Blind Mumbling

A compilation of writings that never got anyone excited.

Location: N. Huntingdon, Pennsylvania, United States

Former teacher, co-editor of Total Football and the author of more than 20 books and over 200 articles, most about sports history. His credits include Pro Football: When the Grass Was Real, The Hidden Game of Football (with John Thorn and Pete Palmer), Baseball Between the Lies, The Importance of Napoleon, and the Battle of Stalingrad. He is presently Executive Director of the Pro Football Researchers Association.

Friday, March 10, 2006


(Originally publidhed in The Coffin Corner)

Recently, the wire services ran a story that researchers had found references to "baseball" years earlier than its traditional 1839 invention by U.S. General Abner Doubleday. Supposedly, the early dates brought into question that baseball was first played in Cooperstown, N.Y.

Well, duh! In truth, no responsible baseball historian and few serious fans have put any faith in the Doubleday yarn for nearly half a century. The new dates may be of interest, but they hardly disprove what was thoroughly disproved long ago. It’s like NASA suddenly announced the world isn’t flat after all.

Although baseball’s history has been rehashed ad nauseum, the origins of football have not had the same wide exposure. As a consequence, a number of myths about football’s early years are still out there and likely to show up in otherwise learned manuscripts.

F’rinstance, just about everybody who writes about football’s origins has to bring up Kick-the-Dane’s-Head. As I’m sure you know, the mean old Danes conquered England in the 900’s or so. By a hundred years later, the Dane’s went back to Daneland and the English sat around waiting for William to conquer them in 1066.

According to the myth, the Englishers so hated the Danemarkians that they’d dig up the skulls of those presumably dead Danes who’d been buried there and give them a good pasting. All this Danish pastry eventually devolved into a game where whole teams of Brits tried to kick a Dane’s skull from one village to another.

Now if those kickers were smart enough to figure out they couldn’t kick the whole Dane for miles, I think they were probably smart enough to know that kicking skulls makes your toes smart. I mean, skulls are hard! And toes are soft! Especially that one that runs piggely-wiggely all the way home.

I’ll just bet those Saxons had a different angle. I’ll bet they filled a bag or a pig’s bladder with straw and then called it a "Dane’s Head."

Those Saxons were pretty slick. Especially the ones that lived in villages. I heard there was even a TV show about it -- Saxon the City.


Anonymous Mark Ford said...

I tend to think that our modern gridiron game owes a lot to the unknown Danish warrior. As you say, skulls are hard to kick. It makes sense, then, that someone earlier than William Webb Ellis would have picked the skull up and run for daylight with other villagers in hot pursuit. The next person to pick it up, not wishing to be flattened, might well have thrown the skull-- much easier to throw overhanded than pig's bladder-- to a friend ahead of him, who would then dash further up the road. Plus, it's messy to handle or catch a pig's bladder, but a skull? Easy. People who had no qualms about digging up a skull would certainly have no objection to handling it.
So, American football owes a lot to that Scandinavian man who gave his skull to the advancement of sport. Another warrior's skull, by the way, was the model for the bowling ball, but that's another story.

9:38 AM  

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