The phrase “Scoreboard, Baby” means a lot to Duck fans. To authors Ken Armstrong and Nick Perry, it has broader meaning — enough that they made it the name of their brutal assessment of Rick Neuheisel and Washington’s fin-de-siècle football squad. “Scoreboard, Baby: A Story of College Football, Crime and Complicity”, released in October of this year, is the sad and harrowing tale of how a University, a program, and a city traded their souls for victories, and the safety of their constituents for playing time.
We can infer from this photograph, the only known image of the first Oregon football contest against Albany College in March of 1894, that the first year of Duck football was a “wide open game.” (Yes, that’s the venerable Deady and Villard Halls in the background). Oregon played its first game on a tract with the highly original name of “Athletic Field”; the field was constructed sometime after Deady was built, as a location for physical education activities.
The origins of football at the University of Oregon can be traced to a major event on New Year’s Day of 1894 — the first game ever played in Oregon between teams from Oregon and California. The home team was Multnomah Amateur AC; the visitors, Leland Stanford Junior University. (Yes, that Stanford, on the way back to Palo Alto, having played three games in Washington over the past week, on the first extended road trip ever undertaken by a West Coast collegiate team.)
It promised to be an interesting contest, and one that included a feature that would dog managers and groundskeepers for decades in the Willamette Valley: mud.
There was a feeling of dejection in the [Stanford] ranks” after their arrival in Portland. “Then the rain added to their depression … [they] are not inured to sloppy fields, and the prospect of playing in the mud was to them anything but a pleasant one. They were not willing to take any chances on such grounds, and requested the MAAC manager to rise early this morning and procure several cartloads of sawdust and distribute it over Multnomah field.
We are not afraid of the Multnomahs,” said one of the visitors, “but we have learned that they are high-class mudlarks … Like all Webfooters, they could cross the mud like a man on snowshoes, but we would sink in it.
— Morning Oregonian, 31 December 1893
The field having been suitably sawdusted, Stanford handed MAAC its first gridiron defeat ever, 16-0. The efforts at absorption via cellulose were, to put it mildly, inadequate:
… the grounds were in wretched condition. It had been raining all day Sunday night and Monday morning, and the entire field resembled Morrison street before the asphalt was put down. Pools of water were everywhere… men armed with buckets and sponges had been at work endeavoring to sop up the water and fill the gopher holes with sawdust, but the rain continued and their efforts were rendered futile. The sawdust … proved worse than the mud, for players could not obtain a sure foothold in it.
“… the Stanfords … ran or waded through the sticky mud with ease, and had no repugnance to a mud bath, whether it was gained by rolling or being shoved headfirst on the field. Like the Multnomahs, they were frequently obliged to dig out the dirt from their eyes and ears, but they seemed to regard this process as a trifling matter.”
— Morning Oregonian, 2 January 1894
Among the crowd watching this mudbath was a group of students from the Oregon campus.
A rag-tag assemblage of Oregon students began practicing in the fall of 1893, under Cal Young, a member of one of Lane County’s pioneer families — see Cal Young Road and Cal Young Middle School, in Eugene — and, possibly motivated by the first interstate football game played in the state of Oregon the previous New Year’s Day, when Stanford played the Multnomah Athletic Club in Portland, scheduled its first game for March 24.
Four games later…
The faculty of the state university has passed an order that it will endeavor to prohibit the game of football next year. The plan is to have a meeting of all college presidents in the state with one representative student from each college, to decide whether the game be suppressed all over the state and, if not, to formulate more humane rules for regulating the game.
Football and athletic sports are the only loopholes of escape for a lopsided education that our young men and women are now given at our schools and colleges, where their intellectual faculties are developed and all the physical life, vigor and activity of youth are suppressed.
Violent physical exercise is the reaction against anemic mentality that is enforced by a curriculum devoted to the intellect only, and that results in a one-sided college product, in defiance of sound principles of education. College athletics are today the redeeming feature and hopeful sign of the possible production of a rational and useful manhood and womanhood. We hardy know what to expect of our state university in some respects but that it is going to be able to drive football out of Oregon as a college sport is about as unlikely as that it could stop the south wind from going howling up through the Willamette valley at certain times in the winter; if it wants to become entirely a congregating place of flabby, fleshless dudes, that is a good step to take. There Is an excitement, a healthful invigorating enjoyment, in the rush and force of young manhood in the mass, under good generalship that requires the keenest exercise of the
mental faculties that has made it distinctively a college game since centuries.
