High school football in Wyoming in the late 1940’s and early 1950’s was a “serious endeavor” played under some difficult circumstances. Late fall in Wyoming is really the beginning of winter in many years, adding weather to the list of troubles with HS football in those days. Cold weather, dirt football fields, hard rubber long cleats, no face guards and questionable protection with skimpy pads in our uniforms all added to make it necessary to be tough. In spite of all of these conditions, we played with enthusiasm and desire to do our best under in any situation. In some ways the MUD BOWL game between Riverton and Lovell played in November of 1949 at Lovell typifies the state of the game in those days.
The night before the 2:00 PM game it snowed at least 9 inches in Lovell. Heavy wet snow that immediately soaked into the dirt football field. What to do? The Lovell folks brought their tractors and snow plows in the late morning and cleared most of the snow from the field just before the game. Some attempt was made to put lines on the field which as it turned out was mostly futile. By game time the sun had been out all morning and the temperature was climbing to somewhere near 40 degrees. As you might imagine the football field was ankle deep in mud, especially in the low spots near the center of the field.
In his great wisdom our Coach was concerned we might be stiff from the cold and therefore would not play our best. So he insisted that we lather ourselves with analgesic balm expecting that the warming effect would help us stay lose if we were cold. Analgesic balm came in big jars in those days and was lathered on with tongue depressors. We must have smelled like menthol from many yards away. Unfortunately we were on fire by game time when the bright sun warmed the November air to at least 40 degrees. Not on fire in the sense of playing our best game for sure as it was hard not the think about the burning sensation in all our limbs by the time we trotted out on the field.
By game time the mud was to the top of our cleats. We could tell it was going to be a very long game and worse a very long day. The game began and the opening kickoff was short and before any of our players could get to it, it fell to the ground and stuck in the mud. By the time our player reached the ball he was smothered by Lovell players. And so went the game. Passes went astray and landed in the mud and 4th down kicks landed in the mud before anyone could reach the ball. Running in the mud was mostly a joke and up until just before halftime there was no score. The linemen were throwing mud in each others faces and it was hard to tell which side the players were on as everyone’s uniform was covered with mud.
Lovell put a new player in the game just before half time. A wide run around the end on clean cleats worked and none of us could catch him as he ran for a touchdown. The extra point was a joke as the kicker could not get his foot to the ball as it was stuck in the mud. I don’t remember much about half-time, except I just wanted the game to end. In those days most of us played both on offense and defense so I played all 60 minutes of that crazy game. We returned to the field after the half as conditions continued to worsen. The mud seemed to get deeper, especially in the middle of the field where most of the plays took place. It began to feel as if the mud was getting to our skin and maybe inside too.
It seemed we might be able to score in the second half. We had several chances but could not get everything right in the mud to cross the goal line. It was shortly after one of these unsuccessful attempts to move the ball much pass the 50 yard line, that the insult of all insults happened. I can still see it in my mind after all these years as if it were yesterday. The Lovell High band had not ventured to go on the field as usual during half time. They were standing on the side lines at about the 40 yard line all through the game. It was Lovell’s ball and they showed pass as they came to the line of scrimmage. There was not much of a pass rush in the mud as it was difficult to get enough traction to move forward. The ball was centered to the passer and we wondered where in the heck he was going to throw it since no one could make it off the line fast enough to get very far downfield. As we looked to see where the ball was going, it was going towards the band! INCREDULOUSLY THERE WAS A PLAYER WAY DOWN FIELD WHO CAUGHT THE BALL AND WALKED INTO THE END ZONE FOR 6 POINTS. WHERE DID HE COME FROM? THE ONLY ANSWER WAS FROM THE BAND WHERE HE HAD HIDDEN THE PLAY BEFORE! Well we screamed and hollered to no avail. We had either been cheated by the hometown refs or by gross incompetence! The game ended Lovell 12 and Riverton 0. A game I will never forget as hard as I try.
After the game we took showers with our uniforms still on hoping to get some of the mud off before packing them to take home. We scrubbed the analgesic balm off of our blistered skin and thoroughly beaten crawled back to the bus for the long ride home. In our hearts we knew we were right and had played to the best of our ability, but it was a bitter pill to swallow and still chokes as it goes down today. Maybe those setbacks were good in that they taught us to get back up after being knocked down and try harder next time.