Football Traditions a Century Ago

Above: The 1915 University of Texas football team poses at the north end of old Clark Field. The house behind them is now the site of the Patterson Labs Building.

October is here, and the fall semester is hitting its full stride. Mid-terms, papers, and lab reports. Concerts, plays, and intramural sports. The campus is bustling and humming well into the night.

For the Longhorn nation, fall brings with it the familiar sights and sounds of the stadium, from the “Hook ’em Horns” hand sign to the singing of the “Texas Fight!” song. There was a time, though, when hand signals and fight songs didn’t yet exist, when Alpha Phi Omega’s giant Texas flag or the Texas Cowboys’ “Smokey the Cannon” weren’t yet a part of Longhorn football games.

What were some of the University of Texas football traditions a century ago?

Football Rallies

Above: The old Main Building, where the UT Tower is today. A north wing in back housed a 1,700 seat auditorium, regularly used for campus football rallies. 

Football rallies were regularly held on the Friday evenings before games in the auditorium of the old Main Building. Following the social mores of the time, only the men were allowed to yell, and found seats on the main floor. It was considered “un-ladylike” for co-eds to get too rowdy; they watched from the second-floor balcony.

The program included rousing speeches by the head coach and team captains, UT president, and several deans. Students performed skits that often poked a little fun at the faculty, and the yell leaders directed the group (sorry, ladies – men only!) in cheers. “Texas Fight!” and “Go, Horns, Go!” were not among them. Instead, one of the most popular was the Rattle-de-Thrat Yell:

Listen to some of the old UT cheers recorded at the 2007 Big Yell.

To make sure everyone knew the words, pocket-size yell books were printed and distributed, especially to new students, at the start of the fall term.

Clark Field

Because much of the original Forty Acres was on a hillside, space was limited for outdoor sports. In the 1880s, baseball games were played on the relatively flat northwest corner, where the Texas Union stands today, and students waiting to bat rested under the trees now called the Battle Oaks.

By the 1890s, students were using a 3 ½ acre vacant lot just east of campus along 24th Street, but in 1899, the owner, a Mr. de Cordova, asked that the University either purchase the field or it would be divided and sold for private residences. A $3,000 price was negotiated. Students collected $1,300 among themselves, faculty donated $1,000, and the alumni contributed the rest. Intercollegiate football and baseball games were played there, along with informal intramural contests.

In 1906, at the students’ request, the Athletics Council formally named the field after the beloved James Clark (photo at right), who initially served as the University’s proctor, librarian, registrar, bursar, academic counselor, and groundskeeper, all at once. A friend to everyone, Clark was known to bring soup to students who were ill at home, and personally funded an annual Christmas banquet for those who were stuck in Austin for the holidays. A Clark Field still exists on the campus, just south of the San Jacinto Residence Hall.

The following year, 1907, students raised funds and constructed wooden bleachers in time for the annual football game with Texas A&M (see The One Week Stadium), then continued to add seats, roofing, and a press box over the next decade. By the late 1910s, Clark Field could accommodate about 20,000 fans, the largest in the South.

Above: A view of Clark Field from the east stands, with the Forty Acres across Speedway Street and up on the hill. Buildings from left: Law Building, B. Hall (men’s dorm), Old Main, the smokestack of the old power station, and the Engineering Building on the right (today’s Gebauer Building).

Kick-off

Above: A sunny kick-off for the Texas vs. Rice University game in 1916. Looking south across Clark Field, with the Texas Capitol in the distance.

“A custom which is never forgotten is cheering in the bleachers,” wrote UT student Rupert Robertson, who was a UT track letterman in the 1910s. “When the teams trot out upon the field, the rooters give ‘Rattle-de-Thrat,’ and as soon as the game begins, they sing ‘The Eyes of Texas are Upon You.’ So much noise is going on all through the game, you can hardly hear your ears.” As with the football rallies, yelling was generally limited to the men until the mid-1920s. Women were permitted to applaud, sing, and wave Texas pennants, but anything too raucous would bring a stern warning from the Dean of Women. Before the addition of a public address system, UT yell leaders, dressed in white to be easily seen, coordinated the cheering through hand signals that had been explained and rehearsed at the Friday evening football rally.

“Now and then a man on the opposing team gets through Varsity’s line for a few yards,” Robertson continued. “He generally receives applause, because we know that it takes a good man to break through Texas’ mighty wall of defense.”

Above right: The October 1916 cover of the student-published Longhorn Magazine displayed the latest in co-ed football fashion.

Halftime

Above: The 1916 version of the University of Texas Band (with a junior mascot).

While today’s halftime tradition is to enjoy a performance by the Longhorn Band, the custom a century ago was the reverse. The band, usually under thirty-members strong, remained in the stands and provided musical accompaniment as fans left their seats for a “snake dance,” and ran single file in a tortured course up, down, and the length of the field. It was meant to show enthusiasm and support for the team, and was a great source of amusement for the ladies who watched from their seats.

Above: A 1923 version of the halftime snake dance. Modern halftime performances of the Longhorn Band began soon after the opening of Texas Memorial Stadium in 1924.

The Longhorn Pen

 Above: The Longhorn Pen was located just inside the Speedway entry to Clark Field.

The first concession stand at Clark Field opened in 1916 as the “Longhorn Pen,” just past the main entrance to the field near Speedway Street. Managed by six UT students hired by the Athletics Council, lemonade, soft drinks, candy, peanuts, popcorn, and cigars were sold, and the profits helped pay the students’ college costs.  “The addition of this feature will remove the objections many have found with the concession holders of the past, “reported the Austin Statesman, “and will at the same time enable six worthy boys to pay their expenses at the University.”

Post-Game

Rupert Robertson’s favorite football tradition was at the end of the day. “When the game is over, the rooters tumble over the fence below the bleachers, grab the heros of the game, and carry them from the field upon their shoulders. They portray true Texas spirit here, because this is done whether we win or lose.”

“Of the customs this last one is best,” Robertson explained, “because the act within itself drives away all ill feeling that might have existed during the game.”

Above: The main gate to Clark Field, near the corner of Speedway and 23rd Streets.

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Our “Hook ’em” Hand Sign is 60!!

Harley Clark. 2013 Gone to Texas. Marsha Miller

Above: Harley Clark, flashing the Hook ‘em Horns hand sign at the 2013 Gone To Texas freshman convocation. Harley passed away in October 2014. Photo by Marsha Miller

1955FootballScheduleHarley Clark loved to tell the story. It was the second week of November, 1955, and the University of Texas football team, “high on brain power, but low on brute force,” was preparing for an important contest against the 6th ranked TCU Horned Frogs. The game was to be played in Austin on Saturday afternoon, November 12th, at the usual 2 p.m. kick-off.

The UT squad hadn’t fared all that well. Though Memorial Stadium had just been outfitted with lights and night games were played for the first time, the team was 4-4 overall and 3-3 in the Southwest Conference. But league front runner Texas A&M was on probation for recruiting violations and not eligible for post-season play. If Texas could pull a mighty upset over TCU and then win out, the Longhorns would spend New Year’s Day at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas.

The week before the game, Texas fans did all they could to support the team. Signs were hung on the Texas Union. Impromptu football rallies were held almost every night in front of Hill Hall (later expanded to Moore-Hill), the residence for most of the athletes. The red candle tradition was employed. First used in 1941 to “hex” the Texas Aggies, candles burned brightly in store windows along the Drag, in offices downtown, and in homes all over Austin. Local businesses found it difficult to keep red candles in stock.

Harley Clark for Head Yell Leader

Above: To campaign for the Head Yell Leader spot, Harley distributed cards that fellow students pinned on their shirts.

At the center of all this activity was Harley Clark, who’d been elected Head Yell Leader in a campus-wide election the previous April. In the 1950s, the position was highly prized. The Head Yell Leader was responsible for the health and well-being of the Texas Longhorn spirit, and Harley took the assignment seriously.

