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Columnist Dick Hyland, a great football player in his own day, takes a hard look at the masked faces of the modern stars and wonders what kind of mayhem is taking place on the professional gridiron

So far as this reporter can find out the Los Angeles Rams are the first team in football history to provide every man on the squad with a face mask. And it is, so far as I am concerned, a pretty bad comment upon the officials and powers that be in modern football.

In ye olden days the game was rough enough, perhaps as rough legally as it is today. The only protection for your face was an awful-tasting rubber nose guard, the lower portion of which clamped between your teeth.

This was normally used only AFTER a nose had been belted. It was a dilly of a thing. You could not breathe through the busted beak and you could not breathe through your mouth with that rubber plug in it. Most players preferred to risk another whack on the tender nose rather than fool with that torture device.

Then came the iron bird cage, a contraption of steel attached to the helmet. It was and is pretty good protection for the wearer and it is almost lethal to play against. Opponents' faces have been chopped to ribbons by contacting the protruding framework.

With the development of plastics a third type of face mask was designed. It originated, I believe, in Texas prep-school circles, was picked up by Texas A & M and has been used locally by the Bruins when a beak has been bent out of shape. It is lighter than the steel gadget and does not interfere with sight.


All of these masks were designed to protect injuries already sustained. Now come the Rams with the logical thought of protecting themselves BEFORE they are hurt.

Coach Hamp Pool issued masks as the Rams hit their Redlands camp and they have been used in all scrimmages and in two games the Rams have played as warm-ups. From tackle to tackle the linemen wear the iron bird cages; the ends and all backs wear the lighter plastic masks.

What has happened to the game of football that an entire team must wear steel and plastic masks to prevent their faces from being chopped up?

The answer is: Officials will not call rule infractions and rulemakers have let the game run away from them.

The vicious practice of belting an opponent ABOVE the shoulders with an elbow or forearm has become so normal a stunt officials are afraid to penalize the culprit, either in college ball or pro ball. More, some players wear hard pads on their forearms to give them more authority when they smash one into an opponent.

The rulemakers have permitted the equipment makers to come up with synthetic materials—helmets, for instance—that are hard as concrete and just as injurious when hit hard by a human body. These, in turn, have forced players to wear equally hard protective equipment or be sidelined NOT by an opponent but by his gear.