The University of Chicago Magazine October 1995
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Legends of the Fall


obtain them, even though Chicago had enlarged the stands. Chicagoans bought their seats at the rate of one every two-and-one-half seconds at one source, and Ann Arbor fans bought tickets almost as rapidly.

As the shortage of tickets became acute, widespread scalping resulted. The chief culprits were University students who had been allowed prime location and early purchase. A Chicago alderman angrily introduced a resolution against scalping, and the mayor dramatically ordered police to arrest all scalpers, including students. A Palmer House agent was arrested and made an example--his defense was that he bought the tickets from needy students.

University of Chicago President William Rainey Harper knew how to use such a widely heralded event. It was a time to sow the seeds of interest among wealthy Loop businessmen, and it was a time for those who had invested in the school to reap the rewards of a choice spectator position.

Ill with cancer, Harper's condition did not dampen his enthusiasm. Al- though he was bedridden and would be dead within two months, he made plans to view the game from his son Paul's dormitory room in the north facade of Hitchcock Hall, across 57th Street from Marshall Field. Harper also quite re- markably managed to give orders in great detail regarding arrangements for ticket-selling, building-and-grounds guards, seating conditions, and ushering.

DESPITE THE BITTER COLD (about ten degrees above zero), the stands were sprinkled with partisans a full two hours before the kickoff, and the contest was viewed by 27,000 people. Interlopers viewed the game from the windows of the Home for Incurables across 56th Street and from the temporary stands on the roofs of the houses across Ellis Avenue, for which privilege some had paid handsomely.

The largest gathering of students without tickets was gaping from the student rooms of Hitchcock Hall. Women were allowed into the men's rooms for the occasion, and "jolly" room parties proceeded during the game. President Harper was too ill to watch the game from his son's room as planned; instead, telephone lines came to his home from the field, where a "press agent" reported the action to the earpiece on Harper's pillow.

Chicago newspapers described the game primarily as an athletic and not a social event. Indeed, the event represented a kind of democratizing of football: Although Chicago society was out in force, they had to be content with regular grandstand seats because the elitist front boxes of previous years had given way to the more egalitarian and profitable tiered seating.

Another notable development was the presence of women, who attended the game in large numbers and showed their enthusiasm in much the same manner as their male escorts. Many "fought for tickets and points of advantage around the field" as they emulated the male spectators, and newspapers made heavy photographic use of their presence. One writer described a Michigan student as "a demure young woman" with "progressive ideas." Her "escort was the proprietor of a silver flask. The woman carried it in her muff. Every little while, feeling chilly, she would touch her muff lightly to her lips. Then with ingenuousness written all over her pretty face, she would hand the muff to her escort."

The game represented major changes on field as well. Gone were the days of free-ranging individuality and creativity on the gridiron. Teams as successful as these were due to the subjugation of such expression to the group purpose. (Yost had even referred to his Wolverines as "my...beautiful machine.") Both teams were trained and coached to a fine precision, and it soon became apparent they were nearly equal. The match was so closely played by the two machines that only a human error of judgment could afford a break in the impasse.

The "nonmachined" element was provided by Michigan halfback William Dennison Clark as he attempted one flash of rugged individualism that afternoon. Catching an Eckersall punt at his own goal line, he pluckily tried to advance with it and was carried back into his own end zone by the tackles of two Chicago men. The resultant safety yielded two points to Chicago and was the only score of the day.

The safety did not occur until late in the game, and at halftime both coaches had endeavored to talk their teams into victory. Stagg's effort was especially impressive, he remembered, because the bedridden Harper sent the team a message that they "must win this game." The president had become so agitated by the scoreless game at halftime that he dispatched languages professor Elizabeth Wallace to the locker room to deliver the message to Stagg, who recalled giving the message to the men and "pleading with them to win for the dying president's sake."

It is an all-American story. Unfortunately, the most reliable eyewitness, Professor Wallace, recorded her disappointment at finding an empty locker room.

THE 2-0 VICTORY OVER THE MICHIGAN DYNASTY was the opening of two decades of Chicago leadership of the Midwest and the University's being a significant factor on the national scene. And the victory brought about the highest level ever of campus and public enthusiasm over football at the University.

An impromptu parade of 2,500 students and alumni led by the University band formed immediately after the game. They marched to the president's house and sang the "Alma Mater" followed by nine "rahs" for him and cries for a speech. Harper was too ill to make an appearance, but his eldest son, Samuel, read a statement of thanks from his father. Bonfires flickered against the grey Gothic of the campus in the early sunset.

The official celebration of the football victory was held on the Monday night following the game. Virtually every part of the University was represented in the planning and audience at the "Monster Football Mass Meeting" in Mandel Hall. The Chicago alumni club asked members to gather 15 minutes early in their alumni room, Hutchinson Tower, to ensure that they made a unified, dramatic appearance. Not inappropriately, all alumni were instructed, "Bring Your Rattle!" Amid the many and diverse speakers was a steady parade of graduates who had played football in the "olden days"--some ten years previously.

The victory over Michigan increased the University's sense of community, and that community has given testimony to its common faith at the game's end, when fans sang a doxology written by a Chicago halfback. The song announced a Chicago gridiron paradise and was sung to a tune of Baptist utopia, "Beulah Land!":

We have reached the day of turkey and wine,

And we have been winners every time,

Here stand undimmed one happy day,

For all our foes have passed away.

The Michigan postscript to the game was provided by the life and death of the young halfback Denny Clark. The blame placed on the unfortunate Clark was both widespread and pointed. "It may be said, and said truthfully," one newspaper sermonized, "that Clark of Michigan defeated his own eleven." Other newspapers termed it "the wretched blunder" and a "lapse of brain work."

Clark left his Michigan team's quarters after the game and was miss- ing for a time. His despondency was so great that suicide was mentioned as a possibility; Clark was quoted as moaning, "Oh, this is horrible...I shall kill myself because I am in disgrace."

Fielding Yost, in a nationally syndicated article in 1925, remembered the incident and noted that a year previously he had met the middle-aged Clark in Portland, Oregon. Clark recalled his error constantly during their reunion, and Yost tried to set him at ease. Yost concluded that "only Dennis still feels the pain of it." The pain ended for William Dennison Clark seven years later; he shot himself through the heart. In a suicide note to his wife he reportedly expressed the hope that his "final play" would be of some benefit in atoning for his error at Marshall Field.

"Saint Amos": The innovations that Amos Alonzo Stagg--and the University of Chicago--brought to the game of football.

"Local Hero": Walter Eckersall starred as the Maroon's quarterback--and later as a sportswriter for the Chicago Tribune. But he struggled in the classroom.

Return to opening of "Legends of the Fall."

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