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Harley Clark.Head CheerleaderA government major, Harley and his trademark crew cut was an easy figure to spot on the Forty Acres. He seemed to be involved in everything: gymnastics team, Texas Union committees, freshman orientation, Friar Society, Texas Cowboys, and the Tejas Club, his home base, where he roomed with his close friend (and future Austin mayor) Frank Cooksey. Harley would eventually be elected student body president – the first to serve while enrolled in grad school – and earn three UT degrees, a BA and MA in government, as well as a law degree.

Elected Head Yell Leader at the end of his sophomore year, Harley spent part of the summer of ’55 backpacking through Europe with fellow UT student Speed Carroll. Occasionally, the two would write or phone their whereabouts to family and friends in Austin, and Willie Morris, then editor of The Daily Texan, would report on their adventures in the newspaper. “The Eiffel Tower,” said Harley, “is taller that UT’s and has the added attraction of being quite free of English professors.” Along with taking in the sights of the Old Country, Harley was also hatching plans for the upcoming fall term. The stadium, he thought, was far too quiet during football games, and he wanted to do something to boost the decibel level.

Personal Megaphones

Above: Ten-inch plastic megaphones were distributed at the Texas vs. Baylor game. Fans used them for the rest of the season.

On their way back to Austin, Harley and Speed first stopped in New York, and, not yet recovered from jet lag and without making any appointments, spent two days pestering every advertising company they could find along Madison Avenue. They were looking for a company to sponsor ten-inch plastic megaphones to be distributed at a football game. If the fans had their own megaphones, Harley reasoned, the stadium would certainly be a little louder. Just before they had to push on to Austin, Old Gold Cigarettes (It was the 1950s, remember.) agreed to provide 10,000 orange and white personal megaphones with the company logo printed on the front. The order didn’t arrive until the Baylor game in early November, but they were a big hit with the students and were used for the rest of the season.

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1955.UT Cheerleaders

The official Texas vs. TCU football rally was set for Friday evening, November 11, 1955 in Gregory Gym. A torchlight parade of several thousand students, led by a Dixieland Band on a flat-bed truck, set out from the northwest corner of campus, marched south on Guadalupe, then east on 21st Street to the gym. There was rousing music by the Longhorn Band (with its newly acquired “world’s largest bass drum,” dubbed Big Bertha), yells by the cheerleaders, and spirited talks by Dean of Students Arno Nowotny, Head Coach Ed Price and Team Captains Herb Gray, Johnny Tatum, and Menan Schriewer. Then, at the end of program, Harley decided to introduce something new.

A few days earlier, while in the Texas Union, Harley was talking with classmate Henry “HK” Pitts, who suggested that the hand sign with the index and little fingers extended, looked a bit like a longhorn, and might be fun to do at rallies and football games. The Texas Aggies had their “Gig ‘em” thumbs-up sign, inspired while playing the TCU Horned Frogs. With the TCU game coming up on Saturday, why can’t Texas fans have their own hand signal?

TCURallyHookEm

 Above: The Moment. The “Hook ’em Horns” hand sign is shown for the first time in Gregory Gym. At the lower left, someone is trying out the new signal for themselves. The head at the lower right belongs to Longhorn Band Director Vince DiNino. 

Harley liked the idea, and decided to introduce it at Gregory Gym rally. He demonstrated the sign to the crowd, and promptly declared, “This is the official hand sign of the University of Texas, to be used whenever and wherever Longhorns gather.” The students and cheerleaders tried it out (some seemed to have it backwards), and Harley led a simple yell, “Hook ‘em Horns!” with hands raised.

Immediately after the rally, Harley was confronted by a furious Dean Nowotny. “How could you say the hand sign was official?” the dean wanted to know. “Has this been approved by the University administration?” Harley admitted that the idea hadn’t been approved first, but the cat was already out of the bag – or the longhorn was already loose in the pasture.

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Sometimes, when recounting the story, Harley said that Dean Nowotny also demanded, “Do you know what this means in Sicily?!!” Or Italy. Or Europe. I asked Harley if it were true, did Nowotny really saythat, and Harley admitted that it was the only embellishment he added, mostly just to get a laugh from his audience. For accuracy’s sake, while Nowonty was unhappy that Harley hadn’t first cleared the idea of an “official” hand sign with the administration, the reference to Sicily, didn’t actually happen.

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The next day at the football game, the student section practiced what they had learned the night before, and the alumni were quick to follow. By the end of the game, the stadium was full of “Hook ‘em Horns” hand signs. And while TCU won the day (47-20) the University of Texas had a new tradition it would cherish for decades to come.

AAS.1959.11.13.Hook em.TCU Game - Copy

Above: A 1959 issue of the Austin Statesman. The “Hook ’em Horns” hand sign hand already become a well-established UT tradition.

The Longhorns’ Secret Weapon

Texas Cal Cheerleaders.1961

Above: UT alumnus Bill Bates (fourth from left) and the cheerleaders he recruited for the 1961 Texas vs. Cal football game in Berkeley. Oh my…

Texas Cal Helmets

The 1961 Texas Longhorns were ranked 4th nationally as they prepared for their season opener against the Cal Golden Bears. Expectations were high, but both head coaches – Mark Levy for Cal and Darrell Royal for Texas – knew very well that first games often came with surprises.

Texas fans, excited about their prospects, planned to be at California Memorial Stadium in droves. The UT alumni association chartered its first ever football excursion. A package price of just under $200 included round-trip airfare, two nights stay at a San Francisco hotel, ground transportation to Berkeley, and a ticket to the game. Also scheduled was a pre-game reception at Cal’s Alumni House. UT alumni president John Holmes was so taken by the facility, it inspired him to spearhead an effort to build an alumni center in Austin, which opened in 1965. (See: The Alumni Center Turns 50!)

1961 Cheerleaders

Above: Five of the members of the 1961 UT cheerleading team.

Notably missing from the game, however, were the Longhorn Band and Texas cheerleading squad. At the time, there simply weren’t enough funds in the athletic department’s coffers to help fly the students out to the Golden State. This meant that UT fans would be, well, leaderless, as far as cheering was concerned.

920x920Enter Bill Bates.Originally from Tyler, Texas, Bates transferred to UT for his junior and senior years, 1949-1951. An art major, he had classes with Fess Parker (who would become famous as Disney’s Davy Crockett as well as the Daniel Boone TV series), and for a time dated Cathy Grandstaff, the future Mrs. Bing Crosby. A UT cheerleader, Bates was also a artist for The Daily Texan. He would later travel the world as artist-in-residence for Royal Viking Cruise Ships, then settle in Carmel, California as a cartoonist for the local Carmel Pine Cone. Twice Bates was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. He passed away in 2009, survived by his wife and daughter.

In 1961, the 31-year old Bates was just getting his start as a cartoonist for The San Francisco Examiner, and was very disappointed that the UT cheerleaders wouldn’t be present for the all important Texas vs. Cal game. What to do? What any resourceful Texas Longhorn would do, of course. Get replacements. And not some run-of-the-mill substitutes, either. Just as UT strives to be a university of the first class, Bates went looking for the best stand-in cheerleaders he could find.

365 ClubBates was a regular at Bimbo’s 365 Club (photo at left), a nationally known San Francisco nightclub. Founded in 1931 by Italian immigrant Agostino Giuntoli – nicknamed “Bimbo” by friends who had trouble pronouncing his name. (Unlike the current American slang, “bimbo” comes from the Italian “bambino,” a young boy. The nickname was fairly common.) The 365 Club was a place to see and be seen through much of the 20th century. Hollywood celebrities were frequent customers. Rita Cansino, better known as the actress Rita Hayworth, was discovered there. Now more than 80 years old, the 365 Club continues to thrive in downtown San Francisco.

In the 1960s, among its varied nightclub acts, the Club was also known for its leggy chorus line, something like the New York Rockettes. Bates spoke with Bimbo about his problem, a deal was made, and Bates hired six members of the chorus line to be substitute UT cheerleaders for a day.

