College Football’s Sesque…Sisqua…College Football turns 150

In recent years, Northwestern University, located some 14 miles north of downtown Chicago, has billed itself as ‘Chicago’s Big Ten Team’, for the purposes of marketing and attempting to keep 47,330-seat Ryan Field from being regarded as a ‘Madison South’, ‘Lincoln East’ or even an ‘East Lansing West’ by particularly rabid, well-traveled conference foes. But for 44 seasons, from 1896–1939, Chicago’s Big Ten Team was, well, Chicago — as in the University of Chicago. The school’s foray into football paid immediate dividends with the hiring of future Hall of Fame coach Amos Alonzo Stagg, who led the program from its inception in 1892 until 1932, winning a national championship in 1905 and claiming seven Big Ten titles in that span.

The Maroons also boast the first-ever Heisman Trophy winner in the form of Jay Berwanger, who won the award in 1935 after rushing for 577 yards, passing for 405, returning kickoffs for 359, scoring six touchdowns and kicking five extra points over the course of the squad’s 4–4 campaign. The following spring he was the top overall selection in the inaugural NFL draft, but decided against playing pro ball after turning down Chicago Bears owner George Halas’ salary offer of $13,500.

But by 1939, the Maroons had fallen on hard times, losing their three Big Ten contests that season by a combined 192–0, and university president Robert Maynard Hutchins discontinued the program. The school would be sans football for 30 years, until it was revived on what came to be defined as the Division III level, just in time for the 100th anniversary of the sport in 1969. As for developments elsewhere during college football’s second 50 years…

1920 — Notre Dame completed its second-straight undefeated nine-win campaign, led by its first-ever All-American, fullback George Gipp, whose average of 8.1 rushing yards per attempt that season remains a Fighting Irish record. Gipp died of pneumonia a month after playing his last game, which inspired coach Knute Rockne’s “win one for the Gipper” speech prior to ND’s 1928 win over Army at Yankee Stadium.

1922 — The first national radio broadcast of a college football game involved a matchup that would likely not draw consideration on the ESPN app. But 32,000 patrons at Stagg Field in Chicago joined a nationwide radio audience to experience Princeton’s 21–18 victory over the Maroons. No word on whether the postgame wrap was brought to you by your tri-county Ford Model T dealer, where the a-oooga horn comes standard.

1934 — The number of postseason bowl games quadrupled, with the Orange, Sugar and Sun bowls joining the Rose. All three debuted on New Year’s Day, 1935. In the Sugar, hometown Tulane outlasted undefeated Temple, 20–14. The home squad fared less well at the inaugural Orange, with Bucknell shutting out Miami, 26–0. At the Sun, the El Paso All-Stars turned back Ranger (TX) HS, 25–21.

1936 — For the first time, the Associated Press writers’ poll selected a national champion. Its inaugural title-bearer was the Minnesota Golden Gophers, who compiled a 7–1 record, outscoring their opponents 203–32 and posting five shutouts. The Gophs only blemish was a 6–0 road loss to Northwestern on Halloween. The Cotton Bowl also debuted in Dallas, with Texas Christian downing Marquette, 16–6.

1939 — The first televised football game is broadcast with a ‘throw out the records’ matchup between Waynesburg and Fordham in New York, with the hometown Rams cruising to a 34–7 win. Reports are that on the W2XBS College Gameday set, a youthful, indecisive Lee Corso briefly considered the Waynesburg Yellow Jacket head before thinking the better of it and donning Fordham’s Ram head.

1946 — Army completed its third-straight undefeated season at 9–0–1. The 1944 and 1945 squads had earned AP national championships, and the ’46 Cadets were looking for a three-peat. Unfortunately for West Point, its single non-victory was a 0–0 tie at Yankee Stadium with #2 Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish followed up the tie with shutouts of Northwestern and Tulane, and a 20-point win over USC, earning them the AP’s top spot.

1957 — Oklahoma became the Army of the 1950s, claiming AP national championships with consecutive undefeated seasons in 1955 and 1956. Like the Cadets, the Sooners were poised for a three-peat in ’57, but were derailed by…you guessed it, Notre Dame, who ended the school’s all-time record 47-game win streak with a 7–0 victory in Norman. But in a departure from the ’46 script, the 1957 AP title belonged to undefeated Auburn.

1958 — The two-point conversion made its debut as a high-risk, high-reward alternative to the conventional extra point. USC took it for a test drive in its opener against Michigan in Ann Arbor. Down 20–19, the Trojans went for the win, but had their pass play stopped short of the goal line. Over in Evanston, Northwestern made better use of it, successfully converting a two on its final score in the squad’s 29–28 upset of Washington State.

1967 — Nate Northington and Greg Page pioneered the painfully-overdue integration of the Southeastern Conference at the University of Kentucky. Page suffered a paralyzing injury in an August practice and died the day before Northington’s SEC debut in UK’s 26–13 home loss to Mississippi. That season, Northington participated in four Wildcat contests before ultimately transferring to Western Kentucky.

1969 — College Football’s 100th anniversary regular season ended in spectacular fashion. Number one Texas visited number two Arkansas with a Cotton Bowl bid and national supremacy on the line. With President Richard Nixon in attendance, the Hogs took a 14–0 lead into the fourth quarter, only to spot the Longhorns two rushing touchdowns, the first with a two-point conversion attached, handing Texas the Game of the Century, 15–14.

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