The Game That Changed Football – 100 Years Ago TodayNovember 1st, 2013 at 5:44 am by Bill Steffen under Bill's Blog, Sports, Weather
It was 100 years ago today that the game of football was changed forever. You might not have recognized early football games. The first football game, between Rutgers and Princeton was played in 1869 with 25 players on each team, using a round ball. In early football, there were no quarterbacks, no receivers, no first downs. The ball could not be picked up and carried and was either kicked, or batted with the head, arms or body. The team had to get the ball across the goal line of the opposing team. In early football, every game had different rules. The teams would meet before the game to decide how many players would be on each team, even how long the field should be, how many points would be scored for reaching the goal and how many minutes the game would last. For awhile, touchdowns (crossing the goal line) didn’t earn you any points, only the right to kick the ball over a rope strung between two poles. In 1873, four schools met and decided on a uniform field of 400 feet by 250 feet and 20 players on each team. In 1880, the number of players on the field at one time was reduced to 11 and the snap was introduced. Originally, a snap was uncontested and on several occasions, the team just held the ball for the entire half to preserve a lead (and you thought Jaguar games were boring). Football was a dangerous sport. In 1905, there were 19 fatalities in a very limited number of football games. President Roosevelt, himself a fan since watching a game from the stands as a student at Harvard in 1876, threatened to abolish the game unless rules were changed. In 1905, sixty-two schools met in New York City and formed the National Collegiate Athletic Assn. (NCAA). Among the new rules was the introduction of the forward pass, suggested by a Georgia Tech coach named John Heisman (yeah, the trophy guy – he once beat Cumberland 222-0, the most lopsided game in football history). The first forward pass was thrown by St. Louis in a Carroll College game in Waukesha, WI. in 1906, but there were very few passes. First of all, if a pass was incomplete, it was a turnover and the defensive team got the ball on offense. Passes had to be thrown from at least 5 yards behind the scrimmage line and couldn’t go more than 20 yards. The rules were eventually eased and in 1912, passes could be longer and you didn’t turn the ball over with an incomplete pass. Also in 1912, it was decided that 6 points would be awarded for a touchdown, that the field would be shortened to 100 yards and that the offense would have four downs instead of three to get a first down. Read on…In 1912, Army was a formidable football team. It played the top schools in the East and almost always won. However, in 1913, Yale decided to end a 20-year tradition of playing Army, so Army had to find another team to play. Army played all their games at home, except for the final game of the season against Navy. In the meantime, a small school in Indiana had hired a young athletic director named Jesse Harper, only in his 20s. The school had gone through 10 different football coaches in the last 13 years. The school was at a crossroads. Unable to play stronger competition in the Midwest, it scored lopsided victories of 69-0 over Marquette, 74.7 over Adrian and 116-7 over St. Viator. The new athletic director talked the school into taking the team on the road and in 1913, scheduled road games against Penn State and Texas. He contacted Army and Army initially agreed to pay the school $400. Somehow, Harper managed to get that figure up to $1,000. It took a 24-hour train ride to get from South Bend to New York.
Now, everyone expected the significantly bigger Army team to win the game handily. The Notre Dame quarterback, Charley “Gus” Dorais, was only 5’8″ and 145 pounds. However, that summer he had taken a job as a lifeguard at the Cedar Point Amusement Park in Sandusky, Ohio along with one of the receivers of the team. The receiver had been born in Norway and he was Lutheran (later converting to Roman Catholic). His family emigrated to Chicago when he was five years old and later he finally scraped up enough money to get to college. He not only played football, but would earn a Pharmacy degree. The two boys would practice on the beach at Cedar Point that summer, Charley would throw the ball to a running Knute…yeah, Knute Larsen Rockne. The day of the big game was cold and dry. Five thousand people filled the stands. What a show they saw that day! Instead of running into the line, play after play, Charley dropped back to pass the ball and to the amazement of the fans (and the Army team) he hit Knute in stride. That afternoon, Charley Dorais completed 14 of 17 passes for 243 yards and Notre Dame trounced the bigger Army team by a score of 35-13. The New York Times reported: ““The Westerners flashed the most sensational football that has been seen in the East this year, baffling the cadets with a style of open play and perfectly developed forward pass, which carried the victors down the field at 30 yards a clip.” Notre Dame went 7-0 that season (how many Division 1 football coaches are undefeated in their first season). Harper had a 34-5-1 in five years as Notre Dame’s coach. He was succeeded by Knute Rockne who compiled a 105-12-5 record in 13 seasons, including 4 national championships. Knute was killed in a plane crash at Bazaar, Kansas in 1931.
Today, more than half the plays in the NFL are passes (44% for San Francisco, 63% for the Lions up to 71% for Atlanta). So far this year (thru 10/30), Notre Dame has had 527 offensive plays and 261 of those have been passes.