Old-school football: 1926 scrapbook offers revealing look at Maine’s grilling history

The cover is detached. Several brown pages are too. Some information is missing.

And that’s the best 35 dollars ever spent.

In 1926, a Maine football superfan meticulously chronicled the state’s high school and college adventures in a thick scrapbook. On the cover, in very faded white letters, you can barely make out the title: “FOOTBALL 1926”. When the cover is (gently) removed, the reader discovers over 150 pages of newspaper clippings, all about – you guessed it – football.

Six years ago, I searched eBay for “Maine Football,” hoping to find something cool like an old University of Maine jersey or program. Instead, I found a listing for an old scrapbook full of Maine-related football articles and photos. Return address: Framingham, Massachusetts. The asking price: $35.

Let’s see… spending my money on a football album or groceries? Needless to say the chicken, milk and eggs had to wait a few days.

What I received in the mail exceeded my wildest expectations: it wasn’t a football book, it was a time capsule. Articles. Pictures. All-Star Teams. Assorted bites. Season summaries. A comprehensive chronicle of a season that none of us have experienced first hand.

Most of the clips appear to be from the Guy Gannett family of newspapers: the Portland Press Herald, the late and great Evening Express and the Portland (later Maine) Sunday Telegram.

A lot of the clippings, as you can imagine, are loose, and it’s a small miracle that they didn’t get lost. Some look like they were never glued in the first place.

Kennebec Journal writer Dave Bailey carefully flips through the yellowed pages of a 1926 scrapbook he bought on eBay. The book contains pages of newspaper clippings from Maine high school and college football teams in 1926. Bailey is shown Thursday at his home in Augusta. Rich Abrahamson / Morning Watch

The book is divided into “chapters”, with some pages devoted to a particular school. The assumption here is that the book’s original owner attended Deering High in Portland, as the inside cover has an illustration of a player dressed in purple just below the schedule and results (Deering went 7-3 and edged his opponents 195-38). In addition, the first 18 pages of the book are devoted to school.

After Deering come Lewiston, Waterville, Sanford, Portland, Westbrook, Skowhegan, Cony. It’s easy to notice that high school football in the 1920s was only for the big boys. Eight-man teams and co-op programs need not apply.

The varsity teams, led by the University of Maine, also get their due. Several pages are devoted to Maine’s 21-6 season-ending victory over Bowdoin. (As crazy as it sounds now, it was a great rivalry game for decades, often attracting over 10,000 fans.) Bates, Bowdoin and Colby also get some love, as well as prep schools such as the Maine Central Institute and Bridgton Academy.

The book ends with clippings from big college games (ah, the days when Boston College-Holy Cross packed old Braves Field), how-to columns, prose from Grantland Rice, and other oddities (Babe Ruth in a football uniform?).

If you are looking for professional football, forget it. The NFL was still going through the throes of childbirth and the New England Patriots were just a gleam in the eyes of a young Billy Sullivan.

Sullivan owned the Boston Patriots franchise in the American Football League from 1960 until it was sold as the New England Patriots in the NFL to Victor Kiam in 1988.

This cartoon was part of a collection of old newspaper clippings that includes a scrapbook from 1926, which Kennebec Journal writer Dave Bailey bought on eBay. The book contains pages of newspaper clippings from Maine’s 1926 high school and college football teams. Rich Abrahamson / Morning Watch

Reading through the book, one is struck by the evolution of football and journalism over the past 96 years. The balls are big, the pads are thin, and the helmets are leather. Jerseys do not have numbers on the front and those on the back are often rudimentary. The “best” uniforms could go to Skowhegan, whose shirts featured black and orange horizontal loops, making the players look more like pumpkins than athletes. At least they match; the Cony team photo shows players wearing a mishmash of match shirts, training shirts and sweatshirts.

Even cheerleading uniforms are weird; a photo shows two Deering cheerleaders in baggy golf pants. One is holding a giant megaphone.

