Every game matters. That, and a shorter season than other sports, helps hook fans, former Lions wide receiver Herman Moore said about the NFL’s enduring appeal in its 100th season of existence.
“People like it because you don’t have teams that can lose 30, 40 games and still make a playoff,” Moore, 49, told The Detroit News. “Your season can be over if you lose four or five games.”
Moore said football fans get the thrills other sports give during playoffs on a weekly basis.
“That’s what football is like every Sunday,” Moore said. “Because everything matters.”
During an era in which social justice protests and player safety seem to threaten the NFL’s future, a few folks with deep connections to the game, such as Moore, shared thoughts on the league with The Detroit News.
Jon Kendle’s job at the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, gives him an up-close look at the pull between fans and football.
“There is this connection between the game and its fans and the people who watch and enjoy it,” Kendle, 38, said. “It’s not just entertainment; it really is part of the fabric of American culture.”
Sometimes, a day filled with meetings for Kendle may get paused when he meets a fan visiting for the first time, or for the last time. It’s not uncommon for a terminal patient to want to visit Canton, Kendle said.
“I’ll hear something like, ‘This is the best day I’ll ever have with my dad for the rest of my life,’” Kendle said. “It gives you chills and it really brings it into perspective. It is more than just a game.”
Kendle is Director of Archives and Football Information at the museum. The complex houses more than 40 million pages of documents, six million photographic images and nearly 50,000 artifacts related to the game.
As the 100th season kicks off Thursday, Kendle reflected on the museum’s mission.
“We’re able to promote the positive values the game teaches: the commitment, the integrity, the courage, the respect, the excellence, through the players’ stories of on-field accolades, or even off-the-field accolades,” Kendle said.
“Hopefully by sharing their stories, we’re able to celebrate excellence everywhere and hopefully change some lives in the process because the same values that make you a great football player on the field, can also make somebody a great musician, or a great business leader.
“There’s so much to overcome, it’s such a tough sport.”
Cecil B. Souders played football for Ohio State from 1942-46, though he took a two-year hiatus to serve in the U.S. Navy during World War II.
The three-time All-American and Ohio State Hall of Fame member got drafted in 1945 by Washington, but ultimately ended up on another team — one that needed him to come to work immediately.
“That was something,” Jean Souders, Cecil’s wife, told The News. “We said, ‘Aren’t you going to have a party?’ No, he has to be at training camp at a certain time. He didn’t want to miss out.”
And so Cecil Souders traveled to Michigan to train with the Lions, and playing from 1947-49, recorded 17 receptions for 203 yards and one touchdown.
Cecil is now 98 — reportedly the oldest living Lion — and Jean is 96 and they live in Florida. They are preparing to move back to their native Ohio soon for a variety of reasons, including a practical one.
“We’re gonna be buried back there anyhow,” Jean said with a laugh. “So I’d like to be closer when the time comes!”
She said her husband left the Lions for a simple reason — pay.
“He played three years for the Detroit Lions, and then decided he better get a better-paying job because we had a little girl… And you needed money; they didn’t pay nothing back then.”
A sales job with headquarters in Columbus, Ohio, eventually returned the Souders to live there until they retired to Florida, but football stayed in their lives even after Cecil left the team. They’d attend alumni parties, and Cecil kept in touch with some former teammates, until, well, he didn’t.
“So many are gone now,” Jean Souders said, her voice trailing.
The Souders will celebrate 80 years of marriage on Nov. 18.
“That’s commitment,” Jean said. “Kids today don’t seem to want to make a commitment, for crying out loud. Nobody said it’d be easy, right?”
Aside from age-related issues, Jean Souders said the pair are doing as well as can be expected.
“We’re maintaining our own home, so we’re doing OK,” she said.
These days, they watch a smattering of football. For college, they cheer on the Buckeyes and Florida Atlantic. Favorite pro teams are more tough to narrow down.
“We don’t follow the Lions so much anymore; we don’t know the people anymore,” Jean said, adding that while Cecil doesn’t talk much these days, when he watches, he likes to analyze plays and offer advice. Cecil said that he feels the Lions are better these days than when he played, but Jean is not so sure.
“One of these days, they’ll get it all together maybe,” she said. “Who knows?”
First female scout
Connie Carberg doesn’t have to think twice about her favorite team: the New York Jets. Carberg, 68, was the first female scout in the NFL, and the one responsible for bringing Mark Gastineau to the team. She grew up in a household that lived and breathed Jets, Jets, Jets since her father, Dr. Calvin Nicholas, was the team’s internist. This meant that as Carberg grew up in the 1960s, members of the Jets visiting the family home and her father’s attached office was a regular occurrence. Players like Joe Namath, for instance.
Carberg learned all she could about the game, and football became her life. Even as she studied home economics and life skills at Ohio State, football stayed in her blood. She found a seasoned mentor in Buckeyes coach Woody Hayes. With his blessing, Carberg attended the football team’s practices to expand her knowledge.
After Carberg graduated in 1974, she passed on a job teaching and coaching women to become a Jets secretary. In 1976, she became a scout, traveling and evaluating. Two years later, a less progressive boss preferred Carberg do her scouting contributions locally. The sexism of the times never really got to her, Carberg said, even when she was asked to stay off the road, adding that her football IQ made her gender seem irrelevant.
Carberg, who now lives in Florida, where she moved after getting married in the early 1980s, still watches and analyzes, though she misses the old days of clean, hard-hitting play. Carberg says people who don’t like football don’t understand the rules well enough. It’s an intricate sport that relies on 11 people to do their job every play.
“If one person doesn’t do their job, the play fails,” Carberg said. “And each person has a job to do.”
The four-time Pro Bowler Moore, who does preaseason analyst work with Fox Sports Detroit and focuses on his job at Team Business Solutions in Novi, also says critics may not realize what it takes to play.
“There’s a certain mentality that you have to have to play football,” Moore said.
“There’s a certain acceptance of the risk that you’re willing to accept. At the same time, you’re hoping that the safety will continue to improve and the technology will continue to be there to assess that.”