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There was a time when The University of Chicago football fans spoke reverently about the coaching of Amos Alonzo Stagg, the slashing runs of Jay Berwanger and the field goals, passes and runs of Waller Eckersall. In short, Chicago was a football power. The team won eight Big Ten titles over the years. In 1899 the Maroon was 12-0-2, crushing the opposition 407-28. Between 1905 and 1908 the team lost only twice. In 1919 it demolished Great Lakes Nasal Training School 123-0.
Then Chicago de-emphasized football and with that came losing seasons. The worst was 1939 when the team was kicked around by scores of 85-0, 61-0 (twice), 47-0 and 46-0. The following year University President Robert M. Hutchins abolished football, calling the sport "an infernal nuisance."
Now football is back again at Chicago and again it has fans talking—about the receiver who saw both a pass and a tackier headed his way and chose to elude both by ducking; about the dean who announced he would leave the game only if Chicago fell behind by 50 points and was able to depart at halftime; about all sorts of dropped passes, wild pitch-outs, fumbled hand-offs. Football may be back at Chicago but it is not the kind Amos Alonzo Stagg coached. Academics are still paramount, as witness this football cheer:
X square, Y square, HSO..."
Or, the player who invited his girl to a game, only to be told: "No, thanks. I'd rather study my astrophysics."
Coach Walter Hass, who became athletic director in 1956, is the man who has gradually elevated the game at Chicago from phys-ed class to club team to small-college level. Talking about what now passes for the game, Hass says, "You must approach our brand of ball with humor or you'll go nuts. Like the time one fan played a bugle at a game to inspire our team and then, when we were hopelessly behind, stood behind our bench and played taps. At first I was mad, but then I laughed. Sometimes we can't gain a yard against a gust of wind. It's hard to realize how little our players know about the game because half of them never played before. Once I yelled to a boy, 'Move out, move out' so he'd play wider. But he moved right off the field so we had only 10 men on that down. Another time, I told a boy to go in motion. He just looked at me. 'Go in motion,' I said. Then he said, 'Like this?' and he stood there and shook his body all over. One of the best blocks I ever saw was when our left end blitzed without telling our linebacker or tackle. He crashed through and knocked down two men—our linebacker and tackle. Don't ask me how it happened."
Several years ago there was a skit entitled Football Returns to the University of Chicago starring the coach and two new students named Morgenstern and Throckmorton. When Throckmorton accidentally pokes his head in the coach's office the latter's eyes pop, and he exclaims, "You must be about 195." Whereupon the student's eyes pop, thinking the 195 refers to his IQ. When the coach tells Morgenstern to hand the ball back between his legs to a teammate, he says, "But I hardly know him."
It has been almost that bad in real life. What other school can boast of having been affiliated with almost as many Nobel Prize winners (37) as players (usually around 40), has played at Soldier Field to a virtually empty house and is urged by fans to solve football matters by "rational discourse"? It is Chicago, a team Notre Dame has played four times—and never beaten.