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B1G 2015 // Indiana Football: An Oral History

The history of football at Indiana University as told by the people that made the history happen.

Library of Congress

Indiana football has a long and storied history, much of which has never been properly recorded. Due to a lack of anyone caring about IU football, no one has desired to do the required work to create a definitive oral history on the subject.

Until now.

Without any further ado, I present the first chapter from my upcoming book Losing With Style: The History of Indiana University Football as Told By the Coaches, Players, Movers, Shakers, Cheerleaders, Fans, Boosters, and Rockers Who Were Involved in Indiana University Football at Some Point.

Chapter One: A School Begrudgingly Starts a Football Team

Arthur B. Woodford (First Head Coach): When I moved to Indiana in 1885 from Yale, I was shocked that they didn't have a team of footballers. In fact, they only had three men on the campus that were even interested in joining a team. That seemed a paltry number to me; at Yale we had that many players die on the field in a single game!

David Starr Jordan (University President): When Professor Woodford showed up from Yale, he really pushed to start a football team. I asked him what football was, and he said it was a sport played with a ball that was called a football.

Woodford: As I explained to David, the sport of football is called that because the ball that it is played with is called a football. I think the ball was called a football because it was shaped like a foot. I guess that wasn't really that important, but David was really hung up on it.

Jordan: The ball didn't really look like a foot to me, so I never really understood football. Woodford told me that out east, many spectators came from miles away to watch the football matches. I told him that I didn't want any riff-raff appearing on campus to tempt our fair students with spirits and too much exuberance.

Woodford: I could tell David was nervous about football attracting the wrong element to town. He was pretty buttoned-down. I lied to him and told him that football fans were upstanding citizens, not hillbillies or rampscallions. David still seemed skeptical, but he gave me the go ahead to start a team and host our first football match.

After convincing enough students to form a team, the first game was held in Bloomington on an open field on the south side of campus. Franklin College defeated Indiana 10-8.

Starr: I was wrong to worry about the spectators causing a scene at the football contest. There were no unseemly spectators at the game; in fact, there were no spectators at all.

Harold Wise (player): I tried to get some of my fellow students to come out to the game, but failed in my attempts. My friends and family said the game was starting too early. I told those miscreants that it started at noon o'clock; they would have time to wake up and do their daily chores before the game started. They paid no mind to my overtures.

Edward York (student): I've got better things to do than watch a football game. I don't even know the rules of the sport, and I don't really care to find out. I don't want to stand outside on some patch of lawn watching my fellow students wasting their time embarrassing themselves by not scoring as many goals as the dastardly opponents.

Deverough Sundermann (Coach, Franklin College): I've never played a more pathetic unit than those Hoosier boys. At the end of the game, we had outscored them by a total of 100 points to 0. I noticed the Indiana coach looking intently at the official score-book; I was curious as to what interest the score was to a team that didn't score any points during the whole game. I looked at the book after Mr. Woodford stopped paying mind to it. The second nought of the Franklin College score was scribbled over, and there was a second nought appended to the top of the Indiana University nought. That Ivy Leaguer changed the score! I thought about making an official complaint, but then decided it wasn't worth my time, and there was no one to complain to anyway. So that's why one of the most lopsided contests in history was recorded as a 10-8 win for our sqaud.

Woodford: How would I have altered the numbers in the scoring book? I mean, the official scoring man doesn't let the book leave his sight. Except for when he has to get up to dump out his spittoon. But that's not enough time for someone to change a couple of numbers. And how could you change a score from 100-0 to 10-8? That doesn't make any sense.

Interviewer: I never said that the score was 100-0, just that Coach Sundermann accused you of changing the score.

Woodford: Oh, well then. Maybe I did change the score. That was a long time ago and I've been dead for over three score years. It's hard to remember everything accurately.


Hughey Gold, an original member of the Indiana football team (Library of Congress)

The Indiana Football Team would have to wait until the next year to play their second game. This time it was against DePauw University from Greencastle, Indiana.

Wise: When the DePauw players stepped on the field, we were pleasantly surprised. These DePauwmen were small and lanky, like us. They were nothing like the burly brutes from powerhouse Franklin College. And we had our own brute, so we weren't worried.

Woodford: After barely losing to Franklin College, I knew we needed to beef up our squad. I went to the local jail and got the biggest boy they had in there: Big Bill Boss.

"Big" William "Bill" Boss (criminal and player): When Old Woodford came to the jail and got me out, I swore I'd never go back.

Jordan: When Coach Woodford told me of his plan to use a convict to help win a football game, I thought it was a terrible idea. But he insisted he could teach the brute to act as a gentleman through sport. I thought this was a noble pursuit, so I reluctantly agreed to the plan.

George Whitfield (reporter, Bloomington Courier and Bugle): Big Bill looked like a man among boys. Everyone on the field was scared of him. On the first play from scrimmage, Big Bill took the ball and ran out of bounds.

Wise: We didn't know what Big Bill Boss was doing. He just took the ball and ran off the field towards a horse that was tied up. He mounted that horse and off he went.

Whitfield: Even though he ran for a long time, we could still see him clearly. There were no spectators at the game to block our view. After a while, I noticed Big Bill had gotten ahold of a horse. And it was my horse!

Wise: When that reporter fellow ran started running after Big Bill, waving his gun around, I realized it was his horse that was stolen! I had never seen such tomfoolery in my life!

Woodford: Since Big Bill ran off with our only football, the game had to be declared a draw. Well, at least it was an improvement over our close loss in the previous year.

Wise: I thought that we would have to forfeit the game, but it was declared a draw apparently. After I heard it was a draw, I decided to check the scoring book to be sure. There it was officially, the word draw written right at the top. It looked there was maybe some other word written there, but it was hard to make out. It looked sort of like the word forfeit was written underneath the word draw, but I couldn't tell for sure. I mean, no one would change the result in the official scoring book, right?

Jordan: After the convict made off with the reporter's horse, I knew I had to show Coach Woodford that sports are not more important than the integrity of the university. I told him that, even though the draw made his team the most successful sporting group from the school, that his shenanigans would no longer be tolerated. I put him on a zero tolerance policy; there would be no more malarkey from the footballers.

York: While waiting in a queue to sign up for classes for the next session; I spotted Coach Woodford. I said to him, "Excuse me fine sir, what is going on with you today, if I may be so bold to inquire?"

Woodford: So this young whippersnapper has the gall to bother me while I am going about my daily business. Of course I threw a stool at him. I had no choice.

Jordan: I kind of had to sack Coach Woodford after he threw that stool at the student and challenged him to a duel. His buyout was afforable; we were done paying it off by the time the Great War started.

Although he was fired after only a couple games, A.B. Woodford had set an odd tone that helped define Indiana University Football as something people don't care about to this day.