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  < Back to Table Of Contents  < Back to Topic: Sporting America

article number 304
article date 01-02-2014
copyright 2014 by Author else SaltOfAmerica
Football Survives a Bad Reputation and Great Teams Grow Nationwide, 1910-1917
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. The book is laid out where pictures usually precedes the text and the pictures have no captions. We usually put the pictures after the text. Captions are added where the reference to the picture may need clarification. Enjoy this article!

* * *

DR. BUTLER’S edict turned Columbia’s South Field back to non-footballers, “games decently played by decent young men.” The Lions laid away their pigskins for nine years (‘06 thru ‘14), several other schools followed suit, and many more, particularly on the West Coast threatened the same drastic action. It seemed a dark time for the grid game but actually it presaged the brighter days to come.

Even as Columbians looked the other way at the sound of a punt or a body block, such greats as Coy of Yale, Dalton of Navy, Sprackling of Brown and Wendall of Harvard were making history on other gridirons.

Yale, Harvard and Princeton were carrying on well for the East. Vanderbilt, Virginia and Georgia Tech were among the powers of the South, while from the Mid-West there was an ominous stirring from Minneapolis, home of Minnesota’s Gophers.

The greatest player of that era—and some think of all time—was Jim Thorpe. The Carlisle Indians’ halfback, whose name has become legendary in football, was also a great all-around athlete. Many authorities rate him as unquestionably the best in the game when he wanted to be.

   
Jim Thorpe.

Whether he wanted to be or not, Thorpe rated on everybody’s “All” lists, is generally considered the No. 1 halfback of them all.

Time has a way of adding lustre to an already glowing reputation, making kicks straighter, runs longer, tackles harder. But if Thorpe were playing today he had the consummate skill and superb adaptability to star in 1947 as he did in 1912.

Was the greatest of Carlisle’s Indians as good as a Davis or Blanchard? Pop Warner, Thorpe’s coach would say that Jim combined the best qualities of both—and then some!

Photographers in the early 1900’s were not afforded the sideline courtesies shutter snappers enjoy today. The football warrior was a grimacing monster poising self-consciously and awkwardly. If one wanted to see him in action one went to the field.

Below is a long range peek at Ted Coy (center figure, background) about to catch a Princeton punt in a game at Yale Field. Coy returned the ball for 17 yards, the photographer sheepishly took this print into his office and was told “next time get a decent pose!”

   
Ted Coy of Yale.

His name was Brickley and he had the distinction of looking pleasant and still being a great footballer. He was twice Walter Camp’s selection for a halfback position and Heisman called him the ‘What-a-man of all kickers.” Yale will testify to that. Brickley kicked five goals against the Bulldogs in 1913.

Brickley’s coach was the redoubtable Percy Haughton, former Cantab star tackle and back at the Yard for the ‘08-’ 18 period. Haughton, who looked more like a successful young business man than a coach, did more than well against the Crimson’s rivals with his deceptive system of play utilizing for the first time applied psychology.

   

He talks with Harvard 1912 Captain Wendell on ways to confound the enemy.

One of the ways may have been the installation of a tackling dummy. The tackling dummy was introduced by Stagg, first used by Yale in 1889. That didn’t stop Harvard from using it. No wonder opponents gasped: “Those Johnnies tackle hard and how they can block!”

   

Charlie Brickley, although indubitably one of the greatest, was not the only kicker at the start of 1900’s second decade. Navy had its Jack Dalton who, single-handed, licked Army in ‘10 and ‘11 via field goals. The Middies got the habit of running out on the field at Philadelphia with “the smile of victory” already on their faces.

   

The show was finally different in 1913. Perhaps the Army Mascot for the occasion (two West Pointers vaudeville-style making the fore and aft of a mule) turned the trick. Anyway, the Kaydets turned back Annapolis 22-9 and ended a four year victory drought.

   

* * *

   
1913—Harvard 15, Yale 5.

As football grew, so did the stadiums to accommodate its enthusiasts. No longer would the rude wooden structures once adequate for rugby and soccer and hastily enlarged for increasing grid crowds, do.

Harvard was one of the first to build a fine new stadium—this in ‘03. The awesome concrete Bowl, where 75,000 can look over Yale’s Bulldogs, opened in 1914.

   
Harvard’s new stadium, 1903.

These stadiums were strictly products of football’s great and ever-growing popularity. Contrast the old field at Princeton with spanking new Palmer Stadium, as the Princetons proudly circle it behind their band playing “Crash Through That Line of Blue” at dedication ceremonies in 1914.