The weather was perfect for the 1:30 p.m. kick-off on Saturday, September 23, 1961. Clear, sunny California skies and 70 degrees greeted the 41,500 fans at Cal Stadium. Exactly how Bates won permission to bring his cheerleading squad into the stadium isn’t known, but the girls lined up in front of the Texas fans in white, low-neck dresses and high heels, and, having practiced with Bates beforehand, began to lead the crowd in traditional UT yells.

LA Tiimes.1961 HeadlineA football game was taking place on the field, but a good many fans – and players – were more than a little distracted by the spectacle on the sidelines. “University of Texas rooters more or less disrupted the Cal – Texas football game Saturday by hiring a half dozen chorus girls from a San Francisco night club to act as cheerleaders,” reported The Los Angeles Times (photo right). “The girls, scantily clad in lowcut playsuits and wearing high heels, attracted nearly as much attention from the fans as did the football players.During the times-out and half-time ceremonies, thousands of binoculars stayed glued on the field to watch the girls,” which likely included the reporter. “At halftime a mob scene developed where the dancers were sitting as thousands of college students gathered around just to look.”

As the Longhorn offense began to take control of the game, The Dallas Morning News related, “There wasn’t much for the California partisans to cheer and they spent a good bit of the time ogling Bimbo’s sextet, even though the girls were ostensibly leading the cheering of a band of Texans who came here to root the Longhorns home.” The Austin Statesman called the group “Texas’ Twelfth Man” and Bate’s “secret weapon . . . The strategy worked fine.” United Press International (UPI) snapped a few photos and sent the story out on the news wires. National television newscasts discussed it on their nighttime broadcasts, and Sports Illustrated mentioned it in its next issue.

UPI Image.Texas Cal Cheerleaders.1961

Above: Not the best quality image (it’s from microfilm), but one of the UPI photos and cutlines sent out on newswires across the country.

Oh, and the game? The Texas Longhorns overwhelmed the Golden Bears, 28 – 3.

1950s Football Flare

UT Football Pin 1950s

When it’s time for kick-off, how do you show your team colors? Football fashions have been around as long as, well, football itself. In the 1880s and 1890s, fans going to a game pinned colored ribbons to their lapels to show which team they supported, though the guys often sported longer ribbons to be sure they’d have extra to share with a pretty girl who had none.

By the 1950s, ribbons were still being worn, though though they were more popular with the co-eds. Some were solid color ribbons attached with a team button (see photo at left), and perhaps decorated with “football charms” – tiny footballs, helmets, megaphones, or trophies.

At the University of Texas, paper ribbons printed with a catchy phrase about the day’s opponent were also popular. Pinned to a shirt or blouse, the ribbons were simply strips cut from a regular 8 1/2 x 11 sheet of paper. The University Co-op sponsored the printing costs, and the ribbons were distributed in front of the entrances of the stadium as fans arrived for the game. Below is a sampling from the 1950s and 60s. (Click on an image for a larger view.)

Ribbon Image 1

Above, from left. Paper ribbons used for home games against Texas A&M, when the annual Thanksgiving Day game was often billed as the Tea-Sips vs. the Farmers, rather than Longhorns and Aggies; Oklahoma Sooners (Who else?); Rice Owls; and the TCU Horned Frogs. The “T” and longhorn logo at the bottom was used for only a few years in the early 1950s. The “yelling Bevo” icon was first appeared in 1953. 

Ribbon Image 2

Above, from left. An early 1950s ribbon for a Texas Tech game; from the 1964 Texas vs. Army bout in Memorial Stadium (UT won 17-6.); Oklahoma State was a non-conference opponent in 1963, when Texas went undefeated and claimed its first national football championship; in 1953, third ranked Baylor came to Austin, but UT students had been burning red candles to hex the Bears. Baylor fell 21-20.

Ribbon Image 3

Above, from left. Click on an image for a larger view, and you can still see the holes at the top where the ribbons were pinned. These are from the 1950s and 60s for games against Oklahoma, as well as Southwest Conference opponents Rice, Baylor, and Arkansas.

1955 UT Image

Ninety Years of Burnt Orange

Our favorite color appeared a few years earlier than was once thought.

1928 UT Pennant

Above: A 1910 UT pennant in bright orange and white.

When did the Longhorn football team first don that distinctive, burnt orange color?

Orange and white made its first appearance in 1885, at UT’s inaugural baseball game against Southwestern University. After fifteen years of trying out other colors – from gold and white, to orange and maroon, to royal blue – the Board of Regents officially declared orange and white as UT’s colors after a vote of students, faculty, staff, and alumni in 1900. (The complete history is here.)

The bright orange and white had issues, though. The white stained easily on the athletic field, and the orange began to fade to a yellowish hue after being washed too many times. By the 1920s, opponents near the end of a football season would sometimes call the Texas squad the “yellow bellies,” which didn’t sit well with coaches or athletes.

DT.1925.09.19.Burnt OrangeFor decades, it was believed that in 1928, UT football coach Clyde Littlefield initiated a change and ordered a darker-colored orange jersey that wouldn’t fade so easily. But recently, while scrolling through a microfilm copy of The Daily Texan from 1925 in the UT Archives, the author came across a short, two paragraph article buried on page seven of the September 19, 1925 issue. The article read:

“When crowds watch the Longhorns fight their way through one of the stiffest schedules of their career, the men will wear uniforms of a color slightly different from the proverbial orange and white, according to S. N. Eckdahl of the University athletic staff, who has been issuing equipment to the Longhorn players.

“As several other schools in the country claimed orange and white as their school colors, the University officials decided to adopt an orange and white which  should be Texas’ own. As a consequence, a combination of dyes was used to produce a shade different from the standard orange. The new shade is darker, being more of a burnt orange.”

EJ Doc StewartThe history will need to be corrected. It was Coach E. J. “Doc” Stewart (photo at right) who introduced the burnt orange color 90 years ago this month. The change seemed to have been made within the Athletic Department; the Board of Regents didn’t recognize the new hue until much later.

Burnt orange – or “Texas orange” – was used from 1925 until the Second World War, when the dye was no longer available. Team uniforms reverted back to their original bright orange color for almost two decades, until Coach Darrell Royal returned to the Texas orange in the early 1960s.

1928.UT Letter Sweater

Above: A 1928 University of Texas football letter sweater. It was long believed that 1928 was the year a dark orange color made its first appearance, but a recent discovery has pushed the date back to 1925. The sweater is still likely the first version of a “Texas Orange,” and is almost a rust color. Both the sweater and the 1910 UT pennant are in possession of the author.

1928.UT Letter Sweater.T Close up

How NOT to Choose a University President

UT Campus.1923.

Above: The University of Texas campus in the early 1920s.

 Thursday, May 15, 1924: Lutcher Stark, Chairman of the Board of Regents, asked the doors to be locked and the windows closed. The board was meeting with the alumni association’s executive council about the selection of the next University president, but Stark was adamant that their discussion should be strictly confidential. “No word must get out to the newspapers,” he instructed. No one knew that an intrepid reporter from The Daily Texan was hiding in the closet, notepad at the ready.

Within 48 hours of the meeting, the board broke their pledge to the alumni, offered the presidency to the governor of Texas, two regents abruptly resigned, and the ambitious fundraising campaign to build the football stadium was almost derailed.

Sometimes, choosing a new UT president doesn’t go smoothly.

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Initially, the University had no president. In the spring of 1881, as the Texas Legislature debated the bill that would create UT, concerns were raised in the House that Governor Oran Roberts would be named to head the University when his term expired.  Though Roberts strongly supported the university bill, opponents argued that asking Roberts to oversee UT would set a precedent and forever politicize the office. The position ought to go to someone academically qualified, not become a retreat for retired politicians.

