"Nine o'clock," Smith said.
"Well, I've got a problem with that," one of the men said. "That's when I'm supposed to meet my adviser."
"As soon as you can make it, then."
Walking back to his office through the tranquil purple twilight, Smith said mildly, "That's the way it works. You're always making adjustments, always trying to make something out of nothing."
The greatest obstacle to the development of a university in this country is the popular misconceptions of what a university is. The two most popular of these are that it is a kindergarten and that it is a country club. Football has done as much as any single thing to originate, disseminate and confirm these misconceptions. By getting rid of football, by presenting the spectacle of a university that can be great without football, the University of Chicago may perform a signal service to higher education throughout the land.
—ROBERT MAYNARD HUTCHINS
President, University of Chicago
Jan. 12, 1940
The first Heisman Trophy winner, Jay Berwanger (1935), came from the University of Chicago. Amos Alonzo Stagg coached there for 41 seasons, from 1892 to 1932, winning six Big Ten titles outright, tying for a seventh and going undefeated in four seasons. After the 1939 season, the school where Stagg had invented uniform numbers, wind sprints and the lettermen's club, dropped football. If he wanted to hire football players, Hutchins said, then he would speak to George Halas about employing his Bears. (The design of the C on the Bears' helmets, incidentally, was borrowed from the University of Chicago.)
Thirty years later, after the university tore down Stagg Field to build a library, Chicago stepped tentatively back into the football waters at the relatively calm Division III level. Plainly, there was no danger that the school would be tempted to take on Michigan. Those days were over. Chicago was without a doubt one of the great universities of the world, its faculty included eight past or future Nobel Prize winners, including Saul Bellow, who would get the prize for literature in 1976. Chicago had become a breeding ground not for football players but for journalists, artists, writers and actors as well as engineers, economists, physicians and physicists.
Adding to the school's insularity was the fact that it is privately funded and that it's situated in Hyde Park, on the South Side of Chicago, amid deteriorating neighborhoods where children grow up without learning to read anything, much less Aristotle and the great books. So the University of Chicago is a kind of oasis, set off from the ordinary world but very much aware of it. The campus police squad is the second-largest private security force in the state of Illinois. All of this tends to concentrate the mind exceedingly. The University of Chicago is a terribly serious place, and it's amazing that, having once gotten rid of football, this institution ever accepted it back.
"It was a fairness issue, as much as anything," says Mary Jean Mulvaney, who retired as athletic director of the university last year, after 14 years on the job. As women's athletic director before that, she supported the idea of bringing football back to Chicago, and she remains one of its strongest boosters. "The boys who wanted to play argued that it was discriminatory to have all these other varsity sports and still ban football. The faculty gave in, but there was resistance. Now, after 20 years, everybody accepts the fact that we have a football team. I think people realize that we want diversity at the university, and with a football team we get a certain kind of student, who is still qualified, who might not come here otherwise. And, of course, our players are very much members of the university community. One player on the 1989 team, for example, was also student body president, and a really neat kid. All of them are."
Chicago has not set the world on fire in the two decades since it resumed football. The team's record over that span is 47-122-2. Its struggle during the first few years was more to survive than to win. These days the new Stagg Field is sometimes filled to its 1,500 capacity on game day. The fans come to urge their team to victory with the Scholarly Yell, one of the greatest cheers of all time: