he had applied to the Dean of the college and he had recommended Bert, who was pursuing a course in electricity and making a specialty of wireless telegraphy. Tom and Dick had made that trip with him, and it had been replete with adventure from start to finish. At the very outset, they had been attacked by a Malay running amuck, and only their quickness and presence of mind had saved them from sudden death. Soon after clearing the harbor, they had received the S.O.S. signal, and had been able thereby to save the passengers of a burning ship. A typhoon had caught them in its grip and threatened to send them all to Davy Jones. His flesh crept yet as he recalled the tiger creeping along the deck of the animal ship after breaking loose from his cage. And, traced on his memory more deeply perhaps than anything else, was that summer evening off the Chinese coast when they had been attacked by pirates. Sometimes even yet in his dreams he saw the yellow faces of that fiendish band and heard the blows of the iron bars on their shaven skulls, when old Mac and his husky stokers had jumped into the fray.
How large a part he had played in that repulse he seldom allowed himself to dwell upon in thought and never referred to it in speech. But the country had rung with it, and his friends never tired of talking about it. And none knew better than Mr. Quinby himself that he owed the safety of his vessel and the lives of all on board to the quick wit of Bert in sending the electric current from the dynamo into the wires and hurling the screaming rascals back into their junks. His first words, after they were settled comfortably in their chairs, showed of what he had been thinking.
"Have you run up against any more pirates lately, Bert?" he asked.
"Not of the yellow kind," was the laughing response, "but it looks as though we might meet some white ones before long. They say that the 'Greys' and 'Maroons' are flying the skull and crossbones and threatening to give no quarter, when they stack up against us on the gridiron."
"Threatened men live long," said Mr. Quinby drily. "I've heard that talk before, but I notice that the Blues usually give a good account of themselves when it comes to an actual fight. It was so in my own college days. There'd be all sorts of discouraging rumors afloat and the general public would get the idea that the team was going around on crutches. But when the day of the game came, they'd go out and wipe up the field with their opponents. So I'm not worrying much for fear you'll have to walk the plank."
"You'd have thought so if you had heard the way the coach waded into us to-day," broke in Tom. "Since I heard him, I've had a new respect for the English language. I never knew it had such resources."
"There was a certain honeyed sweetness about it that was almost cloying," grinned Bert.
"'Twas all very well to dissemble his love, But why did he kick us downstairs?"
Mr. Quinby laughed reminiscently.
"I've heard coaches talk," he said, "and I know that some of them are artists when it comes to skinning a man alive. They'd cut through the hide of a rhinoceros. But that is part of the game, and if a man is over-sensitive, he doesn't want to try to make a football team. I'll wager just the same that it did you fellows good."
"We licked the scrubs by 54 to 0," answered Tom. "We felt so sore that we had to take it out on somebody."
"Sure thing," commented Mr. Quinby. "Just what the coach wanted. He gets you fighting mad, until when you go out you are 'seeing red' and looking for a victim. I've been there myself and I know."
"Did you ever play on the football team while you were an undergrad?" asked Tom.
"No, I wasn't heavy enough. They needed beef in those days more than they do now. You wouldn't think it, perhaps," with a glance at his present generous girth, "but I was a slender young sprout at that time, and I had to content my athletic ambitions with track work and baseball. But I was crazy over football, and I was always there to root and yell for the team when the big games were pulled off. And many a time since I've traveled from San Francisco all the way to New York to see a Thanksgiving Day game. Sometimes, the result has made me want to go away somewhere and hide, but more often the good old Blue has come out on top, and then I've been so hoarse from yelling that I haven't been able to talk above a whisper for a week. Of course it wouldn't be a good thing for the game if one team won all the time, and as long as we cop about two out of three, I'm not doing any kicking. It isn't often that we lose two years in succession, and I'm looking for you fellows now to come across with a victory."
"We'll do our best not to disappoint you," said Bert. "It's a sure thing that we haven't as heavy a line as we've had in other years, and for that reason we'll have to play more of an open game. But we've got a dandy new shift that will give the other fellows something to think about when we spring it on them, and probably Hendricks has one or two aces up his sleeve. I heard him tell Reddy the other day that he was planning a variation of the forward pass that he thought would be a corker."
"Well," said Mr. Quinby, "we'll hope so. It's almost as hard to forecast results in football as it is in baseball. The game's never over until the referee blows his whistle. I've seen teams touted as certain winners go all to pieces on the day of the game. Then, again, there have been times when the team didn't seem to have as much of a chance as a blind man in a dark room hunting for a black cat that wasn't there. But they'd go out just the same and stand the other fellows on their heads."
"You must have seen a lot of sparkling plays in your time," remarked Tom enviously.
"I surely have," assented Mr. Quinby. "Perhaps the best of all was one that thrills me now when I think of it, although I didn't enjoy it so much at the time, because it did the Blues out of a victory just when they thought they had it tucked away safely."
"Tell us about it," came in a chorus from the boys.
"Well, it was this way," and he lighted a fresh cigar as he settled back for a "fanning bee." "The 'Greys' came up to meet us that year with one of the best teams they ever turned out. They seemed to have everything, weight and strength and speed, and, on the 'dope,' we didn't have a chance in the world. They had gone through their schedule with the smaller colleges like a prairie fire, and the scores they piled up had been amazing. Their goal line hadn't been crossed all season, and all the newspaper writers tipped them to slaughter us.
"We had a dandy captain that year, though, and he, together with the coaches, had done wonders with the material on hand. The old Blue spirit that never knows when it is licked was there too. The game was on our grounds and although the 'Greys' had an immense delegation in their stands, we outnumbered and outyelled them. Say, maybe we didn't give the boys a send-off when they trotted through the gates and began passing and falling on the ball in practice. If we felt any doubts, that yell didn't show it.
"From the time the ball was kicked off it was a fight for blood. And you can imagine whether we fellows went crazy when we saw that our team was winning. We got off to a flying start, and, instead of having to defend our own goal, we took the offensive and kept the ball in the enemy's territory most of the time. We scored a goal from the field, and although the 'Greys' fought desperately, we seemed to have their number.
"It was the same in the second half. We downed them when they tried to rush us, blocked when they kicked, and stopped them in their attempt to skirt the ends. It was near the end of the last half, and there was only five minutes left to play. It looked as though it were 'all over but the shouting,' and you can bet that we were doing enough of that. The Blue stands were a good imitation of a lunatic asylum.
"But here Fate took a hand, and two minutes later we wanted to die. The ball was in our hands, halfway down the field. As we had already made one score, while the 'Greys' had nothing, all we had to do was to play safe and the game was ours.
"Peters, our captain, was a splendid fellow and a 'dead game sport.' It seemed to him a little like 'babying' to fritter away the few minutes remaining in safety play. The more generous instinct prevailed, and he 'took a chance.' He shot the ball back to the quarter. He in turn passed it to the back, who got in a perfect kick that sent it far down the field and close to the enemy's goal. One of the 'Greys' made a grab at it, but it was one of those twisting deceptive punts and bounded out of his hands down toward the southern line. One of his mates was just behind him and, quick as lightning, he caught the ball on the bound, tucked it under his arm and scooted down the field toward our goal line.
"Our forwards of course had run down under the kick and had got past the ball, expecting to pick it up when they saw that it had been muffed. So the 'Grey' runner was well past them before they could stop their momentum and turn in their tracks. The back who had kicked the ball was near the northern side, too far away to interfere, and Lamar, the runner, covering the ground like a deer, hugged the southern line.
"There were only two men in his way, and they made the mistake of keeping too close together, so that, as Lamar neared them, he made a superb dodge and slipped by both of them at once. Now he had a clear field before him, but with forty yards yet to go.
"How he ran! He had lost some time in the dodging and twisting, and now the whole Blue eleven were thundering at his heels. He could hear their panting as they sought to close in on him. The nearest one was not more than five feet away. He let out a link and fairly flew. The white lines of the field fell away behind him. One more tremendous effort by pursuer and pursued, and just as eager hands reached out to grasp him, he flashed over the goal line for a touchdown. Suddenly, brilliantly, inconceivably, the 'Greys' had won the game.
"Were we sore? We felt like draping the college buildings with crepe. To have had victory right within our reach and then to have had it snatched away in that fashion! Poor old Peters was fairly sick over it. I suppose to this day he has never forgiven himself for that sportsmanlike instinct.
"But nobody blamed him. The crowd took their medicine. Strictly speaking, I suppose it was foolish. As was said of the charge of the Light Brigade that 'it was magnificent but it was not war,' so, no doubt, many thought of Peters' move that although generous it was not football. Still the finest things in human life are often the 'foolish' things. At any rate, it enriched the history of the game with one of the most dashing and spectacular plays ever made.
"Those pesky 'Greys'," he mused. "They were always doing things like that. They had a fellow once that was always starting the fireworks. Poe was his name—a relative, by the way, of Edgar Allan Poe. I remember once, when with just one minute left to play and the ball thirty yards from our goal line, he dropped back for a kick and sent the ball sailing over the line for the goal that won the game. You've heard no doubt the song that the gloating 'Greys' made to immortalize a run down the field that he made on another famous occasion:
& never mortale Manne shall knowe How ye Thynge came about— But from yt close-pressed Masse of Menne Ye Feet Balle poppeth oute.
& Poe hath rushed within ye Breache— Towards Erthe one Second kneeled— He tuckes ye Balle benethe hys Arme, & Saunteres down ye Fielde.
Ye Elis tear in fierce pursuite; But Poe eludes yem alle; He rushes 'twixt ye quyvverynge Postes & sytteth on ye Balle.
But Arthur Poe hathe kyckt ye balle (Oh woefulle, woefulle Daye.) As straighte as myghte Dewey's Gunnes upon ye fyrste of Maye."
"They're foemen worthy of our steel, all right," laughed Dick.
"All the more credit in licking them," chimed in Tom.
"The percentage is on our side, after all," added Bert. "We've won about two-thirds of all the games we have played together."
"Some funny things happen in the course of a game," went on Mr. Quinby, who in this congenial company was feeling the years drop away from him and was enjoying himself immensely. "I remember once when our boys played Trinity in Hartford. At that time, the woolen jersey was part of the regulation football suit. This made tackling too easy, as one could get a good grip on the jersey, especially after it had been stretched in the course of the game. There had been some talk of substituting other material for it, but nothing had been done. You can imagine our surprise then when, on the day of the game, the Trinity men came out on the field in a full uniform of canvas. It was stiff and shiny and you couldn't get a good grip on it to save your life. That was bad enough, but, in addition, the Trinity boys had covered their uniforms with grease. Our fellows didn't tumble to it until after the game was under way and the enemy were wriggling away from us like so many eels. It was a time for quick thinking, but the Blues rose to the occasion. They sent out a hurry call for a bag of sand, and when it came, they grabbed handsful of it and so were able to get more or less of a grip on their slippery opponents. A rule was made later on forbidding the use of grease. The canvas uniforms, however, proved so much superior to the older style that it was officially adopted and has been in use ever since."
"How did the trick work?" asked Ralph. "Did they get away with the game?"
"No, we beat them all right, but by a close score and it certainly played hob with our tackling and interfering.
"Speaking of tricks, I remember one played by the Carlisle Indians. In addition to being crack football players, those 'noble red men' are about as smooth propositions as you'll find anywhere. The bland Ah Sin was a piker compared with them. You have to keep your eye peeled all the time. They were playing Harvard and the Indians got the ball on a kick off. There was a scrimmage, and when the crowd was untangled, the ball had disappeared. Suddenly, Dillon, of the Indians, darted out and made for the Harvard goal. But he didn't have the ball under his arm, and, after starting in pursuit, the Harvard boys thought it was a mere feint to draw them after him and turned back to see who really had it. Dillon went 105 yards down the field, running like the wind, and crossed the Harvard goal for a touchdown, and then they saw that he had the ball. And where do you think it had been all the time? Tucked up the back of his jersey. It had been enlarged especially for that purpose before the game began, and the first chance they had they worked the trick. The Harvard fellows raged, but there was nothing in the rules to forbid it and the touchdown counted. Since then the rules have been amended, and now the ball has to be in sight outside the clothing."
"He must have had a hunch that he would win," murmured Tom.
"Yes," assented Mr. Quinby. "A hunch on his back and a hunch in his heart. The Harvard boys had to stand for an awful joshing on the way they had been outwitted by 'Lo! the poor Indian with untutored mind.'
"But brain work and quick thinking aren't confined to the redskins. I recall a game played between the Army and Navy. You know there's always a fierce rivalry between those branches of Uncle Sam's service, and this game was being played for all it was worth. The Army had the ball and the fullback punted it to the center of the field. The Navy quarter tried to make a fair catch, but it slipped from his fingers. The Army center had run down under the kick and was close to the ball when it fell to the ground. The Navy men were so close behind that they would have piled on top of him if he had stooped to pick up the ball. So he kicked the ball ahead of him, following it up and ready to reach down and pick it up the minute he had the chance. But the Navy was so close that he had to keep dribbling it along and he kept this up until with one last kick he sent it over the goal and fell upon it for a touchdown. It was a new wrinkle in the game, and one of the hardest things in the world to get away with. They've tried it repeatedly since, but that feat of the Army man still stands as the star play of the 'dribbling' game.
"A good deal of the rough stuff has been cut out of the game and I'm glad of it, but in my college days almost everything 'went,' provided the referee wasn't looking. There was a lot of slugging and jiu-jitsu work, and more fellows had to be taken out of the game because of injuries than at present. Often a concerted effort was made to 'get' some especially efficient man on the other side, and they weren't always scrupulous about the way they did it. I remember one time we were playing a big game, and 'Butch' Allaire, the best player on the Blue team, had his knee badly hurt. We were short of good substitutes, and he felt that he had to continue playing, if it were at all possible. So, after a short wait, he came limping out again to his position, with a white bandage tied round his knee outside his uniform. To the other side, that bandage was like a red rag to a bull. They lunged against him, piled on top of him, and in every scrimmage they pressed heavily on that wounded knee. But, despite all their efforts, he played out the game, and we came out winners. After the excitement was over, the captain said to him:
"'Great work, Butch, but why in thunder did you wear that bandage on your knee? They knew just what to go for.'"
Butch grinned. "I tied it round the well knee," he said.
The boys laughed.
"Well," remarked Dick, "some of the prize-fighting tactics may have been rooted out of the game, but I'll bet the coaching is just as rough as it used to be."
"I'm not at all sure about that," said Mr. Quinby dubiously. "I'll admit that 'Bull' Hendricks is a finished workman when it comes to the use of pet names, after he's been stirred up by some bonehead play. But, after all, he doesn't use the paddle."
"Paddle!" came the exclamation in chorus.
"That's what I said. Paddle. In my day it was used by almost all the coaches, as an aid to quick thinking. Some advocate it even yet. The coach would take up his position right behind some line man when the ball was about to be put into play in practice.
"'Now, my son,' he would say, 'the minute the ball is snapped back I'm going to give you a fearful whack with this paddle. It's up to you to jump so fast that the paddle won't find anything to hit.'
"Did it work? I should say it did. Sometimes the paddle would catch him and sometimes it wouldn't, but after a few days of that the slowest of them would be off like a flash the instant the ball was snapped back. After that it wouldn't be necessary. They'd got the habit of a quick start. And you fellows know that that is the secret of good football, as it is of almost everything else—to get the jump on the other fellows.
"Nowadays, the methods are more often mental than physical. One coach I know works it something like this:
"'I want you to imagine that I have a loaded shotgun in my hand and that I am going to pull the trigger when the ball is snapped, and that you must get out of range before I fill you full of shot.'
"No doubt both methods help in the development of speed, but as between the two, my money goes on the paddle.
"But now," he said, as he made a motion to rise, "I'll have to go. I've had a bully good time with you fellows, but I'm keeping you from your studies and then, too, there are one or two of the old Profs I want to see before I turn in. I'll see you again before I go and I'll be there with bells on where the big games are pulled off. Good luck," and although they urged him to stay longer, he and Ralph took their leave.
"Great old sport, isn't he?" said Tom, when they were left alone.
"All to the good," replied Bert heartily.
"Let's hope that last 'good luck' of his was prophetic," remarked Dick.
"It's up to us to make it so," said Bert thoughtfully. "Of course there is such a thing as luck, but I've usually noticed that luck and pluck go together."
"O, I don't know," said skeptical Tom. "Sometimes a 'jinx' follows a man or a team, and everything goes against them. You've heard of the man
Whose horse went dead and his mule went lame, And he lost his cow in a poker game, And a cyclone came on a summer day And blew the house where he lived away. Then an earthquake came when that was done, And swallowed the ground that the house stood on. Then a tax collector, he came round And charged him up with the hole in the ground."
"Some hard luck story, sure enough," grinned Bert. "Heaven forbid that any such hoodoo get after us. But, somehow, the result of the game to-day and Mr. Quinby's talk have braced me up, and I feel a mighty sight more hopeful than I did yesterday."
"Same here," acquiesced Dick. "I've a hunch that we're due to give the 'Greys' and 'Maroons' a great big licking. At any rate, if we lose, they'll know they've been in a fight, and we'll try to take our medicine gracefully."
"Spoken like a sport, old man," cried Bert, clapping him on the shoulder. "God loves a cheerful giver, but the whole world loves a cheerful loser."
BREAKING THE RULES
"YES," remarked Tom, following up a conversation he and his two comrades had been engaged in for some time, "there's certainly something radically wrong with Martin, and personally I believe he's hitting the booze, or something just as bad. There's always some explanation when a fellow goes all to pieces the way he has, and ninety-nine times out of a hundred the answer is 'red-eye.'"
"I wouldn't be surprised if you were right, Tom," agreed Bert soberly, "and it's too bad, too. Martin has always been such a good scout that I hate to see him going back. What he needs is to have somebody give him a heart-to-heart talk and point out the error of his ways to him. But likely even that would do little good, anyway. When drink once gets a hold on a man it usually takes more than talk to break him of the habit."
"You can bet your hat it does," put in Dick. "I guess nobody who hasn't actually fallen a victim of the liquor habit and then broken himself of it can have any idea of the struggle necessary to do it. The only safe way is to let the 'stuff' strictly alone."
"Right you are," said Bert earnestly. "Everybody thinks that liquor will never get a grip on him. Oh, no! But what most people never take into account is the fact that every drink of whiskey taken weakens the will just a little, and makes it just so much harder to refuse the next drink. So it goes on, in increasing ratio, until it becomes next to impossible for the victim to break himself of the habit. My idea is, don't monkey with a red-hot poker and you won't get hurt. If you do, no matter how careful you may be, you're apt to get hold of the hot end, and then it's too late to wish you hadn't."
"My, Bert, you could get a job as lecturer for the W. C. T. U.," laughed Dick. "But just the same," he continued more seriously, "there's not a doubt in the world but what you're dead right. But the question is, if Martin, as we have reason to believe, has started drinking, what can we do to help him? Not only for his sake, but for the sake of the college. Without him on the team, we'd be so badly crippled that we wouldn't have a chance in the world to win the championship."
"I don't know what we can do, I'm sure," said Bert with a perplexed frown; "about all we can do is sit tight, and hope he'll see the error of his ways before he gets so bad that Reddy will have to fire him from the squad."
The others had no suggestions to offer, and after a little further discussion of the problem they gathered up their paraphernalia and went to their respective rooms.
The foregoing conversation took place on a Monday evening, and all the next day the three comrades saw comparatively little of each other, all being "up to their eyes in work," as Tom expressed it. But on Wednesday morning they happened to meet on the campus after the first lecture period, and Tom proposed that that evening, after supper, they take a ramble through the town after they had prepared their work for the following day.
"I'm beginning to feel stale," he complained; "Reddy won't let us go to a theater, of course, because that would keep us up too late. But I guess he'd have no objection to our taking a walk like that, provided we got back early."
"All right," said Bert. "I was just going to propose something of the kind myself. You'll come, won't you, Dick?"
"Surest thing you know," agreed that personage promptly. "What time do you want to go? About seven o'clock?"
The others were agreeable to this, and so the matter was settled. They talked a few minutes more, and then hurried away to the classrooms.
In accordance with this plan, they met at the appointed time in Bert's room, and sallied merrily forth. And indeed, it seemed as though these three needed no other entertainment than they could give each other. What with jokes, laughter, and "monkey-shines" the time passed very quickly, and they soon found themselves on one of the main thoroughfares of the town. They sauntered along, extracting amusement from everything they saw, and were about to return to the college, when Bert's laughing face suddenly grew grave.
They were approaching a brilliantly lighted saloon at the time, and Bert halted his companions with a gesture.
"What's up, Bert?" inquired Tom and Dick in surprise.
"I may be mistaken," replied Bert, "but I'm sure I saw Martin go into that place. And I should think, by the way he was walking, that he'd absorbed a few drinks already. What do you think we ought to do about it?"
"We might wait around until he comes out, and then give him a talking to," suggested Dick.
"No, I think that the best thing we can do is to go in and catch him red handed," said Bert. "It may make him so ashamed of himself that he'll cut out such things in the future."
"Well, perhaps that would be best," said Dick, and as Tom seemed to think so too, they decided to follow this course of action.
Accordingly, they made their way through the swinging doors, and found themselves in the brilliantly lighted interior of the saloon. Rows of glasses behind the polished mahogany bar sparkled in the light, and many mirrors reflected it, so that at first their eyes were almost dazzled. Nevertheless, they had little difficulty in locating Martin. He was leaning up against the far end of the bar, a whiskey decanter in front of him, and a glass a third full of the liquor in his hand.
Even as the boys watched him he raised the glass to his lips, and emptied the contents at two gulps. He was starting to pour out another portion when Bert walked swiftly up to him and laid his hand on his arm.
"Come on along out of this, Martin," he said; "we're all going back to the college now, and you'd better come back with us."
Martin turned toward him, but hardly seemed to recognize him. He was about to speak when the bartender, who saw a good customer being taken away from him, interfered.
"Aw, let de gent alone, can't youse," he said, in a belligerent tone; "he's got a right to take a drink or two if he wants to, ain't he? He don't look like no kid to need a guardian."
"You keep out of this," said Bert, with a steely glint in his eyes, "this is our business, not yours, and if you want to steer clear of trouble don't try to mix in."
The bartender seamed inclined at first to try the efficacy of force, but as Dick and Tom ranged up alongside Bert, he thought better of it.
"Awright," he grumbled, "awright. Take the guy along wid youse, an' I wish you joy of him."
Martin at first refused to move, but at last, by dint of much persuasion, the three comrades prevailed on him to go with them. Bert and Tom supported him on either side, guiding his uncertain footsteps to the best of their ability.
"I only hope we don't meet any one we know," said Dick fervently. "We'd better take a roundabout course going back, so as to take as little chance as possible of that happening."
