SI Vault
Jim Strain
October 19, 1981
It rattles like a dried gourd and looks more like a misshapen pumpkin than a football. But the faded score that had been meticulously lettered on its side is still legible: TEXAS U. 0—PHILLIPS U. 10.
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October 19, 1981

The Iron Men Of Phillips Used Just 12 Players In Upsetting Mighty Texas

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It rattles like a dried gourd and looks more like a misshapen pumpkin than a football. But the faded score that had been meticulously lettered on its side is still legible: TEXAS U. 0—PHILLIPS U. 10.

Almost every fall, the football is transferred from the Phillips University archives to a display case on the school's Enid, Okla. campus as a proud reminder of an intercollegiate football program that died in 1933. The ball is the only trophy of the 1919 Phillips team, known as Mauley's Iron Men, that was considered by many experts to be the finest football squad in the Southwest that year.

Coached by John Maulbetsch, who had been an All-America halfback at Michigan, the Iron Men briefly lifted Phillips, a private liberal arts university founded in 1906 as Oklahoma Christian University and later renamed after oilman Thomas W. Phillips, from athletic obscurity with an undefeated season and laid claim to the Oklahoma and Southwest championships.

Maulbetsch was attracted to Phillips in 1917 as coach and director of athletics when a group of Enid businessmen, headed by an enthusiastic Michigan alumnus, promised to underwrite half the expenses of an expanded athletic program. Although World War I played havoc with schedules and rosters, Maulbetsch built a formidable football program during his first two years, despite being called into the Naval Aviation Corps after the second game of 1918. The remainder of that season he sent instructions to the team by mail, guiding them by remote control to a 4-1 record.

Maulbetsch returned to Phillips in 1919 and began preseason workouts with a squad of more than 30 players that included nine lettermen, several high school stars and a number of former servicemen. By the opening game, the squad had been whittled to fewer than 20. Three starters later achieved national prominence in various aspects of sport.

Doug Roby, former president of the U.S. Olympic Committee and currently one of two Americans on the 88-member International Olympic Committee, was captain of the Iron Men and a halfback noted for his broken-field running. After 1919 he transferred to Michigan and, having sat out a year, played the '21 and '22 seasons with the Wolverines under Coach Fielding H. (Hurry Up) Yost.

The other two notable Iron Men were Steve Owen and Ev Shelton. After Phillips, Owen played pro football, first with the Kansas City Cowboys (1924-25) and then the New York Giants (1926-31). He coached the Giants from 1931 to 1952, winning eight divisional and two NFL titles (1934 and 1938). In 1966 he was posthumously inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Shelton was similarly honored in 1979 by the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame. As a college hoops coach, Shelton had 494 career wins in 32 years at Phillips, Wyoming and Sacramento State. His 1943 Wyoming team won the NCAA title.

But in 1919 Shelton was one of numerous students returning to Phillips from military service in Europe, where he had played halfback in the American Expeditionary Force football finals in Paris after the armistice. By that time Maulbetsch had already spotted the powerfully built Owen on campus and introduced him to the game, which he had never played before, by personally engaging him in a 30-minute blocking and tackling drill. "Mauley was a pretty rough customer," says Dutch Richards, the youngest member of the Iron Men and, at 80, one of the few still living. "He was rough in language, rough in actions, rough in his choice of friends."

He was also a strict disciplinarian. Maulbetsch required that players carry rule books at all times and gave rule and signal quizzes four days a week. Misconduct such as cigarette smoking or arriving late at practice was punished with extra running, which occurred often enough for the local newspaper to remark that several players might do well in track.

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