The Grantland Rice Translator

Because you deserve it, a translation of Grantland Rice's famed Four Horsemen column into actual American English.
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If only because there is a popular sports-related website that shares his first name, chances are good that you’re familiar with Grantland Rice, a famed and famously purple American sportswriter who nevertheless made significant contributions to the craft and America’s sports conscience. Despite his suddenly recognizable name, though, Rice for the most part remains little more than a time-buried anachronism—a literary relic from a bygone era when athletes were Godlike caricatures, sport was war, breakfast came in a brown bottle, and there was no such goddamn thing as a “delete,” let alone a footnoted rumination on cable television.

It doesn't need to be that way, though. Here, then, is a translation of the scribe’s most famous piece, “The Four Horsemen,” into modern web-sportswriting English.

Outlined against a blue-gray October sky, the Four Horsemen rode again. In dramatic lore they are known as Famine, Pestilence, Destruction and Death. These are only aliases. Their real names are Stuhldreher, Miller, Crowley and Layden.

The Germans and Irish tend to destroy everything they touch—albeit in very different ways—particularly when they’re running around carrying footballs that in turn carry traces of mumps, measles, and Spanish flu.

The language obviously is a bit dramatic, but being one-quarter Irish and German, I can attest that Rice is onto something. Just this morning I left a kettle scorching and billowing smoke on the stove for an hour while I walked my dog, nearly burning down my house and the two directly adjacent to it. That’s just making coffee.  

They formed the crest of the South Bend cyclone before which another fighting Army football team was swept over the precipice at the Polo Grounds yesterday afternoon as 55,000 spectators peered down on the bewildering panorama spread on the green plain below.

Note here that the comma wasn’t instituted an English grammar device until well after 1924. Something about using Army benchwarmers as a human tarp to keep the field from getting too wet for the polo match afterwards? That sentence has 42 words in it.

A cyclone can't be snared. It may be surrounded, but somewhere it breaks through to keep on going. When the cyclone starts from South Bend, where the candle lights still gleam through the Indiana sycamores, those in the way must take to storm cellars at top speed.

South Bend, Indiana spawns a lot of tornadoes or “cyclones”, which, in the olden days, people would try to break up by encircling en masse and holding giant candles made of sycamore trees. This was exhausting on a number of levels, but considering the damage cyclones can cause—more on this in a moment—it makes sense. We can assume that “those in the way” refers, in this Notre Dame-y context, to Protestants.

It was in vain that 1,400 gray-clad cadets pleaded for the Army line to hold. The Army line was giving all it had, but when a tank tears in with the speed of a motorcycle, what chance had flesh and blood to hold?

Just to give you an idea of how far American industry has fallen, back in the 1920s people drove motorcycle tanks, which every man, woman, and child could afford, as Henry Ford paid a living wage. These giant machines fed on human blood, and were for a while considered legitimate football equipment. How else were they supposed to fertilize the field?

The Army had its share of stars as Garbisch, Farwick, Wilson, Wood, Ellinger, and many others, but they were up against four whirlwind backs who picked up at top speed from the first step as they swept through scant openings to slip on by the secondary defense.

Back in football’s salad days, teams were allowed to play with up to four balls at one time. While this attack was doubtless difficult to defend, the preponderance of games ending in scores of 0-0, 6-3, and 5-2 suggests that the defenses were rather adept at encircling—and so neutralizing, as explained earlier—the resulting whirlwinds.

Rockne's light and tottering line was just about as tottering as the Rock of Gibraltar. It was something more than a match for the Army's great set of forwards, who had earned their fame before.

These were lean times, so it wasn’t uncommon for schools to combine sporting matches in order to save a little coin. In this case, Army attempted to stymie Notre Dame’s relentless attack by employing the basketball team’s starting power forward and center—5’9 and 5'11, respectively—along the goal line. This failed spectacularly, in the same way that the Rock of Gibraltar is generally considered to be a failure.

After a short opening flurry in the second period, Wood, of the Army, kicked out of bounds on Notre Dame's 20 yard line. There was no sign of a tornado starting.

