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April 23, 2024

A Football From the Past

A treasured piece of local sports history

By Faith Strong

The Bolivar Bullet

Greg Bills and John Paul Gates, both Cleveland residents, recently unearthed a piece of local nostalgia. Both attended an estate sale that was held in Cleveland about three weeks ago and found something extremely interesting.

“On an out-of-the-way shelf was this old football just sitting there,” said Bills. “I saw a lot of names written on it, many that I recognized. The first name was Isadore E. Morrison, who was the owner of the old Cleveland Skating Rink. I sent a picture of it to his son, Mike, who wanted me to bid on it for him. So, I had every intention of buying the football, but apparently so did John Paul Gates. He told me that he had already been looking at it for another Clevelander, Jimmy McClellan, whose father and uncle’s name was also on it.”

Bills said when he got preoccupied doing other things and walked off, apparently Gates bought the football before he could. 

“I just missed the sale of the ball,” he added. “And, John Paul bought it. And, he actually bought it for Jimmy McClellan.”

As it turned out the football was designated a 1946 treasure that had the name ‘Benoit’ written on it, leaving everyone to believe it was an integral part of a football game between Cleveland High School and Benoit over seventy years ago. And, since the Cleveland football players wrote their names on it, could be that they won that game.

Today, the ball belongs to McClellan who is grateful to have it. 

“John Paul was at that estate sale and texted me when he saw my father’s name on the football,” said McClellan. “He thought I might be interested in it and of course I was. He also told me my uncle’s name was on it as well and then he shot me a picture of the ball. When I saw all the local names on it, people that I sort of recognized, I definitely wanted it. And, thankfully John Paul was able to buy it for me.”

Albert McClellan, who was Jimmy McClellan’s father and Louis (Railhead) McClellan, his uncle’, was on the other side.

“They gave my uncle that nickname because he was an exceptionally tough football player,” said McClellan. “Once he was running the football and slammed into the goal post with his head and knocked the goalpost down.”

The ball was deflated when it was bought and McClellan said that he had tried to inflate the ball again, but it wouldn’t hold air anymore. 

“I think it’s just too old to inflate,” he said. “But, it’s a great piece of local history. I can just imagine my father and my uncle having the ball in their hands. It’s really a remarkable find.”