Was 1912 Thorpe’s 2,000-Yard Season?

It may be that the reporter was trying to determine if Jim Thorpe was the first to rush 2,000 yards in a single season rather than in his career at Carlisle. I say that because, in her article in the current edition of Smithsonian Magazine, Sally Jenkins wrote, “He returned to lead Carlisle’s football team to a 12-1-1 record, running for 1,869 yards on 191 attempts—more yards in a season than O.J. Simpson would run for USC in 1968. And that total doesn’t include yardage from two games Thorpe played in. It’s possible that, among the things Thorpe did in 1912, he was college football’s first 2,000-yard rusher.”

Again because stats aren’t my thing, I contacted Tex Noel about the single-season rushing statistics.Tex responded quickly with:

I do know that JT was NOT the 1st back to rush for 100+ yards in a game. (3 had best game totals; his 362 vs Pennsylvania in 1912 in 9th of 10 spots.)

Yards       Player, Team and Season                      

2032        Ken Strong, New York University, 1928

1869        Jim Thorpe, Carlisle, 1912

1500        Lindsey Donnell, Cumberland TN, 1935

1450        Glenn Presnell, Nebraska, 1927

1421        Norman “Red” Strader, St. Mary’s CA, 1924

1393        Lloyd Brazil, Detroit, 1928

1349        Earl “Dutch” Clark, Colorado College, 1928

1287        Frank Briante, New York University, 1927

1163        Morley Drury, USC, 1927

1074        John “Shipwreck” Kelly, Kentucky, 1931

Source: Stars of an Earlier Autumn (C) 2011, Tex Noel.

Tex has the same total rushing yards for 1912 that Jenkins has but without the caveat that he played in two games for which his statistics weren’t recorded. I suspect that, because Tex is so familiar with the haphazard way in which statistics were recorded in those days, he felt no need to point out that all numbers from that era are to be taken with a reasonable amount of salt.

I then looked in the 1913 Spalding’s Guide, but it made no mention of Thorpe’s (or anyone else’s) rushing yards for 1913. It did include a table of “Famous Runs” compiled by Parke Davis on which Carlisle players got their share of listings. Jim Thorpe was mentioned twice:

1) 80-yard run from scrimmage against Penn on November 16, 1911

2) 60-yard run from scrimmage against Penn on October 24, 1908

Neither of his longest runs were in 1912, the year freshest in Parke Davis’s mind, but longer runs made earlier by Charles Dillon, Gus Welch, and Thaddeus Redwater were.

I don’t know which games for which Thorpe’s rushing yardage is missing but it is possible that he ran for a combined 131 yards in them. It is just as possible that he didn’t, particularly if they were games in which Thorpe wasn’t needed and Pop Warner rested him to get a look at less experienced players in game situations. Thorpe’s 156 yards per game average for the 12 games for which records exist imply that he would have run for enough yardage to total more than 2,000 yards for the season. It’s just as possible that he watched from the sidelines so that he would be available for the tougher opponents in this grueling 14-game schedule.

P.S. Yesterday, this blog received its 50,000th view and highest monthly total (with a day to go).

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