In 1892, when Dr. Horace Silliman donated money to establish Silliman Laboratory at Mount Herman prep school in Gill, Massachusetts, he had no idea about the game, football. Much less that a football field would be built directly in front of the building with his name or that the same structure would burn up 73 years later while a football game was being played.
The structure burned 50 years ago while an iconic picture of the game showed four fire trucks battling the fire behind the stands as photographed by Robert Van Fleet. Van Fleet’s pictures went round the world showing Americans were damn serious about their football games.
Hey, Mr. Silliman (you don’t how often I say those very words to myself), this was a RIVALRY game between two prep schools – Mount Herman and Deerfield Academy – with Mount Herman making a comeback against Deerfield. Deerfield never beats Herman, seventeen games straight they hadn’t, and if the game were called… well, it would be a tragedy. Do you get that, Horace? Seventeen games straight!!
What about the lab rats in the basement, you ask? Four fire trucks were doing their best to save them. Stopping a football game wasn’t going to save your rats, or all the dissecting tools and little mazes. Mount Herman had narrowed the lead down to 20-14. You’re asking how football is scored? Six points for a touchdown, one or two points after the touchdown. Why? That’s just the rules… Mount Herman was in striking distance.
A lot of big time alumni were at Mount Herman at the time, Horace. You never heard of these people but my readers have. Frank Shorter, the Olympic runner went there and watched the fire. William Ackerman, the record producer, he saw it. So did Natalie Cole. Natalie Cole? That’s Nat “King” Cole’s daughter. YES! Black people were going to Mount Herman! You’d be proud of the alumni – the inventor of volleyball, the founder of Reader’s Digest, David Hartman, a television host. What’s television? That’s a tough one. Why do people need to digest what they read? What the heck is volleyball? Don’t you think I should explain football first, the game they were playing when your building burnt down. Yeah, the four fire trucks couldn’t save it. Sorry about that.
And, no, Mount Herman did not end up winning the game. Their quarterback was blitzed twice and got sacked both times. No, they didn’t put him in a gunny sack. Blitz? You never heard that term? What’s a quarterback? No, they don’t play football at Silliman University in the Philippines. You don’t have to worry about one of those ten buildings with your name on it burning while Filipinos are wearing pads and playing a football game. Ten buildings? Yes, that’s a pretty good return on your $ 10,000 investment. Oh, wait, they play a different kind of “football” at Silliman University… with their feet instead of handing off and passing.
Oh, geez, why in America do they have a game called football where they don’t use their feet and they keep playing it while your beautiful building is burning down? Because, we’re silly, Mr. Silliman. We like our games and we’re going to keep playing no matter what. Do you realize football is played in the rain, in the snow, and, sometimes, 100,000 people pile into a stadium and watch the game… in bitter weather? People love the game. Yes, they’re crazy about it in Massachusetts. You heard that? And yes, sometimes the quarterbacks in Massachusetts like their footballs a little softer. Yeah, some people think that’s a big deal. I’m with you, Horace. It’s a lot of silliness.