Strange but true, American football briefly was an Olympic sport


If ever the Summer Olympics return to the U.S., there’s no doubt which demonstration sport most Americans would love to see introduced by the host nation.

Football, baby, and I don’t mean the kind you play with your feet.

Think helmets and touchdowns and instant replay instead. Think, too, of the NFL getting behind any effort to market its product to a wider international audience than already has been reached through games in London and Mexico City.

Red Grange grabs the ball after the first kick-off of the Illinois-Michigan game in Oct. 1924, with teammate Wally McIlwain at his side. Grange began a sprint that took him over 95 yards downfield for a touchdown. The game was hardly a minute old before he had finished his trip. (Chicago Tribune historical photo/TNS)
Old-school, helmet-free football of the sort played as a demonstration sport at the 1932 Los Angeles Olympic Games. (Chicago Tribune historical photo/TNS)

Funny thing is, American football has already had its moment on the Olympic stage as a demonstration sport. It happened in Los Angeles in 1932 with a game featuring seniors from some of the top college teams of the day. You know, Yale and Harvard and Princeton from the East. Cal and Stanford and USC from the West.

The game was played at L.A.’s Memorial Coliseum, where on different days the gymnastics competition also took place under a blazing sun and where equestrian events were staged, too.

A headline-grabbing shootout would have been great for the promotion of the game, of course, but there wasn’t a whole lot of passing in those days. The West team won 7-6 and here’s how the official 1932 L.A. Games publication described its impact on the Olympic movement.

“The foreign athletes and press representatives were interested in the game but bewildered by its complexity. The consensus of foreign opinion was that American football is a hard, bruising physical combat with a little too much emphasis on complicated technique.

“Most of the visitors commented chiefly on the great amount of time outs and the numerous substitutions.”

Too complicated, huh? Depends on who’s asking.

[The Olympic gold medal sprinter who played for the Miami Dolphins]

[Amar’e Stoudemire is on my list of greatest stars from state of Florida]

[Here’s a fun look back at Dolphins’ first training camp in 1966]

In those same 1932 Olympics, a Swedish dressage rider was knocked down from a silver-medal finish to last place because officials determined he was illegally encouraging his horse by making clicking noises. According to David Wallechinsky’s amazingly comprehensive “Complete Book of the Summer Olympics,” a Jury of Appeal refused to accept the rider’s explanation that the noises were made by a creaking saddle.

On second thought, maybe we ought to keep our version of football out of the Olympics. Might ruin it.