The history of college football at the University of Hawaii is fascinating, given the challenges they faced finding opponents other than service teams. For decades, one or another college team spent their holidays in Honolulu to enjoy the sun and play a spirited game or two.
I'll cover that topic in more depth in an upcoming story, but today's focus is on state flagship universities that played their first football game before achieving statehood. How many state universities fit that criterion?
Below are synopses of the six qualifying schools and a bonus team. Unfortunately, the early teams often were informal clubs, so their photographs, if taken, are lost to time.
The University of South Dakota
USD played its first game in 1889, a 6-6 tie with South Dakota State. An 11-0 win over Yankton left them with a 1-0-1 record during their inaugural year.
South Dakota became a state on November 2, 1889, and while I have not confirmed the game preceded statehood, I'm giving this one to the Coyotes until proven otherwise.
The University of Washington
So close and yet so far. Washington achieved statehood on November 11, 1889, and the University played its first football game eleven days later against a group of Eastern college alumni.
The University of New Mexico
Football began at the University of New Mexico in October 1892 with two contests, three weeks apart, versus the Albuquerque High School team. Unfortunately, the college boys lost both games and failed to score in the 0-5 and 0-8 contests.
New Mexico became the 47th state on January 6, 1912.
The University of Oklahoma
The University of Oklahoma first enjoyed an afternoon on the gridiron on December 14, 1895, a dozen years before statehood. Yet, despite their readiness, the soon-to-be-Sooners lost to the powerhouse Oklahoma City High School team 34-0.
The Republic accepted Oklahoma as a state on November 16, 1907.
The University of Arizona
The University of Arizona managed to play its first football game thirteen years before statehood when they took the field against a Tucson town team on November 30, 1899, leaving the field after a 0-0 tie. Next was a game with the Teachers of Arizona Normal School, now Arizona State, where the Wildcats were safety schooled 2-11. Finally, a win early in the new year over the Tucson Indian School completed the first-year schedule.
Arizona joined the Union on February 14, 1912.
The University of Hawaii
The College of Hawaii took on the McKinley High School team in 1909, topping them 95-5. However, it would be another eleven years before the renamed University of Hawaii played its first intercollegiate game when the University of Nevada sleighed them 14-0 on Christmas Day 1920.
Statehood arrived in Hawaii on August 21, 1959.
The University of Alaska
The University of Alaska Polar Bears do not field a football team today, but they have had teams in the past, though their history is murky. There are references to a team existing before WWII, and there was an organized freshmen team with a coach that played Anchorage High School in 1956.
Alaska's statehood came on January 3, 1959.
So that's it. Despite being a land grant university, I did not find evidence of football at the University of Puerto Rico Río Piedras. However, if they play a game or two and their commonwealth transitions to statehood, this article will be updated accordingly.
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This was an especially good one
Clearly, the Sooners should’ve started later.