It wasn’t until after World War II that antiquated Old English surnames like “Wood of the Army” began to finally fizzle out, making Rice’s tome an indispensable window into ancient American nomenclature. It was also common practice in the 1920s to dispatch volunteers to a stadium’s highest possible posts in an effort to determine whether all in attendance might need to form Sycamore-candle rings to keep the demon cyclones away.

In that second period Notre Dame made eight first downs to the Army's none, which shows the unwavering power of the Western attack that hammered relentlessly and remorselessly without easing up for a second's breath. The Western line was going its full share, led by the crippled Walsh with a broken hand.

It was common practice back then to play through injury. In this case, Walsh had likely gotten his hand caught in a wheat thresher just hours earlier, but had suited up anyway. How else was he to feed his 19 children if not from his Notre Dame paycheck?

The South Bend cyclone had now roared eighty-five yards to a touchdown through one of the strongest defensive teams in the game. The cyclone had struck with too much speed and power to be stopped. It was the preponderance of Western speed that swept the Army back.

Not only had the tornado watchers failed to do their jobs; now the Notre Dame fans were selling street amphetamines to the damn thing. I mean, the plan worked, but…this is just total chaos. Societal breakdown. Ill-advised tattoos. Dental problems on a massive scale.

Yeomans saved one touchdown by intercepting a pass on his 5-yard line as he ran back 35 yards before he was nailed by two tacklers.

You've noticed by now: football was really weird back in the day. Random farmers wandering in from the streets and picking off passes? This was perfectly legal.  

Notre Dame's brilliant backs had been provided with the finest possible interference, usually led by Stuhldreher, who cut down tackler after tackler by diving at some rival's flying knees.

Jeopardizing your opponent’s productive future by crippling him from the waist down wasn’t merely permitted; it was enthusiastically encouraged. We can furthermore safely surmise that Stuhldreher, in what was no doubt a common custom of the day, would likely collect his victims’ winged kneecaps and hang them, taxidermied, on his fireplace baseboard.

Even the great Wilson, the star from Penn State, one of the great backfield runners of his day and time, rarely had a chance to make any headway through a massed wall of tacklers who were blocking every open route.

Penn State has used running backs and only running backs for at least 90 years. Also: Penn State was playing in this game, too?

The cadet sector had a chance to rip open the chilly atmosphere at last, and most of the 55,000 present joined in the tribute to football art.

On behalf of its football charges, the United States Army would routinely conduct weather-altering witchcraft experiments during football games, whipping the crowd into a froth-mouthed frenzy in the process. It is likely that the flapper and the Charleston were both borne out of these orgiastic displays.

It formed quickly and came along in unbroken order, always at terrific speed, carried by backs who were as hard to drag down as African buffaloes.

As Americans had yet to venture West of the Mississippi River by 1924, the existence of American Bison was as yet unknown to Rice and his readers.  

And when a back such as Harry Wilson finds few chances to get started, you can figure upon the defensive strength that is barricading the road.

In the (frequent) event that a particularly strong tornado left everyone else dead or maimed, defensive coordinators would often marshal the help of local road construction workers to help stop the opposition’s running attack. Sledgehammers, pick-axes, shovels, chunks of broken concrete—all of these were fair game.

Wilson is one of the hardest backs in the game to suppress, but he found few chances yesterday to show his broken-field ability. You can't run through a broken field unless you get there.

A curious ancient haiku concerning the art of warfare. Most likely Hungarian in origin.

We doubt that any team in the country could have beaten Rockne's array yesterday afternoon, East or West. It was a great football team brilliantly directed, a team of speed, power and team play. The Army has no cause to gloom over its showing. It played first-class football against more speed than it could match.

In this passage we see clear evidence of the use of performance enhancing drugs even back then. Likely culprits include the aforementioned amphetamines, as well as ginseng, horehound, tree bark, and illegally manufactured fermented bear's milk.

Those who have tackled a cyclone can understand.

Out of context, this is actually a pretty great sentence.


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This failed spectacularly, in the same way that the Rock of Gibraltar is generally considered to be a failure.
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