"It wouldn't be a bad idea," said Tom, "and I think it would be a good stunt for me to go on ahead and do a little scouting. I could meet you at the east gate and let you know if the coast is clear. If possible, we want to get Mart to his room without anybody getting on to the state of affairs."
"All right, go ahead," acquiesced Bert, "we'll get there as soon as we can."
Accordingly Tom set off at a round pace, and soon came within sight of the college towers. Fortunately, there was a swimming contest going on in the natatorium, and many students who ordinarily would have been apt to be wandering about on the campus were indoors watching the swimmers. There was hardly a soul to be seen, and Tom prayed that the favorable conditions might last until Bert and Dick arrived with their unfortunate charge.
He hurried to the appointed meeting place, and strained his eyes through the darkness in search of the trio that he knew must be pretty near by this time. Sure enough, in less than five minutes they emerged from a neighboring street, and Tom walked swiftly up to them.
"We're in luck," he said, in a low tone. "Everybody's in the natatorium watching the swimming meet, and we've got the campus practically to ourselves. I'll walk in front of Martin, and the chances are we'll get him to his room without anybody getting wise."
Bert and Dick accordingly hurried Martin forward as fast as possible, and, as Tom had predicted, found everything favorable to them. They hurried across the deserted campus, and entered the dormitory in which Martin's room was located by a side door.
By the greatest good fortune they met no one in the corridors, and in a very few moments had the "high life" exponent safely in his room.
"Well, that's about all we can do to-night," said Bert, as they were leaving the room. "I think the best thing will be to let him sleep off the effects of his carouse, and then give him a talking to to-morrow."
"I think we'd better leave that to you," said Dick, after exchanging glances with Tom. "Probably if we all got at him at once, it would only make him obstinate. You do the talking for all of us, Bert. Show Mart what bad medicine he's been mixing, and maybe he'll come around to your point of view."
"Well," agreed Bert, but with evident reluctance, "I suppose that would be the best way to do it. I'll get hold of him some time to-morrow, and talk to him like a Dutch uncle."
Accordingly, the next day he was on the lookout for the backslider. Several times in the course of the day he saw him, but Martin always managed to avoid him, more by design than accident, as Bert thought. At last, however, after the last recitation period, he cornered him in a secluded corner of the campus.
"I guess you know what I want to say to you, don't you, Mart?" he inquired gravely.
"Oh, yes, I guess I know, all right," the other replied sullenly, "but there's no use your preaching to me about the evils of drink, or anything like that. I've tried to cut out the stuff, and I can't, that's all. I'm going to Reddy to-night and resign from the team."
"You're not going to do anything of the kind," said Bert gravely, "you're going to keep right on being the best halfback the college ever had, but I'm going to ask a personal favor of you on behalf of myself, and also Trent and Henderson."
"I think I know what you mean," said Martin suspiciously, "but fire away and ask it."
"We want you to go to Reddy and make a clean breast of it, ending up by promising to do your best to cut out the 'stuff,'" said Bert. "Will you do it? Don't say no now," as the other started to shake his head, "don't give me an answer now, if you don't want to. Think it over. I'm mighty sure if you think hard enough you'll do what we want you to."
"I'll do it!" exclaimed Martin, suddenly thrusting out his hand, "and I'll let the booze alone in the future if it takes a leg. You and the others have done me a bigger service than you'll ever realize, probably."
"Well, you know the way you can best repay it," said Bert, with a hearty smile, and after another strong handclasp they parted.
Bert went straight to Dick and Tom, and told them what he had accomplished. "I think he'll keep his word, too," he finished. And as it proved, he, was right. From that day forward Martin reported regularly for practice, and kept strictly to training table regulations. In less than a week he was back to his old time form, and became as he had been before, one of the mainstays of the team.
TACKLING THE ARMY
"THIS looks like a case of bearding the lion in his den," remarked Dick, as the stately steamer on which they had embarked at New York that morning swept up to the landing at West Point, and the boys were gathering up their traps to go ashore.
"It's certainly a stiff contract to tackle the future leaders of the United States Army," replied Tom. "But we're the boys to do it, and to lick them, too. If that be treason, make the most of it."
"Don't you be too sure of that," admonished Bert. "From all I hear, they're a husky set of brutes, and we're likely to have our hands full. They've never been easy picking and we'd better postpone our jubilee till after the game."
"Punk philosophy," countered Tom. "Let's have it now and make sure of it."
He was clearly a hopeless case, and they gave up the task of subduing his levity, and started for the gang plank.
It was a large party that had come up the river on that glorious day in early October, to test the prowess and mettle of the cadets. The team itself with the substitutes numbered over thirty, and there was a small army of rubbers and other attendants. To these were added several hundred of the college boys, and these were further reinforced by a host of "old grads" who sniffed the battle from afar and couldn't resist the temptation to "come on along," and root for the youngsters on their scalp-hunting expedition.
The game with the Army was always one of the events of the football season. Although not ranked with the "big three," they followed close behind, and once in a while gave the "top-liners" a hard struggle to avoid defeat. Only the year before, they had held the Blues to a 6 to 0 score, and on a muddy field had played a tie with the "Maroons" after a Homeric contest. They were not "easy meat" for any one, and the coaches of every team had learned not to hold them lightly.
This year, disquieting rumors had leaked out from West Point as to the strength of the team. They were said to have the heaviest aggregation behind the line that they had had in twenty years, and it was freely predicted that here, if anywhere, the Blues might find themselves overmatched. The fullback was a new recruit who weighed close to two hundred pounds, and despite his weight was said to be as fast as greased lightning. The two halves were both veterans, and one of them the previous season had been picked for the All-American team in his position. In addition they had a powerful set of guards and tackles, and it was universally acknowledged that their quarterback was one that it would be hard to match on any of the big teams.
