SI Vault
A Death Wish for Alma Mater
Gordon G. Beld
September 25, 1967
Not every football fan remembers the name Wilfred C. Bleamaster and yet, in a way, he made as significant a contribution to football as the inventors of the forward pass, the sucker shift and the single wing. But the football fans at little Alma College in mid-Michigan remember Bleamaster even today, for he was the coach who for two years running arranged to have his teams open the season against Notre Dame and play Michigan State on the following Saturday. He was the man, you might almost say, who invented suicide.
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September 25, 1967

A Death Wish For Alma Mater

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Chester Robinson, Alma left half in 1915, says that it didn't take Quarterback Malcolm Smith long to discover that the Scots' regular plays weren't moving the ball anyplace in the opener against Notre Dame. According to Robinson, Smith decided to scrap Bleamaster's plan of attack and run everything from punt formation. This fooled the Irish, Robinson claims, permitting Alma to pick up some good gains.

"Once," boasted the student paper in 1915, "Alma seriously threatened the Notre Dame goal," and "more than once Alma held the heavy Notre Dame aggregation for downs."

A week later the Scots ran up against the Spartans and Neno DePrato, 1915 All-America and national individual scoring leader. Early in the game DePrato punted for State. Ed Johnson pulled in the ball on the Alma 10-yard line and zipped to midfield, where he was hit hard by Brownie Springer. The ball flipped out of Johnson's hands right into the arms of surprised Norm Smith, who galloped to the goal.

Alma scored again on a pass from Malcolm Smith to Mark Spinney and trailed 19-12 at the end of the first quarter. DePrato contributed two touchdowns and a field goal that day to his 188-point six-game season total.

Two years of opening against Notre Dame and Michigan State were enough for Coach Bleamaster. He left to take a coaching position at the University of Idaho in 1916, and Harry Helmer became the Scots' coach. He, too, found himself up against both the Irish and State, but at least not on the first two Saturdays of the season.

Against the Spartans early in the 1916 campaign Alma lost 33-0, and at the end of the season the Scots faced Notre Dame for the last time, taking a 46-0 beating. But in 1917, with Notre Dame off the schedule, Helmer and his boys got a taste of victory that made up for all the bitter crow they had eaten before. In their best season since 1912 they piled up a record of six wins and only one loss, and one of the wins was over Michigan State 14-7.

According to John Lott, a Tecumseh, Mich. toolroom foreman who was Alma's right tackle in 1917, Helmer ordered steak for his team after this triumph, the first over State since 1902—the first and the last. Unfortunately, the Spartans won the next eight times, until the series ended in 1932, when the Scots took a 93-0 beating.

Alma College still tackles a gridiron giant occasionally, although none quite of the stature of Notre Dame or Michigan State.

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