MARTY RUSSELL: Nastiest part of early football was the football



I had to pick up a friend and her three kids at the airport in Memphis on Tuesday. I was thinking of greeting them by asking my friend if she was sure the kids didn’t have Ebola. After all, they were returning from summer vacation in godforsaken Connecticut, who knows what strange germs they could have picked up there?

Members of Congress, about to start their own summer vacations, have for the past week or so been suggesting that all those migrant children from Central America crossing over into this country could carry Ebola, despite the fact that Central America is about as close to the source – Africa – as Connecticut. But a member of Congress has never let something as debatable as geography stand in the way of a good scare for constituents.

During their August “recess” congresspeople like to meet with constituents and get suggestions. Maybe we should suggest most of them take a fact-finding trip to Africa.

In the end, I decided not to question my friend about her Ebola-carrying children because I didn’t want to have to see a doctor myself to have a piece of luggage removed from my nose. I need my nose, especially at this time of the year because of that wonderful smell in the air. Can’t you smell it? There’s pigskin in the air. Football season is right around the corner.

Well, actually it’s not pigskin I smell. It’s mostly leather and sweat from two-a-day workouts. But thinking about it actually got me to thinking about it. Why do we call a football a pigskin? Maybe because Pigskin Picks sounds better than Cow Leather Picks?

Turns out, pigs did play a big role in the early history of football, but it had nothing to do with their skin. Back in the earliest days of the sport in the late 19th century, it was very difficult to blow things up. Well, actually it was very easy to blow things up because there weren’t many pliable materials available, so if you pumped too much air into something it would simply blow up. Rubber didn’t come into widespread use until the latter part of the century with Goodyear’s invention of vulcanization.

So proponents of the new sport of football had to look elsewhere for something that was roughly round, would hold air and wouldn’t explode. Somebody, who probably later died of Ebola, came up with pig bladders. They were about the right shape, would hold air and had one opening which you could blow into and inflate them. The first guy to do that probably deserves to be in a football hall of fame somewhere. Or an isolation ward.

The inflated pig bladders were then covered with some sort of thick fabric or other material to keep from puncturing them and the football was born.

So why do we say pigskin when referring to anything football? C’mon, would you participate in a contest known as Pig Bladder Picks?

Marty Russell writes a Wednesday column for the Daily Journal. He can be reached at

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