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Today's Tidbit... 100 Years of Football: The 1890s
This is the third in a series looking back at “100 Years OF Football,” syndicated cartoons published by Jerry Brondfield and Charles Beck in 1969. Today's version covers the 1890s.
The 1890s were a decade filled with innovation as the game continued down a separate path from rugby. However, many of those changes made the game more brutal, leading to concerns about its viability.
Brief notes follow each cartoon, primarily so their contents are discoverable from an indexing and search perspective. As always, click the images to enlarge...
While some school administrators did not like football, the sport grew quickly. Centers began snapping with their hands rather than their feet to control the ball better, especially when opposing linemen struck it. Soon, linemen stopped striking the ball and one another, numerical signals arrived, and Penn created the guards back formation.
Mass and momentum plays took over much of football in the 1890s as teams tried to blast through the line to gain five yards in three downs. The rules of 1894 limited the number of men in motion and the direction of the motion, which helped reduce the violence, but not enough.
Stagg took over at Chicago in 1892 with a plan to bring attention to the newly-founded school, backed by John Rockefeller funding. Paid as the faculty member he was, Stagg’s 1893 traveled to California to play Stanford on Christmas and New Year’s Day.
I love me some A.A. Stagg, but this cartoon is filled with errors. Stagg and Cumnock of Harvard introduced tacking dummies while captains at Yale and Harvard in 1889, though which came first is unclear. Teams in the East ran criss-cross and reverse plays before Stagg began coaching, and he did not number his players until many others had, despite being the first coach to promote the idea. Eddie Cochems at St. Louis U was the first coach to make significant use of the forward pass when he did so in 1906.
There were separate rules committees in the East in 1895, and Midwestern schools that later formed the Big Ten created their own rules, involving both game rules and eligibility standards. Freshmen were eligible, but they avoided ringers by requiring transfers to wait one year for eligibility.
The “conference” held among Midwest college presidents is why college leagues are called conferences. Yale pioneered shoulder pads in 1895, and the various rule-makers enacted numerous changes to reduce mass and momentum plays.
The safety-oriented rule changes of the 1890s proved inadequate, leading to many others in the 1900s, including the most revolutionary change in the game’s history, the forward pass.
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