Ninety-nine years ago today, Theodore Roosevelt survived an assassination attempt by being both a protracted speaker and a total bad-ass. TR was to deliver a speech on the campaign trail explaining his split from the Republican Party when he was shot by a .38 slug that drilled through fifty pages of notes, dented his spectacle case, and lodged just shy of his right lung.
And deliver it he did!
For close to an hour and a half, Teddy addressed the assembled crowd, even holding up his speech notes to show off the bullet hole.
Theodore Roosevelt generally ruins history. Even when only mentioned in passing, he’s often the most interesting character in any narrative: the childhood asthmatic come cowboy come naturalist come soldier come politico come legend. However, though he’s more front and (off) center in John J. Miller’s The Big Scrum: How Teddy Roosevelt Saved Football, when it comes to an unlikely life story, TR may have met his match in the college football played in the early twentieth century.
For even though the game had its origins in the hallowed Ivy League, football quickly become shorthand for a galling barbarism and cut-throat tactics. Referees and rules were but window dressing on free-for-all gang fights. Players took to the field with cleverly disguised weapons to jaw-jack an opponent off the snap, honed cleats to cut and whip players after the tackle, even suitcase handles sewn into the backs of their jerseys to better hold together a blocking scheme.
Disfigurement was almost a given and death a not uncommon occurrence. It was at this point that the Fan-in-Chief stepped in to save the game, implementing new regulations and sterner enforcement to ensure the game’s survival.
Fans in Oxford, Mississippi, may be wondering why Teddy bothered. From the time of TR’s intervention to the present day, college football has steadily increased in both acceptance and value. But in that same time, Ole Miss football has epitomized recession economics better than any horror story from the subprime mortgage debacle.
And as the Rebels are heading back into the almost annual doldrums of another season of disappointment--not quite Orgeron-esque, but certainly miserable enough to warrant the comparison--I worry over this game--in which Bama is a four-touchdown favorite--more than a rational man should. However, irrational exuberance, thy name is Houston Nutt, a man just wild enough to live up to his name by upsetting the #2 team in the country and still losing his job.
After all, he’s done it before.
Some of this is obviously result-bias. Of course one remembers when a Nutt-coached team pulls an upset--no one’s memory is good enough to recall all of their losses.
And some of it the residue of the Great Leader’s worrywart nature--not a season goes by without his extolling how “difficult” Nutt’s teams are to prepare for. Were he a man given to anything other than sledge-hammer strategy, we would say our coach doth protest too much, just to keep his whipping-boy off the unemployment line. But I’ve no doubt the Great Leader means what he says.
Hell, some of this may just be bleed-through knowledge that Oxford was home to both America’s best and worst writer--who can say what rules will apply in such a place? And a team coached by Houston Nutt can live up to either man’s reputation. Such teams always have a shot.
However, we can take refuge in Teddy’s example. As he began his speech that night just shy of a century ago, he reminded his admirers that it takes more than one shot to take a bull moose down.