Reign of the Supermen #543: Superman, Football Star
Source: Action Comics #4 (1938) Type: Disguise
The Golden Age Superman was well-suited to American football, but you won't find his career stats in any sports history books because he was impersonating someone else the whole time. The story began as most stories do, with a hit and run landing the distraught driver to the railroad tracks to commit suicide, Superman intervening too late so the train hits the car and stops, and the driver dies of a heart attack in his arms. From that irrelevant teaser, Superman sneaks into the train to check on the passengers and overhears a conversation between a crooked college football coach and some thugs. To save his bacon, he plans to fill his team's ranks with mobsters and win by whatever means necessary. That's just the kind of thing the Golden Age Superman likes to tear down! So he finds a player from the opposing team, Tommy Burke, and with a little grease paint...
Superman - Master of Disguise! How good is this make-up?
Very, very good. The real Tommy has just come back from getting dumped for a tennis star by his girlfriend Mary, on account of his being a substitute for six seasons and only going on the field for a single game. She's done with this loser. His night goes from bad to worse when his double shows up and... pricks him with a hypodermic needle?! Tommy wakes up a prisoner in his own apartment, never knowing this double is the heroic Superman. He's just had his life stolen from him with no explanation! Superman-as-Tommy's first day at the stadium makes him realize he isn't exactly the most respected member of the team, and when he dares stand up for himself...
Everyone is surprised he can take this much punishment, and dole it out too. The coach walks in and sees the aftermath, and benches rabble-rouser Tommy from practice on the spot. Superman goes out on the field anyway and uses powers to dominate and earn a spot in the season's last game.
He's so good, the coach brags about him to the papers and soon, the thugs from the opposing team show up at his apartment and kidnap him so he can't play in the Big Game(TM).
Superman hiding in the ceiling is the creepiest thing, isn't it? He does make sure they don't harm Burke, but is happy to find they've taken him off his hands. At the game, the crooked coach is pissed that Burke has apparently escaped because he's on the field.
Sadly, the goons never make good on their threat. A signal is never given and no one ever tries to shiv Superman. I mean, we know the result, but the thugs don't really try anything. It's just Superman dominating in every aspect of the game. The cheating team gets smoked. Meanwhile, Tommy Burke really DOES escape and is about to call a cop after his impersonator, when he overhears his ex Mary swoon over his performance on the field, ignoring her tennis jerk completely. Then he cheers. At the end of the half, Superman's racked up so many points, he switches places with Tommy for the second. You'd think now would be a good time to get Tommy shivved, but no. He just starts sucking real bad and gets taken out.
At least his gets Mary back AND never has to play football again. All this time, this was a story about Mary outgrowing being a sports groupie. Who knew.
Now, I have no proof of this, but maybe this episode was the inspiration for Clark Kent ACTUALLY being a football star in John Byrne's post-Crisis re-imagining of Superman.