Not long ago, I wrote about a 1910 game that had received little coverage. Now, Adam Miller has written about a 1903 game that received even less attention. In 1903, Pop Warner put together a post-season road trip to the West Coast on which the Indians were to play Reliance Athletic Association, a team of the best former college players from the state of California, on Christmas Day in San Francisco. Perhaps Warner thought his team would need a scrimmage to break up the trip, or he saw an opportunity to make a little money along the way. Regardless of the reason, he booked a game with the University of Utah to a game to be played on December 19 in Salt Lake City. Miller’s piece covers that game: http://utahfootballcountdown.blogspot.com/p/december-19-1903-utah-vs-carlisle.html. It also includes one of those great period newspaper cartoons.
Pre-game hype heaped hyperbolic praise on James Johnson, who Walter Camp had recently named as quarterback of his All America First Team. Whether Johnson’s head had inflated after reading his newspaper clippings or if Warner was feeling threatened is not known. Warner wrote in what became his autobiography that he benched Johnson the morning of the game over a rule infraction. Because this happened before the game, the rule Johnson had broken was likely a team rule. Warner wrote that he played Joe Baker in his place and that Baker “did an admirable job that afternoon” in the 22-0 victory on a snowpacked field. Newspaper coverage of this game varies from Warner’s recollection.
The Salt Lake Herald’s play-by-play had Johnson playing the entire first half plus kicking a point after touchdown and missing a field goal. Baker replaced Johnson for the second half and led the Indians to three more touchdowns by using the then-new wing-shift play to good advantage.
It may be that Warner’s memory failed him as to when he benched Johnson, but he does appear to have done just that. Johnson’s reaction is the subject of another story.