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Orange County Then . . . and Now

When Leather Helmets Ruled the Gridiron

November 12, 2000|STEVE EMMONS

Frank Alvarado, boys athletic director and unofficial sports historian at Santa Ana High School, looked at the 1908 varsity football team, top photo at left, and tried to imagine a time that simple.

There were 11 players and two "scrubs" or substitutes, small boys by today's football standards. "Probably that's the number of kids who went out for the team," he said. "Nowadays we couldn't play one game with only 13 players."

In 1908, Santa Ana was a rural community, "and kids had other responsibilities. They had to work, do chores. I'm sure that had something to do with how many went out for the team."

The rules were basically the same as today's. A team still required 11 players, but there were no special teams waiting on the sidelines for kickoffs, punt returns or anything else. If you played, you played offense and defense and seldom left the game unless injured.

Little padding was worn, and the helmets were made of leather with no face masks. Games had to be played in daylight.

Santa Ana High was not even in a league. It played whomever it could, sometimes making long trips to opponents' fields. In 1908, the team played and defeated Occidental Academy, Pomona High School, Throop Institute and Russ High School of San Diego. Then it lost to the USC law school, Harvard Military Academy and Los Angeles High School.

"It just wasn't as great a priority as it is today," Alvarado said. "Today, parents will move from School A to School B just for the athletics program."

At left, below, Santa Ana High School's football team for 2000, which finished its season Friday night.

OC Then and Now calls, (714) 966-5973; e-mail, OCthenand now@latimes.com.

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