Gridiron Handles

Fullback Felts, tackle Upton, halfback Zimmerman, guard Scafide and tight end Haynes played in the 1932 Rose Bowl on New Year’s Day in Pasadena, California.

collage of Tulane football players from 1932 Rose Bowl
Fullback Felts, tackle Upton, halfback Zimmerman, guard Scafide and tight end Haynes played in the 1932 Rose Bowl on New Year’s Day in Pasadena, California.

With the familiar thump of helmets hitting helmets and shoulder pads, we know that Tulane football season is already underway and spectators are back in the stands not only at Yulman Stadium but all around the country.

A big “Hullabaloo” and “Boola Boola” autumn salute for that. “Boola Boola?” Well, it’s an ancient Yale University song more than 120 years old, typical of cheers from bygone gridiron eras when the sport of football was glorified by colorful sportswriters who were true wordsmiths with vivid imaginations. Fun-loving, work hard/play hard typewriter jockeys, their stories frequently embellished what had happened in the game.

But one thing they did with great flair was to bestow nicknames on seemingly as many players as possible. Naturally, the stars of the day were in that number.

Hopscotching around in no particular order, good examples of their craftiness were running back Red Grange, the “Galloping Ghost” of the University of Illinois and Chicago Bears fame; quarterback “Slingin’” Sammy Baugh of TCU and Washington lore; “Hopalong” Cassady — not the movie cowboy who rode his horse “Topper” — but the fabled running back of Ohio State and the Detroit Lions. Sportswriters could not resist the obvious when Howard Cassady came along. And last was running back “Crazylegs” Hirsch, who carried the ball for Michigan, Wisconsin and the Los Angeles Rams.

None of those players or teams were from the Deep South but down here there were nicknames beaucoup, which brings about a touch of nostalgia, heightened by — in my case — age. As the legendary sportswriter Red Smith said, “It is well known that the older a man gets, the faster he could run as a boy.” Not that I was ever fast. But while the memory still works. …

As a boy I heard a lot about the old Tulane players from my Dad and years later from my newspaper colleague “Pie” Dufour. I was regaled with stories about the Rose Bowl team of 1932 and the Sugar Bowl team of 1934, the inaugural Sugar Bowl game against Temple, now a regular foe in the American Athletic Conference. Not surprisingly many nicknames came from the typewriters of sportswriters Fred Digby and later Bill Keefe and Harry Martinez.

There were names such as “Monk” Simons, “Lefty” Haynes, “Foots” deColigny, “Tick” Upton, Nollie “Papa” Felts, Don “The Flying Dutchman” Zimmerman, “Frenchy” De Fraites. And lineman John “Baby Grand” Scafide. A graduate of St. Stanislaus, this Rock-a-Chaw returned to his native Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, after Tulane and served 16 years as mayor of the city.

As the years went by, around the South you had Ole Miss names such as “Wimpy” Winther, “Squirrel” Griffing, “Bruiser” Kinard, “Cowboy” Woodruff, “Eagle” Day, and a running back known as Dulymus McAllister. You know him as “Deuce” of New Orleans Saints fame. Auburn had “Cadillac” Williams, LSU had “Booger” McFarland, Alabama had “Snake” Stabler and “Broadway” Joe Namath.

Back on Willow Street a little earlier there were “Bullet” Joe Bullard, Gene “The Mouse” Newton and thanks to Tulane play-by-play man “Bronco” Bruce Miller, who coined one of my favorites, running back “Long Gone” Dupre.

Roll Wave!