As we are one week away from the start of college football, I couldn’t help but think about 1905 and how America almost lost the sport altogether. It’s true. Why? How did we end up keeping it?
It begins with the “Big 3” back in that day of the turn of the 20th century. When it came to college football, the Big 3 were Harvard, Yale, and Princeton. Roosevelt admonished the coaches, administration, and others to “clean up” the sport and do away with the rash of bodily harm. In 1905 alone, there were 45 football related deaths. The Washington Post called 1905’s season “Footballs Death Harvest.” Things were so bad, Duke, Northwestern, and Columbia dropped football that year.
The NFL didn’t exist yet. The game was vastly different. Teams basically lined up and pounded each other. Rules were different as well. Back in the early days of football, it took five yards to get a first down, the ball was more watermelon shaped, and there was very little padding. Thigh pads were often made of cardboard. The rules were where Roosevelt and his committee went to work.
Roosevelt having just brokered peace in the Russo-Japanese War (won the Nobel Peace Prize for it) brought representatives to Washington. Attendees included Walter Camp from Yale. The football purists did not want to make the game less manly and neuter the game. Needless to say, it was a hard fought negotiation.
At the end of the day, football was ready in 1906 to start anew. The new rules were in place and the next season saw 11 deaths. 11 more in 1907. That’s progress!
Some of the new innovations were a neutral “line of scrimmage”, ten yards for a first down, and the forward pass.
In conclusion, those of us who as Howie Long says feel that “football is America’s passion” are excited about this advent of a new season. Rooting for your team, your fantasy team, or just watching for the sake of entertainment makes us all energized after a long hot summer to sit in the stands on a cool fall day or tailgating in support of your team…heck, my TV watching schedule revolves around football from Thursday through Monday nights. Enjoy this season and think about Roosevelt and his heavy handed negotiation to save the sport he loved, just like us!
Maybe NOT actual footage?