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Today's Tidbit... 1903 Purdue Football's Tragic End
The image above shows an RPPC mailed in 1909 from West Lafayette, IN, to Will Hubbard in Bosler, Wyoming. Mailed by a Purdue student named Ralph, the message asks how things are going in his friends’ new home and mentions that Purdue opens the 1909 season playing at UChicago.
Although Ralph mailed the postcard in 1909, the image shows a game played at Purdue's Stuart Field in 1903, the only year football fields had partial checkerboard markings. The partial checkerboard reflected a compromise solution. Football traditionally required the player receiving the snap to give it to another player who could then run with it. Reformers wanted to open things up by allowing the receiver of the snap to carry the ball and cross the line of scrimmage with it, provided they were five yards right or left of the center. Neither side liked the other’s plan, so they applied the new rule only between the 25-yard lines. To help the officials assess compliance, they added stripes running parallel to the yard lines at five-yard intervals, resulting in a checkerboard pattern between the 25-yard lines. The standard gridiron remained from the goal lines to the 25-yard lines. The rule and checkerboard covered the field’s length from 1904 through 1909.
Purdue played four games at Stuart Field in 1903, though it is unclear which game is pictured. The Boilermakers opened with a 34-0 victory over Chicago Englewood High School, then beat Beloit 17-0, lost to Illinois 24-0, and beat Oberlin 18-2. (They also won at Wabash 18-0 and lost at Chicago 22-0.)
And then tragedy struck.
With games remaining against Northwestern, Kentucky, DePauw, and Notre Dame, the team and 1,500 fans boarded two trains on Halloween morning headed to Indianapolis for their rivalry match with Indiana. Upon entering Indianapolis, the first train, with the Purdue team in the first car behind the engine, rounded a bend and collided with several coal cars moving in a switching yard. The team trainer, an assistant coach, and fourteen team members died of injuries from the crash, and another twenty-one team members needed hospitalization.
A forerunner of the Cal Poly, Wichita State, and Marshall airplane crashes, the tragedy caused Purdue to cancel the remainder of the season, though they returned to the field in 1904.
Purdue's Stuart Field, which opened in 1892, continued in use for several more decades, though Boilermaker football switched in 1925 to Ross-Ade Stadium, which remains their home field today.
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