Revisiting the 1901 Rose Bowl

There comes a certain academic quality with writing for The Bootleg. I get to dig into old newspaper clippings and media guides, not unlike what an enterprising student does to tackle an important term paper. My newest entry is the result of a mother lode of information I stumbled upon online.

At the California Digital Newspaper Collection, you'll find periodicals dating back to 1846. The site includes years of full editions of the San Francisco Call newpsaper, which served the city from 1856 before merging with The Examiner a little over a century later. Today's San Francisco skyline includes a striking high-rise on the corner of Market and Third streets, which housed the paper for decades. The Call was also on hand for a landmark day in college football history involving your Stanford Cardinal.

This year marks the 110th anniversary of Stanford and Michigan meeting in the first Rose Bowl, and I was about to find the game story on the Web. The Cardinal (yes, they were known as such even more than a century ago) came up a bit short against the powerful Wolverines. Below is the account the game, with some CliffsNotes-inspired commentary from yours truly mixed in.

Michigan's Team Routs the Cardinal

Plucky Play Of No Avail

Stanford Struggles Vainly to Score Against the Visitors

PASADENA. Jan. 1. -- By the decisive score of 49 to 0 the Michigan University football team to-day defeated Stanford University. The score is quite in proportion to the general superiority of Eastern men at the game of football. It does not, however, tell the story of Stanford's desperate but futile efforts against defeat.

Ensuring that it would be many years before West Coast football would be taken seriously, Michigan dominated Stanford by a 49-0 margin. The Cardinal valiantly tried but ultimately failed to stop the powerful Wolverines, who made football's debut at Pasadena's Tournament of Roses a decidedly one-sided affair. Michigan finished their 1901 season outscoring foes by a combined 550-0.

Michigan's superior knowledge of the game showed in every play. At kicking, general team work, running, tackling and bucking the line the Michigan men excelled. Perhaps the strongest feature of their playing was the phenomenal punting by Sweeley, Michigan's right end. In every exchange of punts Stanford lost ground which she could not regain.

Years before being known for excelling at the most boring responsibilities found on the football field, the Wolverines controlled the field position battle thanks to the foot of Everett Sweeley. He was the Shane Lechler of his era, the best punter in turn-of-the-20th century college football. He lived up to that billing in this game, where he punted a Rose Bowl-record 21 times (the modern record is nine punts).

In the first half Stanford showed well for the first twenty minutes, forcing Michigan's line for small gains and holding her opponents when they went against her line. Gradually the Michigan boys forced the ball down the field for steady gains through center and around the left end. By a series of brilliant plays that never failed to score a gain and by the most superb teamwork ever shown on a football field in California, Michigan took the ball to Stanford's three-yard line. Here the Californians took a determined stand, and, encouraged by the shouts of their partisans, withstood the terrible battering of their line until they secured the ball on downs.

The Cardinal held its own during what was a scoreless game for the first 20 minutes. Then began a systematic and determined assault on Michigan's invulnerable line. Stanford tried every trick known to her men to advance, only to resort to punting, and the consequence was loss of ground.

Fighting to win the field position battle, Stanford attempted to counter by using three different punters: team captain Ralph Fisher, A.B. McGilvray and Bill Traeger, the latter of whom became a United States congressman years later. Speaking of kicking, a field goal would have been valuable – like touchdowns, they were worth five points.

Again Michigan hammered the line for steady gains: Clark, Stanford's left end, was disabled in a fierce scrimmage and was replaced by Preston. Michigan's star fullback, Snow, scored the first touchdown and Shorts kicked goal. Score: Michigan, 6; Stanford, 0.

Michigan star running back Willie Heston's 21 yard run put the Wolverines at the Stanford 8-yard-line. From there, Snow scored the first touchdown in Rose Bowl history. The pair – still very well known in Michigan football lore – was only getting started.

Three times in the first half Michigan succeeded in sending a man over the line, but once she failed to add a goal. The first half ended with the score: Michigan, 17 Stanford, 0.

The second half was an exhibition of fast football, such as California had never before witnessed. Michigan went at her opponents with all the knowledge of the game and the weight of her players. They hit Stanford's line in the middle and they went around the ends. They advanced ten, fifteen and twenty yards on a play, on fake passes, fake kicks and every other known football device. In fact, so fast and fierce was their play that Stanford was bewildered and knew not how to stop the encroachment on her goal.

Michigan clearly had the superior talent, which included several with direct connections to Stanford. The 1900 Cardinal featured head coach Fielding H. Yost and center George Gregory, who by 1901 were both in Ann Arbor leading the Wolverines. The 1901 campaign was the first of six national championships in 25 seasons for "Hurry-Up" Yost at Michigan. Gregory played on Stanford's freshman team a year earlier.

In 1907, David Starr Jordan – Stanford's first president – accused Gregory of both flunking out of Stanford AND accepting money to enroll at Michigan. The claims went unsubstantiated, though Jordan is remembered as a visionary leader in Stanford's early history. He was also an advocate of athletics. Among his pearls of wisdom: "The football field is safer for young men than the ball room."

Once or twice again- the Californians held the conquerors for downs, but the arrested progress of the Ann Arbor men was extremely brief. Again and again Snow for Michigan went over the line for touchdowns, and Shorts kicked goal until forty-nine points had been scored. For Michigan the brightest star was Snow at fullback, though he scarcely eclipsed Sweeley and Bernstein. Traeger, for Stanford, played a brilliant game, his tackling being one of the features.

By the time it was all over, Snow had accounted for five touchdowns, which remains a Rose Bowl record. One thing the article didn't mention was the play of Stanford guard William K. Roosevelt. President Theodore Roosevelt's second cousin broke his leg, stayed in the game for 15 minutes, before being forced to the sideline for good with fractured ribs.

The day was perfect, even for Southern California, though possibly a trifle warm for football. The field upon which the teams met was as level as a floor, but very dusty. The crowd, the largest that ever attended an athletic event in southern California, numbered about 7,000 and presented all the animation and much more of color than the average football crowd.

Despite Pasadena's worst traffic jam to date – there were only 1,000 seats inside Tournament Park's stadium and just one narrow road led to the venue – football gained a foothold in the Tournament festivities, though it wouldn't return for good until 1916.

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