The Broken Season: Great Lakes Naval Football in 1918
The Great Lakes Naval Training Station football team played through the broken season of 1918. Like all college and service teams that year, the season was upended and split by the scheduling challenges caused by the Student Army Training Corps (SATC) and the Spanish Flu, both described in a previous post. The two events caused the cancellation of hundreds or thousands of games with others played with only a day or two of notice.
The Great Lakes football season was scheduled to start with a game at Iowa on September 29. In the week leading up to the game, hundreds of the 40,000 stationed at Great Lakes died of influenza and hundreds more died the following week. Although the football team was said to have been isolated from the sick, they had moved into their separate barracks only a few days before they entrained for Iowa.
The game at Iowa attracted 4,000 fans, then the largest opening day crowd in Iowa's history and they witnessed a less than stellar game. The Bluejackets of Great Lakes scored on a quarterback scramble in the first quarter and capped off the scoring with a dropkicked field goal in the third stanza to win 10-0.
Great Lakes traveled the following week to play the returning national champion, Pitt, but upon arriving in Pittsburgh, they learned their game was cancelled by health authorities due to the epidemic. However, their game with Illinois the following week was allowed to be played. The Jackies once again went on the road, managing to score a Paul Dobson touchdown on the first drive of the game. That would be the only score of the game and Dobson, the fullback, was transferred to flying school at MIT the following week. He was one of several starters and key reserves to transfer off the base during the football season.
Great Lakes' game with the University of Chicago scheduled for the following Saturday was cancelled due to influenza as was their game with Western Michigan the week after that. However, Northwestern had a bye week and already knew their game the following week was cancelled so they agreed to play Great Lakes on the naval station's new field for a $1,000 guarantee, even though Great Lakes did not charge admission to the game. Great Lakes nixed the admission charge to allow all available sailors to attend and because it was the first Chicago-area football game involving a college team in 1918, despite it being played in late October.
The game followed several days of rain resulting in the game being played in a quagmire. Before a crowd of 15,000, both teams struggled to move the ball in the three inches of mud. Forward passes and end runs were largely eliminated from the playbooks and the windy conditions affected the game’s many punts. In the second quarter, a series of line plunges and reverses brought the Jackies to the Northwestern 19-yard line, but Great Lakes failed to move the ball further. On fourth down, Paddy Driscoll was in the process of preparing the ground in front of him for a drop-kicked field goal attempt when the center snapped the ball early. Driscoll barely caught the ball and fell to the ground without attempting the kick.
In the third quarter, Great Lakes again moved the ball into scoring territory, reaching the Purple’s 25-yard line, but erratic play calling left them dependent on another Driscoll field goal attempt. Although Driscoll kicked the ball this time, the ball travelled only 15 yards before dying in the mud. Nothing else of note happened the remainder of the game and the contest ended in a 0-0 tie.
The Jackies' game with St. Louis University was cancelled the following week, but their game with Notre Dame on November 8 went forward. Led by first-year head coach, Knute Rockne, and freshmen George Gipp and Curly Lambeau, the Irish would give Great Lakes all they could handle. We'll cover that game in a future post.
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