— Hofer Brothers, The Capitol Journal editorial, Salem Oregon, 14 December 1894
The event prompting the above editorial was the cancellation of the final varsity football game of Oregon’s inaugural season, which was to have been played against Monmouth Normal school (now known as Western Oregon State University).
In the excellent 100 Years of Glory: Oregon Football 1894-1995, the Monmouth game was cancelled because the previous game, on Thanksgiving Day against Pacific, didn’t draw enough fans to meet expenses. However, later in the text it is stated that Oregon didn’t start selling tickets for games until Kincaid Field was constructed in 1902, as it wasn’t until then that the games were played on a fenced field that allowed controlled access through the gates; prior to then, the team had relied on voluntary donations to congregate on areas of the field with unobstructed views.
Unless the sarsaparilla and licorice concessions were significantly developed during that first season it’s hard to accept game receipts as the sole reason for the cancellation. It’s more likely that Oregon’s lackluster play that fall – the team didn’t score a single point in three games, and the Pacific game wound up a scoreless tie – was a sufficiently demotivational factor.
And so Year One of Oregon Football ended, without much promise that there would even be a Year Two.
What if Kenny Wheaton had guessed wrong on that sunny October afternoon in 1994? How different would things be at Oregon if #20 hadn’t had the chance to cut back to greatness? Considering the circumstances, things could have been very, very different at Oregon…
We’re back! Miss us? We missed you too.
Click here for a new entry in The Program Project: the 1940 UCLA game at Hayward Field.
This post is about Game Zero.
The first official Oregon football game is documented as having played out on a muddy field during a drizzly day in March of 1894.
But the first game played involving Oregon students is said to have taken place years earlier, sometime between 1888 and 1892, on a meadow north of Skinner’s Butte. It was described in the October 1929 issue of Old Oregon by one of the participants, Frederic S. Dunn, class of 1892, and later a professor of literature at Oregon. The article is a tongue-in-cheek plea to have the game’s participants declared the first Oregon football lettermen, although the author can’t recall any other specific players in the game.
The plea, sadly, fell on deaf ears; but Dunn deserves an honorable mention for his colorful prose.
… For, be it known to you, my unknown confreres, the publicity now first accorded this story through the courtesy of OLD OREGON will clinch the claim we undoubtedly have to be recognized as the earliest wearers of the O . My own personal insistence upon this phase may in some measure account for the previous failure of the event to get into print. I have volunteered to repeat the story to several interviewers, who seem thereafter to have confused their notes with some of their mental-test quizzes . Their indifference toward this bit of archaeological information has been most regrettable…
Think of it, my hoped-for confederates. If we can put this over, when next Homecoming Day recurs, you and I can boldly walk down the cinder path, taking precedence even over Frank Matthews and Doc Keene in the march of the “immortals,” for our event antedates by several years that much chronicled so-called “first Football Game” in the mud.
These, then, are the generations of the first athletic contest ever participated in by students of the University of Oregon. Its recounting takes us back into times now almost impossible to visualize, when lonely Deady, the University’s only Hall, loomed up like a haunted Norman stronghold out of acres of wilderness. The present delightful maze of trees and shrubbery was not yet a transplanted probability. The vast Campus square was enclosed by a white-washed board fence, with one entrance; a style of four or five steps right at the end of Twelfth Avenue.
Like a moat on the outside of that fence was eocene mud, which, however, in season was of the proper consistency to foster about our only athletic possibilities; leapfrog, the broad jump and half hammond. (I never have known the origin of this latter word. To enlighten our modern gymnasts who may never have indulged in this primal sport, it was a “hop, step, and jump.”) The mud was awfully nice to measure one’s length in and you could toe your mark in it so much more legibly than in your modern sawdust.
Since the University provided no schedule of student activities such as now keep the campus in anticipation of coming attractions, about the only diversion we boys had, aside from playing Duck-on-the-Rock at street intersections, was to make a daily pilgrimage of afternoons to watch the south-bound Roseburg Express come in. There was an uninterrupted view of the track clear to Blair Crossing, and when, sometimes after weary minutes of delay – for not even then was the Southern Pacific always on time – we heard a far-away whistle and caught the first glimpse of the engine with its wide-flaring smoke-stack emerge from the woods and round the bend on its eastward swing into Eugene, there would be an almost concerted shout of “Here she comes.”
The mail-sacks would be dumped into a push-cart, trundled off down the street, and we boys would break up into desultory groups, to congregate again at what was then our Post Office, on the corner of Ninth and Willamette, where the First National Bank now stands. Here we would “pass the time of day” while waiting for the mail to be distributed and then would come the tedious falling-in-line for our turn at the window.
