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Today's Tidbit... A Small School, A Top Official, And Other Cool Stuff
I've gathered all of you here today so we can share our favorite stories about the 1909 St. Mary's of Kansas team. I will tell a few tales but jump in whenever you want to share.
Let's start at the beginning when the postcard below arrived in my mailbox.
The postcard shows 1909 as its copyright date, so I assume the picture shows the 1909 team as well. While there are interesting stories about the team, the fantasy background and stadium attracted me to the postcard. It shows the goal posts on the goal line on a field without an end zone, so that's correct. The play started closer to the sideline than would occur today, and several players in the pile are upside down, apparently having jumped over the pile.
More interesting is the pennant-waving crowd at the closed end of the stadium since Harvard, Syracuse, and perhaps one or two other stadiums had such a feature, and St. Mary's of Kansas did not play those teams. Their biggest game of 1909 came at Kansas before a crowd of 1,000 diehard fans, and a dozen years later, the St. Mary's home field still did not approach the stadium seen on the postcard.
So let's turn to the team and their coach, Ernest Quigley. Quigley was the AD and coached football, basketball, and baseball at St. Mary's but was better known as an official in all three sports. Over his career, he officiated five Harvard-Yale games and three Rose Bowls while umpiring 3,300 major league games and six World Series, including the 1919 Black Sox games. The highlight of his basketball officiating came in the final game of the 1936 Berlin Olympics when the U.S. defeated Canada in the rain on a clay outdoor court.
Quigley put together solid teams at St. Mary's. His 1909 team had a winning record despite the death of a player who broke his back in practice several days before the first scheduled game. After canceling the first game, the St. Mary's Knights lost to Kansas 29-0 in Lawrence.
Two weeks later, they won or lost to William Jewell in Liberty, Missouri, depending on how you interpret the game's controversial ending. Like most games of the era, the visiting team traveled to and from by train, so start times often depended on the train schedules. Likewise, teams often agreed to end games at set times to allow the visiting team to catch the train home. So, with St. Mary's ahead 12-6, the Knights left the field later than initially agreed, while William Jewell claimed that their leaving the field resulted in a forfeit.
Before the 1920s, it was also common for newspapers to refer to college teams based on the religious affiliation of the school, leading to subheadlines like the one below following St. Mary's loss to Washburn, a game that likely decided the state small school title.
Their late-season games included other elements no longer seen on football fields. In St. Mary's 32-0 win over Drury, Drury kicked off, and St. Mary's covered the ball on the 10-yard line. On the first play from scrimmage, a St. Mary's end took the ball on a sweep and ran for a 100-yard touchdown on the old 110-yard field. Then in their 17-10 Thanksgiving Day victory over Doane, St. Mary's scored their first touchdown when the umpire blew his whistle to signal a penalty. Unfortunately for Doane, play stopped only when the referee blew his whistle, not when the umpire did so, but the Doane players stopped pursuing the runner and allowed him to score. (See the earlier story on officials' whistles, horns, guns, and penalty flags.) Later in the game, St. Mary's tried an onside kick from scrimmage in which one of their players recovered the ball and ran it in for a touchdown.
Like other institutions, St. Mary's closed in 1931, a victim of the Depression. It became the site of St. Louis U's seminary for several decades and now hosts another St. Mary's, though the two are connected only by location and common religion.
As mentioned at the story's beginning, feel free to comment below if you have a fun factoid about anything loosely associated with the 1909 St. Mary's team.
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