Smith: Mid-September Starts Are Nothing New for High School Football
It’s September 18, 1970. “War” by Edwin Starr is the number one song on the Billboard Top 100, Jimi Hendrix has passed away earlier that afternoon and Monday Night Football will debut for its first ever broadcast in three days on Sept. 21. But Sept. 18th, 1970 is also an important day for Michigan high school athletes, as the 1970 season will kick off that day for teams in the Lower Peninsula (teams in the Upper Peninsula generally started the season two weeks prior).
Fifty years later in 2020, the season is again due to start on Sept. 18, albeit due to different circumstances, but it is starting nonetheless.
So what did the first day of football season in northern Michigan look like 50 years ago? Well football has changed considerably in 50 years. Pass heavy, air raid offenses didn’t exist at the time, as the “three yards and a cloud of dust” run first offenses reigned supreme. This is obviously apparent looking at scores from the first game of the season from 1970. Extra points weren’t as automatic as they are today, and two point conversions served as the most common way of adding extra points, as teams routinely have even numbered scores of 6, 8, 12, 20, etc.
Playoffs did not yet exist for high school football, and wouldn’t until 1975. With Traverse City becoming the first area team to win a state title in 1978.
Low scoring games were all the rage, as run first offenses tend to burn the clock faster. In fact, eight games on that day that included local teams had margins of 6 points or less. Including some notable barn burners like Suttons Bay defeating Kingsley 6-0, Clare sneaking out a 14-12 win over Gladwin, and pre-split Traverse City High School losing a heartbreaker to Bay City Central 2-0.
But high scoring games weren’t a rarity, as eight local games included margins of 30 points or more. For instance, Hesperia kicked off a 9-0 regular season with a 56-14 win over Hart, Ludington cruised to a 44-14 win over Mason County Central, and Mancelona started the year with a 42-0 shutout of Elk Rapids. Mancelona wasn’t alone on the shutout front however. Overall, there were 17 shutouts amongst area teams during the first week.
There were several schools on the schedule that either don’t exist or don’t field football teams anymore during 1970 as well. Charlevoix opened their season with a 20-6 win over Alpena Catholic Central, who fielded their last team that year, and Atlanta fell 20-6 to Arenac Eastern, who last fielded a team in 2012. McBain didn’t field its first football team until 1971, and Johannesburg-Lewiston and Ogemaw Heights did not play a game on the Sept. 18.
Who knows what the game will look like 50 years from now. Will we go back to running? Will there be new rule changes that greatly affect how the game is played? That remains to be seen, but what we do know is that the Friday night lights will burn bright this coming Friday, as teams will start their long journey towards a trip to Ford Field.
Here are all the scores for area teams that played on Sept. 18 in 1970.
Mancelona 42, Elk Rapids 0
Bellaire 32, Pellston 0
Grayling 38, Houghton Lake 0
Newaygo 30, Allendale 0
Farwell 34, Morley Stanwood 0
Bay City Central 2, Traverse City 0
Suttons Bay 6, Kingsley 0
East Jordan 12, Glen Lake 6
Clare 14, Gladwin 12
Central Montcalm 6, Belding 0
Reed City 12, Cedar Springs 6
Ithaca 12, Chippewa Hills 8
Traverse City St. Francis 12, Petoskey 0
Shelby 26, Benzie Central 14
Ludington 44, Mason County Central 14
Hesperia 56, Hart 14
Mt. Pleasant 46, Alma 0
Frankfort 8, Kalkaska 0
Gaylord St. Mary 14, Lake City 6
Roscommon 26, Pine River 0
Baldwin 38, White Cloud 6
Evart 16, Marion 0
Harbor Springs 42, Central Lake 20
Onaway 28, Inland Lakes 12
Lincoln Alcona 22, Mio 8
Boyne City 30, St. Ignace 22
Cheboygan 13, Cadillac 6
Beaverton 34, Coleman 8
Beal City 20, Ashley 0
Big Rapids 14, Fremont 6
Algoma (Wisc.) 29, Manistee Catholic 0
Tri County 18, Vestaburg 6
Greenville 14, Lakeview 0
East Kentwood 32, Manistee 11
Mt. Morris 20, Oscoda 14
Hale 20, Whittemore-Prescott 6