Sports History Saturday: Early American Football History and the Father of American Football

Early American Football History In the beginning, the basic rules of football involved advancing the ball down the field past the other team by whatever means deemed necessary.   This made the early days of football particularly brutal as even punching and gouging were allowed (sounds like “The Three Stooges”!).  At one point, Harvard played their games on Mondays and game day was referred to as “Bloody Monday”, so brutal was the sport. Just to make it a more “interesting game” in those early days, each team had their own set of rules.  The only rule that was constant for all teams was that each team consisted of fifteen players.  Curiously, tackling below the waist was a no-no but tackling around the neck was perfectly acceptable! The formation of a human wall by locking arms and running just ahead of the ball carrier was called the “Flying Wedge”.  “Piling” on the ball carrier was a common practice, which led to the deaths of several players.  As a result, President Theodore Roosevelt came close to banning the sport entirely – by Executive Order no less.  If teams could not find a way to end the brutality which had resulted in serious injury and death, then he would intervene. An American Football Rules Committee was formed to address the concerns of the President and Congress.  Eventually, with a few rule changes like no more punching and gouging and banning piling on and the “Flying Wedge”, the sport continued.  By 1906, the number of deaths in the sport had dropped dramatically, rising and falling again in subsequent years through the end of the...

Sports History Saturday – Glenn Scobey “Pop” Warner: Innovator and “Trickster”

Glenn Scobey “Pop” Warner was a legendary college football coach, winning 319 NCAA games during his career.  Warner was born on April 5, 1871 in Springville, New York.  He attended Cornell and played football there from 1892 to 1894.  Because Glenn was a bit older than other players on the team roster, he was given the nickname of “Pop” – it stuck. He graduated in 1895 with a law degree and had every intention of becoming a lawyer but that didn’t work out, so he left the law profession and landed a job coaching at Iowa State.  A short time later he was the head coach of Georgia and in 1896 he led the Bulldogs to a first-ever undefeated season.  At the time, the University of Georgia only had 248 students – the low pay was not much of an incentive to stay despite his success and he moved on to coach at his alma mater, Cornell. While at Cornell, Warner compiled an impressive 15-1-1 record but in 1897 he left there to coach at Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania.  There he found young Indian men who were natural athletes.  Years later Warner would remark that Carlisle was “the easiest coaching assignment I ever had.”  He noted their quickness to learn and skills of keen observation – which made his job much easier. Warner took on another coaching stint at Cornell and returned to Carlisle in 1907.  That year Warner was coaching track and field when he first encountered Jim Thorpe.  Thorpe was a natural athlete, competing and excelling in several sports including football, baseball, lacrosse and ballroom dancing...

Sports History Saturday: Lone Star Dietz – Part 2

After Billy left MacAlester College, he set off in search of his roots.  In 1904, he took a job supervising a native art display at the St. Louis World’s Fair (or Louisiana Purchase Exposition).  The federal government had commissioned an Indian Education Exhibit to show off its accomplishments in Indian education.  By that year, the Bureau of Indian Affairs had opened over 250 schools and was educating hundreds of Indian children. The exhibit included the model Indian school building — called The Hall of Revelation.  Students were brought in from established Indian schools to be part of the display, working and studying.   Indian artisans were rotated so that the exhibit remained fresh, the only exception being that Geronimo made bows and arrows throughout the entire fair. The Indian exhibit was so popular that a fair railway station was built near the exhibit. This was Billy’s first chance to fully embrace his Sioux heritage.  He contributed to a mosaic made of grains and even met his namesake, One Star (and his future wife).  By the end of June 1904 Billy had been publicly acknowledged as a Sioux with a reference in the Indian School Journal, referring to him as “Lone Star”.  This, I think, is where some people believe the “myth” started of his Indian heritage.  Whether he knew it was true or not and decided to play it up anyway, I do not know. Billy also met his future wife, Angel DeCora, a Native American artist.  She and the headmaster of one of the Indian schools recognized his artistic talents.  Col. McCowan, the headmaster of the Chilocco Indian School...

Sports History Saturday – Lone Star Dietz: Part 1

As promised, I will start a short series today about the legendary football player and coach, Lone Star Dietz. But before I start, I wanted to mention something more about the Washington Redskins name controversy which was last week’s introduction to this series.  I read some articles this week about one of the parties to the controversy.  Most of the opposition comes from the Oneida Indian Nation, led by Ray Halbritter.  It seems that Mr. Halbritter is not without controversy himself. According to The Daily Caller, he is not a legitimate member of the Oneida Tribe.  New York Assemblywoman Claudia Tenney states, “He is not even technically an Oneida.  There is not one drop of Oneida in him.”  Just thought I’d mention that since, as we’ll see, the big controversy surrounding Lone Star is that he was not authentically Native American (therefore, opponents believe the claim that the team was named “Redskins” in honor of his being Native American is not a valid one). Now on to the story of Lone Star Dietz.  Was he who he thought and said he was, a person of Native American descent?  After reading through various accounts and articles written about his life, I’m still not sure.  There are some who defend him … obviously, in a sort of back-handed way, the Washington Redskins defend him because they claim that the team was named in his honor, and I do believe they are serious about retaining the name.  There are some who vehemently oppose and claim that Dietz was a fraud. William Henry Deitz (or “Dietz” as he later spelled his last name)...

Sports History Saturday — Controversial Team Mascots (and related history)

Washington Redskins Since we are in the middle of football season (my favorite time of the year, sports-wise!), I thought I’d do a little research on a topic that’s in the news today – the controversy about the use of the name “Washington Redskins”.  I found some interesting information. First, a bit of history about the football team.  On July 9, 1932 the city of Boston, Massachusetts was awarded a football franchise, owned by George Preston Marshall, Vincent Bendix, Jay O’Brien and Dorland Doyle.  In the beginning the team took on the same name as the baseball team, the Boston Braves (a common practice back then to share team names apparently).  After a losing first season all investors except Marshall dropped out.  Under his sole ownership, the team moved to Fenway Park, sharing the field with the Boston Red Sox. Lone Star Dietz It has been said that Marshall changed the name of the team to “Redskins” to honor then-coach Lone Star Dietz, who was thought to be at least part Sioux Indian.  Here is where the story gets interesting – Dietz, as it turns out, was quite a colorful character – and not without controversy himself. I ran across an author, Tom Benjey, who wrote a book about Lone Star and I will check to see if I can find a copy or at least find a good synopsis of the book.  I will do more research this coming week and hopefully finish (or at least continue) the story of Lone Star Dietz next Saturday. So this week’s Saturday blog is a “teaser” – stay tuned and I’ll...