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The Team That Invented College Football
Sally Jenkins
September 09, 2010
JUST 22 YEARS AFTER THE BATTLE OF WOUNDED KNEE, THE CARLISLE INDIANS, COACHED BY GLENN (POP) WARNER, TRANSFORMED A PLODDING, BRUTAL AND DULL SPORT INTO THE FAST, INTRICATE AND EXCITING GAME WE KNOW TODAY
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September 09, 2010

The Team That Invented College Football

JUST 22 YEARS AFTER THE BATTLE OF WOUNDED KNEE, THE CARLISLE INDIANS, COACHED BY GLENN (POP) WARNER, TRANSFORMED A PLODDING, BRUTAL AND DULL SPORT INTO THE FAST, INTRICATE AND EXCITING GAME WE KNOW TODAY

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The Indians went on to an 8-2 season, their only losses coming to the Nos. 1 and 2 teams in the country, Princeton and Harvard, respectively. On Thanksgiving Day, Carlisle met Columbia at New York City's Polo Grounds. The Indians put on a virtuoso exhibition of their new techniques and formations, including a baffling line shift: The entire team moved to one side of the center, and on a signal the unbalanced line surged forward, followed by a ballcarrier.

Carlisle's Isaac Seneca vaulted out of his three-point stance to rip off gains of 25 and 30 yards. He scored twice, while Frank Hudson drop-kicked four field goals. The final score was 42-0, and Columbia's players retreated to their dressing room in shame. The Indians were rewarded with a No. 4 national ranking by Camp, who named Seneca a first-team All-America at running back—the only honoree who didn't attend an Ivy League school.

FOOTBALL AND CARLISLE BECAME INDIVISIBLE. Warner created an ambitious junior varsity nicknamed the Hotshots, and the field house and gymnasium were hives of constant training. Nevertheless, the Carlisle varsity was perennially shorthanded. It had to cull an 11 from just a couple of hundred fit male students, most of whom had vastly less experience than their collegiate counterparts.

Physical toughness became their hallmark. "Gameness," Warner said in 1902, "was a marked characteristic of every Carlisle boy." A short but stout Alaskan named Nikifer Shouchuk fashioned himself into a center and held his own against the best in the country. During a game against Harvard, Crimson captain Carl Marshall berated his own center. "A big fellow like you," he said, "weighing twice as much as that little Indian, and letting him carry you around on his back all afternoon!"

By 1902 Carlisle was more deceptive than ever. One piece of razzle-dazzle installed by Warner was the double pass: Quarterback Jimmie Johnson would toss the ball to a halfback sweeping laterally—who then tossed it back. Under the quick-footed Johnson, a future All-America, the shifting Carlisle lines looked like a deck of cards being shuffled.

One afternoon Warner introduced the Indians to a play he had dreamed up when he coached at Cornell. It was called the Hunchback, and it required a sewing machine. Warner had Carlisle's tailor, Mose Blumenthal, sew elastic bands into the waists of a few players' jerseys. Among those was the shirt of Charles Dillon, a Sioux guard who could run 100 yards in 10 seconds. Warner instructed Dillon to wear the jersey untucked, so the opposition would get used to seeing it that way.

The play was designed for a kickoff. As the ball descended into the arms of Johnson, the other players would huddle around him. Hidden from view, Johnson would slip the ball up the back of Dillon's jersey and secure it with the waistband. The huddle would then split apart, leaving the opposing team with no idea where the ball had gone.

The play would punish any team that took Carlisle lightly. One school had a particular tendency to do so: Harvard. Though they'd never beaten the Crimson, the Indians had always given them a game. Carlisle both admired and resented Harvard.

By the time the Indians checked into the Copley Square Hotel in Boston on Oct. 30, 1902, they had a 5-1 record, but the Crimson dwarfed them. Carlisle's heaviest player was the center, Shouchuk, at 165 pounds, while two Harvard linemen weighed in at 215. But Johnson directed the Indians in lightning line charges, and the Crimson defense ripped like paper. Carlisle constantly shifted and realigned, tossing the ball back and forth. Johnson would fake a run to the outside—only to hand the ball to Albert Exendine coming around from the end. After the Indians moved all the way to the Harvard 18-yard line, Johnson kicked a field goal, which in those days was worth five points. The score was still 5-0 as the first half ended. Warner was emboldened. In the locker room he called the play his team had been waiting for all season. On the kickoff, he said, run the Hunchback.

Back on the field Johnson and Dillon dropped back to the five-yard line. Harvard's kicker sent the ball into the air. Johnson gathered it in, and the Indians formed a wall in front of him. Exendine pulled out the back of Dillon's jersey, and Johnson slipped the ball beneath it and yelled, "Go!"

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