Posts Tagged ‘John Watterson’

Roosevelt May Have Threatened to Ban Football in 1905

March 7, 2011

While searching for the names of football players killed in 1905, I came across some news articles that brought to mind one of Ron Smith’s criticisms of the article in the January edition of The Football Historian which was mentioned in earlier blogs. Smith stated, “President Theodore Roosevelt never threatened to ban football.  In fact, T.R. chided Harvard president Charles W. Eliot (President from 1869-1909) for wanting to ban it. (The TR myth often mentioned by writers is simply not true)”

John Watterson, who Smith referenced as a source to back up his position, discusses Roosevelt’s intervention: “He started a campaign for reform in football….Unfortunately for the president, football did not lend itself to mediation as readily as diplomacy or politics.” Watterson mentions that some historians concluded that the survival of college football was not threatened by the protests against its violence. He then points out that, even if later historians didn’t take the threats seriously, those tasked with reforming the game did at the time. That Columbia and Union College had abolished the game demonstrated to them that it was possible.

In early December 1905, Dr. J. William White, professor of surgery at the University of Pennsylvania, in a statement authorized by the president, released Theodore Roosevelt’s five-point reform platform that the authorities of the leading colleges must accept as a “gentlemen’s agreement” to reform football. His initiatives probably weren’t controversial, however, what came later may have been. The last paragraph stated: “It would be a real misfortune to lose so manly and vigorous a game as football, and to avert such a possibility the college authorities in each college should see to it that the game in that college is clean.” If you or I said that, it would mean little, but when President Theodore Roosevelt says it, I take it as a thinly veiled threat.

First Forward Passes Thrown in Important Game

February 17, 2011

Tex Noel, Editor of The College Football Historian, the monthly newsletter of the Intercollegiate Football Researchers Association (IFRA) forwarded the following message regarding the January newsletter:

“Tex–Glad to get my January issue.  I don’t know who wrote the piece on the 1905 season and Teddy Roosevelt (p. 20), but most of the stated facts are erroneous and should not be repeated. For instance:

“1) President Theodore Roosevelt never threatened to ban football.  In fact, T.R. chided Harvard president Charles W. Eliot (President from 1869-1909) for wanting to ban it. (The TR myth often mentioned by writers is simply not true)

“2) If 18 players died in the 1905, nearly all were NOT college players, (The 18 college death’s myth is often noted by writers.)

“3) The flying wedged did not exist in 1905, as it was banned by the Rules Committee in 1894.  (This myth is repeated by the NCAA Hall of Fame, and should be corrected.)

“4) No photo of Bob “Tiny” Maxwell has ever been uncovered.  (It is quite likely a myth built around the T.R. myth of banning football after seeing a picture of the great Maxwell.)

“–John S. Watterson’s COLLEGE FOOTBALL:  HISTORY, SPECTACLE, CONTROVERSY (Baltimore:  Johns Hopkins University Press, 2000) is a fine book and covers most of the above issues.

“Happy New Year.  Ron Smith”

Curious to know more about this, I bought a copy of Watterson’s book and started reading it. Something I read early in the book prompted an email to the author:

Dear Dr. Watterson,

 While reading your well-researched College Football: History, Spectacle, Controversy, Football, I wondered why you omitted the Villanova-Carlisle game that was played on Wednesday, September 26, 1906 as an example of an early regular season game in which both teams threw forward passes. Instead, you chose the Villanova-Princeton game that was played the following Saturday. The Carlisle-Villanova game was intentionally scheduled on a date when other important games would not be played and was widely promoted to coaches and players in the east to give them an opportunity to see a game played under the new rules. Newspaper coverage of the game reported that both teams threw forward passes.  

Tom Benjey

Yesterday, I got a nice email from Dr. Watterson thanking me for the information and stating that he would include the Carlisle-Villanova game in a revised edition of his book, should one be published.

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