December 19, 1903 - Utah vs. Carlisle Indian School

By the turn of the twentieth century, college football had been played in America, in one form or another, for decades. Eastern schools such as Yale, Princeton, Harvard, and Michigan dominated the sport.

Meanwhile, college football developed much slower out west. Utah, for instance, first fielded a football team in 1892; but their competition was limited to other colleges in the state, as well as local High Schools, the Salt Lake YMCA, and even a Fort Douglas team. From time to time, Utah would schedule an out-of-state school. But even then, such opponents were small-time compared to the major football powerhouses of the east.

So while the local community certainly supported the University's squad, their football attention was firmly fixed on the east.

Major college football first graced Salt Lake with its presence in 1903. Late in that season, the football coach at the Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania sent a telegram to Utah coach Harvey R. Holmes informing him that the Carlisle team would be traveling to California to play some exhibition games during the holidays. Carlisle's coach offered to stop his team in Salt Lake on the way for a match against Utah.

Carlisle's coach was named Glenn Scobey Warner, but most football fans know him as the great "Pop" Warner. His teams were some of the best in football at the time, and many of his players are now enshrined in college football's Hall of Fame. His greatest player, Jim Thorpe, didn't play at Carlisle until 1907, but the team that traveled to Salt Lake in 1903 included All American Jimmy Johnson, as well as rising star Albert Exendine.

Carlisle's record was 8-2-1 when they came to Salt Lake. Among their victories was a 28-0 beating of Northwestern, who didn't lose any other games that season. Carlisle's most famous performance, however, was in their 12-11 loss to Harvard. In that game, Carlisle had jumped out to a 11-0 halftime lead, thanks in part to the famed Hunchback Play, in which Charles Dillon returned a kick all the way for a touchdown by hiding the ball under his shirt in a hidden pocket tailored specifically for the play.

News of this play, and of Carlisle's performance in general, traveled from coast to coast. Folks in Salt Lake were anxious to witness big time college football first hand at their own Cummings Field. Carlisle's arrival in town was much heralded; as for the game itself: Carlisle won big, as expected. But this mere brush with greatness was enough to satisfy local fans and players while their own program was still in its infancy.


A blog about the history of Carlisle Indian School, by Tom Benjey.  Includes some additional background on their 1903 game in Salt Lake.

• From the November 14, 1903 edition of the Deseret News:
The University football players had better get their scalps in pretty good shape between now and Christmas otherwise they may lose them.  Word has reached the city that the Carlisle Indians are due to swoop down on the 'Varsity bunch on that day, and if possible, "lift their scalps."  Coach Warner of the Indians informed Coach Holmes of the Palefaces that, if suitable arrangements can be made, the Carlisle's will stop here on Christmas day for a game.  Nothing definite has been decided upon but the probabilities are that a sufficient sum of money will soon be forthcoming to induce the Indians to come here.  The game would be the biggest gridiron event of the season and would undoubtedly pay well.
•  Brief news story on Pop Warner and the Wildcat formation:

    • Harvey R. Holmes was the first paid football coach at the University of Utah.  However, he resigned following the 1903 season amid criticism regarding Utah's disappointing record that year.  In particular, Utah had lost all of its intersectional games, and fell to the Agricultural College of Utah, 17-0.


    Carlisle Indians and Their Famous Wing Shift Completely Mystify 'Varsity Team
    On a Field Covered With Snow Local Football Fans See Game As It Should Be Played
    Salt Lake Herald
    December 20, 1903

    Lay of the Carlisle Brave.
    (By Runneinge Brooke)
    A sacrificial offering to a heathen God, that's all!
    And we showed you how to do it with the little leather ball.
    O, your fathers and our fathers played a slightly different game,
    But the spirit of the fighting acted very much the same.

    So you beat us then--you drove us from the land that we called home,
    To a bounded reservation, there like docile beasts to roam.
    But we've learned your modern tactics, and you know the answer well,
    Better, maybe, than the softest of your silvery tongues might tell.

    On the level, dear young Paleface, you're a dead one, down and out.
    "Also ran," and "Never was," you still attacked the scout.
    And now the thirst is satisfied, with you far in the rear--
    We'd like to meet you once again--suppose we come next year?

    I hate to see the Mormon blood ooze slowly through your veins,
    Like the tide in Parley's canyon, when the land needs many rains;
    But our tribe, remember, scattered wide, extends from east to west,
    And red skins chasing pig skins number 'mongst the tribesmen's best.
    SALT LAKE has witnessed the Carlisle Indians play football, and to say that Salt Lake is happy is putting it mildly. The famous redmen came to this city touted as wonders on the gridiron, and after their exhibition yesterday there are very few who will not say they made good. Football is a popular sport in this city, and many fans worship at its shrine, but it is doubtful if any of those who walked through the snow to see yesterday's contest will not say that it was the most interesting game from every point of view ever played in this state.

