Blackie’s Brainstorm

Some of Wakefield’s more prominent local characters included a Mr. Cool who sold refrigerators. Mr. Shivers was the ice man, and A. Butcher was the town doctor. That was Dr. Butcher, A. W. Butcher. He was the only doctor in town. Had there been a town prostitute her name would surely have been Miss. Hooker. There must have been hookers in those days, but the boys I ran around with were mostly a lot of talk.
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During my junior year at Wakefield Rural High School, I ascended to quarterback on our six-man football team. In this position, I may well have been as notorious as the other town characters. I was the only quarterback in the world to receive the snap from center from a rear-to-rear position. In today’s kinky world there must be a name for this position, but the folks in Wakefield didn’t know it. Mostly, they just snickered when they first saw it. After they got used to it, it seemed to be an almost normal thing for a quarterback to do. It should be mentioned that I am also the only person in the world who ever stood rear-to-rear in public with both Bob and Dick Elkins, the centers on our football team. These hefty and hard working centers have probably made every effort to forget.

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Original rear-to-rear QB snap 1948

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Relief of 1948 rear-to-rear ball snap

          The above picture, from the fall of 1948, is a rare shot of the rear-to-rear quarterback position. Below that picture is the same picture in relief, with designations added to depict exactly what is meant. On the far left and middle top are the running backs (RB). In the lower center and far right are the ends (E). The dark vertical line has been drawn to show the point of demarcation between the quarterback on the left (me), and the center (C) on the right (Bob Elkins). As you can see, Bob is watching the camera and has his hand on the ball. I am standing rear-to-rear with Bob, facing the other direction, and waiting for the snap of the ball. This should clear up any possible misunderstanding. Five are facing one way, and I am facing the other. This was the way Blackie figured it.

          Throughout my junior year, it really didn’t seem to matter whether I was facing the front or the rear, so I adopted the rear-facing position, or rear-to-rear position to be most precise. Blackie figured I was also better equipped to keep my eye on our scat back, Vance Lumb, because if I took my eye off him, he could end up somewhere else. Sure enough, he ended up on the Kansas All-State Football Team. Facing aft gave me the perfect view of Vance and the other running backs. What Blackie didn’t figure was that from my perspective, all the other men on the field were out of sight until I got turned around. By that time it could be too late! That day was not long arriving.

In our third game in the fall of 1949 we were playing Bennington. It was a home game Friday afternoon to accommodate travel time for Bennington. We knew nothing about the Bennington team, as we had never played them before. One outstanding feature of their team was their center who played either just to the right of, or left of my rear. He was about six feet tall and weighed 300 pounds. I called him Paul Bunyan.

I could not see if he lined up to my right or left because I was facing the other way. As a result, I did not know which way to go to get out of the way. I discussed this situation with the center, Dick Elkins, who was no small fry himself. When we would get set for each play, Dick would say “right”, and I would know that Bunyan was lined up to Dick’s right side. If he said “left” I would know that Bunyan was to Dick’s left side. The system worked perfectly except for one small detail from my perspective. As soon as I turned around into the rear-to-rear position, Dick’s right side became my left, and Dick’s left side became my right. It was an accident waiting to happen.

On one of the first snaps of the game Dick said “right” and I went wrong. I ended up face down on the ground, and Bunyan fell like a redwood tree, knee first, in the middle of my back. After regaining the ability to breath I discovered a sharp pain in my low back. I was dragged off the field and spent the rest of the game on the sidelines. By that time it was late Friday afternoon, and Dr Butcher’s office was closed with a long weekend immediately ahead.

Over the weekend I could not do anything without sharp pain. If I was flat on my back on the floor doing nothing, I was free of pain. Getting up or down from the floor was impossible. Then I discovered a miraculous cure, an old roller-type ink blotter. If I put this rigid blotter, curved side inward, inside my belt on the left side, the pain in my back was almost eliminated. After that the rest of the weekend was tolerable until Dr. Butcher’s office opened Monday morning.

Following a short examination, Dr Butcher supposed that I had injured something. Rather than jump to any conclusions, he opted for a second opinion, and referred me to a chiropractor in Clay Center with the nearest x-ray machine. I managed to get onto his examining table, complete with swivel joints. His x-rays showed fractured 4th and 5th lumbar vertebrae on the left side. As the cracked bones were still attached to the main body of each vertebrae, a cast was all that was needed. The cast would prevent movement until the bones healed, and hopefully would eliminate all pain during the process.

The doctor asked me to sit up straight on a metal stool with no back, naked as a jay bird. Until a metal stool seat gets warm, you sit up pretty straight. First he pulled a sleeve of heavy stretch muslin over my entire trunk. Then he got a huge box of plaster wrap to fashion the cast. He wrapped round and round, roll after roll, until I was covered with plaster wrap half an inch thick from shoulder to rear. Following a few adjustments here and there, the plaster dried, and I was entombed from tail to breakfast. As this was my first such experience, I really didn’t know what to expect, but I knew it was going to be exciting.

The instructions were quite simple. No exercising. No running or jumping. No bending over. But keep the cast dry no matter what you do. No bathing or showering. After the first few weeks when others are nearby, always stand down-wind. Follow these instructions until the cast is removed. Little did I anticipate the consequences which followed. There is no air circulation in a cast for either heating or cooling. Like a snake, the skin seems to shed completely every day. When it sheds it has no place to go, so it collects in the cast. On a hot day you sweat. The sweat converts the accumulated skin in the muslin to a moist goo. Then the itching begins. Oh! the itching, the itching.

Itching is only a problem when you can’t scratch, you can’t get wet, you can’t get dry, you can’t wash, and you can’t get rid of dead skin. I couldn’t. There were only two holes in the cast for scratching. The one at the top was filled with back and chest to the arm pits. The other at the bottom of the cast fit like an iron corset. During the last few weeks I was able to bend a metal coat hanger to reach and scratch almost anywhere in the cast. In spite of the suffering, the healing process had started, and I returned to school the following day cast and all.

As for the football team, Bill Ogg had been an attentive understudy for the quarterback position, and had witnessed the rear-to-rear ball snapping for an ample period of time. In particular he wished to avoid a body cast like the one I was wearing on the sideline at the next ball game. Bill concluded that the rear-to-rear ball snapping was not only socially awkward, but was fundamentally flawed. He refused even the thought of assuming this position while in public. With this astute and final decision, Blackie’s brainchild was rendered stone dead, and since that fateful fall of 1949 was never again witnessed in Wakefield.

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