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article number 281
article date 10-24-2013
copyright 2013 by Author else SaltOfAmerica
Football May be a Hit … but Deadly Hits May Kill Football, 1906-1910.
by Lamont Buchanan

From the 1947 book, The Story of Football in Text and Pictures.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Nothing does justice to this great book like reading the book itself. Reproductions of many of the pictures cross the pages. No attempt was made to fix the crease in these pictures.

A series of players’ deaths led to a movement to abolish football but instead, rules were changed.

Despite the gradual opening up of the game, injuries and deaths were still too numerous. Theodore Roosevelt Jr. was injured playing frosh ball at Harvard.

Meantime President Theodore Roosevelt, a sports lover and a believer in vigorous athletics, deplored the clouds hovering over the good name of football, mused over ways to “uplift college sport” even as he enjoyed an Army-Navy game.

President Roosevelt pictured next to the following text.

PRESIDENT AIDS SPORT. — CONFERS WITH TRAINERS. — Football Brutality and Professional is Discussed at White House.

[From The Tribune Bureau.]

Washington, Oct. 9—A conference for the betterment of college athletics was held at the White House this Afternoon. President Roosevelt presided and Secretary Root and the coaches of the Yale, Harvard and Princeton teams took part in the important discussion. The conference began before luncheon, continued during the repast and lasted until nearly 4 o’clock, when the President’s guests departed to take a train for New-York.

A number of radical changes in the rules governing the national autumn game may result from the consultation. Wanton brutality, which, unfortunately, seems to be en the increase in the great college games, is to be punished if means can be found to reach the perpetrators; professionalism is to be summarily dealt with and a determined effort will be made to uplift the plane of college sports, whether on the gridiron, the diamond, the cinder path or the water.

When the President visited Harvard last June he delivered a warning against the growing list of evils that seems to be menacing decent athletics in universities. He said:

“I believe heartily in sport. I believe in outdoor games, and I do not mind in the least that they are rough games or that those who take port to them are occasionally injured. I have no sympathy whatever with the overwrought sentimentality which would keep a young man in cotton wool, and I have a hearty contempt for him if he counts a broken arm or collarbone as of serious consequence when balanced against the chance of showing that he possesses hardihood, physical address and courage.

“But when these injuries are inflicted by others, either wantonly or of set design, we are confronted by the question not of damage to one man’s body, but of damage in the other man’s character. Brutality in playing any game should awaken the heartiest and most plainly shown contempt for the players guilty of it, especially if this brutality is coupled with a low cunning, in committing It without getting caught by the umpire. I hope to see both graduate and undergraduate opinion come to scorn such a man as one guilty of base and dishonorable action, who has no place in the regard of gallant and upright men.”

On the subject of professionalism, in the same he said:

“Finally, it is a much worse thing to permit college sport to become in any shape or way tainted by professionalism, or by so much as the slightest suspicion of money making, and this is especially true if the professionalism is furtive, if a boy or man violates the spirit of the rule while striving to keep within the letter. Professional sport Is all right in its way. I am glad to say that among my friends I number professional boxers and wrestlers, oarsmen and baseball men, whose regard I value, and whom, in turn, I regard as thoroughly good citizens.

“But the college undergraduate who in furtive fashion becomes a semi-professional, is an unmitigated curse, and that not alone to university life and to the cause of amateur sports, for the college graduate ought in after years to take a lead in putting the business morality of this country on a proper plane, and he cannot do it if to his own college career his code of conduct has been warped and twisted.”

During the President’s vacation at Oyster Bay he carried on some correspondence with the athletic managers of the universities: and in …

* * *

Some critics of football—and their voices were growing louder—thought that the elimination of certain plays would cure the ailing grid game. Was not the flying tackle, they argued, the number one on anybody’s list of How Injuries Are Caused? Others accused the flying block.


Down South where football made an auspicious start on Thanksgiving Day, 1888, with Duke (then Trinity) and North Carolina as initiators, the finger was pointed at “professionalism.” The condemnation that followed washed out football at Durham for twenty-five years but the Blue Devils had five victories over arch rival North Carolina to console them and a fine 1891 season to remember.

Even the most avid Duke rooter couldn’t see Wallace Wade in the crystal ball, and Blue Devil teams that would hit the front pages all over the country, winning Southern Conference championships with the ease of a Durham County sharpshooter knocking off possum. Other Southern schools, like Carolina, carried on.

But here as elsewhere in the country, football had not yet won itself a clean bill of health. The growing violence wasn’t restricted to the players, either. Spectators, displeased with the way a game was going, might show their disapproval by action as well as noisy protest.

