When College Football Was An Olympic Sport


In 1905, Harold Moore of Union College died from injuries he received in a football game against NYU. Football, which had already caused much public outcry because of the dangers, stood at the brink of being abolished. Even President Teddy Roosevelt, a great proponent of manly endeavors of sporting, was concerned. By 1906, he called for the reform of the game and the adoption of new rules that would change the complexion of the sport forever. Just before this page of history turned, college football was displayed on an international stage: the 1904 Olympics in St. Louis, Missouri.


The St. Louis games were the third modern Olympics and first international sporting event to be held in the Western Hemisphere. The Olympics had originally been scheduled for Chicago, IL, but the venue changed with the coming of the Louisiana Purchase Exposition of 1904. In 1899, Professor Sylvester Waterhouse of Washington University in St. Louis proposed the idea of a Louisiana Purchase centennial celebration to be held on the 100th anniversary of 1803 transaction. In 1904, his dream was realized as the exposition, with the backing of President Roosevelt, became a reality. The Exposition, also known as the 1904 World’s Fair, took place from April 30 to December 1, 1904. Construction for the Exposition included Francis Field, a sports complex on the Washington University campus. The stadium, built in 1902, was named for former Missouri Governor, US Secretary of Interior and Ambassador, David R. Francis, who had been instrumental in bringing the events to St. Louis. It was Francis who had also been able to also land the 1904 Olympics to be held during the Exposition. It was decided that, holding the games at St. Louis would guarantee a much larger audience and avoid competition between the two events.


The 1904 Olympics are officially considered to have been held from August 29 to Saturday, September 3, 1904. But, the truth is, the sporting events of the Exposition transpired from July through 23 November 1904 as part of the Physical Culture Section of the Exposition. They actually began on May 14, 1904, with an opening ceremony and the Missouri State High School Championships of track and field for 1904. Almost every sporting event held during the Exposition was deemed an “Olympic” event. The sporting events actually ended with a college football game on November 26, 1904.


During the run of the World’s Fair, a college football season transpired. Games were played at Francis Field, thus before a world audience. Both Washington and St. Louis University played their entire seasons before Exposition audiences. The Purities (as Washington was then known) posted a 4-7 record at the World’s Fair.


The Spaulding Athletic Almanac of 1905 had this remark:


“The (Olympic) Department knew perfectly well that it would be unable to have an Olympic Foot Ball Championship, though it felt incumbent to advertise it. Owing to the conditions in American colleges it would be utterly impossible to have an Olympic foot ball championship decided. The only college that seemed absolutely willing to give up its financial interests to play for the World’s Fair Championship was the St. Louis University and there is more apparently in this honor than appears in this report. There were many exhibition contests held in the Stadium under the auspices of the Department wherein teams from the St. Louis University and Washington University took part and competed against other teams from universities east and west of the Mississippi River. The Missouri-Purdue game was played in the Stadium on October 28….. The Olympic College Foot Ball Championship was won by St. Louis University, St. Louis, Mo., by default.”


Besides Wash U., other schools competed in the stadium under the eyes of the Fair crowds. Missouri and Purdue played on October 28, with Purdue winning 11-0. But, the most ballyhooed game and the game that is forever associated with Olympics of 1904 and the game that can now truly be viewed as the Olympic Championship was the match held on Saturday, Nov. 26 between the Carlisle Indian School of Pennsylvania and Haskell Institute of Kansas. The two schools were Native American institutes. Both boasted very powerful programs and they had never met in their histories. Carlisle, considered among the top ten in college football, would soon produce the great Jim Thorpe. Haskell was a power in the Midwest with victories over the likes of Texas, Kansas and Oklahoma State. When the Army-Navy game could not be arranged, the nation’s focus turned to a showdown between the two Indian powers of the era.


