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Only In America . . . TM

Copyright 2002 Frank G. Van Atta. All rights reserved.

THE WAY THE BALL BOUNCES

American folklore has it that the game of football was invented by a committee of college presidents as a means of raising money. Not so. It was invented by a guy who was a failure at games played with round balls of one dimension or another. Having been endowed by his creator with the reflexes of a snail and the grace of a rock, he set out to devise an athletic contest where he would be able to compete on an equal footing.

The idea of an odd-shaped ball didn't come to him in a sudden flash of brilliance, nor was it a clever scheme to take advantage of his spastic coordination; he was only trying to make a smaller basketball at the time. He figured that a ball the size of a cantaloupe and a basket five feet off the ground would make a game more suitable to his talents, so he took a normal sized basketball and tried to cut it down. The fact that he was almost as adept at making balls as he was at throwing or catching them resulted in the rather unusual shape of the finished product.

When he saw what he had made, he was so disgusted that he kicked the misshapen thing halfway across the yard. It hit the side of the house, bounced into the dog's water dish, caromed into a tree, knocked the cat silly, and then fell back into his arms. Astonished, he kicked it again and again. It didn't come back to him every time, but he realized that it had as much chance of bouncing in his direction as in any other.

Sensing his chance for fame and fortune, he quickly devised a set of rules. The original game was called "Randomball", and was played on a field 26 feet wide and 37 feet, 9 inches long. The fact that these are the exact dimensions of the inventor's back yard has been proven to be a statistical accident.

Under the original rules, one player stood in the middle of the field and started the game by slamming the ball into the ground as hard as he could. From that point on it was a free-for-all, with the object being to carry the ball to one end of the field or the other and jam it through a cantaloupe crate nailed to a pole. If somebody grabbed you and threw you down before you could score, then you got to slam the ball into the ground at that point, and the fun began anew. The game was over when it got dark, someone scored more than seven hundred points, or the ball got lost.

It soon became obvious that the bigger guys had the best chance of getting the ball and, since our hero was one of the original runts, he lost interest in the sport and went off to try his hand at something new.

There have been a few changes in the original game--mainly, someone kicked the slats out of the cantaloupe crates and nailed them to much higher poles. It was also discovered that cutting down basketballs to make the odd shaped "Randomball" wasn't very efficient. Someone eventually came up with the idea of taking old cowboy boots, cutting off the tops, and filling the pointy parts with compressed air. This made for a much livelier ball, and had a lot to do with changing the name to "Football".

Then, sometime in the 20th century, someone else came up with the idea of putting the compressed air into a bladder made out of pigskin instead of a cowboy boot. From the pig's point of view, this was an abominable idea, but the new method caught on anyway, and is still in widespread use. Whether or not the name of the game will ever be changed to "Pigball" is still hotly debated to this day.



Copyright 2002 Frank G. Van Atta. All rights reserved.

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