   
New Palmer Stadium.

Palmer Stadium, like Yale Bowl, has aged little from then till now, is still a fine, up-to-date field in the little New Jersey town of Princeton.

Though the fans of ‘14 would hardly stand the test of time as gracefully, there was the inevitable youngster selling ‘mums ;“ and then, as now, the girl oohed over them while her escort looked distractedly at “Portal 8,” wondering if they’d miss the kickoff.

   

Taking the Bulldogs into their massive new play kennel was Coach Frank Hinkey, Yale’s greatest end, All-American for four years, ‘91 thru ‘94, and probably the greatest flankman of all time. This slim, sensitive faced immortal carried with him an incredible legend of victory.

   
Bulldog coach Frank Hinkey.

In his four years of undergraduate play, Hinkey was instrumental in Yale’s winning 50 of 51 games played—the only loss was to Princeton in ‘93. Hinkey the silent, Hinkey the inscrutable was the greatest interference smasher the game has ever known. His punt-covering had to be seen to be believed.

John Heisman, who played against him, said “In mind’s eye I still see that runt. What a dinkey! Yet in a few moments I learned the first letter was H. The rest of it might have been Hercules. Never were appearances more deceiving.”

And now this sombre, brooding man was back again on a Yale football field—this time as coach.

One of the reasons why Hinkey’s two year tenure at New Haven was not as happy as it might have been was a lantern jawed, 180 pound fullback wearing Harvard’s Crimson named Eddie Mahan. In both 1914 and 1915 his name could be found as readily on Walter Camp’s lists as on the Harvard roster—he was that good.

Just as Mahan entered Harvard the final valuation for a touchdown was set (in 1912) at six points. Other scorings remained the same: point after touchdown—1; field goal—3 points; safety—2 points.

As Brickley departed from Cambridge there was Mahan to take up the slack with such stalwarts as Tacks Hardwick, a great blocking end, up front to help out. Mahan was a fine kicker and does a show-how series here on dropkicking. It looks like another three points for Harvard, although a team that could score 77 points to none over Yale in two years, needs no extra field goal!

   
Mahan in “show-how” series on dropkicking.

The following picture shows Eddie Mahan of Harvard where opponents usually found him—over their goal line with the pigskin under his arm. This opponent was Frank Hinkey’s Yale eleven, the field was Soldier’s Field in Boston, the year 1915, the game result . . . well, Harvard took the Elis “down the street” to the tune of 41-0 and everybody, most everybody, that is, went home happy because it was predominantly a Harvard crowd.

   

Condolences, as usual, were offered by another great Yale end, thickset, black mustached Tom Shevlin who still looked as if he could step out on a field and tie up the opposition. There were more than one or two times during Hinkey’s coaching regime when the Bulldogs could have used a Hinkey and a Shevlin on the line of scrimmage instead of on the sidelines.

   
Tom Shelvin, the mustached man on the right.

One of those times was the 1915 Yale game with Brown. The Elis had just lost to Washington and Jefferson and Colgate. They were mad; they had both barrels pointed at the Brown Bear. Hadn’t they knocked the Providence team off four times straight?

Fact was, Brown boasted but one victory in the long series that had begun in 1880, that triumph came in 1910 when the Bruins led by their great “All” quarterback Sprackling had turned the trick.

In ‘15 Brown University had no Sprackling but it had soon-to-be All-American Fritz Pollard, probably the Bears’ most devastating back. It was a field goal that won the game 3-0 but Pollard’s run helped set it up. Also on that team from Providence was Jimmy Jemail, later of “Inquiring Reporter” fame.

   
Fritz Pollard of Brown University.

Brown arrived as a national football power that day. The least of Ivy League schools from the manpower standpoint, the Bruins lacked little in skill, nothing in spirit, and despite several losses (one to Mahan and Harvard), Brown became a Rose Bowl selection.

The following (1916) season was one of Brown’s best. The team, and Pollard, were really rolling. They took Yale again, avenged themselves on Harvard, won eight in all, only lost to the fine Colgate team boasting Anderson, Horning and West.

The youngster kicking off here was not an All-American—at least not as a footballer. His greater and immortal fame was to be won in later years on a far sterner battleground than any gridiron . . . the field of war.

   
Ike.

