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With Fall Comes Football!

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Susan Hvistendahl

Susan Hvistendahl wrote 119 monthly Historic Happenings columns for The Entertainment Guide between 2007 and 2016. After she moved from New York in 2004, she assisted the Northfield Historical Society as a researcher, editor and collector of oral histories. She has a B.A. in Spanish from St. Olaf College and an M.A. in English from Iowa State University. In 2014 and 2015, The Entertainment Guide and Northfield Historical Society partnered to publish three volumes of Historic Happenings about Northfield, St. Olaf and Carleton. In 2019, By All Means Graphics published Milestones and Memories of the St. Olaf Band 1891-2018, which she co-authored with Jeffrey M. Sauve.

The upset victory of tiny Appalachian State over mighty Michigan in football this season has reminded me of two David and Goliath-type games played in October by Northfield High School in 1898 and Carleton College in 1916.

Northfield High School had its first football team in 1892 and got off to a fast start – unbeaten in its first few years, including a win over the Carleton varsity in 1894.

On Oct. 8, 1898, the Northfield High gridders found themselves playing for the State Inter-High School Football championship at the field at Carleton against Minneapolis South Side High School.

The Northfield Independent reported what might today be called “trash talk” by the manager of the Minneapolis team. “The only teams in the contest this year for state high school championship in foot ball are the South Side and East Side Highs of Minneapolis and the Northfield team, which we are to meet here this afternoon and after our game today the Northfield element will be easily washed out of the contest,” said the manager, identified as “Chestnut.”

In 1898 Northfield High School enrollment was 189 for the four years, yet 400 supporters paid 15 cents admission and crowded the side lines as the game started at 4:10 p.m. The Independent story said, “The game was played hard from the first and it was soon evident that the South Side could not shove Northfield’s line.”

The Northfield News commented, “The teams were very evenly matched in weight but Northfield had a little the best of the play. The members of the local team are too thorough sportsmen to complain that they were not given a fair show, but the feeling is general among those who witnessed the game, that if it had not been for some yellow ruling on the part of the umpire Northfield would have scored. Two or three instances were very flagrant.”

The game ended in a scoreless tie, much to the surprise of manager Chestnut, one would assume.

The Northfield News headline of Oct. 13, 1916, tells the story of the biggest upset in local college football history: “Carleton Wins from Chicago. Coach Hunt’s Team Outplays University on Stagg Field and Wins 7-0…Northfield Boy Carries Ball Over Line in Second Quarter – Chicago Astounded.”

The Northfield Independent reported: “…the news of the victory threw the campus and the city into a frenzy of enthusiasm.”

The University of Chicago’s football coach, Amos Alonzo Stagg, created one of the most formidable college football powers ever seen during his tenure from 1892 to 1932. He led the Maroons to seven Big 10 Conference championships and was credited with many innovations. Legendary Notre Dame coach Knute Rockne said of Stagg, “All football comes from Stagg,” and the NCAA has named the Division III championship game the Stagg Bowl in his honor.

The Northfield News account, taken from “The Carletonia,” said that the Carleton team “outfought” and “outclassed” the team coached by Stagg: “It was to be an easy practice game for Stagg’s Maroons. Nobody in or around Chicago anticipated anything but a victory, and many had never heard of the college whose players were to oppose the Chicago men. It was impossible for these northern farmers, as they were called, out-weighed, as they were, nearly 25 pounds to the man, to stand long against the onslaught of the Maroons…”

Coached by Carleton’s own coaching legend, C. J. Hunt, the team “went after a score with a determination which was wonderful to see” with “drive, fight and speed.” The lone score happened in the second quarter after the Chicago punter attempted to punt on Chicago’s 15 yard line and was rushed so much that the punt went straight up in the air and actually lost the team a couple yards. Northfield native Earl B.Keller carried the ball over for the score.

On a “terribly hot” day with a grandstand lined with “men in their shirtsleeves,” the players were affected by the heat before the first quarter was up. But “the whole Carleton team stuck it out, and while Stagg was sending in substitute after substitute in an attempt to turn the tide of the battle, the 11 Carleton men were staying by and fighting for all they were worth,” with only one substitute in the last five minutes.

A special dispatch to the St. Paul Pioneer Press said, “The Minnesota team outclassed the Maroons in almost every department of the game.” Chicago was within five yards of the end zone four times but could not come through with a score. In the last quarter Carleton held on the one-yard line.

Carleton was the Appalachian State of its era. I wonder how that Carleton team would have fared against the University of Michigan.

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