Another season of the National Football League has wrapped up with the New England Patriots beating the Atlanta Falcons in a record-breaking, first ever overtime game in Super Bowl history. With last Sunday's game fresh on my mind, I was curious to see what materials we may have in our collections that pertain to football. I thought the obvious place to start my research was to peruse the finding aids of exhibition records from the National Museum of American History. However, after a simple keyword search of our collections, what I found was better than I imagined and served as a simple reminder of the goal of the Smithsonian Institution Archives.
The Smithsonian Institution Archives’ mission is to capture, preserve and make available the records of the history of the Smithsonian Institution. In addition to the records that can be expected from the world's largest museum and research complex--scientific research data, curatorial records, exhibition materials, etc.--our collection also includes the history of the Smithsonian staff and its numerous offices, divisions, and departments. One such office was the Office of Employee Welfare and Recreation.
The Office of Employee Welfare and Recreation was created in the mid-1960s and offered employees a host of extracurricular activities to increase morale and comradery amongst Smithsonian staff. One activity proposed was the establishment of a Smithsonian Institution flag football team. In 1965, the Office of Employee Welfare and Recreation paid $40.00 for a “football franchise” and $14.37 for a football, which kicked off a multi-year run of Smithsonian staff competing in numerous D.C. Recreational Football Leagues. While this is the first instance of material directly related to the Smithsonian football team, additional materials were found within our collection of the Smithsonian staff newspaper, the Torch.
In the September 1967 issue of the Torch, a call to all Smithsonian staff to join the football team was conveyed. The article states: “The otherwise healthy-looking young men hobbling around the Institution have probably been to the opening practices for the SI touch football team. Oliver Grant of duplicating, the team coach, invites all would-be-athletes to attend work-outs on Saturdays at 11 a.m.” The team’s 1967 record was 4-2, which was good enough for a second place finish in the federal league.
Bobby Garrison, of the Smithsonian’s Computer Services Division, coached the staff football team, known throughout its history as “The Smithsonian Seven,” “The Fossils,” and “The Smithsonians,” through the late 1970s. Before the season, Garrison put out a call for “a kicker who is capable of punting at least 80 yards” and frustrated by standing on the sidelines, Garrison rejoined the team stating: “he needed a bigger piece of the action.” While official records do not say whether the team was able to find a kicker capable of punting the ball 80 yards, the Smithsonian football team did capture its first league championship in 1977.
The 1980s saw the Smithsonian's own Tommy Brown, Wide Receiver, emerge as one the D.C. Recreation League's most valuable players. Brown was voted the most valuable player by opposing teams in four out of seven contests. However, the Smithsonian squad ended the 1980 season 3-4, with wins coming against Amalgamated Transit Union Local 689, the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development, and arch-rivals Howard University Hospital.
Aside from the excerpts on the Smithsonian football team listed above, I could not find any mention of the team for the rest of the 1980s and beyond. However, evidence of activities such as ice-skating, jogging, softball, dancing, and even curling can be found in later issues of the Torch.
Accession 11-008, Photographic Collection, 1960-1970, Smithsonian Institution Archives
Accession 11-009, Photographic Collection, 1971-2006, Smithsonian Institution Archives
Record Unit 371, Smithsonian Institution Office of Public Affairs, The Torch, 1955-1960, 1965-1988, Smithsonian Institution Archives