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Today’s Tidbit… Cal & Stanford's First Big Game in Spring 1892
Monday's Tidbit covered Walter Camp's role in coaching Stanford during the autumn football season in 1892, 1893, and 1895, but it failed to mention the 1892 spring football season. So, let's look at spring football from the perspective of Stanford's rival, Cal.
Cal played football for the first time in 1886 and finished 6-2-1 in games played between January and May. Besides the canceled 1889 season, Cal and others in California played football in the spring each year through 1892. It is not clear why California played football in the winter and spring, unlike the rest of the country, but it may be that athletic clubs dominated early California football. Cal was the only college team in the California Football League of the late 1880s, though Cal switched to a fall schedule soon after Stanford opened in 1891.
Cal's last spring football season came in 1892 when they opened with two wins over San Francisco Boys High School; one played in December 1891. Next, the Blue and Gold bested Hopkins Academy and Berkeley Gymnasium, so the first four games were wins over high school teams.
Their next opponent was the Olympic Athletic Club, who took down Berkeley by a 6-0 score, setting up the first playing of the Big Game between Cal and Stanford one month later on March 19, 1892. The contest was not only the first Big Game but also the first intercollegiate football game west of the Rockies.
Stanford University had been in existence for six months by game time and, like Berkeley, had beaten Hopkins Academy and Berkeley Gymnasium, while losing to the Olympic Club. Only two team members had played organized football before, with player-coach John Whittemore (WashU) and Carl Clemens (Cornell) providing early examples of the impact of transfer players.
The Bay Area and both teams were in a tizzy that afternoon as 5,000 spectators filled the stands and 2,000 others sat in their carriages or stood along the sideline at the Haight Street Grounds in San Francisco awaiting the three o'clock start.
Unfortunately for all concerned, neither team brought a football to the game, so they telephoned back into town to have one sent out, delaying the start by 75 minutes.
Once underway, however, the inexperienced Crimson took it right at the Blue and Gold by engineering multiple big plays, leading to touchdowns by Clemens and Whittemore, helping Stanford to a 14-0 halftime lead.
The second half got a bit crazy as the police could not keep the crowd off the field -foretelling future Big Games. Stanford played conservatively, including taking a safety that added to Berkeley's total. Still, the Palo Alto boys prevailed, winning 14-10, to collect the first of 65 victories, compared to 48 losses and 11 ties.
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