Stanford University

Stanford 125: The 1900s and 1910s

In recognizing the 125th season of Stanford football and the 150th year of college football, GoStanford.com is celebrating and highlighting Stanford's football history with a season-long series by decade. This installment merges two decades, but totals only seven years of football. Though Stanford includes the rugby years in its 125-year history, only the football years are covered in this series.

This week: The 1900s and 1910s

Games of the Decade:

Nov. 11, 1905: Stanford 12, California 5

Neither the 13,000 spectators at the first Big Game played on the Stanford campus nor the players themselves had any knowledge that Stanford president David Starr Jordan and Cal president Benjamin Ide Wheeler held a secret meeting in response to the increasing outcry about the brutality of the sport. They determined that both schools would abolish football after the Big Game.

But that didn't stop Stanford from assembling its first home stadium, completing work at the 14,500-capacity Stanford Field just before the Big Game. On the site of today's Taube Family Tennis Stadium, it would serve as Stanford's home field, for rugby and football, until Stanford Stadium was built in 1921.

Both teams were undefeated, Stanford at 7-0 and Cal at 4-0-2, and the contest was mostly a stalemate until Alexander "Bull" Chalmers got Stanford on the board with a seven-yard run just before halftime. After Cal cut the deficit to 6-5 (touchdowns were worth five points), Ted Vandervoort circled right end for a late 15-yard touchdown run that clinched Stanford's 12-5 victory. Though best in the West, Stanford wouldn't play another football game for 14 years.

Note: The lead photo features action from the 1905 Big Game, the first played on the Stanford campus, at the new Stanford Field.

Nov. 4, 1905: Stanford 16, USC 0

In the first game of the series, Stanford shut out a visiting USC team that outscored its previous five opponents 205-0 and was playing for the first time outside of Southern California. Stanford was mostly content with plunges up the middle, but Ted Vandervoort's 70-yard kickoff return in the second half opened things up and touchdowns from Dale Slusher and Bull Chalmers were enough to beat the Methodists.

Jan. 1, 1902 (Rose Bowl): Michigan 49, Stanford 0

The good news: Stanford was selected to play in the first Rose Bowl game. The bad news: It probably shouldn't have been chosen at all and was hopelessly overmatched. The 1901 season wasn't one of Stanford's best. During the regular season, the Cardinals scored only 32 points in compiling a 3-1-2 record and lost to Cal, which went 9-0-1. Yet when the first East-West football matchup was determined for Pasadena's Tournament of Roses, Stanford was invited to play a juggernaut Michigan team that was 10-0 and outscored its opponents, 501-0. Though Stanford hung tough for a little while against Fielding Yost's "Point-a-Minute" team, Michigan turned it on with 32 points in the fourth quarter before the game was called because of darkness.


Action from the first Rose Bowl game (Jan. 1, 1902).
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Notable Coaches:

Jim Lanagan (1903-05)

Lanagan was an inspirational leader and the first true coach, rather than a caretaker, of the program. A Stanford graduate (class of '00), Lanagan had played baseball rather than football, but knew how to coach and how to lead men. When Stanford dropped football for rugby, Lanagan was retained even though he knew nothing about the sport. Between football and rugby, Lanagan had a record of 49-10-5 in six seasons, including 23-2-4 in football. He guided Stanford to two undefeated football seasons: the  1903 squad went 8-0-3 with 10 shutouts and his 1905 team was 8-0 in earning the first perfect record in program history.

Fielding Yost (1900)

Fielding "Hurry Up" Yost was something of a football mercenary. He played for two college teams in 1896 alone and coached three different programs in three years before arriving at Stanford in 1900. Keeping to his personality, Yost coached three different teams during the same season – a San Francisco high school in the morning, Stanford in the afternoon, and San Jose Normal (now San Jose State) at night under gaslights. After coaching Stanford to two victories over San Jose Normal (against himself?) and a 7-2-1 record, Yost bolted for Ann Arbor with San Jose Normal star Willie Heston and the two created a dynasty at Michigan.


Fielding Yost's 1900 Stanford team.

Carl "Clem" Clemans (1902)

A great fullback on Stanford's original teams and former team captain, Clemans coached Stanford to a 6-1 season in 1902. However, the otherwise successful season was tempered by a 16-0 Big Game loss at San Francisco's Richmond Grounds.
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Prominent Players:

Billy Erb '01

Erb indeed was a Stanford football player, but his real contribution took place off the field and still is felt today. Erb was the man behind The Stanford Axe. In the spring of 1899, at a pregame rally to help Stanford fend off a three-game baseball sweep at the hands of Cal in San Francisco, Erb unveiled a fireman's axe and amused the crowd by hacking up a bear in effigy. This and other shenanigans angered Cal backers to the point where they ambushed Erb, yanked away the axe and instigated a city-wide chase that involved the authorities. A Cal fan cut off the handle and stuffed the axe head in an overcoat pocket and avoided detection as he boarded a ferry for Oakland. The Axe remained in enemy hands until 1930 when Stanford's Immortal 21 schemed to regain it. But that's another story.

