MASSILLON – EPISODE FOUR: AND THE TRUTH SHALL SET YOU FREE
Game day. Nov 16th, 1906, a chilly but sunny day at Mahaffey Park in Canton. Game 1 of the first pro football championship series between the two greatest teams the country had ever witnessed. Over a century later, in 2012, Sports Illustrated will publish an article on the clash of these titans called, “The First Super Bowl.” Canton vs. Massillon: the biggest sporting event Ohio has ever held.
Shops are closed in Canton, as well as in neighboring Massillon. Newly minted fans from all over come out in droves by trains, automobiles, and buggies in their Victorian attire to cheer on their teams. Canton’s red and white fill one side, Massillon’s orange and black don the other. Marching bands fill the air. Famous sportswriter Grantland Rice is in attendance to weave his prose on a new breed of the mythical American hero. To satisfy the more immediate need of the national followers for coverage, carrier pigeons are used to fly notes to the nearest telegraph station. A trolley accident delays the start of the game.
During the delay, WALLACE delivers an impassioned speech to his Bulldogs, reminding them that their backgrounds from Penn and other top colleges make them superior to the Tigers’ working class types from the mills of Pennsylvania. WIGHTMAN is more reserved. He believes in his Tigers, their work ethic, and their preparation. Despite the clear sky, the field is a mud pit. STEWART inspects it and suspects foul play.
During warm-ups, Canton’s starting QB from Penn, VINCE STEVENSON, who delivered the ugly blow to MAXWELL’s face in their college game, wrenches his knee and is declared inactive. Stewart takes this as a ploy, another piece of gamesmanship. Wallace and Wightman meet at midfield with the referee for the formalities. Wallace denies any trickery with Stevenson. He also reminds Wightman that, as the home team, this time Canton gets to use the standard bigger ball that the Bulldogs prefer.
It’s a back-and-forth game, with former Tigers QB Jack Hayden subbing for Stevenson leading the Canton charge. He also does their kicking, and puts the Bulldogs up early with a drop kick, 4-0. Sloppy play rules the day, as the teams flail in the mud, fumbling the ball back and forth to each other. SHIRING and his old rival from Philly, “POP” SWEET, renew acquaintances with brutal fisticuffs in the trenches, resulting in ample blood spill and lost teeth.
The Tigers look like they will take the lead as halftime approaches, but as their QB GEORGE PARRATT nears the goal line, he is clotheslined by Canton’s JACK ERNST and fumbles the ball. It’s recovered by Canton’s turncoat SCHRONTZ, who displays it proudly to the crowd. The score is still 4-0 for the Bulldogs at the half.
Stewart calls Wightman to task to get the Tigers playing better. Wightman tells his toughest player to take out Canton’s punter, MARSHALL REYNOLDS, because he’s the star of the game in the battle for field position.
The play gets rougher in the second half. Shiring and Sweet continue to manhandle each other with Sweet eventually landing a cheap to the back of Shiring’s head. Shiring responds with a right cross to Sweet’s jaw, and both are tossed form the game. The Tigers will now have to play without their captain and the game’s greatest center. Advantage Canton.
A double pass by the Bulldogs draws confusion and protests from the Tigers, but leads to a Canton touchdown, and a 10-0 lead after the extra point from a sharp angle where the ball crossed the goal, per the rules of the day.
As twilight sets in late in the game, early automobiles pull up next on the sidelines to shine light on the field. MAXWELL lumbers and stumbles over half of the field with a fumble recovery giving Massillon its first score, and places the ball on the ground in the end zone, as required for the “touch-down.” A Canton fan jumps onto the field and takes off with the ball. Maxwell chases him madly into the stands and wrestles him to the ground, knowing that it’s the only ball available, and that daylight is fading. But it’s too little, too late. The referee calls the game due to darkness with Canton up 10-6, and the Bulldogs are declared the victors.
As the Canton crowd swarms the field, CASSIE searches for her man, CHARLES to her, Blondy to everyone else. Unfortunately, her man is not hers today, he’s Canton’s.
Stewart cries foul. The game was refereed in the Bulldogs favor with too many penalties against his Tigers, despite their substantial edge in yardage. Also, the delay at the beginning caused the game to end early. The result should not be official. Privately, Stewart is furious with Wightman and tells him that his job is on the line. Wightman intimates that the Tigers lost because of the new playbook due to EAST’s leak, and Stewart knows it.
The Tigers have a practice game before Game 2 versus an All-Star team with Canton’s WILLIE HESTON on it. Stewart wants Wightman to make sure Heston never plays in Game 2. Heston’s leg is broken in the game and he’s now unavailable for the rematch. Wallace is not concerned, as Heston flopped again in Game 1, and Blondy never trusted him anyway. He just pulls in more reinforcements from his pipeline of loyal Penn alums.
Days before Game 2, Stewart sends Wightman on a desperate visit to STAGG in Chicago to refresh his coach on strategy. Uncertain that he can remember everything Stagg teaches him, Wightman steals Stagg’s playbook when he steps out of his office.
Rumors swirl that the Bulldogs will lay down in the second game to force fans to pay to see another even more dramatic game. Stewart assures the press that there is NO FIX in, that they will win Game 2 convincingly, and that the championship will be settled then. The press is left wondering what he means, but Stewart is intimating some bigger news that will rock the sports world once the game has been played.