He was known as "The Moose," a label as descriptive as it was natural for a football player named George Musso. He stood only 6 feet 1, but in his Millikin (Ill.) College days, he weighed 290 pounds. This was 50 years ago, when the average lineman was only slightly bigger than today's waterboy.
His opposite number one afternoon in October 1929 was called "Dutch." He, too, was a lineman -- for Eureka (Ill.) College. The numbers on Dutch read 6 feet, stretching it, and about 170 pounds, maybe.
Eureka versus Millikin. It wasn't much of a game. Millikin won, 45-6 and the schools discontinued the series after that. But George Musso remembers something special about that day. He remembers Dutch, and how he wouldn't quit, although he was outweighed by more than 100 pounds.
And George Musso is looking ahead to next month when 'ol Dutch Reagan becomes the next president of the United States.
"I figured anyone called Dutch had to be pretty rough and tough," Musso recalled. "I had a rough time blocking him. And when I was on defense, he was always around my ankles, knocking me down. But we had information on him. I knew he'd be a pretty good lineman."
Musso wasn't so bad himself. Following graduation from Millikin in 1933, he signed with the Chicago Bears and played 12 seasons in the National Football League. He is considered one of the greatest bears ever and he has slowed down only slightly. Now 70, Musso and his wife Pauline are spending the holidays traveling in a pickup truck and camper from their home in Edwardsville, Ill., to Pasadena, Calif.
Musso delights in talking about Ronald Reagan. It's as much respect for a feisty opponent as it is for a man about to become president.
"I had him by about a hundred pounds, but it didn't make a heck of a lot of difference when you play against someone else who is much faster," Musso said. "A lot of times, he was by me before I could block him."
But a lot of other times, there was the head-on collision, when quickness becomes as useful as a deflated football.
"When that happened," Musso said, "I always got the best of him. If I got him halfway standing up. I'd bowl him over. But he was smart enough most of the time to stay around the ankles. He was a damn nuisance, I'll tell you that."
And all business. Musso said that, out of sheer exasperation with the tenacious Reagan, he groused: "Why are you around my ankles all the time?" To which Reagan responded icily, "You take care of your position and I'll take care of mine." There was no further conversation.
Perhaps psychohistorians might glean from that a tip as to how Reagan will, say, deal with the Soviets. They might be interested in this assessment from Musso: "You knew what to expect from him but you didn't know when. One thing, though. He always got back off the ground."
Besides being a noted former professional, Musso holds the unofficial record for playing football against presidents. In a game between the Bears and the College All-Stars, Musso lined up opposite a Michigan center named Gerry Ford. Although bigger than Reagan and a more renowned player, Ford wasn't as difficult for Musso.
"Of course, I had the advantage," Musso said, charitably. "He had to make sure he got the ball back.I moved with the ball and hit him when his hands were back between his legs."
After his career with the Bears, Musso himself dabbled in politics in Edwardsville, alternating as sheriff and treasurer of Madison County for 20 years. He met Reagan at a convention in Las Vegas in the late 1950s and again two years ago at a dinner in Decatur, Ill. "I had the front table in front of the podium and he saw me and walked around to talk to me before he made the speech," Musso said.
Musso's size and toughness eventually proved more valuable in saving his own life than it did in pushing around presidents. In 1961, Musso survived a head-on automobile accident, suffering 54 broken bones and lying in a coma for five weeks.
"The doctors still can't believe it," he said. "They didn't expect me to live or walk again. They expected me to stay a year in the hospital. I stayed six months."
Throughout his political life, Musso was a Democrat. He still is. He wouldn't come right out and say whether he voted for his old football adversary last November. But he tried hard to tip his hand.
"Friendship means more to me than politics," Musso said. "I'm a Democrat but he's (Reagan) a friend, so draw your own conclusion."