A compromise was reached between Senator Alexander Terrell and Representative Joseph Hutcheson. Terrell preferred to have a president, but also wanted the university to be open to women as well as men, a progressive idea for its time. Hutcheson believed enrollment should be limited only to male students, and argued that UT be modeled after the University of Virginia – his alma mater – which was then the only university in the country led by a faculty chairman instead of a president. To break the impasse, Terrell agreed to a faculty chair, while Hutcheson conceded to the enrollment of women. Roberts was denied the possibility of serving as UT’s president, but was appointed as one of the two initial law professors.

Leslie WaggenerFor most of UT’s first decade, English Professor Leslie Waggener (photo at left, for whom Waggener Hall is named) served as the faculty chairman, though it became increasingly apparent that an administrator, someone apart from the professors, was needed. In 1895, Waggener was declared president ad interim as the regents began to search for a permanent chief executive. They didn’t have to look far, as an unwitting prime candidate came to them. In June 1896, the faculty invited George Winston, then President of the University of North Carolina, to Austin to deliver the spring commencement address. Winston’s demeanor and speech so impressed the regents, that Winston was immediately recruited. He was named UT’s president before the month was over.

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Perhaps the most difficult selection of a UT president began in February, 1923, when Robert Vinson resigned to take the helm of Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio. Vinson had piloted UT through the 1917 controversy with Governor James Ferguson, as well as a 1921 attempt to relocate the entire campus from its confined 40 acres to the more spacious Brackenridge Tract. (The effort was deemed too costly. Instead, state lawmakers approved funds to purchase land east of the campus. See The Littlefield Gateway for more on the proposed move.)

The board accepted Vinson’s resignation with “deep regret,” voted to award him an honorary Doctor of Laws degree, and named Will Sutton, the Dean of Education, as President ad interim. Almost immediately, the inevitable speculation began on who would be Vinson’s successor. The most notable came from the Austin Statesman. After the regents’ meeting, Chairman Lutcher Stark met privately with the governor for over an hour. The next day, the Statesman reported a “flock of rumors” in the state capitol “that Governor Pat Neff might resign . . . in order to become president of the University of Texas.”

Will HoggThough it was just a rumor, it persisted with enough frequency to worry Will Hogg and the officers of the University’s Ex-Students’ Association. Hogg, the son of former governor James Hogg, a UT graduate, and a Houston lawyer, had donated a small fortune to promote higher education throughout the state, was instrumental in founding the Alcalde alumni magazine, had served a term on the Board of Regents, and steered the ex-students’ efforts through the political conflict with Governor Ferguson, which prevented the University from being closed and resulted in Ferguson’s impeachment and resignation. (On campus, the W. C. Hogg Building is named for him.) When Will Hogg was concerned, the alumni tended to listen.

AAS.1923.06.05.Alumni Oppose Neff as UT Prez - CopyAt its annual meeting in June 1923, which coincided with spring commencement, the alumni association approved a resolution in opposition to Pat Neff as UT president. “For Governor Neff as a governor, a friend to the University and as a Christian gentleman, we have only words of commendation and praise,” the resolution stated, “but we do not believe that the qualities which make him an able governor in any way prove his fitness for presidency of the University.” The issue was neither personal nor directly political. The governor, a UT alumnus, was generally popular among the alumni. Hogg and Neff belonged to the same 1897 law school class, where both participated in the University’s first celebration of Texas Independence Day. Echoing their 1881 counterparts in the legislature, the alumni were simply anxious not to let the office of president become politicized.

A copy of the resolution was sent to the Board of Regents and acknowledged by Chairman Lutcher Stark, but the regents took no other action toward finding Vinson’s successor, which only prompted more gossip that the board was deliberately dragging its heels to wait until Neff had completed his term as governor.

In the meantime, attention on campus had turned to a new topic: building a football stadium.

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UT Football Player.1900sBy the 1920s, intercollegiate football had gained a strong national following and developed a competitive parity between teams beyond the traditional “Big Three” of Harvard, Yale, and Princeton. Improvements in transportation, especially the wildly popular and affordable Model T automobile, along with massive post-World War I improvements to roads, provided rural American families the opportunity to drive in to town on a Saturday and watch a game. With better teams and more fans, college football had become big business.

To accommodate the crowds, impressive stadiums were being constructed across the country, many of them named as memorial tributes to those who had fought in the recent world war. Stanford opened a 65,000-seat venue in 1921, followed closely by Ohio State (63,000), Illinois (67,000), California (73,000), Michigan (84,000), and others. For much of the decade, stadium building was almost a mania.

1924.Clark Field

Above: Part of the west stands of old Clark Field.

At the University of Texas, football had been played on the old Clark Field since the 1890s (at the corner of 24th and Speedway Streets, where the O’Donnell Building and Dell-Gates Complex are today), but by the 1920s, the student-built creaky wooden bleachers were inadequate and always needed repairs. (See The One Week Stadium) A new facility was sorely needed.

United behind Coach “Doc” Stewart’s motto, “For Texas, I Will,” the 1923 Longhorn football team had a banner season. Opponents didn’t score a point through the first six games. Baylor fought hard to a 7-7 tie, which spoiled the undefeated record, but the next week Oklahoma succumbed 26-14. Only the Thanksgiving Day bout against A&M, to be held in College Station, was left on the schedule.

Off the field, the campus chatter was about building a new athletic stadium. Some thought the estimated $500,000 cost was too ambitious a goal. Nothing close to it had been attempted. Others believed a new venue was overdue, and if the team continued its winning ways, alumni support would make the difference. If Texas prevailed over A&M, a stadium campaign was likely. But there was a catch: Texas had never won on Kyle Field since games were first played there in 1915.

On Thanksgiving Day, thousands of UT fans either drove their Model T’s or boarded trains for College Station. Many wore orange and white armbands that read, “Win or Lose, a Stadium by Thanksgiving, 1924.” Walter Hunnicutt collaborated with Longhorn Band director Burnett Pharr to compose a new song. A friendly spoof on A&M’s “Aggie Taps,” the pair called it “Texas Taps.” The band introduced the tune at the game, and it was an instant favorite. (Today, fans know it as “Texas Fight.” Listen to the earliest recording of the song.) Texas won the day 6-0 over the Aggies, and the fundraising campaign to build a stadium wasn’t far behind.

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Feb 25 1924.Stadium Kickoff Rally

Above: With snow falling outside, students launch the fundraising effort for the stadium.

At 2 p.m. on Monday, February 25, 1924, in the midst of a rare Austin snowstorm, almost 2,500 students – out of an enrollment of 4,400 – trudged through icy slush to attend an unprecedented rally in the wooden men’s gymnasium. The goal was to build Memorial Stadium, named to honor Texans who had participated in the recent World War. In just over week, the students hoped to raise $100,000 in pledges on the campus. The citizens of Austin would be called upon for another $100,000, and then the alumni would need to donate the remaining $300,000. The east and west stands would be built first, with the north end zone and overall façade to be completed later. For the stadium to be ready by the 1924 football season, construction needed to begin in June.

To no one’s surprise, the leader of the stadium drive was Regent Lutcher Stark. “I will make you this proposition,” he announced to the crowd, “Lutcher Stark will donate to the stadium 10 per cent of what is raised on campus by the students.”

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Lutcher StarkBorn, perhaps appropriately, in the East Texas town of Orange, Stark was the heir to a vast lumber and oil fortune. He arrived at the University in 1905 as the first student to own a car, graduated in 1910, and became a whirlwind of business activity, involved in banking, real estate, insurance, manufacturing, and petroleum. His family home has been preserved as a museum, along with the Stark Museum of Art just across the street.

