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Tuesday, July 12, 2022


            When I was growing up, my dad worked at Sears and Roebuck.  He didn’t have any stock, but he had a lot of stock sayings.  He especially liked to blurt “money doesn’t grow on trees.”  He blurted “money doesn’t grow on trees” so much I suspected he was hiding something.
            I like to attribute my father’s frugalness to being a child of the Great Depression, as were most of the parents of my generation—the Baby Boomers.  By the way we lived it up back then, you would have thought the Great Depression ended with the landing on the moon. 
            Only rich people had color television sets back in our day.  The average family had one console tv, a monstrous rectangle of wood and plastic that could have been a recycled coffin.  These black-and-white monsters squatted upon the living room floor and received black-and-white transmissions from the lightning -rod antennas snugged to the chimneys, the tines on the antennas with spans as long as the Market Street Bridge.  On a good day, they could pick up fuzzy transmissions clear to western Pittsburgh, depending, of course, upon on how high your house stood on a T-town hill.
            Often, when some neighbor was operating a power tool, the broadcast emitted on your coffin emitted enough static and white squiggly thingies to make your standard RCA casket look like a snow globe.  Other times, the vertical control went bonkers, resulting with a never-ending black-and-white image steadily dripping from top to bottom, a visual torment as excruciating as the infamous Chinese water torture.
            Whenever the vertical took the eternal horizontal, you brought into the living room the little shoe box portable your mom watched game shows and soap operas on and mounted it upon the lifeless snow globe.  Every night, you participated in the family squint fest watching the only channel the rabbit ears would pick up—good, old Channel 9.  The television remote back then consisted of the youngest son, who had to physically hike from the couch to the microscopic tv to turn by hand the volume and blasted vertical control.  Often, he had to hold one of the aerials so that the reception improved.

No one had private swimming pools or jacuzzies in our day, if they did their name was Clampett.  The closet thing that came to a private swimming pool was if you lived within the proximity of a creek and it was dammed and had lazy spills and pools.  We swung into the cool flowing waters of the creeks from monkey vines and had chicken fights and other challenges with our friends while our pop chilled within the shallows of the creek.
            None of us lived in air-conditioned homes back then.  In the Petras manor, we had one condition—“Either stay inside or out,” another stock saying of my dad.  We had screen windows on the house and one fan that was about the size of the box that package the television, the one the size of box the Keds came in.  Whenever a hole developed in one of the window screens, my mom would darn it with a needle and thread.
            Our family cars provided little relief from the summer sun.  On the hottest days, we rolled the windows completely down manually with hand cranks as stubborn as tow truck winches.  For extra BTUs, you would accelerate the MPHs.  Additional climate control could be maintained by moving these little triangle panels of glass in front of the passenger and driver’s windows.  It was only when I was taking Driver’s Ed that I learned these little glass jibs were called “vents,” not “cigarette disposal ports.”
            In a Baby Boomer’s booming day, self-propelled and self-motivated usually resulted from a gentle nudge toward the lawn from a father’s steel-toed work boot.  Steel rule usually awarded lawn care duties to the designated television remote, or so titled at 1017 Biltmore Avenue the “aerial- holding specialist.”
            We indeed had one of those push mowers you sometimes see in a museum.  Our so-called push mower was more like a mush mower because it required to budge it a smidgen the lean and the leg power of an Iditarod sled dog.  The mower paddlewheeled glass clippings, dandelions and dust while chirruping like a Bill Mazeroski baseball card in the spokes of a bicycle.
            After zigzagging swathes of lawn that resembled a cornfield maze, you rewarded yourself with a cool drink from your outside drinking fountain, more commonly known as the garden hose.
            There must have been something rejuvenating about the taste of rubber-flavored water.  We always had plenty of energy remaining for a game of sandlot baseball.  In our day, we didn’t have composite-alloy bats.  “Graphite” we called “lead,” and it was inside our standard number 2 Ticonderoga pencils, and the wood of the pencil was probably the same wood our bats were made from.  If you swung the 28-ounce Ticonderoga bat and connected the hardball smack dab on the trademark, the bat handle would crack and need some repair because we didn’t have extra bats.  We would mummify the bat handle with black electrical tape that we would borrow from some father’s toolbox and use the bat over and over until it was reduced to a mere tent peg.
            The leather from the hardballs would also peel off as would the compressed yarn comprising the ball’s guts.  Again, we would repair it with a generous raveling of borrowed electrical tape.
            On the Baby Boomer sandlot, we did not have batting gloves to reduce the sting of contact with the hardball.  Believe me, hitting a taped-up Spalding with a tape-reinforced 15-inch Louisville Slugger emitted an aftershock you felt clear up to your ears.  To reduce the sting to a mere 5.5 on the Richter scale, we would spit into our palms and rub a generous helping of dirt into them.  Come to think of it, we didn’t do much handshaking after games.

