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American High School Football in the 60s: How Has It Changed Compared to Today?

Football Action: The Offensive Team is on the Left


High School Football in the 1960s

"One eighty-three left on 3," The quarterback softly said in our huddle. Moments later, we clapped, broke the huddle, and lined up on our 30-yard line. A big mean-looking defensive tackle lined up directly across from me. "Down, set," our quarterback started to bark out the signals as I took a three-point stance at left tackle. "Hut 1, hut 2, hut 3," the quarterback loudly called out. At the sound of 3, my right shoulder lunged into the tackle, and then on all fours with a side block, I started pushing the monster into the center of the line. At the same time, our quarterback was handing off to the right halfback who went over my left tackle position, the 3-hole, and around the defensive tackle. Fred gained 5 yards on that play before he was brought down by a linebacker. This was one of our football plays during my senior year on the varsity in 1961.

During the 1960 and 1961 seasons, I played varsity football for the Burlington Demons in Wisconsin. When I watch football games today, it seems like only yesterday I was on the gridiron. We never really had good teams. In the 1960 season, our record was 0-8-1. That's right! The best we could do was tie a very poor Mukwonago team at home 6-6. The next year was considerably better. We won 3 games and finished the season 3-5-1. By no means was I a good player. I did, however, learn a lot about discipline, hard work, teamwork, sportsmanship, and that the referee never beats you. When I follow high school football today, I see that very much has changed. A lot, however, remains the same which makes me dream of suiting up for the Demons once again.

The Author as a Lineman on the 1961 Burlington High School Football Team

The author as a 5'9" 178 pound left tackle

The author as a 5'9" 178 pound left tackle

Differences of High School Players in the Early 60s From Today

Although football is still very similar to the way I practiced and played in the early 60s, there have been some changes that I would like to highlight here.

1. Today's Players Are Much Bigger: In the early 60s, football athletes were much smaller than they are today. Believe it or not, I was a 5'9" 180 pounds left tackle. Our starting offensive line averaged 170 pounds, and our quarterback was a beanpole at 135 pounds. Nowadays, a left tackle in high school will be 6'3"-6'5" in height and weigh anywhere from 270 to 300 pounds. If I played football today, at 5'9" 180 I would be smaller than a lot of the running backs.

2. Emphasis on Weight-Lifting and Strength Development: It is very common today for high school athletes to lift weights year-long to develop arms, legs, and other muscles for strength. Many schools already have a weight-lifting room and a strength development coach. Fifty years ago there was no such thing as strength development. Most of the players on my high school team were farm boys. We were expected to develop our muscles by lifting and throwing around 60-pound bales of hay during the summer.

3. Today's Teams Have More Available Players: In 1960 my alma mater, Burlington High School, or BHS, was a four-year school with about 500 students. We were lucky to have 25-30 kids try out for the team, and everyone who tried out made the team. Because we did not have a sufficient pool of players who could start and play well, many guys had to play offense, defense, and special teams: We were on the field every minute of the game. Most high schools today have higher enrollments, so the football team has more of a pool of athletes to try out and select. It is not uncommon today for many high schools to have at least 45 to 65 players on their football teams.

4. Offensive and Defensive Schemes Are More Complicated: When I was a senior, I remember our offense being quite simple. We ran out of a split T formation and only had fullback dives into the center of the line and halfbacks running off tackle. Occasionally, a guard would pull for an end-around. The passing formations were all very basic with a lot of button hooks and once in a while a screen pass. Although there was one school in our conference that ran a single wing, you could not see any spread offenses or wildcats that a lot of high schools and colleges are running now. Our defensive schemes were even simpler. Since most schools did not have a very good passing attack, there were no blitz packages or nickel or dime packages which a lot of defenses today use. What I do remember running when it was called on defense, was a 60 smash. There would be six on the defensive line, and we would all shoot into the gaps between the offensive linemen when the offense had two tight ends on the line.

5. A Longer Playing Season: In the early 60s, we would play nine games a season from the first week in September until the first week in November. Nowadays, teams will play 10 games, and there will be playoff and championship games for the top teams extending the length of the season until Thanksgiving or the first of December. There were no playoffs or championship games in the early 1960s.

Burlington's Tony Romo

Similarities of 60s High School Football With Today

There is much in football that has not changed that much since 1961. Some of the things I remember being the same are as follows:

1. Protective Equipment: When I played football, we all had to wear a lot of protective equipment. The most important thing was putting on the athletic supporter or protective cup. After slipping into boxer shorts and a sweatshirt, we put on the hip pads. This was followed by wearing the pants down to the knees which contained thigh and knee pads. After putting on the rib pads, we pulled the shoulder pads over our heads and fastened them with straps under our arms. We then helped each other pull the game jerseys over the shoulder pads and rib pads. Before going on the field, however, we had to have a helmet with a face bar or face mask, and a chin strap. We still weren't ready to play because we had to make sure we had our mouth guards to protect our teeth. The last thing was wearing our shoes with cleats. Players today still have to wear the same equipment. Some skilled position players will wear gloves that were never worn in the early 60s.