Meanwhile, somewhere in the later ’80s, there had arrived in town a new, up-to-date grocery firm, Smith and Hall, from New York State. The latter’s son is still a substantial business-man of Eugene. Carl Smith, the son of the former and now a distinguished Judge in Hawaii, was fresh from an eastern law school. His rather assertive and somewhat aquiline face was held in corresponding respect by us of still-primitive Oregon. And to us, late one afternoon, as we were gathered on the Post Office corner, came said Carl Smith and displayed to our wondering sight the first foot-ball of modern type most of us had seen. We had previously known only the spherical kind, something like the basket-ball of today, and such we used to kick about on vacant lots in a free-for-all knock out. But here now, in Carl’s arms, was the real thing, an ovate pig-skin foot-ball.
We were not long in deciding to adjourn to the space back of Skinners Butte, where there were no Municipal Auto Camp or Gravel Plant at that time — just a great open meadow between the river and the wood on the north slope of the hill. And here we nominated two captains who in turn selected their men, naming them alternately in the good old choose-up style. How in kingdom come I got in on the deal, I do not know, for I was a thinnish sort of chap and never considered much of a husky. But, would you believe it, I was booked as quarter-back, and told off to guard the east goal, down toward the river-bridge. I had no idea what my title meant – in fact, as I walked away from the bunch, I was inclined to interpret it as a sort of slight. There were “fullbacks,” and “half-backs,” and here I was a yet smaller fraction. And goal? I saw nothing of that semblance. And so, while they were still discussing, I sat down on a moss-covered rock and waited for developments. Anyway, I was prepared to make a great kick if that ball ever came my way. There never entered my head the possibility of a punt which I might gather in. I most certainly would have kicked and very probably would have waited for the ball to bound before essaying that kick.
What were the other fellows doing up there in the middle of the field? It was the funniest foot-ball game I had ever seen. Every time the ball was put in play, there would be a long pause, to find out what next to do. Both teams would all gather round Carl Smith and he would expound the law to them out of his manual of rules. And from where I sat on my lichened rock, I could hear much dispute and often loud words. The warm afternoon sped on. Nothing happened to distract my attention. The discussing became a sort of monotonous drone to me. I felt drowsy and nearly tumbled off my rock. So I played mumbley-peg for a while.
Finally, as it was nearing supper-time, I shouted that “if they were not going to give me a chance at that ball, I was going home.” So, off I meandered down Pearl Street. If a touch-down was afterwards made through my having abandoned my post, I do not know. I never even inquired. And as Carl left for the east in a few days and took his precious pig-skin with him, nothing more about foot-ball was broached. I graduated in June of 1892 without any farther experimental knowledge of the game, and was quite unprepared for the shock i met with at Harvard in the fall of that same year, where foot-ball was the Tsar of sports and the games with Yale and Princeton and Pennsy were climacteric occasions.
I am confounded by my own failure to recall a single other participant in that scrimmage behind the Butte. Judge Potter was probably not there. He was not athletically inclined, if I remember his student days and, besides, he was wearing a silky beard which fell almost to his waistline. Ed Orton may have been in the fray. He was be-whiskered too, but i do not think he would have counted it an alibi. Darwin Yoran, our Hon. ex-Mayor and now our Hon. Postmaster, could have been there. His long legs were admirably adapted to end runs. And Clyde Patterson – were you there, Clyde? So long absent from Eugene, but lately returned to the scene of your former escapades: maker of skiffs to ply our stumpful Mill Race, rider of a bicycle whose front wheel had the hub-spokes, felloes, and tire of a farmer’s truck-wagon, such that, when you started down Eleventh Avenue on the loose board walks, we knew it was you and not a typhoon – into all sorts of scrapes and out just as soon – you surely could not have missed that game back of Skinner’s. And Herbert Condon, now indispensable Comptroller of the University of Washington, owner of a similar wheel but painted a different hue – were you delivering Morning Oregonians that afternoon on your real flesh-and-blond pony – the pony on whose back you used to stand when lighting our old-fashioned kerosene streetlamps – or did you yield to temptation and ditch your bundle of papers under a sidewalk until you had played the game?
Well, this is much like speaking through a microphone. I hope someone will hear my appeal. So, boys, now all together! – WE WANT OUR O.
— excerpted from “And Here’s Another One”, Old Oregon v11-7, April 1929. Public domain.