            I like to think I have come a long way from those booming Boomer days.  Now, after a few hours of mowing grass on my John Deere X330, I like to hang out at my pool with a glass of Cabernet.  My wife Debbie says that my wine would best pair with a brown paper bag.  My taste buds have progressed, as well.  I can detect traces of black cherry, chocolate, tobacco, with a very big finish of garden hose.

Tuesday, October 26, 2021


          It was a game that should not have been played, a game that was more about the field than what happened on it.  The field for at least one night was haunted, maybe because Halloween had something to do with it.  Most likely a three-day blow of incessant rain had left Wheeling Island Football Field with a battered stucco surface.

            Back in 1970, five Wheeling high school teams –Triadelphia, Warwood, Linsly Military Academy, Wheeling Catholic Central and Wheeling—called the island stadium home, not to mention their freshman and junior varsity squads.  Multiply five by the games that were played nine weeks into the West Virginia season and the result was a field trampled by a constant stampede of human beef.

            Then came Halloween on Saturday and Mother Nature turned into a mischievous witch wearing Linsly colors and cast a spell at the Mischief Hour of 12 pm and ceased the rain, leaving time enough to dry the field into clay with a texture of Play Doh.  

There had been some concern the upcoming football game between the Toronto Red Knights and the Linsly Military Cadets would be canceled because of flooding.  A win would continue the Red Knights’ quest to become the team with the second greatest win-loss record in school history with a 9-1 season.

Senior Center Ron Paris

            By the time visiting Toronto disembarked from the school bus, the first thing most players noticed was that the only grass remaining on the field were four little triangles in the rear corners of the end zones.  A few fragments of chalk lines somewhat suggested a hint of former occupancy by some organized entities.  The field did have a surreal Zen-like quality; you could see the reflections of the floodlights in a thousand or so mini-puddles.

            The opening kickoff pretty much summed up the game for the visitors.  Red Knight return man Bob Morris collected the ball somewhere around the 20 and scooted downfield 40 yards, unfortunately the last 30 were out of bounds.

            “I thought I was going to go all the way,” said Morris, a longtime football coach and an inductee in the Toronto High School Athletic Hall of Fame.  “But I guess I was a tad out of bounds.”

            The uncharted runback by the 1971 THS graduate turned out to be the longest play of this Halloween eve for the Red Knights.  They would not gain a first down until the fourth quarter.  Linsly would gain four first downs, all on runs more than ten yards.  Besides those four runs, the Cadets pretty much went backward in yardage the remainder of the game.

Bob Morris posing in the Red Knight 1970  program

            “I remember the DB guarding me, his name was Tom Tribett,” Morris said.  “I remember telling him after the first few minutes of the game, ‘Let’s not get in this shit if we don’t have to.’ Well, by the end of the first quarter, you couldn’t tell who was or who wasn’t on your team.”

            “We changed jerseys at halftime,” said quarterback Bob Eshbaugh, another THS 1971 grad and Hall of Fame inductee.  “I wasn’t worried about getting the ball from center but getting my feet out of the mud.  It had suction and was up to my shins.”