Texas Longhorn Blankets 1915Outside of business, Stark’s great interest was the University of Texas sports program, and was its first super-booster. A Saturday Evening Post article would dub him the “Archangel” of UT athletics. Though the football team had been called “Longhorns” since 1904, Stark provided the 1915 squad with blankets embroidered with “Texas Longhorns,”
the first time the team had publicly sported its name. A generous donor, Stark also found summer jobs for many student-athletes. (Stark’s mother, Miriam, was also a contributor to the University, including the valuable Stark Library, located in the president’s suite in the Main Building.) In 1919, Governor William Hobby appointed the 31-year old Stark to the Board of Regents, where he would remain for 24 years.

But as Chairman of the Board of Regents, his passions sometimes led to controversy. At the July 1923 regents’ meeting, Stark oversaw the creation of a new College of Physical Activities, which would coordinate men’s and women’s intramural sports, P.T. classes, and offer a degree in physical education. It was no secret that Stark wanted to promote Athletic Director Theo Bellmont to Dean of the college, but this was controversial with the alumni, who thought it placed too much emphasis on athletics. As Bellmont had no advanced degree, the idea didn’t sit well with the faculty, either. (Two years later, the college was reorganized as a subsidiary of the School of Education and is now the Department of Kinesiology.)

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For Texas I Will.Stadium Drive.Lunch Meeting Above: A 500-member student committee held daily lunch meetings in the gym.

With the stadium drive underway, 500 students were divided into 68 teams to solicit anyone and everyone on campus. The group met for lunch daily at the men’s gym, under an enormous “For Texas, I Will” banner hung on the east wall, and reported on pledges from the previous day. Each morning, The Daily Texan published a different slogan above its masthead, while the contributor won a pair of tickets to a local movie theater. Among the refrains:

Fall in Line! Don’t Lag Behind – This is Stadium Time!

Let’s Give our Roll to Build that Bowl

Don’t Pass the Buck – Pass Several Bucks to the Stadium

Come, Chum, with a Maximum Sum for the Stadium

DT Headline.1924.02.16.

Above: Before and through the student pledge drive, The Daily Texan published stadium slogans above its masthead.

The campus drive ended March 4th and exceeded all expectations. The students, faculty, and staff had together pledged $166,000, and Lutcher Stark promptly wrote a check for $16,600.

Alcalde.April 1924A month later, from April 4–11, it was Austin’s turn to take up the project. With the help of a 300-person organizing committee, and rallied by a parade of UT students down Congress Avenue (unfortunately in a downpour), the city contributed $115,000. The crucial alumni pledge drive was set to begin in mid-May.

To prime the ex-students, the Alcalde alumni magazine published a special stadium edition in April. It featured articles on the successful campus pledge drive, and was filled with supportive letters from faculty, coaches, and prominent alumni. The back cover compared building the stadium to the construction of the Roman Coliseum. “Our Memorial Stadium,” the magazine predicted, “will command the admiration of generations unborn. Like a mantle of ivy, time will weave o’er its beloved walls a soft halo of tradition.”

Photos above: The front and back cover of the April, 1924 Alcalde magazine; a color rendition of the proposed stadium by Dallas architect Herbert Greene. Click on image for a larger view.

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 The same edition of the Alcalde also issued a complaint: “Month after month there is talk of the election of a President of the University by the Board of Regents, but month after month nothing is done.” As the spring continued, questions arose about the board’s lack of progress. The Students’ Assembly approved a measure in favor of Dr. Sutton as the permanent chief executive. Alumni around the state started petitions for other candidates, including one for Lutcher Stark, and rumors persisted that the board still planned to name Governor Neff. To press the matter, the executive council of the alumni association requested a conference with the regents. The meeting was scheduled for the evening of May 15th.

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1923 Board of Regents

Above: The UT Board of Regents in President Sutton’s office, spring 1924.

On a warm Thursday morning, May 15, 1924, the Board of Regents convened in President Sutton’s office in the Education Building. (Today, it’s the architecture graduate student lounge on the ground floor of Sutton Hall.) The regents spent the day discussing University business, and then adjourned for dinner. They planned to return in about an hour to meet with the alumni executive council, though the engagement was to be in executive session and not open to the public.

Biological Labs.1924While the office was empty, a freshman reporter from The Daily Texan quietly entered and hid in a closet that adjoined the room. Notepad at the ready, he concealed himself among the architectural drawings for the Biological Sciences Building, then under construction (photo at right), and plans for the new stadium.

An hour later, the alumni joined the regents for a closed-door conference. Chairman Stark asked the details of their conversation not be made public, and all agreed. Will Hogg spoke on behalf of the alumni, and outlined the objections for appointing Governor Neff as UT president.

“Well, you have sufficient confidence in us to believe that we won’t select Neff, haven’t you?” responded Regent Frank Jones. “Well, Neff is not the first governor of Texas who has wanted the presidency of the University. We won’t give it to him.”

The alumni were assured that Neff wouldn’t be selected, and the conversation turned to the board’s two “real” candidates:  Guy Stanton Ford, then head of the Graduate School at the University of Minnesota, and Herbert Bolton, a previous member of the UT faculty who was then a history professor at the University of California in Berkeley. The regents were leaning toward Bolton. With the alumni satisfied, the regents retired for the night, set to continue their official meeting the next afternoon. The Texan reporter, who had recorded the entire discussion, waited until the building was quiet before he made his escape, but not before he helped himself to a few of the regents’ cigars.

DT.1924.05.16.Bolton to be Elected

Friday morning, the Texan printed a complete account of the meeting and predicted that Dr. Guy Ford would be UT’s next president. The identity of the reporter was never revealed “for the sake of his university career,” though the Texan added that the regents smoked “bum cigars.”

That afternoon, the board reconvened as scheduled, promoted Theo Bellmont to Dean of the new College of Physical Activities, and then, contrary to their verbal pledge to the alumni the previous evening, promptly voted 7-2 to tender Governor Pat Neff the position of UT president. Stark telephoned Neff, who was then in the town of Eastland, and informed the governor.

Regents Sam Cochran and Frank Jones, who had voted no, immediately resigned from the board. A statement to explain their position was included in the minutes: “We believe it contrary to the best interests of the University and of the State, and wrong in principal, to select as the President of that institution the Governor of the State, who holds the appointive power with respect to the Board of Regents.”

“No, Neff’s election was not a complimentary one,” Stark later explained. “We wanted him to be president of the University.” Within an hour of the vote, the board received a telegram from Neff, who politely and tactfully declined.

The seven remaining regents went into executive session and unanimously elected Ford as president, with a $10,000 annual salary and a house. A telegram was sent to Minnesota before the board adjourned.

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Telegram

The regents’ actions were public knowledge by 4 p.m. that afternoon, and Will Hogg was furious. At 6:30 that evening, Hogg fired off a caustic telegram to Stark on behalf of the entire alumni council. Still preserved in the UT Archives, Hogg wrote, in part: “All here feel that while Neff’s declination on that evidently framed honorary election does his common sense a puny mite of credit, the contumely of that smear will be justly heaped on all of you … for as Ex-Students you failed to defend the constitutional sanctity and tritest ideals of your Alma Mater … If you truly desire to serve the University, you should at least resign from the Stadium Drive, or complete it out of your own pocket as a trifling tribute from a contrite conscience for the shameful thing you have done, for you as Chairman of the Board and leader of the Stadium effort can’t get a sou marque from Houston … until this personal and official obloquy is totally erased by your abject personal abasement.” The text of Hogg’s telegram found its way into the newspapers.

DT.1924.05.17.Headlines

In what might best be described as a great family quarrel, the entire University community was suddenly in an uproar. Alumni demanded Stark’s resignation from the Board of Regents and the stadium drive. The students, more interested in completing the stadium to which they’d just pledged $166,000, rushed to defend Stark. The faculty openly criticized the regents’ choices and called Bellmont’s promotion to dean “absurd.” Bellmont, who was content being the athletic director, learned the news of his new title by reading about it in the Texan, and found himself in an awkward situation. Meanwhile, Guy Ford wanted nothing to do with the University of Texas. Less than 24-hours after his selection, Ford sent his wife to tell reporters that he planned to stay in Minnesota.

