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Today's Tidbit... UChicago and Western Conference Purity Banquets
The football crisis of 1905-1906 led to many rule changes to make the game safer, including legalizing the forward pass. Some schools, like Northwestern, Columbia, Cal, and Stanford, dropped football, while others deemphasized football. For example, the Western Conference (Big Ten) agreed to play only five games apiece.
Another attempt to make the game more gentlemanly came through “Purity Banquets,” an Amos Alonzo Stagg idea that others adopted. The first purity banquet came on the eve of Purdue's visit to UChicago in 1906 for the season opener when Stagg invited Purdue to share a meal with his team at Chicago's Hutchinson Commons, where the teams were intermixed so most had an opposing player to their left and right.
Faculty and coaches spoke to the teams and extolled the virtues of sport and being gentlemen on and off the field, Amos Alonzo Stagg told the crowd:
We meet here on a historical occasion. This is the first time in the history of college athletics rival teams have met at the festal board the night before the game. The idea here is to eliminate the bitterness between rival teams. We too often have held the idea the other fellow was not human, that he should be battered down by fair means or foul. We meet tomorrow as men trained to do our level best in sacrifice to our universities.
Purdue must do its best to win; Chicago must do its best to win. If Purdue wins, all glory to Purdue; if Chicago wins, all glory to Chicago. But remember we must all be gentlemen and sportsmen.
'Rival Football Elevens Attend "Purity" Banquet,' Chicago Tribune, October 20, 1906.
Referee Paul Hackett, who attended, declared that the banquet had cured more football ills than all the new rules of the past ten years. Walter McCornack, who was Northwestern's coach the previous three years, also spoke since he umpired the game the next day.
The following day, the game was full of thrills for hometown fans and not so much for the Boilermakers. Stagg's Chicago team did not throw a forward pass in their debut game under the new rules. Instead, they made hay with reverses and double reverses that took them around Purdue's ends, including seven gains of 25 or more yards. Several runs came via the artful dodging of their All-American quarterback, Walter Eckersall.
The first-half diagram shows many long runs and punts. It also includes an element I have not previously noticed in similar graphics. The upper right-hand corner of the illustration shows Eckersall scored the first touchdown, and he must have done so near a sideline since it also shows that a puntout followed the touchdown. The puntout was fair caught inside the 20-yard line, and the ensuing kick was good.
On the other hand, Purdue made frequent, though intermittently successful, use of the forward pass, losing the ball on several incompletions. Even worse, late in the first half, Chicago left end Fleming intercepted a forward pass by Purdue's right halfback on the Chicago 45-yard line and took it 65 yards for one of football's earliest pick sixes. Fleming likely held the college record for the longest interception return for at least a week or two.
With a 22-0 halftime score, Eckersall scored on a long run to start the second half and then left the game with many other starters. The starters watched their teammates add to the score as Chicago ran away with the game 39-0 in what everyone viewed as a gentlemanly game.
Chicago was the country's second biggest city then, so many schools opted to play at UChicago since their share of the gate in the Windy City was more than they earned by hosting the Maroons. In 1906, Chicago played all five games at home, and they hosted purity banquets for Indiana, Minnesota, Illinois, and Nebraska, in addition to the Purdue affair.
In 1907, Chicago, Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin agreed to play one another each of the next four years and to host purity banquets for those games. Chicago appears to have offered banquets to all opponents and was also on the receiving end that year at Illinois.
Interest in purity banquets wained after 1912, though they were kept alive for the Chicago-Minnesota contests, likely due to Stagg and Minnesota coach H.L. Williams being friends from their college days at Yale.
A few banquets occurred in 1917, but the 1918 Spanish Flu epidemic made them untenable. Michigan hosted purity banquets for Minnesota as part of their Little Brown Jug series in the first half of the 1920s, but those dinners appear to have ended the purity banquet tradition.
Since 1956, Lawry's has hosted the Beef Bowl for the teams competing in the Rose Bowl, but otherwise, few competing teams appear to break bread before breaking the huddle. There may be similar traditions at other bowls or between other rivals. If you know of examples of these goodwill exchanges, please comment below.
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