    Carlisle won, but this was no surprise, as every one expected it. They won with ease; won without any apparent effort; but in so doing they did not pile up an overwhelming score. It was merely an exhibition of what a perfect organized football team can do against a crowd of novices. The score of 22 to 0 may seem small, but Carlisle was not trying to annihilate the locals. Give the redmen a dry field and full time halves and it would have been 100 to 0 as easy as 22 to 0. The Indians have the reputation of being the best trained and trickiest team in the field, and few who saw the contest will gainsay the fact.

    Snow Was Against Indians.
    The snow acted against the Indians and made it difficult for them to put their fast formations into play. The snow was of the kind that made the field exceedingly slippery and many a "redskin bit the snow," who would have gone scampering down the field had not his feet slipped beneath him as he tried to get up speed. However, enough of their work was seen to cause one to wonder what they were capable of doing under favorable circumstances.

    Perhaps the one feature of the game that stands out clearest in the minds of those who saw it is the famous wing shift. This is the play where all the Indians run over to one side of the line and form a cordon of interference that would stop a switch engine. One of the 'Varsity players said during the game that the Indians got fifteen men in this interference. And from the side lines it looked as if the player was about right.

    When the play was put in force the linesmen always moved the sticks forward. It never failed. It was a spectacle to watch. It was a dozen Indians running off at an angle surrounding another with the ball, bowling over the tacklers as fast as they tried to mix in the game. The play, it is claimed, was invented by the Indians. It fooled Harvard, Pennsylvania, Princeton, and it also fooled Utah. The Indians liked it and so did the crowd, who could not but give yells of approval every time they saw what was coming.

    Redmen Do Surprising Stunts.
    In addition to the wing shift, the Indians did several other stunts that opened the eyes of Salt Lakers. When a Utah team makes a double pass successfully, local fans think it is something great. Yesterday the Indians, however, made plays where the ball was tossed back and forth a half-dozen times before some lithe-limbed redskin dashed down the field with the ball under his arm. It was a case of "Button! Button! Who's got the button?" No one could tell but the Indians and they would not.

    The fake plays were used. A bluff would be made to send the ball around an end, where the 'Varsity would congregate to stop the play. The result of this was a lone redman dashing down the field with a single Utah man in the back field between him and a touchdown. It was great--for the Indians and spectators.

    Sheldon Makes a Great Run.
    Now for the game itself. The one play that deserves mention above all others was Sheldon's eighty-yard run after receiving the kickoff. Sheldon went right through the whole 'Varsity team. Interference was formed quickly, and 'Varsity players were bowled over like tenpins. "Hank" Burmester, however, spoiled the Indian's fun. Burmester straightened up for a long diving tackle and just as he left the ground a lone Indian hit Burmester amidships and sent him spinning through the air. "Hank" grabbed at the air as he went over and caught Sheldon by his shoe-lace. It downed Sheldon and before he could get up Forbes had him.

    Another feature of the game was the clean playing of the Indians as well as the local boys. Members of the 'Varsity team after the game said they were the "whitest" set of players they had ever been up against. Not a single 'Varsity man received a scratch, and every man came out of the game proud of the fact that he had met the native American in a game of football. The only man jarred up in the game was Baker, the sub quarterback of the Indians. Once time was taken out for him and this was the only instance when time was taken out on account of any player.

    'Varsity Gained Three Yards.
    The 'Varsity gained exactly three yards during the game. Peterson got two of three and Burmester got one. Every other play either lost ground or resulted in no gain. The Indians were never held for downs and it was very seldom they were forced to use the third down to make the distance. In the kicking department, however, Bennion proved too much for Charles and gained nearly every time they exchanged punts. There were few long runs made with the exception of Sheldon's. Most of the end plays were under ten yards. But one attempt was made at a place kick for a goal and this was by the Indians. However, a slippery ball caused a fumble which resulted in the loss of the ball for them.

    For the 'Varsity, Bennion, Davis, Burmester and Wade did the best work, although Russell and Peterson must not be overlooked. For the Indians, they were all stars. All of them carried the ball and made their distances excepting Shonchouk, the center, who, however, made holes whenever called upon to do so.

    How the Game Was Played.
    On the kickoff the Indians chose the south goal and Charles kicked the ball forty yards. Two downs by the local boys did not gain an inch and Bennion sent the ball to Johnson, who fumbled, and the 'varsity recovered it in the scramble that followed. Two more downs did not gain an inch and Bennion again kicked to Johnson, who ran the ball back to the 'varsity's forty-yard line.