1924.Stadium Site

As steam shovels cleared the site for the stadium and horse-drawn carts carried off excess rocks and soil, alumni pledges slowed to a trickle throughout the state and ceased entirely in all-important Houston. Contract work was to begin June 1st. If the situation wasn’t resolved quickly, the stadium effort would unravel and be delayed at least a year.

A few days after the regents meeting, Stark issued a 1,500 word statement to the press, and blamed the controversy on a small group in Houston. University graduate Maury Maverick of San Antonio (a future U.S. Congressman) countered to the Associated Press that Stark’s claim was a “smoke screen” and thought Stark still wanted Pat Neff. In the Dallas Morning News, Richard Fleming, president of the Houston chapter of the alumni association, said Stark’s claim was “unfounded,” and explained, “The opposition of the ex-students has not been directed personally toward Neff, but it has been solely directed toward the proposition of the selection of a man not fitted by education or training for the presidency.”

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On Sunday, June 1st, after two weeks of dispute, and as alumni gathered in Austin for spring commencement and the ex-students’ annual meeting, Lutcher Stark, Will Hogg, and several members of the alumni council met at the Driskill Hotel in downtown Austin. After three hours of discussion and negotiation, differences were put aside. Stark resigned from the stadium project, but remained Chairman of the Board of Regents. Hogg pledged to promote the stadium drive in Houston and throughout the state to ensure its success.

AAS.1924.06.13.Bolton tells off ReportersThe regents also announced their selection of Herbert Bolton as University president. Bolton, on the history faculty of the University of California at Berkeley, had tentatively accepted, and planned to visit Austin in two weeks to finalize the details.

Any celebration that UT finally had a new leader, though, was premature. Bolton arrived in Austin and met with the regents on June 12th, but when later asked by a reporter from the Austin Statesman as to whether he would formally accept the presidency, Bolton responded, “Go to hell.” (What was discussed with the regents is unknown. Unfortunately, no Texan reporter was hiding in the closet.) Ultimately, Bolton returned to California. The regents went to their next choice: Walter Splawn.

Walter SplawnAn outstanding UT economics professor and an expert in transportation and labor, the 41-year old Splawn (photo at right) had been on a leave of absence since 1923 after Governor Neff appointed him to the Texas Railroad Commission. Splawn accepted the position in July, which ended 17 months of uncertainty, and served as UT’s president for three years.

 

 

Meanwhile, Texas Memorial Stadium opened on time for the fall 1924 football season, and in 1932, Pat Neff was appointed president of Baylor University, his undergraduate alma mater, and held the position for 15 years. Baylor’s main administrative building was named for him.

1924.Texas Memorial Stadium

A reminder: The UT History Corner is not an official publication of the University of Texas. The views expressed are those of the author.

The One Week Stadium

 

UT students planned and financed the first stadium, and built it in a week.

UT Football Player.1900sFootball stadiums are often in the news. It’s usually about more seating, fancier lighting, hi-tech fields, and larger jumbo-trons – all, as you might expect, at a greater costs.

Though it had a more humble beginning, Texas fans should know that UT students – not professional contractors – built the University’s first stadium. And they did it in a week and for just under $800.

In the University’s infant years, Longhorn football was played on a 3 ½ acre vacant lot east of the original campus, just off the southeast corner of 24th and Speedway Streets, about where the O’Donnell Building and the Gates-Dell Complex stand today. As the campus was too hilly for a proper athletic field, UT students “squatted” on the level plot starting in 1897 and used it for football and baseball games, along with inter-class sports contests. Two years later, the University officially purchased the land, and soon after it was named for the much-loved James Clark, UT’s first librarian, groundskeeper, registrar, bursar, academic counselor, and half-a-dozen other things, who was famous for the Christmas Dinners he gave at his expense to the students who couldn’t make it home for the holiday. Clark Field has since migrated about the campus; its third home is just south of the San Jacinto Residence Hall.

The 1897 UT Football Team

Above: The 1897 UT football squad was the first to use the vacant lot east of campus that would become Clark Field.

Initially, UT fans watched the games precariously perched on the 4-inch rail of the wooden fence built to enclose the field. But as University enrollment increased and football and baseball grew in popularity, the uncomfortable rail was abandoned in favor of standing.  When the field was purchased in 1899, a few small bleachers were hastily constructed along the west side that could accommodate a few hundred spectators, but important games were already attracting several thousand fans, most of whom had to stand four or five persons deep along the sidelines. To make sure onlookers didn’t accidentally intrude onto the playing field, a second fence, made of barbed wire, was erected to keep fans off the gridiron. Those standing in front had the best views, but were in danger of being pushed by the crowd into the wire.

The 1907 football season was a great success. The team played eight games, with the first and last against the A&M College of Texas. The opener was scheduled on neutral turf in Dallas as part of the Texas State Fair, but the UT train was delayed five hours because of a wreck on the tracks, and didn’t arrive in Dallas until more than an hour after the scheduled kick-off time. Texas had to hurry to the field, and with no time to warm-up, struggled against the A&M Farmers to a defensive 0 – 0 tie. This left unfinished business to be decided in Austin at the end of the season on Thanksgiving Day.

The only other road trip was a two-game visit to the Universities of Arkansas and Missouri. In Fayetteville, the Longhorns literally faced an uphill battle, as one end of the Arkansas field was 15 feet higher than the other. (The challenge of finding a level plot of land for football certainly wasn’t unique to Austin.) At a time when football games were played in two uninterrupted halves, the Texas offense faced downhill the second half and pulled away for a 26 – 6 win.

Missouri handed Texas its only defeat of the season, winning 5 – 4, but the trip to Mizzou wasn’t a complete loss. Just before the start of the game, Missouri students held a dedication ceremony for a new section of bleachers they had constructed and financed by selling “bleacher badges” around town. The Longhorn squad and the UT students who accompanied them were inspired by the Missouri students to undertake a rather ambitious project of their own: to increase the meager stands at Clark Field with comfortable seating for several thousand, and to complete it in time for the Thanksgiving Day bout against A&M.

Once back in Austin, the University community eagerly embraced the idea, and immediately set about the task of raising funds and drawing plans. The students turned to John Keen, a senior law student who also had construction experience. Keen proposed building 22 movable bleachers that would accommodate 120 persons each. When added to the existing stands, the capacity of Clark Field would be increased substantially to about 3000 seats. In the fall, the stands would be stationed along the east and west sidelines of the football field. Each spring, the east side bleachers would be transported to the north end zone to make room for baseball.

1907.Bleacher Badge

To finance the project, students borrowed an idea from their peers at Missouri and sold white ribbon ”bleacher badges” which bore an orange letter “T” and “Bleachers 1907” underneath. But wanting to do something more, the co-ed students living in the Woman’s Building – UT’s first residence hall for women – created a 3-by-6-foot banner to be auctioned at a University-wide rally. Made of white satin, it featured a bold orange “T” near the top, along with a large gold star, in the middle of which was a Texas football.

1907.Womans Building.Bleacher BannerOn Friday evening, November 15th, an enthusiastic and boisterous crowd assembled in the auditorium of the old Main Building. The group heard rousing speeches from the football team, engineering Dean Thomas Taylor and Professor Harry Benedict. College yells and songs were in abundance, and when the Woman’s Building residents entered with their banner, everyone stood for an extended ovation. “Texas college spirit … once more greets the Longhorns with the old-time cry of confidence and victory,” boasted The Texan student newspaper. As the auction began, bidding was by department, which at the time consisted of three: Law, Engineering and the Academic Department (Arts and Sciences combined).

The Laws opened with a $25 offer that was quickly countered by a $50 bid from the rival Engineers. The auction continued at a rapid pace until the price rose to $300. Interest was intense. Students quickly had to pool their resources to see how much they could afford. The bids continued to rise, albeit more slowly, until the Engineers won with a commitment of $325 to the bleacher fund.