Alexander "Bull" Chalmers '07

Stanford enjoyed three football seasons with Chalmers, who thrived in Jim Lanagan's system and was a workhorse fullback who helped the team to a 23-2-4 record and an undefeated record against Cal (2-0-1). Chalmers scored one touchdown in both the 1904 and 1905 Big Game victories and captained the perfect 1905 team. His 75-yard kickoff return was key to opening up the 1904 contest after a slow start.

Wilfred "Savage" Dole '05

Dole scored one touchdown and had four conversions in the 16-0 Big Game triumph in 1904 and was representative of the outstanding backs on Stanford teams of that era, including Louis "Dutch" Bansbach, Plowden "Stump" Stott, Milo "Sunny Jim" Weller, and Alexander "Bull" Chalmers.
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Best Teams:

1905 (8-0-0)

Stanford said goodbye to football with its first perfect season, outscoring opponents 138-13. The most difficult game was a 6-4 victory over the Sherman Indians at Fiesta Park in Los Angeles. The Sherman Indian School, a boarding school for Native Americans in Riverside, held Stanford scoreless until Richard Thompson scored a second-half touchdown. Sherman kicked a 25-yard field goal, worth four points, to cut the deficit, but could draw no closer. Stanford closed out the year with a 16-0 victory over USC in their first meeting, and a hard-fought 12-5 Big Game triumph on the new Stanford Field. It would be 35 years until Stanford had another undefeated and untied team.


Stanford in a battle with its toughest opponent of the 1905 season, the Sherman Indians.

1903 (8-0-3)

Stanford shut out its first nine opponents, outscoring them 175-0. The only points scored upon Stanford all season were enough to salvage a 6-6 tie for Cal in the Big Game. With Stanford holding a 6-0 lead in the final minute, Cal's Heine Heitmuller blocked a punt by Orval Overall and fell on the ball in the end zone at Richmond Grounds in the final Big Game played in San Francisco. Stanford closed the season with an 18-0 victory over the Sherman Indians, for its 10th shutout in 11 games. Stanford's season point differential was 199-6. Stanford's only two contests against collegiate teams – Nevada and Cal -- ended in ties.


The 1903 Big Game at San Francisco's Richmond Grounds ended in a 6-6 tie.

1904 (7-2-1)

For the only time in the pre-rugby era, Stanford played at least a good portion of the schedule against collegiate teams, with the final five contests against Nevada, Oregon, Utah Agricultural College (Utah State), Cal, and Colorado. The increasing number of college programs was a reflection of the growing popularity of the game, especially in the West, despite it being too brutal to continue in its present form. Stanford won all five, outscoring those opponents, 160-0. A 33-0 victory over Colorado in Denver in the season finale opened some eyes nationally and Stanford was regarded as the best team west of the Mississippi.
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Key Moments:

The Tragedy (Nov. 29, 1900)

During the 1900 Big Game at San Francisco's Recreation Park on Thanksgiving Day, as many as 1,000 fans were watching from the S.F. and Pacific Glass Works factory when the roof collapsed from their weight. More than 100 fell to the factory's floor, mostly young boys, with more than 60 directly onto the massive, blazing furnace. Twenty-two were killed and more than 100 were injured. The disaster remains the deadliest spectator accident at a U.S. sporting event.

The Celebration (Nov. 12, 1904)

In 1904, the Big Game was played outside San Francisco for the first time, moving to the campuses. With a Big Game-record 21,500 watching at a new stadium in Berkeley, Stanford thrashed a Cal team that was 5-0 and hadn't allowed a point all season. Stanford's 18-0 victory – with all the points scored in the second half -- was a no-doubter. "There was no question, or fluke or chance about that victory," reported the San Francisco Examiner. "The better team won." But San Francisco still remained in the hearts of the Stanford students, who celebrated their first Big Game victory since 1900 with a torchlight parade down Market Street.

Football Again (Oct. 15, 1919)

Stanford and Cal chose to not be patient through the national football crisis of 1905 and dropped the sport, but football began to change as new rules were put in place over the remainder of the decade, opening up the game and making it safer. Among them: the legalization of the forward pass, changing the first-down distance to 10 yards in three downs, establishment of a neutral zone, and shortening games to 60 minutes.

When Stanford returned to the sport in 1919 – following World War I and the flu outbreak of 1918 -- the game was much different. School president Richard Lyman Wilbur approved the plans of the Board of Athletic Control to field its first team since 1905. The revival began on Wednesday, October 15, when the Stanford varsity outscored the U.S.S. Boston 59-0 in three quarters. The freshman team played the final quarter and increased the combined final score to 78-0. Stanford went 4-3 under fiery coach M.C. "Bob" Evans as rugby stars Danny Carroll and Dink Templeton made a smooth transition to the gridiron. His rugby chops paid off for Templeton, who scored on a 35-yard dropkick in a 14-10 loss to Cal in the resumption of the football Big Game.


The 1919 team signified the return of Stanford football after 14 years.