The significance of the game being held at the 1904 St. Louis Olympics must be underscored. Besides the fact that the “Indian” showdown would occur during he celebration of the Louisiana Purchase, a symbol for America’s quest for manifest destiny, these are the notorious Olympic Games which are famous for giving the world “Anthropology Days”. Anthropology Days displayed persons from “primitive” nations competing in native sports. Foreign participants engaged in “primitive” sports like spear throwing and pole climbing. By Olympic standards, their performances were poor which convinced the spectators of the physical superiority of Anglos, and especially American whites. The games became a The impact was such that the American public became fascinated with sports, a fact of life that has not abated since that time. The US had recently occupied the Philippines and the Fair reinforced US expansionism and imperialism and justified the need to “civilize” countries seen backward.


A meeting between the two great Indian institutions fit nicely within the rather racist program agenda for these games. The players for both schools arrived decked out in traditional native dress.  But, the game itself was a far cry from being viewed as a exhibition of “primitives”. It was serious football and the nation knew it and respected that.  Carlisle, coached by the legendary Pop Warner, warmed up for the showdown by stopping off at Columbus, Ohio. It’s second team crushed the Ohio State Buckeyes, 23-0 on Thanksgiving Day. Carlisle lost in ’04 only to Eastern powers Penn and Harvard. Meanwhile, Haskell, which was undefeated and had beaten Kansas, Missouri, Texas, Nebraska and Dr. John Outland’s Washburn, arrived in St Louis early for a Thanksgiving Day game with Washington University. The Wash U. game was no contest, with Haskell’s second team winning 47-0 in a dominating performance.


The showdown between Haskell and Carlisle took place before 12,000 fans, international dignitaries and a large contingency of the press from throughout the country. The weather was beautiful. President Roosevelt was slated to attend and special seating was arranged for him, but he did not show up. He was, however, at the Exposition.


The first 3 ½ minutes of the game seemed an ominous forewarning for Carlisle as Haskell showed incredible speed, driving to the Carlisle 18 before kicking a field goal, which was worth 4 points. But from that point on, it was all Carlisle. Although the two teams were fairly well matched weight-wise, Carlisle completely dominated the game at the line. Not only were they able to move the ball with ease on offense, but appeared to be moving Haskell backwards on defense.


Carlisle ripped off three straight scores (worth 5 points each) and the three PAT’s made the score 18-4 at the half. The second half was a duplication of the first. Carlisle scored on each possession of the 2nd half, except one. Haskell, outmanned and running out of steam, made a tremendous goal line stand in the third period holding Carlisle inside the one. Carlisle scored three second half touchdowns and added a safety late in the game for a 38-4 victory.


For Haskell, it was a stunning defeat. They had played perfectly in 1904 against the best the Missouri Valley  region had to offer. They had crushed Wash U. on their home field two days before. The game left the press wondering if Haskell had just been under-prepared or if Eastern football was truly that superior. It was a  coronation for Carlisle. The Indians, as they had thought all along, were the best Indian school football program in the land. The Jim Thorpe days were just around the corner. But, Carlisle would close in 1918 and Haskell would assume the mantle of the “Indian” football factory.


It is one of American sports’ true ironies that, against the backdrop of an Olympic competition that promoted racist ideology to bolster a nations self-image, two Native American football programs would decide the championship. The echoes of this game could be clearly heard in Berlin when Jesse Owens stole the show in 1936.




Easy Game for Carlisle

Easterner's Win Red Men's Championship 38-4

Chicago Tribune

November 27, 1904


St. Louis, Mo., Nov. 20- After three and a half minutes of play, during which the Haskell Indians fairly ran the Carlisle braves off their feet, and Porter kicked a field goal from the eighteen yard line, the vaunted speed of the western Indians spent itself against the brawn and muscle of the eastern redmen, and the latter’s heavy, plunging backs tore through Haskell's line almost at will, folded the opposing line back upon itself when Haskell had the ball and piled up a score of 38 to 4 before the end of the second half.


