Today's Tidbit... Fairmount Football and the 1905 Experimental Game
I collect old RPPCs (Real Photo Post Cards), typically those showing players wearing distinctive uniforms or pads, game action or field conditions that no longer apply, and others with teams or individual players that did something of note.
The image above is one of the latter, sort of. I bought this RPPC a week or two ago. The 1906 Fairmount team won their conference but otherwise did nothing special, to my knowledge, but the 1905 team did. Fairmont, now known as Wichita State, played a night game in 1905 lit not by electric bulbs but by Coleman gas lamps. Unfortunately, it did not work well, which you can read about here.
Fairmount did nothing noteworthy the rest of the 1905 regular season either, going 5-4 during coach Willis Bates' first year at the helm. Notable, however, was the game played on Christmas Day 1905, coming when few teams played postseason games.
Bates was a Dartmouth man, and one of Fairmount's rivals was Washburn, coached by John Outland, the Penn grad of Outland Trophy fame. Both had Eastern chops despite coaching in Kansas. They, like everyone else, were caught up in the 1905 season ending in turmoil due to football’s deaths and injuries, Teddy Roosevelt's meeting with the Big Three, and a general desire for substantial rule changes. But which rules should change, and how should they change?
While it is unclear who came up with the idea of playing an experimental game to test some suggested rule changes, Fairmount and Washburn agreed to play such a game on Christmas Day 1905.
The experimental game allowed the forward pass, required offenses to gain ten yards rather than five in three downs, and gave officials the authority to disqualify players for unnecessary roughness. Neither team was an offensive juggernaut, as shown by their game six weeks earlier when Washburn won 11-6. So it was no surprise the experimental game ended in a 0-0 tie, with seven first downs between the two sides. Afterward, both coaches criticized the rule requiring teams to gain ten yards in three downs, arguing it was too challenging for games involving evenly-matched teams. Of course, that was the point of the proposed new rule. Gaining ten yards in three plays required a different approach, and new thinking about offensive play design and neither coach could do that in time for the test game.
It showed in the game. Each team made several forward pass attempts, and while both coaches believed the play had potential, neither figured out how to employ the pass strategically or tactically.
More broadly, while the game received nationwide coverage as the only test of the potential rule changes, the game was not a fair test and could never have been one. Neither team fundamentally changed their offense. They threw seven forward passes total, and it is unclear how players who had never thrown a legal forward pass threw them or the "routes" run by players that had not run them before.
From a coaching standpoint, neither designed football plays to use the forward pass nor determined how best to throw one. Still, the test game made the point that fundamental and numerous rule changes were needed to change the game. Several tweaks would not get it done.
So, back to that RPPC mentioned at the beginning. A review of Fairmont's starters during the 1905 season, the experimental game, and the 1906 season suggests more than half of those pictured in the 1906 RPPC started or played in the experimental game, and one of the guys in the RPPC may have thrown or caught the first "sanctioned," not legal, forward pass. Either that or they defended that pass. Either way, that’s why I found the RPPC appealing.
Do you collect anything football-related? If so, what do you collect and why?
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