However in 1915 Ike Eisenhower was just an enthusiastic but unpublicized member of West Point’s grid squad. After all there was a lot of bench-sitting in the shadow of Bear Mountain in those days with men like McEwan, Vidal, and Oliphant around.

Years later General of the Army Dwight Eisenhower, a hero to West Point, the nation and the world, was to be appointed president of an old Army grid rival, Columbia University.

In those early days Eisenhower, along with the other Cadets and West Point well-wishers thrilled to the deeds of the mighty Elmer Oliphant.

War clouds were darkening all over the world, the Lusitania tragedy was fresh in many minds but people forgot to worry when the “Elephant” performed in 1915.

The press described Elmer’s playing as perhaps the best performance on any gridiron for the year. He fashioned the Army’s two-touchdown victory over Navy himself, and thrilled even President Wilson, “the only neutral person at the game.”

   

In ‘16 Elmer “Elephant” was back and the papers read “Oliphant paces West Point to 15-7 Win over Navy.” More than that, in the same year Oliphant had sparked the Cadets to one of its infrequent victories over Notre Dame. Happiest feature of all, to West Pointers, was that with these two victories over Annapolis, Army was forging ahead in that most important series.

Out at Chicago, Coach Stagg was looking around him with little of the confidence of Army mentor Charley Daly. To be sure, Stagg’s Maroon had gone to the top of the Conference just yesteryear, in 1913. But as he looked around, there was trouble from every direction.

   
Coach Stagg.

Things were happening downstate where a wizard named Bob Zupke was turning out some amazing elevens. There were ominous noises from the northlands out Minnesota way. And what were these Ohio State upstarts from Columbus plotting?

Truth was that in 1915 the football map was outgrowing the national topography. The old concepts were gone; the concentration of power and fame in one or two sections, the big, star players confined to but a few schools—all this was vanishing as the state of the football nation underwent a revolution.

The University of Pittsburgh, a school that played its first game twenty-one years after Princeton and Rutgers gave birth to football, had a center in Bob Peck (left) who could not be ignored for “All” honors. Likewise Wilbur Fats Henry (right), a huge man from smallish Washington and Jefferson is listed in most all-time records as a mighty tackle.

   
Bob Peck (left), Wilbur Fats Henry (right).

If one of those first football teams—the Rutgers ‘69 squad—felt amazed, astonished or appalled at what they had started, they showed it not in 1916. Standing on the site where they had suffered football’s birth-pangs with Princeton 46 years earlier they held their reunion banner proudly, cheered Hurrah for the past, hurrah for the future!”

   
Part of the picture of the Rutgers 1869 team reunion in 1916.

Washington State, Pacific Coast champions of 1915, was happy about the whole thing. Else where would they have gone on New Year’s Day, 1916? No football, no Rose Bowl.

   
Washington State, Pacific Coast Champs, 1915.

Instead, the Cougars from Pullman were one half of the first modern Rose Bowl tilt—as it turned out, the better half. Brown University, Fritz Pollard and all, ended up on the bottom of the 14-0 score.

   
Brown University eleven, 1916.

There had been a Rose Bowl game in 1902 wherein Michigan thumped Stanford 49-0. But the modern and consecutive series as we know it today did not start until the 1916 battle.

The Bowl undoubtedly increased interest in football, gave big-league teams an added incentive to shoot at, and genuinely attempted to settle questions of national grid supremacy.

Eddie Casey and Harvard prove too much for the North Carolina Tarheels. Here, the Crimson’s All-American halfback, hits the Chapel Hill line, looks longingly toward the goal as he is stopped. But not for long. Final score: Harvard 21, North Carolina 0. It was an unfortunate Northern trip in 1916. The previous week Carolina had been pasted by Princeton.

   
Harvard’s Eddie Casey with the ball.

But no apologies were needed for losing to a Harvard of that era. Was not Casey another “typical” Cambridge back in the non-panel mould of Daly, Brickley or Mahan?

Down at Philadelphia, a great football career was budding at Old Penn. The young man in question was a well-built tackle with a fog horn voice and a penchant for mixing it in the center of the line.

Lou Little was this Quaker’s name. He played a lot of tackle in ‘16, took time off to go overseas where in ‘17 and ‘18 he distinguished himself as a captain of infantry, then returned to Philly for the 1919 season on one of Penn’s best elevens of that period.

   
Lou Little, University of Pennsylvania.

Little had no other thought, on leaving college, but to start a coaching career. This was a happy circumstance for football and for many hundreds of young men.

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