With ideal football weather and many strong supporters of the two government In­dian schools in the city, besides the interest aroused in the contest by nonpartisan lovers of the sport contributing to the success of the game, there were more than 12,000 persons in the world's fair stadium when Libby kicked off. The nonappearance of President Roosevelt, who had been advertised to attend, disappointed many who were not attracted by the game itself.


After the spectacular dash of the Haskell team, the Carlisle gridiron warriors gained their true form and plunged through the Haskell line, gained many yards on end plays, and in every other way completely outplayed the westerners.


The only time in the second half that Haskell forced Carlisle to punt was when the westerners made a magnificent, defense at their goal line, after B. Pierce had made it a first down on the Haskell four yard line. Dil­lon gained a yard and a recovered fumble advanced the ball to within six inches or the Haskell goal, where the ball rested, after Dillon had been sent smashing against Haskell’s right guard. It was Haskell's ball and E. Hauser punted out of immediate danger.


Carlisle won the toss, choosing the west goal. Libby kicked off to Haskell's twenty yard line against the wind. Haskell by straight line plunges carried the ball fifteen yards, but was forced to punt. P. Hauser punted to Carlisle's thirty yard line. Pierce fumbled and Guyer fell on the ball. Haskell made fifteen yards on bucks and fast line plays. Carlisle held and P. Hawser dropped hack for a kick from placement. The ball sailed squarely between the posts.


Sheldon kicked off with the wind to Porter behind the goal line. Porter ran the bull back twenty yards. By a series of line plunges Haskell advanced ten yards. Carlisle held for two downs, but Archiquette broke through and ran twenty yards to the center of the field. Haskell failed in two attempts and P. Hauser punted to H. Pierce on Carlisle's twenty yard line. Carlisle then displayed its offense. Right and left, Pierce and Sheldon worked end runs for thirty yards. Bowen on a tackle back formation gained on plunges through Haskell's left end. Every attempt at Haskell’s center was fruitless. Exendine on a revolving play on Haskell’s right wing crossed the goal line for a touchdown and Libby kicked goal. Score, 6 to 4.


Hauser kicked off and Carlisle by fierce short gains carried the ball to Haskell's five yard line, where the westerners held for two downs. H. Pierce on a hurdle play carried the ball over for the second touchdown. Libby kicked goal. Score, 12 to 4. Soon after, Haskell was forced to make a safety, adding two points to Carlisle's score.


Sheldon kicked off to Haskell's twenty yard line. From then on it looked easy for Car­lisle. Haskell failed to gain and attempted to punt. Carlisle blocked, securing the ball. Dillon on a cross buck carried the ball over. Libby kicked goal. Score, 18 to 4. The half ended without further scoring.


In the second half Porter kicked off to H. Pierce, who returned the ball to the center of the field. H. Pierce again advanced through Haskell for good gains, but Haskell finally held. H. Pierce's punt was blocked, but he recovered the ball. Pierce again punted, and the ball rolled over the goal line. Haskell kicked out, and Carlisle advanced the ball to Haskell's one yard line, where the blue held and took the ball on downs- the strongest stand of the game. Haskell punted from behind its own goal to the twenty yard line, Carlisle partially blocking the kick.


Haskell held again on the ten yard line. Porter kicked, sending the ball straight in the air. White fumbled and Moore got the ball. Haskell again punted straight in the air, Carlisle catching the ball on the ten yard line. Rogers went over, planting the ball squarely between the posts. Libby kicked goal. Score, 24 to 4.


Haskell kicked to Libby on Carlisle's five yard line. Libby, behind excellent interference, ran ninety yards to Haskell's fifteen yard line. He had passed every Haskell player and looked good for a score, but Guyon caught him from behind. Carlisle held in the line and was penalized ten yards. Carlisle in two downs crossed Haskell's line, Dillon carrying the ball. Libby kicked goal. Score, 30 to 4.


After the kickoff Carlisle made another march up the field for a touchdown, Hendricks going over and Libby kicking goal, which raised the final score to 38 to 0.