When the rally had finished, 662 badges were sold at 50 cents apiece, and the banner auction had garnered $325 for a total of $656. A $132 contribution from the UT Athletic Association covered extra costs, which made the grand total $788, enough for the lumber and other supplies.

The following Thursday, November 21st, construction on the bleachers began in earnest, as Thanksgiving was only a week away. John Keen had organized the students into work crews by classes from the three departments, who would take turns in half-day shifts. By faculty consent, students involved in the project were excused from their classes that day. Senior engineers were first Thursday morning, Senior Laws took over in the afternoon, Senior Academic students (“Academs”) arrived Friday morning, and then on to the junior, sophomore and freshman classes.

1907.Building Clark Field Stadium

Above: Construction of the bleachers began on Wednesday, November 21st and was completed a week later, in time for the UT vs. A&M football game.

Below: Second year law students finished a section of stands and gave it a test run.

1907.Bleachers.Second Year Law Students.

For the next week, Clark Field was a bee hive of activity. “There was no such thing as loitering,” reported the Austin Daily Statesman. “Everybody working on the run, and an unpleasant surprise awaited anyone who thought he could go down and leisurely watch the work. A hurried and painful application of a plank always decided the leisured one to ‘shuck off’ his vest and ‘get in the game.’ The busy energy and varied costumes (everything from overalls to swell new suits) presented an interesting sight.”

1907 UT AMC.Thanksgiving Football AdIn the meantime, the A&M football team was also having a winning season, and the “Championship of the Southwest” was to be decided at the Thanksgiving Day game. Local newspapers claimed the Aggies were putting in three practices a day, with signal practice in the morning, full contact play in the afternoon after classes, and weight training in the evening.

The bleachers were completed by the following Wednesday, but a heavy rain overnight threatened to ruin all of the students’ plans. Thanksgiving morning, November 28th, Clark Field better resembled an aquatic park. “A great pond stood in the center of the field and another in the south goal, and the corridors were filled with long faces and grave speculations as to what the Farmers would do to us on a sticky field.” The students rallied, recruited volunteers to dig ditches that would drain the water, and then repaired the holes with sand and soil brought in by wheelbarrow. By the 3 o’clock kick-off, the field was in playable condition.

DT.Bleachers Completed.HeadlineAn estimated 5,000 fans attended the game, overwhelmed the bleachers and stood along the sidelines. As a show of good sportsmanship, the A&M supporters were given room in the west side bleachers, which were closer to the field’s main entrance along Speedway. UT students elected to fill the east stands, a seating choice that was passed on to the current stadium and continued for more than a century.

The game was a fierce defensive battle, but the Longhorns ultimately prevailed 11- 6.

Clark Field Entrance.1916.Through the next several years, UT students continued to add and renovate Clark Field. The west stands were covered in 1912, a “press box” built on the roof, and north and south seats were added. More than 18,000 fans attended the 1920 Texas vs. A & M football game, at the time a record crowd for the South.

Left: A colorful rendering of the entrance to Clark Field, at 23rd and Speedway Streets, in 1916. The ticket booths and covered grandstands were all constructed by UT students. Click on the image for a larger view.

Hullabaloo! UT’s First Home Football Game

1893 Yale Princeton Football.

Above: Yale vs. Princeton on Thanksgiving Day, 1893, at the Polo Grounds in New York City. More than 40,000 attended the contest, including the fans who paid to sit on Coogan’s Bluff in the distance. At the moment this photograph was taken, the UT football team was playing its first-ever game in Dallas.

Well, the foot ball fever has struck Austin at last,” declared the Austin Statesman in December 1893. For years, local citizens had been reading newspaper and magazine articles about a game called “foot ball” that had become wildly popular in the northeastern United States. “The game has taken a high place in the affections of the American undergraduate,” reported Century Magazine in 1887. “In the three colleges in which it is played most successfully, Yale, Harvard, and Princeton, the undergraduates would give up base-ball more willingly than foot-ball.” An Americanized version of the British sport rugby, spectacular contests between city or college teams drew enormous crowds. An annual Thanksgiving bout between Yale and Princeton had escalated to the point that it was played on neutral turf, at the Polo Grounds in New York City, in front of forty to fifty thousand spectators. Finally, on the sunny Saturday afternoon of December 16, 1893, the people of Austin were going to witness a genuine, bona-fide, actual-factual football game for themselves, as the University of Texas hosted the San Antonio Foot Ball Club.

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Technically, football had already been seen in Austin, though it better resembled the sandlot variety. In December 1883, less than three months after the University of Texas had formally opened, a group of UT students decided to have a football game. They might have been inspired by reports of the Thanksgiving Day contests back East. With no other team available, one of the would-be players – law student Yancey Lewis – arranged a match with the Bickler School, a private academy in downtown Austin. Lewis had been a tutor at Bickler before he enrolled at the University. In a week, both schools had to form teams, learn the rules, and practice. The game was held on a less-than-ideal patch of pasture land near the present day Blanton Museum of Art. No one on the field had actually seen a football game, and there certainly weren’t any refs available to enforce the rules. No matter. Both sides muddled through, though when it was over, the Bickler School was victorious, two goals to none. And poor Yancey Lewis had suffered the worst of it at the hands of his former students. For the rest of the academic year, UT lost all interest in football.

Over the next decade, football at the University was an on-again, off-again affair. Students would attempt an intramural game one year, then pass on it the next. Not until the fall of 1893, after men’s football clubs had been established in Dallas, San Antonio, and Galveston, did the University field its first “official” squad.

1893 UT Football Team.Portal to Texas History

Above: The 1893 University of Texas football team.

The team’s debut was an away game against the undefeated and heavily favored Dallas Foot Ball Club on Thanksgiving Day, November 30, 1893. The University was a last-minute substitute for the Little Rock, Arkansas men’s club, which was unable to make the trip to Dallas. Instead, the UT squad and a group of supporters took the train north, and in front of 1,500 fans, pulled off an 18 – 16 upset. “Our name is pants and our glory has departed,” griped The Dallas Morning News.

Next on the schedule and just over two weeks later, on December 16, the San Antonio Foot Ball Club arrived in Austin to take on the University team.

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Football practice was held on the northwest portion of campus, where the Texas Union building currently stands, but the field wasn’t of the quality desired for a formal game. Wanting to be good hosts, the UT team acquired access to the professionally groomed fields at the new Zoo Park, just west of town at what is today the Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA) complex next to the Tom Miller Dam. (If you’ve eaten at the Hula Hut restaurant, the fields would have been just across the street.)

Austin Dam.1893.

Above: The original 1893 Austin Dam, replaced by the Tom Miller Dam in 1940. Zoo Park fields were across the street from the dam’s turbine generators, seen on the right.

In the summer of 1893, the city celebrated the opening of the ambitious Austin Dam. Made of granite, 60 feet high, and nearly 1200 feet long as it stretched across the Colorado River, it was at the time one of the largest dams in the world. The dam brought with it the promise of reliable electric power for the city and a potential economic boon. It also created a lake. Dubbed “Lake McDonald” for Austin Mayor John McDonald, who had convinced the city to build the dam, the lake offered novel recreational opportunities, including rides on a steamboat christened “Ben Hur.” Docked next to the dam, the boat – and the lake itself – soon became a popular getaway spot for the city. Within months, the surrounding acreage saw new development. Businessman Dick Bulian opened Bulian’s Garden Saloon and Picnic Grounds, a small zoo with Texas wildlife was opened (though details are sketchy), and an athletic field was created, primarily for the Austin city baseball team, but used for other sporting events as well.

Public transportation to Zoo Park was provided by the Austin electric trolley system, which, thanks to the dam and its electric power, replaced the slow, mule-drawn streetcars. A special line ran west on Sixth Street and out along what is today Lake Austin Boulevard to deliver visitors to the dam and nearby attractions.