            The ball was on the ground more than in the air, courtesy of 14 fumbles to 11 forward passes.  Had the sport been baseball, the ball would have been illegal because of the aerial tricks a doctored ball could do.  The only tricks during this game were sleight of hand-- now you have it now you don’t-- as exhibited on the first drive of the game when center Ron Paris long snapped a ball that stuck in the mud three feet behind him.  On film, it looked like the senior snapper laid an egg, which Linsly promptly collected.

            “I remember,” Morris said, “someone lost his shoe in the mud on the field and during the game the refs took the football to the faucet on the stadium wall and just hosed the mud off the football.”

            Toronto outweighed the host team by 20 to 25 pounds a man.  Usually on a wet surface, the heavier team holds a big advantage, but in this kind of quicksand, the lighter team simply doesn’t sink as deep.

            At 6’ ½”  and 202 pounds, senior Red Knight Tom Lowery was the second heaviest player on the field that evening, two pounds lighter than fellow tackle Ted Butler.  “It was terrible conditions that night,” Lowery said.  “You couldn’t do anything on that slop.  I remember looking at Ted Butler after we made a tackle and all I could see was his eyes with that mud all over him.  It was funny as hell.”

          Remarkedly, there were zero penalties called on either team.  The closest any infraction that could have been called was the opening kickoff when the Cadets gang- tackled Morris five feet out of bounds.  Had an ineligible lineman went out for a pass, the referees wouldn’t have known it.  Of course, getting the ball to any receiver was the problem.  By the fourth quarter the ball was as heavy as an anvil.  “I had to shotput the ball,” Eshbaugh said about his passing form.

            In the fourth quarter,” Toronto and Linsly squared up with a goal line offence versus a goal line defense with the Toronto offense utilizing running back Jim Franke.  Franke’s flatfooted style proved him to be what they call in horse track lingo a mudder.  Behind a seven-man front and full-house backfield, he and Steve Jones ploughed for four consecutive first downs to the Cadets’ 12-yard line.  But the Knights could push no farther because, unfortunately, for both teams this was the worst end of the field regarding game conditions.  Compared to the other end, which still had some traces of chalk lines, this end of the field more resembled land recently washed by a receding flood.  The Cadets fumbled the ball right back to the Red Knights.  Again, Toronto could not wallow beyond the 12.  And Linsly promptly coughed up the anvil back to Toronto.  On a final desperate attempt to scramble open to get a shotput off toward the end zone, Eshbaugh slipped to the floodplain while trying to change direction, ending the game tied at zero.

            “We took our showers with our uniforms on,” Eshbaugh said.

            “I remember getting hosed down with water after the game to get the mud off and having your shoe strings cut so you could get them off,” Morris said.

            Summing up the game, Morris said, “The line couldn’t get any footing, receivers couldn’t run routes and running backs couldn’t run.  Everything seemed to be in slow motion.”

            Toronto experienced only one injury and that didn’t occur until after the season when two-way senior Bill Sloane missed the first part of basketball season because of blood poisoning, his condition attributed to the mud from Wheeling Island Stadium.

            “We should have never played on the field,” Morris said.  “We had a good team and would have crushed them on a dry field.  I know Coach (Wilinski) was hot about the field and game, and we never played Linsly for a long time after that.”

            “All I know is we would have killed Linsly on a dry field,” Lowry said.  “Wellsville beat them 50-0 on a dry field.”

            Wellsville was the only team to beat Toronto that year by six points in another freakish game.  After the Mud Bowl, the Red Knights defeated their next two opponents by a combined 92-18 points to finish the season with still the second greatest school record at 8-1-1.

            I am not so sure we would have blown them out on a dry field," said Bob Petras, a two-way senior lineman.  "Defenses that lined up in a 52 always gave us problems on offense.  Carrollton, J.U. and Linsly manned 50 alignments with a middle guard, which eliminated our trapping the tackles and made pulling around the opposite ends slower, and those were our bread-and-butter plays.  Still we should have beaten Linsly by two, three scores.   Like the Wellsville game, when we suffered  injuries and illness and lost Eshbaugh to ejection, the Mud Bowl, 50-some years later, still haunts me.  We were so so close to having a perfect season."