Arts & Culture

Andy Griffith: “What It Was, Was Football”

  • Illustration by Joesph Edwards

Sixty years ago Andy Griffith got his big break in show business thanks to football — but not as a player, or even as a fan.

andy griffith what it was was football web image

While living in the Triangle, the 1949 UNC graduate composed “What It Was, Was Football,” a folksy yarn about a country deacon’s first football game.

Chapel Hill-based Colonial Records released the story, as told by “Deacon Andy Griffith,” on November 14, 1953 — the same day the Tar Heels lost 34-14 to the Notre Dame Fighting Irish.

As the popularity of the record soared (it eventually sold more than 1 million copies), so did Griffith’s success. In the six decades since its release, Deacon Andy’s words may have faded from memory, but his humor and masterful storytelling remain.

Andy Griffith: “What It Was, Was Football”

This video was created by Cornerstone City Church using illustrations from George Woodbridge, a Mad Magazine (1958) illustrator.

What It Was, Was Football

A Deacon’s Perspective


It was back last October, I believe it was.

We was going to hold a tent service off at this college town, and we got there about dinnertime on Saturday. Different ones of us thought that we ought to get us a mouthful to eat before we set up the tent.

So we got off the truck and followed this little bunch of people through this small little bitty patch of woods there, and we come up on a big sign. It says, “Get Something to Eat Here.”

I went up and got me two hot dogs and a big orange drink, and before I could take a mouthful of that food, this whole raft of people come up around me and got me to where I couldn’t eat nothing, up like, and I dropped my big orange drink. I did.

Well, friends, they commenced to move, and there wasn’t so much that I could do but move with them.

Well, we commenced to go through all kinds of doors and gates and I don’t know what-all, and I looked up over one of ’em and it says, “North Gate.” We kept on a-going through there, and pretty soon we come up on a young boy and he says, “Ticket, please.”

And I says, “Friend, I don’t have a ticket; I don’t even know where it is that I’m a-going!” I did.

Well, he says, “Come out as quick as you can.”

And I says, “I’ll do ’er; I’ll turn right around the first chance I get.”

Well, we kept on a-moving through there, and pretty soon everybody got where it was that they was a-going, because they parted and I could see pretty good. I could. And what I seen was this whole raft of people a-sittin’ on these two banks and a-lookin’ at one another across this pretty little green cow pasture. Well, they was.

Somebody had took and drawed white lines all over it and drove posts in it, and I don’t know what-all, and I looked down there, and I seen five or six convicts a-running up and down and a-blowing whistles. They was. And then I looked down there, I seen these pretty girls wearin’ these little bitty short dresses and a-dancing around, and so I sit down and thought I’d see what it was that was a-going to happen. I did.

About the time I got set down good, I looked down there and I seen 30 or 40 men come a-runnin’ out of one end of a great big outhouse down there. They did. And everybody where I was a-settin’ got up and hollered! And about that time, 30 or 40 come runnin’ out of the other end of that outhouse, and the other bank-full, they got up and hollered.

And I asked this fella that was a sittin’ beside of me, “Friend, what is it that they’re a-hollerin’ for?”

Well, he whopped me on the back and he says, “Buddy, have a drink!” “Well,” I says, “I believe I will have another big orange.” And I got it and set back down.

When I got there again I seen that them men had got in two little bitty bunches down there real close together, and they voted. They did. They voted and elected one man apiece, and them two men come out in the middle of that cow pasture and shook hands like they hadn’t seen one another in a long time.

Then a convict come over to where they was a-standin’, and he took out a quarter, and they commenced to odd man right there! They did. After a while I seen what it was they was odd-manning for. It was that both bunches-full of them men wanted this funny-lookin’ little punkin to play with. They did.

And I know, friends, that they couldn’t eat it because they kicked it the whole evenin’ and it never busted.

But, anyhow, what I was telling was, both bunches-full wanted that thing. One bunch got it and it made the other bunch just as mad as they could be! Friends, I seen that evenin’ the awfulest fight that I have ever seen in all my life! I did!

They would run at one another and kick one another and throw one another down and stomp on one another and grind their feet in one another and I don’t know what-all and just as fast as one of ’em would get hurt, they’d tote him off and run another one on!

Well, they done that as long as I set there, but pretty soon this boy that had said “Ticket, please,” he come up to me and he says, “Friend, you’re gonna have to leave because it is that you don’t have a ticket.”

And I says, “Well, all right.” And I got up and left.

I don’t know, friends, to this day what it was that they was a-doin’ down there, but I have studied about it. I think it was that it’s some kindly of a contest where they see which bunch-full of them men can take that punkin and run from one end of that cow pasture to the other without gettin’ knocked down or steppin’ in somethin’.

This entry was posted in History, Humor, September 2013. Bookmark the permalink.

28 Responses to Andy Griffith: “What It Was, Was Football”

  1. Palmer E Huffstetler says:

    I have been unable to identify the author of Andy Griffith’s famous recitation. In the 1940s elementary schools often encouraged students to engage in what we called a declamation/reading competition. By posting this I am hopeful that someone can supply me with information on a reading/declamation piece that was mine ca. 1947. “Ma Goes To The Homecoming Game” by Irene Erwin. Here are the opening lines:
    “Scene: A football stadium. Time: The afternoon.
    Ma enters and looks around intently and speaks: ‘Hey young feller…where you taking us? (Pause) To our seats? But I told you I wanted to meet Sonny…He’s from Back Creek Way right tall and good looking. I’se his ma…..'” Any information that can be provided will be appreciated. The piece is remarkable similar to Andy’s story.