Still the Blues were not greatly stirred up by this advance information. If they were to be "licked," it would have to be by actual speed and muscle on the field, and not by "dope" that might prove fallacious.
"They can't come too big or heavy to suit," philosophized Drake. "The bigger they are the harder they fall."
There was a stiff wind blowing when the rival teams came on the field, and in the toss for position the Army won. As the teams lined up for the kick-off, there was a tremendous outburst of cheers from the Army supporters who, of course, vastly outnumbered the loyal Blues who had accompanied their team. What the latter lacked in numbers, however, was made up by the enthusiasm with which they cheered the wearers of the Blue colors, that had waved triumphantly over so many hard-fought fields, and which, they hoped, was now to add another trophy to their list.
Since the Blues had lost the toss for position, they were entitled to the kick-off. Bert took careful aim and lifted the ball far and high. Ordinarily it would have been good for at least fifty yards, but the wind limited it to thirty-five. Caldwell was down under it like a flash, but Birch, of the Army, made a fair catch and kicked back for twenty yards. Drake got possession of the ball, and the Blues had it on the Army's forty yard line.
A forward pass, superbly engineered by Tom, gave them twelve yards. They gained eight more on two successive downs, but were penalized five yards for off-side play. On the next play they gained their distance, but on the next, in attempting to skirt the end, Axtell dropped the ball, and the Army left pounced upon it instantly.
It was now the Army's ball, and they immediately started to try a plunging game. The Blue line held like a rock, however, and then the Army tried one of their favorite formations. They lined up as though for a kick, but the back who had dropped behind as if for that purpose, either tried a forward pass or made a quick dash around the ends. To complicate the play still further, it was sometimes passed to still another back before the attempt was made. It was a clever "fake," and against a weaker or slower team might have worked. But the Blues had practiced many a weary hour in breaking up just such a combination, and they met it and smothered it so effectually, that before long the Army recognized its futility and fell back on straight football.
And here for the first quarter they fairly held their own. McAlpin, their giant fullback, proved a tower of strength, and when he was given the ball plunged through the line like a thunderbolt. There seemed to be no holding him, and his team backed him up so powerfully that he made his distance easily on the four downs. The ball was still in the Army's possession when the referee's whistle announced the end of the first quarter, and the field was swept by the cheers of the cadets at the gallant way in which their favorites had made a stand against the most famous team in the country.
In the short rest between quarters, there was a hurried council of the Blues.
"Buck up, fellows, for heaven's sake," urged Bert. "We mustn't let these Army men outplay us. What'll the boys at home think of us? They've already got the bulletin of this quarter, and they're wondering what on earth is the matter with us. Get a move on now and show them some real football. Just go in and eat them up."
This was an eminently desirable thing from the Blue standpoint, but the cadets refused to subscribe to such a cannibal programme. They were not ready to glut anybody's appetite. On the contrary, their own was whetted by their sturdy resistance so far, and their ambition was rapidly growing. They had really not had much idea of winning at the outset. It would have been almost more than they dared to hope to hold these doughty warriors to a tie. Failing that, they hoped possibly to cross the enemy's goal line for at least one score or perhaps more. But their wildest hopes had hardly soared so high as to count on actual victory. Now, however, that they had locked horns with their adversaries and found to their delight and surprise that they were holding them on even terms, they were fired with a mighty determination to win.
Nor did the second quarter dim their hopes. The Blues had not yet found themselves. There was a cog missing somewhere in the machinery. Technically, their playing was not open to much adverse criticism. Their passing was accurate and their tackling fair, but they were too mechanical and automatic. They needed something to wake them up.
That something came more quickly than any one expected. Out of a scrimmage on the forty yard line of the Army, a flying figure emerged, with the ball tucked under his arm. Twisting, dodging, ducking, he threaded his way through the field, bowling over Caldwell, eluding Axtell's outstretched arms and bearing down upon the Blue goal. As he neared Bert, who was running in a diagonal line to head him off, he swerved sharply to the right in an attempt to pass this last obstacle between him and a touchdown. But in a twinkling Bert had launched himself against him, gauging the distance unerringly, and they both came heavily to the ground on the Blue's ten yard line.
It was the Army's ball with only ten yards to go! The stands went frantic as the teams lined up for a last desperate trial of strength. The Blues were thoroughly awake now. All their apathy was gone at this moment of deadly peril, and they swore to themselves to hold that precious ten yards if they died in doing it.
The jubilant Army men called on McAlpin, their giant fullback, to buck the line. He went into it like a maddened bull, but Dick at center refused to give an inch. He tried again at left and made two yards through Ellis. A hole made by his guards between Axtell and Martin yielded three more. Five yards yet to go and only one chance left! Once more he braced and hurled himself savagely against the right side of the line. But Bert was crouching there in readiness, his six feet of bone and muscle instinct with power and resolution. He went into McAlpin like a human pile driver, and threw him back for a loss of four yards. The goal was safe and the ball belonged to the Blues on their ten yard line. It had been a close call, and a murmur of disappointment went up from the Army partisans, while the Blue stands rocked with applause.
The elevens lined up and Tom snapped the ball to Dick, who passed it to Bert, five feet behind the line. The ball rose from his toe like a bird and soared down to the forty yard line. From there the Blues rushed it down to within thirty yards of the Army goal before the whistle announced the end of the second quarter.
It was a different crowd that gathered in the Blues' dressing rooms in the interval that followed. That threat against their goal line was the electric spark that was necessary in order to shock them into action. They were worked up to fighting pitch. Their eyes were blazing, their features grim, and "Bull" Hendricks, who was primed to lash them to the bone with his bitter tongue, wisely forebore. He saw that they were fairly fuming with eagerness for the fray, and after making some minor changes in the line-up—Ellis having sprained his ankle and Caldwell broken a finger—he sent them out with the single exhortation to "hammer the heart out of them."
