Behind the lines: The only one

It was a long afternoon scrolling through rolls of microfilm at the Wyoming State Archives in Cheyenne. I was doing research as part of a contract I had with the Wyoming Department of Education, and after a few hours, my mind began to wander.

There were stacks of microfiche, and thousands of rolls of microfilm with the contents of every newspaper that had ever been published in Wyoming contained in one large room.

I’d done similar research many decades before in writing my senior history thesis on the Central Wyoming Irrigation Project in Riverton in the early days of the 20th century, so I was very familiar with the process.

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It occurred to me that the archive of the Wyoming State Journal, a defunct paper that later became the Lander Journal was on one of those shelves. A fire at the Lander office destroyed most of the paper copies of the newspapers many years ago.

I found the archive, only it wasn’t one shelf, it flowed over several of them.

Finding two rolls, one marked September 1974, and the other October of the same year I began to slowly scroll through the contents. Soon, I found what I was looking for, a grainy picture of a skinny kid in a Wind River uniform, taken in a game played at Dubois.

I’d just tackled Dubois running back Moe Cady and was getting back on my feet when the photograph was taken. It’s the only action shot I had of my football career.

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Kids today wouldn’t understand, but we didn’t get much coverage back in the 70s, and there was even less for the guys who played in the decades before us. A small school story wasn’t common, a photograph almost unheard of.

The Ranger covered the Wolverines, the Journal the Tigers, and the rest of us played with occasional coverage.

That find in those dusty archives reflected a minor miracle.

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Jump ahead to the kids of today and photos, videos, and detailed writeups of games have become commonplace. High school players get better coverage than college teams received a couple of generations ago.

In the course of a single game story, I’ll post six or up to a dozen photographs of a game. Add to that the annoying trend of parents, particularly mothers, trying to line the baselines of basketball courts, and the boys and girls of today graduate with tens of thousands of action pics from their “glory years.”

Football is a little different, there are the same number of moms with SLR digital cameras and zoom lenses following their sons, but very few get close to the sidelines. The vicious nature of the game and the chance of getting run over by a player getting tackled in close proximity and rolling directly into them keep most of these gals at bay. The sidelines are relatively free for a sportswriter or photographer to work. All you have to do is stay out of the way of officials, and banter while having a good time with the ones you know.

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Basketball is just too crowded for a bevy of photographers. The fear factor is gone, since the boys and girls, even on a fast break rarely crash into the walls of the larger gyms.

I’ve seen several moms told to leave the baseline by game officials when it gets too crowded. Most comply, but one at the Foothills Classic in Pavillion a couple of years ago pushed it a bit too far.

She started to berate the officials and complain about the calls as her son’s team was blown out early by the Cougars. An official stopped, warned her to keep her comments to herself and behave or she’d have to leave. She refused, keeping her mouth running in high gear. In retrospect, I was witnessing a classic “Karen” moment.

She was eventually tossed from the gym. She protested that I was allowed to be there, along with another reporter, why wasn’t she? The official calmly told her we were reporters, and she was just a mom with an attitude. She didn’t like it when a sheriff’s deputy escorted her to the parking lot.

I’m sure it was all caught on video, as every game is these days.

For a small monthly fee, you can watch football and basketball games, along with nearly every other sport on the TV in your living room.

This video access didn’t exist back in the day either.

We had one game filmed during my senior year. Our coach was headed to Denver for the weekend and there was a 24-hour film studio that developed 8mm film. On Monday he brought it to practice, set up a projector in the locker room, and turned off the lights.

That clicking sound of a film projector was always a highlight in a classroom in the days before VCRs and more modern equipment. It meant a great class with no demands from the teacher. Only this film, had some demands.

We had the option of calling blocking schemes during a game on the offensive line. The idea was if a defender crowded the A or B gap on the inside, we could call an audible telling the other linemen what we were doing and they would adjust.

My favorite was the cross block, it takes longer to develop, but if you run it on a counter, the hole for the running back is huge.

You could call double teams, tell the other guys you were getting the linebacker, block up or down the line all on an audible call. What I quickly learned is that calling a cross block on a pass play, even if the defensive end was way outside, was a bad idea.

I called one. The rule was the outside player went first, and the inside player behind him. It was logical since the guy being blocked by the tackle was closer to the backfield and the one getting hit by the guard was further away from the play.

Perfect execution was the key, the cross block I called was a little shy of perfection. As I cracked down on the defensive tackle, the guard next to me crossed a little early and our feet tangled. We both fell to the ground and the defensive end slobber knocked our quarterback from behind on a sack.

It’s all in the course of a regular game, except this one was on film.

As the movie approached the play, I tried to slink a little on the bench.  Coach Blackwell stopped the film, backed it up, played it again, then repeated it four or five more times, all the while saying in a monotone, “You don’t cross block on pass plays.” 

I got the message.

Today kids can see themselves on their parent’s cell phones, log into archived online broadcasts or upload great plays they’ve made to recruiting sites such as Hudl.com.  Back in the analog age, when dinosaurs ruled the earth, we didn’t have those options.

But I still have that grainy photograph that I printed on the thermal printer attached to the microfilm reader from that afternoon in Cheyenne. It’s not much in comparison to today, but it is something.

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