Bills Backers United




  Interview With Dr. Jim Ailinger - by Ken Crippen

Dr. Jim Ailinger

This is an exclusive interview conducted by Ken Crippen. It has been edited for content. The entire interview will be published in the "Development of Pro Football in Western New York" written by Ken Crippen. Dr. Ailinger was a member of the 1924 Buffalo Bisons. After finishing his time with the Bisons, Dr. Ailinger went on to officiate 425 college football games along with working at his profession as a dentist. He was inducted into the University of Buffalo Hall of Fame in 1965, the Hall of Fame for the Buffalo Bisons in the summer of 1999, and the National Hall of Fame (college) in January 1999.

Dr Ailinger passed away March 27, 2001 at the age of 99.

KC: What was your playing height and weight?
DR. A:
I am 5'11 1/2" and I weight about 215.

KC: You went to the University of Buffalo?
DR. A: That's right. I graduated in 1925.

KC: High school was Hutchinson?
DR. A: Hutchinson High School.

KC: Birthdate July 10, 1901?
DR. A: That's right.

KC: I guess if we could go through the roster (of the 1924 Buffalo Bisons), if you could tell me about each of the players?
DR. A: Alright.

KC: We will start with Benny Boynton.
DR. A: Benny Boynton was our quarterback. And he was a damn good quarterback, too. He was the quarterback for Williams, I guess. He came as an All-American.

KC: "Peanuts" Burt.
DR. A: What position was he?

KC: Halfback.
DR. A: Yeah, I think I remember Burt. He didn't play the whole season, I don't think.

KC: He only played in one game as a substitute.
DR. A: I just barely remember him. But I don't think he played the whole season.

KC: Pete Calac.
DR. A: He was from that school of Indians. The school that they had down there, Carlisle. He was a member of the Carlisle Indian team and he was a damn good back.

KC: What about Glenn Carberry?
DR. A: Carberry was coaching Bonaventure I think at the time, or assistant coach down there. He just played when he could play when his team wasn't playing.

KC: Harry Collins.
DR. A: Collins was a big man. He played with Canisius. He played practically every game.

KC: Frank Culver.
DR. A: Culver was a good center. I don't know where he played in school. What school did he play for?

KC: Syracuse.
DR. A: That's right. That was a long time ago, 75 years ago. He was a pretty damn good center.

KC: Lou Feist.
DR. A: Lou Feist, I played against him in college and in high school. He played with Canisuis College and I played with the University of Buffalo.

KC: Jack Flavin.
DR. A: Flavin I didn't remember too well. I think that he was a back, wasn't he?

KC: Yes, fullback.
DR. A: He played, but I don't know how much he played. I think that he played part of the time.

KC: Gil Gregory.
DR. A: Gregory, I don't even remember him. I don't know if he was a substitute or a regular player.

KC: "Chick" Guarnieri
DR. A: "Chick" Guarnieri was a very good player. He played with the University of Buffalo and with Canisius, and he was a good end man.

KC: Iolas Huffman.
DR. A: I don't remember him too well. I remember the name. What did he play?

KC: Tackle and guard.
DR. A: He used to substitute if I was hurt, and then I think he finally played regular at the end of the season.

KC: Tommy Hughitt.
DR. A: Tommy Hughitt was an All-Western quarterback. He was a councilman later for the City of Buffalo. He was a good quarterback. He was All-Western quarterback. He played with Michigan.

KC: Ken Jones.
DR. A: Jones, I remember him slightly. I can't give you any information on him.

KC: Eddie Kaw.
DR. A: He was a good back from Cornell. He was alright. He was a good football player. Very good football player. I think that he made All-Eastern team. I don't know that he made All-American second or third team or not. I think maybe he did.

KC: Glenn Knack.
DR. A: I don't remember him.

KC: "Babe" Kraus
DR. A: "Babe" Kraus played with Hobart, I think. I played against him for four years when he was at Hobart and we became very good friends after that. He was a good football player.

KC: "Moose" McCormick
DR. A: Elmer McCormick. He was a center I think, wasn't he?

KC: That's right.
DR. A: Who did he play for?

KC: He did play for Canisius and Detroit Mercy.
DR. A: I don't remember.

KC: Al Mitchell
DR. A: Who did he play for?

KC: Theil.
DR. A: He was a good football player. He played right along.

KC: Frank Morrissey
DR. A: Frank Morrissey was a big tackle that played with Boston College. I think that he played with Luke Urban. He was a pretty damn good tackle.

