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Today's Tidbit... St. Louis U's Ill-Fated Trip West
The 1906 St. Louis University team was the first to throw a legal forward pass in a regular-season game and threw the ball better and more often than any other team that season, leading to an 11-0 season. Most striking about the 1907 team was that they never had more than 16 players on the team -often only 13- so they could not scrimmage in practice.
It was a veteran squad, with most of the team returning from the 1906 team. Nine of the eleven starters and several substitutes were medical students, all of whom had previous playing experience in high school, prep school, or at another college, so Coach Cochems dispensed with much of the fundamental drilling many coaches relied on, allowing them to continue tossing the pea around the field and combine their passing game with a shifting, misdirection offense that ran many plays from one formation and the same play from many formations.
SLU blew through the first five teams on the schedule, allowing only six points but getting beat up in the process.
October 5: Missouri S&T 12-0
October 12: Southeast Missouri State 58-0
October 19: Arkansas 42-6
October 26: Creighton 40-0
November 2: Washington U 78-0
The following week they faced Wabash in their only away game of the season and were missing Acker, a top running back, and Lamb, who, at one point in the season, gained 70 yards on six successive tackle-around plays. Unfortunately, Wabash sent LU packing for SLU with a 12-11 victory.
November 9: @ Wabash 11-12
In the following two weeks, SLU hit what they expected to be the meat of their schedule. St. Louis dominated both games, shutting out Kansas and Nebraska to stake claim to the Midwest or Missouri Valley championship, depending on your definitions.
November 16: Kansas 17-0
November 28: Nebraska 34-0
Like most seasons, the team washed their uniforms for the last time, packed away their gear, and celebrated a season where nine of eleven starters earned spots on the All-Missouri team. Much of the team believed their playing days were over, but word came in early December that they would make a trip to the West Coast to play a game or two over the holidays, making SLU's trip west the fifth time a team from east of the Rockies crossed the ridges to play football. (A trip by Chicago, two by Carlisle, and Michigan's visit to Pasadena in 1902 preceded SLU.)
Cochems' teams departed St. Louis on December 19, riding north to Minneapolis before turning left for Spokane. The trip was largely uneventful until two freight trains collided head-on twenty minutes ahead of the team's train. Upon reaching the scenes, the doctor' s-to-be went to work, tending to the burns and crushing injuries the surviving crew members sustained until local physicians reached the scene.
After arriving in Spokane on the 23rd, the team held several practices in preparation for their game with the 6-1 Washington State team on Christmas Day.
Spokane did not enjoy a white Christmas in 1907 but did have a wet one, which caused problems for SLU's passing and misdirection offense. SLU struggled to move the ball much of the game while Washington State pounded the ball up the middle, scoring early in the third quarter and with one minute remaining, leaving the field with an 11-0 victory.
December 25: @ Washington State 0-11
The Midwesterners complained about the shin kicks and fighting that was part of the Western game but shook it off to prepare for their New Year's Day game with the Multnomah Athletic Club, considered the second-best football team on the coast. Once again, the Multnomah team used tactics Cochems considered improper, but with four Western officials, there was little he could do but complain as Multnomah celebrated an 11-6 victory.
January 1: Multnomah AC 6-11
While the losses were disappointing, their more significant effect was to diminish the 1906 and 1907 teams' accomplishments by hampering their ability to schedule games with Chicago, Minnesota, and Michigan. The 1908 schedule included games in St. Louis versus Pitt and Carlisle, but Cochems left after the season, and upstart St. Louis U never achieved the football glory they approached during the early days of the forward pass. Instead, Notre Dame became the leading football team among Catholic schools in the Midwest, and the university and city became America’s soccer hotbed over the next half-century and more.
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