  2. Mollie J. Mc. says:

    I had this old record back when I was a kid. I listened to it all the time. I wish my mom had taken better care of our old records, when they were call records, not vinyl or something else. I loved this recording of “What Is Was, was Football”!

  3. Yvonne Hamilton says:

    When my husband and I were dating and it would come on the radio, he would pull off the road to sit and listen to it.

  4. Faye Nations says:

    The CD can be purchased at Specialty Gifts in Mount Airy, NC. You can also purchase other CDs by Andy Griffith. His gospel music is wonderful with his deep, rich voice singing old gospel favorites. Come visit Mount Airy, have a pork chop sandwich at Snappy Lunch or a meal at any of our fine restaurants downtown. Ya’ll come by for a visit.

  5. Karen says:

    I love listening to it every year. Sounds like my late grandpa telling one of his stories.

  6. Daisy Steed says:

    Where can I purchase this record?

  7. Gerald Daniel says:

    Where can I get a cd or cassette with What it was?

  8. Man Ley says:

    I almost know it off by heart – i’d have to hear his voice though.
    I remember when i was 5 to 10 years old my parents used to listen to this on an album featuring a variety of people, incl. the great AG.
    This would have been 1960-65. Is anyone able to tell me what that album may have been? It had a cartoon cover – caricatures of all the performers. Andy Griffiths possibly (or obviously) in grid iron gear.

  9. REDMAN says:

    Just before I moved to Guatemala and a new job in 1954, I bought the 45 record ” What it was ,was football ” and on the flip side was” Romeo and Juliet ” . Both were very funny and I
    knew then it was going to be a classic . My wife and I came back to the USA on a long vacation in 1956 and rented our house in Guatemala to an American for three months . When we returned we found that the only thing missing from our house was Andy Griffith’s
    record “What it was, was football . I have never found another one but I’m still looking .I have no way to play an old 45 so it would have to be on a disc . Does anyone know where I can buy one ? I would also like to get the Romeo and Juliet .

  10. Jo Ann Jernigan says:

    My husband, (boyfriend,then) saw Mr. Griffith do this and Romeo and Juliet at the Kiwanis Hall in Ahoskie, NC…way before it was published in any way….we laughed our heads off then, and I’m still doing it after all these years….and that was in the early fifties!
    You’d have to be “dead” not to find this funny….sorry about those who don’t! I’m so glad it has been saved…I still have the old “45” record with this on it. Loved that man, and Barbara, his first wife. Fun to be around.

  11. Anne Measimer says:

    Nobody could tell a story like Andy. N C lost a true southern gentleman when he passed away.

  12. mike boyette says:

    Three cheers to Our State and Andy Griffith! Both have entertained me and my family for years!

  13. susan newlin says:

    As with his rendition of Romeo and Juliet narration, Andy’s southern satire and dialect shines! It’s a shame that Jason fails to see it’s humor. It must not be a generational thing however, because my son also Laughed Out Loud with me. Andy wasn’t the funny one on The Andy Griffith show…Barney, Otis, Goober and Gomer were. His talents as an actor were good on the show, but his storytelling talents, expertise, and humor shine on narrations like this one.

  14. Sandra Kendall says:

    “Storytelling” has long since ceased to fill the gap in folks lives that is did in the late 40’s and 50’s. I remember many evenings listening to my grandparents tell stories that came to life with much the same flare as Andy’s.

  15. I remember this very well. My mom work for Durham
    telephone in Durham, NC and thy did a skit on What it was was football. We still have some of the pictures from the skit.

  16. Mike kelly says:

    It’s still very funny many years later. a Andy just had a gift to be funny. And his delivery on this tale was great

  17. Margaret says:

    His Romeo and Juliet was also funny. Give a listen. It was a follow up to “What It Was , Was Football.”

  18. Rhonda says:

    I grew up in Chapel Hill and experiencing Carolina football games was just one of many privileges of my childhood there. My brothers and I loved this story as kids and yes, I still laugh out loud every time I hear it!

  19. Banjo Man says:

    Jason, get a life! Southerners don’t mind poking fun at ourselves!

  20. Jason says:

    without wishing to be rude, why is this funny? It’s an extremely broad, exaggerated portrayal of Southern-ness. A Caricature. I suppose it could have raised some chuckles in 1953. But do you folks actually think it’s laugh out loud funny, and if so, why? ( the Andy Griffith Show, I believe *was* laugh out loud funny, especially after Andy toned this kind of stuff down).

    • Steve says:

      I’m sorry you don’t find it funny. Not only “could it raise some chuckles”, it became a national hit that launched Andy Griffith’s enduring career. Apparently, more than a few people found it funny then, and I still do today like the first time I heard it. Call it fond remembrance of a past era or appreciation of a great storyteller, I enjoy hearing these kinds of stories. My teenage daughter thinks Julian Smith’s “Hot Kool Aid” is hilarious on Youtube. I cannot see the humor in it myself. Maybe it’s generational. Welcome to the South and good southern humor!

  21. Pat Wheeler says:

    First time I’ve heard that but loved every bit of it! Can just picture it now! Andy Griffith is an icon and one of the BEST comedian/actors of all time! Loved my visit to Mt. Airy too!

  22. Glenn Trogdon says:

    I’ve always loved that story and the man behind it.

  23. Luther Williams says:

    I have heard this many times over the past years but still enjoy it just as much as the first time that I heard it!! Thanks for putting this in “Our State”.

  24. Jimmy Harrington says:

    It was told that after Andy received royalty money from this record, he sent his parents some money home. The Griffiths immediately put window screens in their Mt. Airy home, and you ought to have the neighbors cry,”them rich Griffiths are shutting the flies out on everybody else”

  25. Lucille Yancey says:

    It’s just as entertaining as the first time I heard it — on the radio . . .

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