An Iowa newspaperman, writing about an early Iowa-Missouri game, reported that, “several of the (Iowa) team say that during the trouble, several persons in the crowd drew knives on the team.”

So mothers said, more often than not, “I don’t want my son to play,” and papers gave considerable space to editorializing on grid injuries.

Newspaper headlines from the early 1900s about deaths and the review of football.


- Union Football Player Dies After N.Y.U. Game — Injuries To Head Fatal — Chancellor MacCracken Calls Conference of Presidents.

Harold Moore, right halfback on the Union College football team which played New-York University yesterday afternoon died in Fordham Hospital at 6:40 last night from injuries received the the game. The cause of death was given as cerebral hemorrhage. … The accident occurred in the first half of the game. Moore was the star player of the Union team and had been doing splendid work in every play. The game was close. Scarcely anything but mass plays were used by either team. Moore dived into one of these to break it up, and when the referee’s whistle blew he was under both teams, unconscious.

- Dies In Football Game — Indiana Player’s Heart Punctured by Broken Rib.

Rockville, Ind. Nov. 25 — Carl Osborne, eighteen years old was instantly killed in a football game between Marshall and Bellmore high schools at Bellmore to-day. He staggered after … as picked up dead. On rib had … and driven through the heart.

- Halfback On the Bloomfield Y.M.C.A Team Kicked in the Head — Dies Several Hours Later.

Robert McKinney, twenty-two years old, of 253 Henshaw-ave., East Orange was killed …

- May Be No More Football for Middies — Injury to Aiken May Result in Cancellation Even of Army Game. [By Telegraph to the Tribune.]

Annapolis, Md., Nov. 18. —The condition of Midshipman H. K. Aiken whose head was severely injured in the football game with Bucknell on Saturday, continues to be most serious and may affect the future of football at the academy. Should young Aiken die, the feeling is that the game sith West Point this year must be cancelled. Even should he recover the accident will strengthen the feeling of the officers who oppose the annual game …

- Wheeler Attacks Camp — Says College Presidents Will Revise Football Rules Themselves.

Chicago, Nov. 25. — A dispatch to “The Record-Herald” from San Francisco says that President Benjamin Ide Wheeler of the University of California, in an address to the students yesterday, discussed football and used very plain words. He said:

The game has outgrown it intention… trouble with it is it is too highly deve … specialized for the average student…

… great trouble is that the game is in the hands of a self-appointed, self-organized committee … rules. I refer to Mr. Camp and his associates. They have promised reforms, but have … nothing …

- Football on Trial — President Eliot of Harvard May Sign Its Death Warrant. [By Telegraph to The Tribune.]

Boston, Oct. 25. —President Eliot of Harvard has determined that brutality and unnecessary roughness shall cease in football played by Harvard teams or that football itself shall be eliminated from the athletic curriculum of the university.

At the Yale-Harvard game in the Stadium next month, President Eliot will sit near the side line as a critic of the play. At the first sign of “slugging,” “kneeing.” face stepping or pulling hair he will forthwith recommend to the corporation that Harvard cease playing inter-collegiate football.

The corporation could undoubtedly so vote, and football with Harvard left out would receive a stunning if not a knockout blow.

President Eliot is no warm friend of football as played to-day. His reports have frequently been hostile, but he has yielded to public opinion. In this resolve he was backed up by President Roosevelt and influential members of the faculty and corporation.

* * *

It was an era of contraptions. Coaches and players thought up protective devices that were odd in appearance. In 1898 nose guards became the vogue; often all eleven gridsters sported them.

In ‘03 Glenn Warner introduced a wool felt leg and knee guard. It was cumbersome but saved many a splintered shin.


About the same time an enterprising manufacturer put the first pneumatic head harness on the market made of soft black rubber with an inflated crown.

The old timers thought such head guards “sissy,” contending that no “real football player” would wear one.

* * *

One of the game’s finest players was Yale’s thundering fullback Ted Coy. Coy made “All” lists times beyond counting. John Heisman contended that Coy ‘09 gave “more of himself to the game than any player I ever saw.” It was against an inspired underdog Princeton team about to upset all pregame dope that Coy, raging at Yale’s ineptitude, roared “The hell with the signals, give me the ball!” Yale won.

Yale fullback Ted Coy.

In two of the years Coy wore Blue, the Bully Bulldogs were tops in the country in ‘07 and in ‘09. Princeton could not handle Coy at all; Harvard eked out but one victory in the years Ted roamed. The best Army got, in those early days of a famous series, was a tie.

Yale-Army games were then, as in later years, hard-fought, vicious, unyielding. On one trip to the Point even the iron-limbed Coy admitted those Armys tackle hard.”