    The first two bucks by Carlisle gained five yards, when the redmen began to limber up. They used straight football tactics from their forty-yard line to the 'varsity's goal line, gaining on every down. The smallest gain was one yard and the largest six yards during the march to the first touchdown, and they never had occasion to use the third down to make the distance. Charles was pushed between the goal posts for the first touchdown after nine minutes' play, and Johnson kicked an easy goal.

    Indians Fail to Get Touchdown.
    Charles kicked off fifty yards to Pitt, who came back for ten yards. Two plays by the 'varsity lost a couple of inches and Bennion kicked forty yards on the third down. The redmen again began a steady march for their opponents' goal line and gained from two to eight yards on every down, with the exception of one, when a double pass, Flores to Williams, failed to accomplish anything. The Indians forced the ball over the goal line squarely between the posts and all thought another touchdown had been made. However, Referee Holmes decided the last play was a touchback, claiming the Indians did not hold the ball on the ground on the last play until the referee blew the whistle.

    This gave the 'Varsity the ball on its twenty-five-yard line, from where Bennion kicked thirty-five yards. The next play saw the wing shift used for the first time, and it netted eight yards. Davis stopped the next down for a loss of two yards. A rapid succession of wing shifts and double passes soon took the ball back to Utah's twenty-yard line, where Johnson tried for a place kick. The man receiving the ball, however, fumbled it, and Russell recovered the pigskin for the 'varsity. Two tries by Utah did not gain an inch, when the first half ended.

    The Second Half.
    In the second half Strobel retired in favor of Larson, Mason for Ames, Pitt for Burmester, and Moore for Forbes on the 'varsity team. For the Indians, White took Exendine's place. Exendine took James' place, Baker relieved Johnson, Hendricks relieved Charles and Charles took Williams' place at fullback.

    Bennion's fifty-yard kick to the Indians was brought back twenty yards. Eight downs gained thirty yards for the Indians, when Burmester threw Dillon back for a loss of two yards. However, a wing shift to the left carried the ball forward when Carlisle fumbled and Larson recovered the ball for Utah. On the first down Utah fumbled and it was the Indians' ball again. Ten more downs, most of which were wing shift plays, first to one side of the line and then on the other, carried the ball rapidly down the field without a loss on a single down, until Bowman went between the goal posts for an eight-yard line buck for a touchdown. Carlisle missed an easy goal, the ball slipping off his toe as he kicked. Score: Carlisle 11, Utah 0.

    Carlisle Realized Ten Yards.
    Bennion's kickoff was brought back twenty yards, when Peterson broke through and downed an Indian for a four yard loss. Four yards were gained by Charles, when Carlisle was penalized ten yards for running the quarterback inside of the twenty-five yard line. Charles then kicked to Wade. The latter tried two end runs, losing four yards on the first attempt and gaining it back on the second, but fumbling the ball when tackled. Again the wing shift was brought into play and in a few minutes two to ten-yard gains carried the ball to Utah's two-yard line. Here an Indian pow-wow was held and on the next play Hendricks went between the posts for a touchdown. Jude goaled. Score--Carlisle 17, Utah 0.

    Bennion kicked to Sheldon on the redmen's five-yard line, and Sheldon ran back eighty yards before going down. From this point it was easy work, the Indians gaining the required distance on every down excepting one, when Davis threw his man back for a loss, until Bowman scored a touchdown. Jude missed goal. Score--Carlisle 22, Utah 0.

    Baker Gets His Bumps.
    Baker was knocked out on the return of Bennion's kick, and immediately afterward Carlisle was penalized for a quarterback run inside of the twenty-yard line. After a few gains the Indians started to kick and on the first down Bennion would return the punt. The ball finally got into play on the 'varsity's twenty-yard line. Here Peterson went through the Indians for a two-yard gain, the biggest made by the 'varsity during the game. Burmester also got a yard gain, these two gains being the only ones made by Utah during the game. Bennion fumbled the attempt to kick at the call of time, Carlisle recovering the ball.

    1 comment:

    Tom Benjey said...

    It's good that someone wrote about this long overlooked game. Steckbeck wrote nothing about it in his book about Carlisle Indian School football. One of the problems we all have is that too often we have to rely on newspaper accounts and sportswriters don't always get things right. For example, Carlisle's center was Nikifer Schouchuk and Nicholas Bowen played left tackle.

    Eastern newspapers would not have considered Michigan to be an eastern team. After all, they were often "The Champions of the West" as they love to yell in their fight song. The Big Four were Harvard, Yale, Princeton and Penn. Only a few years prior to this was Walter Camp forced to recognize talented players west of Pennsylvania and forget anybody west of Minnesota. West Coast teams got no respect until former Carlisle star and Warner assistant, Lone Star Dietz, led Washington State to victory in the 1916 Rose Bowl.