1893 Austin Dam

Above: Looking across the Austin Dam. The steamboat Ben Hur is docked on the left (where the Hula Hut restaurant can be found today) and the power house on the right. The Zoo Park athletic field was behind the power house. Poorly engineered and constructed, the Austin Dam failed in 1900 and was replaced in 1940 by the Tom Miller Dam, which created present-day Lake Austin. Click on the image for a larger view.

Below: The Austin electric trolley system was, in part, a result of electric power supplied by the Austin Dam. On the right, at the corner of Sixth Street and Congress Avenue, the tracks turned on to West Sixth and continued out along today’s Lake Austin Boulevard.

trolley

For more info, UT history professor Bruce Hunt has written about the Austin Dam here, and the city’s electric trolley system here.

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As most of Austin had never seen a football game, the day was full of surprises for the uninitiated. A few hours before the 3 p.m. start time, traffic picked up on the unpaved road out to Zoo Park. Additional trolley cars were added to accommodate the demand, which joined a steady caravan of horses and carriages, all full of people excited to see see the game. “The broad boulevard was alive with carriages and vehicles of varied types, all moving in the same direction,” reported the Dallas Morning News.

The University colors were everywhere. Ribbons were worn on lapels, tied on to canes, wrapped around hats, decorated horses, and woven into the wheels of carriages. But they weren’t the burnt orange seen today. In the 1890s, all four of UT’s buildings were constructed of pale yellow pressed brick and limestone trim. From a distance, the campus appeared gold and white, and the students decided to adopt the colors for the football team. While the official hues were listed as “old gold and white,” the ribbons were various shades of yellow. (How UT chose orange and white as its colors is here.)

UT Campus in the 1890s Above: The UT campus in the 1890s, as seen from the southwest at the corner of Guadalupe and 21st Streets. From left, the Chemistry Lab building, smokestack of the small power plant, two-thirds of the old Main Building, and B. Hall, the men’s dorm. All were made from yellow pressed brick and limestone trim. The wooden fence along the perimeter kept out the local town cows. Click on the image for a larger view.

The Zoo Park field wasn’t equipped with bleachers. Instead, the crowd stood around the sidelines and jockeyed for the best views. Texas Governor James Hogg was among the spectators, though he remained atop a high spring wagon and enjoyed the game from its height.

As the masses grew, so did the noise. University supporters repeatedly broke into the ‘Varsity Yell, at the time UT’s first and only cheer:

Hullabaloo!! Hoo-ray! Hoo-ray! Hullabaloo!! Hoo-ray! Hoo-ray! HOO-ray! HOO-ray! Varsity! Varsity! U! T! A!

Each yell was followed by an onslaught of tin horns. The vuvuzelas of their time, tin horns were generally children’s toys, occasionally heard at parades. But UT students had brought them en masse to the game, and the commotion was more than an unnamed Austin Statesman reporter could bear. In his account of the day, the calm of the field was constantly interrupted by the “ungodly snort of the asthmatic tin horn.” That women students were using them defied all sense of social convention and certainly wasn’t considered ladylike. “The way some of those girls did blow was a caution,” continued the reporter. “With cheeks puffed out and eyes starting they tooted and tooted, at the same time putting unlimited confidence in the garments which so tightly fitted their trim figures. How the strain was stood in several instances is a mystery to the masculine mind.”

1890s FootballerA few minutes before the start, the University and San Antonio teams entered the field and were greeted by another round of cheers and horns. The players were all outfitted with the standard uniforms recommended by Spalding’s Official Guide to Football, then the sport’s most trusted reference. Along with a long sleeved jersey, according to the Guide, “the ordinary player should wear a canvas jacket … home-made or purchased … and lace up in front so that it can be drawn quite closely.” Trousers were to made of some “stout material” and well-padded, “quilting in soft material over the knees and thighs.” Long woolen stockings were often covered with shin guards, and leather shoes – “kangaroo skin preferably” – which were provided with a replaceable leather spike to prevent slipping, completed the outfit. Naturally, Spalding’s sold the equipment for a nominal fee.

A glaring omission from the uniform was something to shield the head. While a few players strapped nose guards over their faces, most went without any protection. Instead, they grew their hair longer, and at game time wrapped bandages around their heads and over the tops of ears (to prevent ears from being pulled and torn), which pushed the hair up into a mop. The mat of hair was supposed to be sufficient cushioning to prevent severe injuries.

As football became more popular and college players grew their hair, the style became a trend. “Long hair the rage. The football players have set the fashion,” was the title of an 1893 article by the Dallas Times Herald. “An epidemic of long hair is upon us,” though it cautioned that not all who sported long hair were footballers. “The football man with his flowing locks is the hero of the hour, and so every young man must needs let his hair grow in the hope of making people think that he, too, is a leader on the gridiron field of mud and glory.”

Above: From the Dallas Times Herald, “scrubbing brush, chrysanthemum, and mop varieties” of football hair styles, as well as an illustration on the “practical advantages of hair padding.” UT players preferred the chrysanthemum.

Below: An 1894 issue of Puck, a humor magazine published in New York City, ran a cartoon spoof on football players and their hair pushed up in to mops.

Puck Magazine.Thanksgiving 1894.Football

Heavy traffic out to the park delayed the arrival of the two referees by a few minutes, but the game was ready to begin at quarter past the hour. The San Antonio team won the coin toss and chose to take the ball. Unlike a modern kick-off, play simply commenced in the middle of the field. San Antonio led off with a flying wedge and gained 12 yards on the first play.

The flying wedge, a popular mass movement play introduced by Harvard in 1892, was used by both teams. As with many early football plays, it was inspired by war tactics. In this case, the wedge took its cue from Napoleon’s use of a heavy concentration of military force upon a single point of the enemy line. Ten men, tightly lined up in a “V” formation, ran full speed against a single defensive player across the line of scrimmage. The ball carrier was protected behind the “V.” In later years, the wedge was deemed too dangerous for football, especially when the players weren’t wearing headgear.

While San Antonio was successful early, it didn’t last. The UT players employed their own wedge – so effective in their upset victory against Dallas two weeks before – and scored two touchdowns in the first half. At the time, touchdowns were worth five points, with an extra point kicked afterward. At halftime, it was UT 12 and San Antonio 0.

The second half didn’t fare any better for the visitors. “At a glance, the most inexperienced eye saw that the ‘varsity men far outclassed their antagonists,” observed the Dallas Morning News. (The term ” ‘varsity,” with an apostrophe, was a commonly-used contraction of the word university.) Repeated fumbles by the visitors cost them two safeties, worth one point each. On the rare occasion when San Antonio captain Jack Tobin found himself with the ball and was running upfield, he was almost always stopped by UT co-captain Paul McClane. As the News reported, “before [Tobin] traversed three yards, Paul McClane tackled him and incontinently sat on his head til his compressed lungs, all filled with fine sand, could sound the wail of surrender – ‘down’.”

The University scored two more touchdowns, but extra point kicker Ad Day “seemed to have lost his rabbit’s foot,” as both of the kicks went wide left. In the waning seconds of the game, despite a valiant defensive effort by San Antonio, UT half back Dick Lee “made a pretty run, and by excellent interference and much shoving, reached the goal line just between the posts, and touched down again amid yells and horn music.” Day found his footing again, and made the extra point. The University had scored five touchdowns, three extra points, and two safeties, and defeated the San Antonio Football Club 30 – 0.

Governor Hogg remained an interested spectator throughout, and “cheered the boys when a telling play was made.” After the game, the governor was the recipient of both the game ball and an “impromptu oration” by the crowd. But the Austin Statesman reporter was through. Football was just to loud.

UT Football .1893.Dallas Morning News

Above: Running interference for the ball carrier. From the Dallas Morning News.

Photo sources: The image of the 1893 UT football team and photos of the Austin electric trolley system were found at the Portal to Texas History web site produced by the University of North Texas, while the images of the  Austin Dam can be found at the Lower Colorado River Authority’s Online History Center.