* * *

In ‘07 Chicago was the big noise in the Big Ten. Hadn’t Eckersall just completed a flaming career?

But Carlisle (those Indians again) had Pop Warner who, if he wasn’t doping out some new play, was revolutionizing players’ uniforms. Chicago had a fine quarterback in Steffen—he had to be extra-fine even to be tolerated after Eckersall but the Indians had more. Carlisle won, 18-4.

Huge crowd at Carlisle vs. Chicago, November 1907.

Stagg field was six years away from being built but the crowds came to see Chicago play and waved Maroon banners, had a good time and thought Amos Alonzo Stagg was a fine coach—even though Carlisle had the score at game’s end.

Stagg was that kind of coach; they loved him even when he lost.

Another coach of rising stature was John W. Heisman.

Heisman won grid letters at Brown and Penn, started on what was to be a spectacular coaching career soon after leaving college. At Clemson and Georgia Tech he was particularly successful.

The game owes Heisman more than most fans know. In nearly forty years of coaching his innovations were numerous; he was the originator of the American Football Coaches Association and his opinions on the game have always been accorded the utmost respect.

In 1935 the John W. Heisman Memorial Trophy Award was created in his memory, to be presented each year to the outstanding football player of the nation.

John Heisman (left). Adolph Germany Shultz (right).

For a player like Adolph Germany Schultz, it was highly unfortunate that the Heisman trophy was not awarded in 1905-08. For Schultz surely would have put in a strong claim.

Michigan’s all-American pivot is generally rated as the greatest center of all time. He had unusual speed for a lineman, inexhaustible energy (Germany played all of the Wolverine games without substitution his first three years) and a splendid aggressiveness that even outclassed opponents had to admire.

Meanwhile, a long way from the Ann Arbor of Germany Schultz and the thrilling battles he participated in, other exciting grid wars were in progress.


Harvard-Army was already an important fixture in the East but try as the Pointers would, they could not take the Johnnies. Even the great Charley Daly’s shift from Cambridge at the turn of the century was not enough. There were always men like Hallowell and Haughton and Fish playing for the Cantabs. That was enough.

* * *

“One human life is too big a price for all of the football rnes of the season.” These were the words of Chancellor Day of Syracuse.

Right half of newspaper montage showing that newspapers reported on efforts to modify football.

(Text from the left column not shown in the picture:)

MOVE TO OUST CAMP. — NEW COMMITTEE ASKED. — Change in Football Rules Object of College Representatives.


Movement begun to oust Waiter Camp and rules committee from control.

President Eliot of Harvard refuses Chancellor MacCrasken’s request to summon a council of college and university presidents to discuss abolition or reform of football.

University of Pennsylvania sends circular proposing new rules along lines suggested by President Roosevelt to colleges and universities for consideration and adoption. Circular attributes nine-tenths of deaths and accidents to open play.

Yale refuses to take initiatives on conference for reform.

Members of university faculties here and of graduate athletic committees unite in demanding reform.

Sixteen deaths resulting from football injuries since October 9.

Walter Camp and the rules committee of which he Is chairman must go as the arbiters of football is the opinion that has been forming in the minds of many who are advocating changes In college athletics since the beginning of the season, and in fact It is the view that has been held by many for more than one season.

The death of Harold P. Moore. of Union College, after the game with New-York University on Saturday. has crystallized this gradually forming opinion into a fixed determination.

Next season, unless there is a radical change in the present plans of those who have undertaken to reform football, a vigorous effort will be made to depose Camp and with him all the members of the present rules committee, “self-constituted and self-organized.” as President Benjamin Ide Wheeler of the University of California has termed it.

For some years It hag been seen that there must be a decided change In the way football Is played, and early In the present season there began a series of informal conferences between men representing the leading universities to the end of bringing about this reform. These informal conferences led to formal, arranged meetings, at which a programs of action has been practically decided on. And the first step in the programme Is to be the abolition of the present rules committee, bag and baggage.

“You saw President Wheeler’s statement.” said one of those who has been taking part In these conferences yesterday. “That is significant. You have there, in fact, the basis of the whole plan. Go over the heads of this committee. Let the universities take charge of football, give us a responsible body to govern the game. Who are these fellows, anyway?

(end newspaper article)

Walter Camp, the man who structured football and helped make it popular, was under scrutiny.

Other University heads, appalled by injuries, brutality and foul play which at times seemed necessary by-products of the grid game, agreed. President Butler of Columbia was particularly vociferous. Football’s rules committee came under heavy fire, and efforts were underway to oust its chairman, Walter Camp.

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