KC: Mike Traynor.
DR. A: Mike Traynor was a fair football player. He played with Canisuis and he filled in when he could.

KC: Len Watters.
DR. A: Len Watters was a good center wasn't he?

KC: He played end.
DR. A: That's right, he did play end. Who did he play for?

KC: Springfield.
DR. A: Yeah, he came down from Springfield. He was a good football player.

KC: "Swede" Youngstrom.
DR. A: "Swede" Youngstrom was the best tackle that I ever played with. And he was a terrific tackle. He was an All-American. I played next to him and I have quite a little story of when the time when I tackled Thorpe. Youngstrom came to me, I was playing guard and Youngstrom was the tackle and he came to me and he says "Hey Kid." Now he was an All-American and he was a BIG football player. He says "I'm going to move out three spots on the line." And he said "My man is guarding me. Your man is guarding me, and the halfback is guarding me. So that I don't get down the field too quick and tackle the receiver of punts. I'm going to move out three spots. Your man moves out. My man moves out, and the halfback moves out. You should have a clear alley down the field when we kick." So, Tommy Hughitt kicked the ball. About 35 yards. It was a hard ball to kick at that time, you know. I got down there right after Jim Thorpe got the ball, made about two steps and I tackled him. And I made a good tackle. I was knocked out cold. I can remember that I went back into the game. I was out about a quarter, and my head cleared up. Thorpe came over to the bench. I have never seen an opponent come over to the other teams bench, and he said to Tommy Hughitt, who was our coach, he said "How is the kid doing?" I told it at the time, and they all laughed about it. To think that an opposing tackle came over to our bench when we had a timeout and says "How is the kid doing?" That's the first thing I remember, and I remember putting my hand up and waving to him while I says "I'm alright coach." I says "I'm OK." That's the toughest tackle I ever made and it was a clean cut. I got write-ups in the paper on the tackle I made on Jim Thorpe. He was a great athlete. His first stride from getaway, as soon as he caught the ball, was just as fast as his fifth stride. He can start like a bull, and that's what gave him the speed in football.

KC: Let's talk about some of the games. What do you remember about playing against the Columbus Tigers?
DR. A: That was a tough game. I was new at the pro game at that time, but I felt I did pretty well. Hughitt came up after the game and says" You did alright Kid." They all used to call me the "Kid." I was 24 years old when I was playing. I had just finished college the year before. I can't recall everything that happened in that game. I can't remember the game very much.

KC: Do you remember anything about any of the games? Are there any plays that stick out other than the tackling of Jim Thorpe?
DR. A: Well, they were normal games. I know that Hughitt, who was the quarterback and the coach, came up to me after three or four of the games and said that I played very well for being inexperienced in the pro game. I says hell, I don't think that it's any different than the college game. At that time, they were just players that left college a year before and so forth.

KC: You said that you knew "Red" Grange. He asked you to play in his league?
DR. A: "Red" Grange, he was playing when I was playing, or I was playing when he was playing. He played one year or maybe the next year after I played. They gave him $50,000 a year to play. He played during the week and whenever they could get him to play. I got to know him. When he came to Buffalo, I got a telephone call from him asking why I wasn't playing. And I said "Well, I didn't think I would play this year." He said "I would like to have you come over to practice." So I went over to the ballpark where they were practicing the day before they were playing. I think they had played in Akron or some place the night before or two nights before, and they came in and practiced at the Buffalo Baseball Park. And I went over there. And he wanted me to go with him. They were giving him $50,000 a year. I guess they were going to offer me about $1000 a game. I said "No, I wasn't going to play any more. I was in dentistry and I was afraid of my hands." If I was out for a month with a broken hand or something, I couldn't practice my dentistry. I said "No, I wouldn't play." He said "How would you like to be my business manager?" He wanted me to take care of his finances for him. He said "I understand that you did pretty well." I said "Oh, I did great. I made $50 a game." Fifty bucks. Can you imagine that? "Swede" Youngstrom only got a hundred and Benny Boynton. Those fellas were All-American. I just came from the University of Buffalo. I was getting half, $50 a game. I came down, and I told that story to Jimmy Johnson here of Miami. He said "I'll give you $100 a game." I said "I'll take it."

