Friday, September 5, 2014

The brutal gridiron of yesteryear

                               Rice Eccles Stadium at the University of Utah.

FOOTBALL was truly a violent game lacking adequate protection and padding for players during its early years.
For example, football in Weber County back in 1885 was plain brutal.
The Nov. 24 Standard-Examiner that year reported a game scheduled between boys living on the Ogden bench and those in the lower part of town.
“The boys have laid in a good supply of shin plaster, and for a week or past, they have had a carpenter busily engaged in manufacturing crutches,” The Standard reported.”Several competent surgeons have been retained for the occasion and will be in attendance.”
Indeed, all Utah schools operated by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, also banned football completely in the early 20th Century.
"Opposed to the game of football” was a headline in the Deseret News on Dec. 8, 1905.)
Thus, football was played at BYU, when it was named Brigham Young Academy, from 1896-1903. But, about the same time as the Brigham Young University name came along in 1903, the sport of football was discontinued, for almost 20 years, until 1922.
This also meant there was no football at Weber Stake Academy (forerunner of Weber State University) during that same period.
(Of course, no one dreamed back then that BYU would ever be the national champion in college football, as it was in 1984, some 62 years after the ban was lifted.)

                          Liz and Daniel Hafen at the U. of U. football game at halftime.

This wasn't just an LDS Church stand against football in that era. Institutions all over the U.S., like Harvard and Columbia, were also against the sport for its brutality.
"Not for gentlemen" was a common belief at school's which banned football.
"Football is a hospital feeder," was another slogan of those against gridiron play.
Nationally, there were at least 45 deaths and hundreds of serious injuries reported from college football in 1905, according to a Standard article that year.
President Theodore Roosevelt that year met with sports officials from Harvard, Yale and Princeton to try and get football injuries reduced.
Roosevelt’s sons played the game and he wasn’t out to ban the sport, just make it safer to play.
-Ogden High also seemed to enjoy playing football truly “out of its league” a century ago. The Standard of Oct. 12, 1912 reported “Ogden High is defeated 56 to 0” in a headline.
The victor of that game? The University of Utah freshman team, which Ogden played annually in that era – despite being outweighed by an average of 25 pounds and facing superior experience.
-The year 1912 was also a pivotal one in rules for the sport of football. Nationally, according to the Standard of Aug. 30, 1912, the number of downs increased from three to four and the value of a touchdown was raised from five to six points.
-Football also wasn’t just for males in its early era. The Standard of Nov. 1, 1911 carried a report that girls in Indiana high schools had been regularly playing the game that year. However, a girl playing the sport in Evansville got injured, the first reported injury to a female player that season.

-Finally, it wasn’t just the injuries that were a concern for early football. Gambling on the gridiron contests was rampant and considered a vice to many.

(-Originally published on September 5, 2014, by Lynn Arave and in the Ogden Standard-Examiner.)

-NOTE: The author, Lynn Arave, is available to speak to groups, clubs, classes or other organizations about Utah history at no charge. He can be contacted by email at:  

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