It wasn't as classic as Wellington's "Up, Guards, and at them," but quite as effective. Against that electrified and rejuvenated team, the Army didn't have a chance. Their highly raised hopes went glimmering before the raging onslaught of the Blues. Every man worked as though the outcome of the game depended upon him alone. They plunged into the crumbling lines of the Army like so many wild men. Their opponents fought back nobly, furiously, desperately, but to no avail. The "class" was with the Blues, and as this fact was driven home to the spectators, deep gloom settled over the Army stands, while from the opposite side the old college song went booming down the field.
The Blues were bent on massacre. They charged hard and played fast. Dick plunged through the line again and again like a battering ram for tremendous gains. Tom did some dazzling running back of punts. Drake hit the forwards hard and often, and Axtell tackled with deadly accuracy, laying out his victims all over the field.
As for Bert at fullback, no such demon playing had been seen at West Point for a generation. His handling of the forward pass was a delight to the eye, and even the hostile stands were stirred at times to involuntary applause. Twice he carried the ball over for a touchdown—once by straight bucking and again by a spectacular run of fifty-five yards through a broken field. The quarter ended with a result of 15 to 0 in favor of the visitors.
From that time on, it was only a question of the size of the score. The battle had become a rout. In the last quarter the ball was in the Army territory all the time. There was no necessity now for tricks to further befuddle the demoralized cadets. By "straight football" the Blues pursued their victorious course down the field and added two more goals before the game was called, with the ball on the fifteen yard line, and destined, had the play continued two minutes longer, to make a final touchdown. It was a dashing victory, gallantly won after an inauspicious start. The weary players drew the first long breath they had permitted themselves since the start of the game. The cadets, game as pebbles, gave their conquerors the rousing Army cheer and the Blues responded vigourously. The rival teams fraternized for a while and then the Blues retired to their quarters to dress and make their "get-away."
Naturally, despite the immense fatigue that weighed them down, they were tingling with exultation. It was the first time they had been pitted against a really big team, and they had clearly outclassed them. The contests with the smaller colleges had been little more than practice, and in most cases the scrub could have won as certainly if not as overwhelmingly as the 'Varsity. And the victory to-day had been won not by a "fluke," but by clearcut playing. To be sure, the memory of the first part of the game kept rising up like Banquo's ghost to make them uncomfortable. But they had redeemed that so royally in the final half as to silence the most captious critic.
Moreover, they had come through that crucial contest in good shape. There had been no serious accident to weaken the team. The injuries to Ellis and Caldwell were only trivial and in a week they would be as well as ever. Of course there were minor wounds and bruises galore, but they were incident to the hardening process and were of no consequence.
The mere fact that they had won, satisfying as it was, counted for little compared with the enormous benefit of the game in welding the team together. It had taken eleven stars and molded them into a team. No individual brilliancy, however great, can atone for the lack of team work. To-day they had tested each other, supported each other, played into each other's hands, forgotten that they were anything but parts of one great, smoothly moving, swiftly running machine. And, having so tested his fellows, each one would play with the confidence and self-forgetfulness that alone can win a championship.
For all these reasons, it was a very hilarious bunch that foregathered in the dressing rooms and tumbled into their clothes, after the soothing ministrations of shower and rubdown.
"I guess we're poor, eh, old top," chuckled Tom, as he poked Bert in the ribs.
"Ouch," responded that worthy, "haven't I been punched enough to-day without you soaking me? I'm black and blue all over."
"I don't wonder," put in Dick. "The way that big McAlpin lammed into you was a crime. He piled on me in one of the scrimmages, and I thought the Flatiron building had fallen."
"He's a tough bird, all right," said Drake, "but he ran up against a tougher one when he tried to go through Bert for that last down in the second quarter. I never saw anything prettier than the way Bert flung him back as though he had been a lightweight. I caught the bewildered look on his face as he went over. He didn't know for a minute what had hit him."
"It was the only thing that saved us from being scored on," said Martin. "It's the tightest place we've been in so far this season."
"Well, a miss is as good as a mile," said Bert, slipping on his coat. "But hurry up, you fellows, and let us tackle some eats. I'm so hungry that it hurts."
He had struck a responsive chord and in a few minutes they were on their way to the mess hall of the cadets, who had insisted that they should be their guests at supper.
To reach the dining hall they had to cross the baseball field, abandoned now in the early fall, but the scene of fierce diamond battles earlier in the season. To Bert and Tom and Dick it brought back the memory of the great game they had played there two years before—a game that had gone into extra innings, and had been won by a wonderful bit of playing on the part of Tom who was holding down third.
"Remember that game, Tom?" asked Bert.
"O, no," mocked Dick. "He doesn't remember. A man who has made a triple play unassisted never thinks of it again."
"He's blushing," exclaimed Drake. "Look at him, fellows. What a shrinking violet."
Tom made a pass at him.
"A mere bit of luck," he countered. "You fellows give me a pain."
But there had been no luck about it. The game had been bitterly fought, and at the end of the ninth the score was a tie. The Blues had got a man round in the tenth, and the cadets went in to do or die. Before long the crowds were on their feet and screaming like maniacs. There was a man on third, another on second, nobody out, and the heaviest slugger in the nine was at the bat. Amid exhortations to "kill it," he caught the ball squarely on the end of his bat and sent it whistling toward third about two feet over Tom's head. He made a tremendous leap, reaching up his gloved hand, and the ball stuck there. The batter was out, but the man on third, thinking it was a sure hit, was racing like mad to the plate. As Tom came down he landed squarely on the bag, thus putting out the runner, who had by this time realized his mistake and was trying desperately to get back. In the meantime, the man on second, who had taken a big lead, was close to third. As he turned to go back to second, Tom chased him and touched him out just before he reached the bag. The game was won, three men were out, and the bewildered spectators were rubbing their eyes and trying to make out just what had happened. They had seen a "triple play unassisted," the thing that every player dreams of making, and one of the rarest feats ever pulled off on the baseball diamond.