KC: You also mentioned that you knew the "Four Horsemen" of Notre Dame?
DR. A: I'll tell ya, I knew Rockne. Biff Lee, who later coached the Universtiy of Buffalo, he was Rockne's roomate when he was at Notre Dame. All he knew about football was just watching Rockne play. When he came, he went to the authorities at the University of Buffalo and said "I was Rockne's roomate at Notre Dame and I would like to coach the team." Well, he didn't know a damn thing about football. So he hired five of us who had experience. Bill Pritchard came from Penn State, Les Knapp and myself came from UB, another fella went to Notre Dame, and he hired five of us to coach the team. He was just a sidekick coach and he had a good imagination. He was a pretty smart guy. He coached the team, but we did the coaching of the players. He got the plays from Rockne, and we did pretty well for a year or two. There is another little story connected with that. I was able to coach Bob Rich. The fella that owns the big conglomerate now, Rich Products. It goes all over the world. He has his own plane. His son has a plane. They never ride in the same plane. Bob Rich was a center and guard and I was coaching the center and guards for Biff Lee. Rockne used to come up to see Biff Lee once in a while, and I met him. We got to be pretty good friends. Rockne told Biff Lee what plays to use and so forth. That was as close as I came. But I met Rockne. He set the relay team up. The 74th Armory had big Armory games where they would have all kinds of track events and everything. They sent the halfbacks for Notre Dame up to run against the four best we had in a relay. We had a pretty good race. We ran that two or three years in a row. It worked out pretty well.

KC: You knew Vince Lombardi?
DR. A: I knew Vince Lombardi. I knew him before he was a coach. He was captain of Fordham when I was officiating. My first Fordham game, he was the captain of Fordham. I knew Vince Lombardi very well. It was a funny thing about the UB coaches. The "Four Horsemen" that Rockne coached. One of the fellas was to come up and speak to Buffalo and Rockne told them to get in touch with me or Biff Lee. Well, Biff Lee was out of town, so I think that it was Layden, Elmer Layden. So I got to know the "Four Horsemen" very well, Jim Crowley, Layden, (Harry) Stuhldreher, and (Don) Miller. Every time that they would want one of them to come into Buffalo, they would get in touch with me, "How much should I get?", "What kind of a school is it?", and so forth, and I would sign them up.

KC: You have obviously seen a lot of football since your playing days. What rule changes and things that they have done do you like?
DR. A: Well, you see when we played, when I played in high school, we could only use one forward pass in a series of downs. Every time you started a new series of downs, first down or something, you get one chance to use a forward pass in that series of downs. So I saw that whole forward pass come in, and at that time the linemen could run down the field and they didn't have to stay on the line; and that part has often changed and I think its done very much for the game. The forward pass. The ball was entirely different. It was more like a basketball than it was a football. I had a big palm on my hand and I could get a hold of it. I was often called in to center the ball when they got back to our 15 yards. I was a substitute center on a pass because I could pass the ball because my hands were so big. The forward pass was just coming in. We went through that series and the changes of that. But there is one thing that I will take credit for. I wish Bushnell were alive here today and back me up. I was responsible for putting the four markers on each end of the field. Putting it right on the corner line between the end zone and the sideline. The first flag I made myself out of a string from a regular chair and put it on a spring and put a rod down there and so the spring would come back and forth. You could stick it in the ground and knock it over and you wouldn't knock it off the ground. So I put the four flags that are on each end of the field. I was responsible for that. I made two or three tries at it, while Ace Bushnell, the commissioner of the East, to have him get that thing changed. Finally, they put those four markers on. That's was my idea.

KC: What things over the evolution of the game don't you like?
DR. A: I think that the rules, they try so hard to keep the rules up. I like the game the way it is. The rule that they have the most trouble with is interference on the forward pass. Now a lot of times I will take a look at the replay, and unless they make some kind of changes, a man has an equal opportunity to catch the ball. As soon as they knock a man down, just before the ball is caught, a man can't catch it with one hand. They can't hang on to it at the speeds at which they play today. He has got to have a chance to catch the ball, as long as he doesn't interfere with the other man. I think that you can look at the plays, of course I officiated for 425 college football games. I was on the rules committee for four or five years. I know how hard it is when you get recommendations to change rules. It is awfully hard to satisfy everybody. I think that they have a pretty good set of rules today.

All text taken from the History of Pro Football in Western New York (prior to 1960) by Ken Crippen

Bills Backers United is a combined effort between the Bills Backers International Chapters located in Willow Grove PA, Laurel MD, Phoenix AZ, and Virginia Beach VA.

Copyright 1999 WGBB