2. Practices and Scrimmages: Our training camp would commence 2-3 weeks before the first game of the season. During the first week of camp, we would have practices twice a day; once in the early morning, and once in the late afternoon. During these practices, I remember doing a lot of calisthenics, wind sprints, and running countless laps around the football field. Since I was an offensive lineman, I had to spend much time hitting a dummy that a coach held, and also with other players, hitting and pushing the two-person and seven-man sleds. The roughest drill was called a hamburger drill. Two dummies were lined up and held about 1-2 yards apart. An offensive lineman was paired up against a defensive lineman, and the play did not end until one of the players was on his back. After the linemen honed their blocking and tackling techniques, and the backs, ends, and quarterbacks refined their skills, the offensive and defensive teams would scrimmage against each other. Following this, there was a scrimmage against another high school. Most high school teams today still follow the same practice format.

3. Game Film Watching And Scouting of Future Opponents: All of our games were filmed. During the home games, a teacher who was good at photography would tape the entire game from a perch on top of our grandstand seats. At away games, the movie camera would many times be set up on top of the school bus which transported the players to the game. Every Monday afternoon before practice, we would sit in the team locker room and watch a tape of the previous game. Many times coach would stop and replay the tape showing the mistakes which were made in executing certain plays. One of our coaches who had just watched the previous game of our next opponent would give a scouting report. Game film watching and scouting of future opponents is undoubtedly more refined today than it was years ago.

4. Football School Activities: I will always remember the pep rallies, marching bands, and homecoming festivities we had during my junior and senior years on varsity. Most of all I remember the first pep rally we had when I was a junior. We were all on stage in the auditorium and I was introduced to all the students as the starting left tackle. All of the jocks on the varsity had letter jackets and letter sweaters which we often wore.

5. Playing On the Same Gridiron as Tony Romo: Tony Romo, the former quarterback of the Dallas Cowboys played football at Burlington High School during the 1996, 1997, and 1998 seasons. Although I played on Dinty Moore Field 35 years earlier, both of us attended the same high school and played on the same gridiron.

I have been a football fan all my life, and I will continue following the game because it taught me a lot about life.

1961 Burlington High School Football Team

The author is second from the left in the back row.

The author is second from the left in the back row.

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High School Football Today

This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.

© 2011 Paul Richard Kuehn


Trav on November 06, 2011:

Another good point was the lack of strength training. We had some weights, but not much of anything else. Upon reflection that was a good thing, because the coaches really had no idea what safe training was.

Say… deep knee bends with maximum weight? Jerk those weights around. I was lucky in that I had a set of weights at home, and read the weight training magazines, books and worked out as per those articles.

Trav on November 06, 2011:

Howdy, '66 HS grad.

DT always in the T/E slot- I depended on quickness, not size. Very strong, quick but small.

Rib pads? You had rib pads? Helmets- face bar, and heavy cloth webbing, kind of like a WWII steel pot liner. Cloth chin strap. Snap in jaw pads, which got knocked loose many times.

Cleats were steel tipped nylon that could wear down to a razor sharp bevel; one cut through my chin cup once.

Yep in our district, 175 was a big lineman, but one school had a 6'6" 300+ pounder. Slow as all get out.

Interesting thing that a lot of things we did 50 years ago are illegal now. I wonder how we survived.

Paul Richard Kuehn (author) from Udorn City, Thailand on November 05, 2011:

Thanks for the comment, Bill, and I'm really happy you liked the hub. Your comment about Rocky Marciano is very enlightening. I seem to remember that back then a lot of pro wrestlers weren't much bigger than Rocky.

Bill Russo from Cape Cod on November 05, 2011:

Hey Paul this was a great hub. I really enjoyed the look back to 1960-61, in part because that is when I too graduated high school. You make a great point about the contrast in size between now and a half century ago. Compare the great Rocky Marciano, unbeaten Heavyweight Champ of the 1950s to the current King of the Ring, Vladimir Klitschko.

Rocky was about your size...under six feet. He never weighed over 187 pounds. Dr. Klitschko is 6'7' and weighs about 250 without an ounce of fat.

I loved Rocky but there is no way he would ever beat a fighter like Dr. K. Ali would not beat him either. Dr. K is a huge pugilist who can punch out a tree and move like a middleweight. Another thing you might like about this man (both he and his brother have doctorate degrees) is that like you, he is fluent in at least three languages that I know of - maybe more.

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