"We've certainly got the edge on Uncle Sam's boys in both baseball and football," commented Dick, in discussing the incident, "but it's only an edge. They always make us extend ourselves to win."
They had a royal time at the mess hall and afterward at the barracks, where both the vanquished and victors mingled on terms of the most cordial good fellowship. But the demands of training were not to be set aside, and all too soon they were forced to tear themselves away and repair to their hotel. By ten o'clock they were in their beds, lights were out, and they were sleeping as only a college team can sleep after a day of such storm and stress.
After Reddy had made his rounds and assured himself that all his charges had retired, he joined "Bull" Hendricks for a chat and smoke over the day's happenings. Few things had escaped their keen eyes during that crowded hour, when conditions and formations changed with the swiftness of a kaleidoscope. And now that it was all over, they could recall every play, every gain, every fumble, every pass, with a precision that would have been astounding to any one less versed than they in every turn and angle of the game.
Their mood was one of deep, if quiet, satisfaction. A long and bitter experience had made them cautious in prediction. They were by no means ready to admit yet, even to themselves, that they had a team of "world beaters." There were still a host of faults to be corrected, of raw edges to be polished off, of plays to be developed. But, on the whole, the boys had done surprisingly well. The dogged way in which they had held the enemy when their goal was threatened was worthy of the best "bulldog" tradition. And the slashing, ding dong way in which they had worked the ball down the field in the last half had been gratifying beyond words. It showed that the "never say die" spirit, that they had tried so hard to instill, was there in abundance.
There was still another cause for congratulation. They had not been forced to uncover any of the new tricks that they were holding in reserve for the championship games. At one point, in the early part of the game, they had feared this might be necessary, but the quick recovery later on had enabled them to depend upon straight football. The scouts for the "Greys" and "Maroons," several of whom had been "spotted" in the stands, had had "their trouble for their pains," and the coach was greatly elated in consequence.
"They'll go home with an empty bag from this day's hunting," he chuckled.
"They sure will," assented Reddy, as he filled and lighted his faithful cob. "And I'm thinking 'tis a little bit shaky they are, after seeing the way we ripped up the Army line."
"That boy Wilson is certainly a hummer," commented Hendricks, flicking the ash from his cigar. "I haven't seen such plunging and line bucking since the days of Heffelfinger. You could no more stop him than you could a runaway horse."
"He's all there, full sixteen ounces to the pound," was Reddy's emphatic endorsement. "I've seen some crack fullbacks in my time, but none to top him. He's got the weight, he's got the speed, and as for nerve, begorra! Did ye note the way he toyed with that big rhinoceros, McAlpin?"
"What he did to him was plenty," laughed Hendricks. "I guess that's one position we don't need to worry about any longer. And I'm feeling pretty good, too, about Trent and Henderson. They worked together at quarter and center like a pair of shears. Axtell tackled like a tiger, and if he keeps it up, we can count on him as a fixture. And Drake, too, did some dandy work at end. Did you see the way he got down under Wilson's punts? Johnny-on-the-spot, every time the ball came down."
"For them five positions there's nothing better in sight," said Reddy.
"I rather think so," acquiesced the coach. "There's only one weak spot in the back field, and that's at left half. Martin, for some reason, isn't playing his game. He's too slow in starting, and he doesn't tackle as hard and fast as he ought to. Then, too, he's a little bit thick when it comes to the signals. He got mixed up twice to-day, and he was all at sea on that 'fake' pass in the second quarter. He needs more blackboard work, and I'm going to see that he gets it.
"But it's in the line that we've got to make some changes. Most of the forwards to-day would have been 'pie' for the 'Greys' or 'Maroons.' I can excuse Caldwell for not playing his best, since he broke his finger in the beginning of the game and nobody knew it until twenty minutes later. Plucky of the youngster, but he ought to have told us. Ellis is all right, but that's the second time his bum ankle has given way, and I don't know whether he can stand the strain of a big game. Hodge has got the weight and the strength, but he leaves too much of the work to Trent. As for Boyd, I'm afraid he lacks sand."
"I saw him flinch to-day, when McAlpin piled into him," mused Reddy.
"I'm going to try out Warren a little longer," went on Hendricks. "There's good stuff in that boy, but I'm afraid there's hardly enough beef. But he's trying all the time, and never lets up till the whistle blows. Perhaps I'll let him change places with Martin and see how it works. He's quick as a flash and an expert at dodging, and he may make a better back than he is a tackle. We'll shift him there for a tryout.
"I'll have to keep quite a bunch of them 'under suspicion' for some time yet, and we may have quite a different line up by November. But, take it all in all, I'm not kicking at the way we're going along, so early in the season. As a matter of fact, I wouldn't let them know for a farm how good I really feel over their showing. I'd like to get a line, though, on the other teams. By the way, I saw you talking with Bushnell, the old 'Grey' quarter. Did that Irish blarney of yours get anything out of him?"
"Niver a bit," mourned Reddy. "I did me best, but he was as close-mouthed as a clam. I ran across a reporter though, who's been down that way lately, and he says they're going great guns in practice."
"They're the fellows we've got to beat. That agrees with everything I've heard from that quarter. We're heavier and I think we're faster than the 'Maroons' this year. But from all accounts the 'Greys' have got everything, and then some. They'll take a lot of beating."
"Hivin send that they take it instead of giving it," ejaculated Reddy; and with Hendricks' grunted indorsement of this pious wish, the captain and first mate of the football craft parted for the night.
IN spite of the trainer's autocratic rule, the life of the team while in training was not just one long grind, without any recreation to break the monotony. Reddy, it is true, prohibited theaters and kindred amusements, because they necessarily meant late hours, and late hours, as the trainer well knew, meant decreased efficiency, both physical and mental.