The game has always dabbled in politics

Politics and football are not such strange bedfellows. Football is the game it is in part because Teddy Roosevelt, 26th president of the United States, in 1906 saw a photograph.

It showed a bloodied football player, apparently having been on the wrong end of a flying wedge, a popular tactic of the time, being helped from a field. Precisely where the field was, even what photograph Roosevelt was viewing, has been lost in the mists of history, according to Joe Horrigan, an executive of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

“I think the player’s name was Tony Thornhill,” said Horrigan, who could not place what college he represented. Pro football would not come along in an organized form for 14 years.

Roosevelt was the most robust of persons, having founded and been a member of the “Rough Riders,” who served during the Spanish-American War. But the photograph apparently convinced him football was brutish, and he moved to have it banned. The game survived, but because of Roosevelt’s concern the forward pass was made legal, making the game more open and less hazardous.

As we move toward an hour of decision – not the Chargers-Raiders game, the matter to be decided Tuesday – it can be noted that politicians have had a bearing on football’s development. When the late Joe Foss, a former governor of South Dakota, was selected the first commissioner of the American Football League, it was because of his political connections.

To Horrigan, the touch football games the Kennedy family would play at their Hyannisport, Mass., compound had the effect of “catapulting” football’s image. When he was president, Richard Nixon was known to suggest plays to Washington Redskins coach George Allen. One of the game’s most meaningful actions was then-NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle going to Congress and winning the antitrust exemption that permitted the NFL to merge with the AFL.

“And Jack Kemp and Steve Largent were good examples of athlete/scholars,” Horrigan said. Kemp and Largent would be elected to Congress. Kemp continues to have an association with the NFL through his activities on behalf of USA Football, which promotes youth football.

Send away the clowns
Question: Do those Raiders partisans who go about masquerading as sinister figures take off their costumes on Halloween?

Concerning the Raiders, some guys were talking, as guys will, and somebody mentioned that the Raiders do not have anyone who could be classified as an “elite” player.

Warren Sapp’s name came up. One day, he certainly was among the “elite.” His current sack total: 0.5. Teammate Tommy Kelly, an undrafted, 6-foot-5, 300-pound rookie, has one, in one game.

The team with the most “elite” players, it seems from here, is Baltimore. Include Jamal Lewis, Ray Lewis, Jonathan Ogden and, yes, Deion Sanders.
Best against the best
The thing I’m reminded of with Doug Wilkerson set to be received into the Breitbard Hall of Fame is how well he performed against other athletes of prominence. He would utterly shut off the Raiders’ Howie Long and he had a game against Dallas in which Randy White could not get off the line of scrimmage.

Long and White are in the Hall of Fame. Wilkerson had been a defensive end at North Carolina Central when he joined the Chargers. At that time, there wasn’t anybody on the San Diego team who could outrun him.

Jerry Magee: (619) 293-1830