Few schools then had nicknames, beyond their school colors. Lewiston, now the Blue Devils, were known as the “Blue Streaks” (maybe the coach told his players about a blue streak in training?) and the South Portland Red Riots were called the “Capers”, a nickname used today for nearby Cape Elizabeth. High.

Printed summaries of games tend to be long and wordy, with detailed, blow-by-blow, blow-by-blow accounts. The game story for a Maine-Bowdoin game, for example, takes up two pages in the book, followed by several pages of photos and other information. Remember, there were no TV highlights back then, and even radio was in its infancy. Nobody’s face was buried in a phone looking for tweets about the Skowhegan-Gardiner game. Local newspapers WERE sports media in 1926 Maine.

And some of the items were, well, colorful. Take this lead from the Oct. 22 Bowdoin-Colby game, won by the Polar Bears, 13-7:

“Lady Luck’s long, skinny finger was stuck in the eye of a white mule at Whitter Field on Saturday afternoon. It was pushed once and pulled out. The temporarily blinded Colby Mule staggered, recovered, swept his head, then hit that finger again and was blinded for good.

A scrapbook purchased on eBay by Kennebec Journal writer Dave Bailey contains pages of newspaper clippings from Maine’s 1926 high school and college football teams. This page features Skowhegan, who won a Somerset County championship. Rich Abrahamson / Morning Watch

I think the writer is trying to say that Colby had a bad luck streak.

Titles are also unique:

• “As Colby crushed the Bobcat under his feet, 14 to 0, Brother Battles Brother, and the action rules the day”

• “Blue Streaks show overwhelming power in Downing Game Fighting Fitzmen by Line-Smashing Game at 13-6 Tune”

• “Deering Completes Its Only Forward Pass” (Remember that teams in the 1920s threw that big ball as often as the moon changed phase.)

Action shots tend to be pretty good, given the limitations of 1920s photography. While some images show players jumping for the ball, others make you wonder what’s going on in this mass of ‘humanity. In the background, fans often line the pitch in front of rickety wooden fences.

As previously stated, team photos have been given plenty of space. The one from Sanford High features a living goat mascot named Charcoal posing with players (hope he didn’t eat the playbook).

A 1926 scrapbook, purchased on eBay by Kennebec Journal writer Dave Bailey, contains pages of newspaper clippings from Maine high school and college football teams in 1926. This clipping of Babe Ruth in a football uniform also has was found in the album. Rich Abrahamson / Morning Watch

There are plenty of wonderful treats scattered all over the place:

• Portland topper Jimmy Maguire is ruled ineligible because he turned 21 (!).

• Farmington Normal School, a precursor to today’s UMaine-Farmington, fielded one team and went 5-2-1, playing mostly high schools, prep schools and alumni teams students.

• A note on how “modern” athletes were able to drink water “from paper cups from a specially constructed container” instead of an “old fashioned bucket”.

• A cartoon of two pigs staring at a soccer ball with the caption “Their son who went to college”.

Some of the names may ring a bell nearly a century later. The name of Deering coach and athletic director Carl Lundholm adorns the gymnasium at the University of New Hampshire, his alma mater. UMaine and Rip Black were bronze medalists in the hammer throw at the 1928 Olympics; his football coach, Fred Brice, is commemorated in the Brice-Cowell Musket presented to the winner of the Maine-UNH football game. Portland coach Jimmy Fitzpatrick is the “Fitzpatrick” of Portland’s Fitzpatrick Stadium and the James J. Fitzpatrick Trophy, awarded annually to Maine’s top high school senior player.

Oh, and who won the state high school title — and there was only one champion then, compared to six today? Lewiston completed its third consecutive undefeated season to win the 1926 crown, as the playoffs did not come until the 1960s. The Blue Streaks outscored their opponents, 199-19. At the other extreme, poor Morse High went 0-7-2 and was outscored 97-6.

The game has changed. Journalism has changed. Even the schools have changed. But one constant has remained: whether it’s 1926 or 2022, Maine fans can’t get enough football and continue to savor every score, every big play and every championship.

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