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History Lesson: When Drury played football in the Olympics... sort of.

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  • History Lesson: When Drury played football in the Olympics... sort of.

    Out of sheer boredom, I started reading up on football participation in other countries outside of North America - which lead me to reading about football in the Olympics. Football was played at the Olympics twice - once in 1904 and once in 1932, both as demonstration sports.

    The information on the 1904 football showcase at the Olympics is sparse and contradictory at best - but it's very interesting nonetheless. From what I can gather, the St. Louis World's Fair hosted the first Olympics outside of Europe in 1904. The games were held at Francis Field on the campus of Washington University. Both Washington University and St. Louis University lobbied for an Olympic football championship, but were denied.

    Both schools elected to play their seasons from teams across the country as part of the Olympics/World's Fair. SLU would go undefeated and be declared the "Olympic World's Champions." (The NCAA recognizes Minnesota, Michigan, and Penn as the national champions for that season). SLU would become the first college team in 1906 to incorporate a successful forward pass, before discontinuing the program all together in 1949.



    There are records of 13 games being played at Francis Field between September 28 and November 26 - which includes Washington University's 11-game home season, a game between Purdue and Missouri, and most famously - the first game held between Carlisle and Haskell. These 13 games are considered to be Olympic demonstrations, even though their official status is somewhat questionable. Washington went 4-7.

    There is also not much information about Drury University football out there - it's not even mentioned on DU's Wikipedia article. I found this article from the student newspaper. Drury fielded a football team from 1890-1932. The rumor for the cancellation is that a player sustained a fatal injury from playing, and as a result a wealthy alum offered to donate $1,000,000 to the school if the team was cut. The reality is the team was cut due to financial constraints thanks to the Great Depression. Revival efforts in the '40s fell short, and it was never heard from again.

    No football, no problem: Why intercollegiate football is absent at Drury University – Drury Mirror

    In the fourth game of Washington University's 1904 season at Francis Field, they faced Drury University during the Olympic showcase - winning easily 38-0.

    The other colleges to participate were:

    -Shurtleff College (absorbed by Southern Illinois University in 1958)
    -Rose Polytechnic Institute (renamed Rose-Hullman Polytechnic Institute, still has football at the DIII level)
    -Illinois
    -Sewanee (currently DIII)
    -Indiana
    -Missouri
    -Texas
    -Kansas
    -West Virginia
    -Haskell (was a boarding school at the time, achieved university status in 1993, fielded football from 1895-1938 and from 1990-2015)
    -Carlisle (another boarding school that existed from 1879-1918, never was a college but routinely dominated the top college programs at the time)

    Washington University still fields a football program at the DIII level, and still plays at Francis Field 117 years later.

    Anyway, I thought that was interesting. Here are the scores for the games for those interested:

    American football at the Summer Olympics - Wikipedia

    Last edited by SW_Mustang; 02-19-2021, 11:39 AM.

  • #2
    Thanks for posting this! If I knew this I would have been targeting Drury to add GLVC football along with Lewis, Bellarmine and Southern Indiana. Don't know how schools continue to rob students of Saturday game days in the fall and all that goes with it. Gave up on the GLVC when football playing St Joe folded and nonfootball Bellarmine left.

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    • #3
      Originally posted by michiganfb View Post
      Thanks for posting this! If I knew this I would have been targeting Drury to add GLVC football along with Lewis, Bellarmine and Southern Indiana. Don't know how schools continue to rob students of Saturday game days in the fall and all that goes with it. Gave up on the GLVC when football playing St Joe folded and nonfootball Bellarmine left.
      You are welcome! I'm glad someone appreciates it - I wasn't sure if anyone would care or not.

      Unfortunately, the information out there is sparse - and the available sources aren't the greatest. Some of it seems to contradict each other too, like Washington University claiming the first gridiron football game was played at Francis in 1905. This was something I whipped up on a slow Friday morning - so there is definitely more I'd like to dig through when I have the time. I also had to sift through a lot of soccer stuff, because the US still referred to soccer as "football" in the early 1900s.

      I also found this piece online - it's a gameday program from Carlisle/Haskell. This is a landmark game in the history of football. They were two of the most dominate programs in the history of the sport. Stated attendance was 12,000 - and Carlisle would be the true Olympic champion if there was one, IMO.



      Anyway, I found it odd that Drury didn't acknowledge this anywhere. I doubt they even still know about it. I'm lucky that I went to a college with a football program. Sure, it wasn't Ohio State or Michigan or Alabama, but it was what it was. Wouldn't have traded those Saturdays for anything, even the cold ones. On one hand, I feel for the kids who don't get to experience it - but on the other, it doesn't appear to be a big priority for most students these days - especially at the smaller schools. I get the work commitments and things of that nature - I had to work most gameday Saturdays, but I went when I could.

      You said you targeted Lewis, Bellarmine, and So. Indiana? Were you trying to help them organize a football program?

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      • #4
        Such a big part of the college experience. Anytime I met anyone connected to those GLVC schools I'd do my best and make an informal attempt at letting them know what football does for a school. I'd encourage them to see where there school was at with starting football. I'd mention all that goes with it: being outdoors late summer and in the fall, home openers, tailgating, bonfires, the homecoming game and its events such as parades, and all the other unique related traditions that schools have because of football (along with it being an enrollment booster).

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        • #5
          Originally posted by michiganfb View Post
          Such a big part of the college experience. Anytime I met anyone connected to those GLVC schools I'd do my best and make an informal attempt at letting them know what football does for a school. I'd encourage them to see where there school was at with starting football. I'd mention all that goes with it: being outdoors late summer and in the fall, home openers, tailgating, bonfires, the homecoming game and its events such as parades, and all the other unique related traditions that schools have because of football (along with it being an enrollment booster).
          I agree with all of your points - and especially at this level, that football enrollment really means something more than it would at a bigger school.

          I think it starts with getting the students active and interested, which unfortunately is more of a mountain than a mole hill. That article I shared from Drury suggests that students just don't care, which is sad.

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          • #6
            Thank you for sharing the Drury football in the Olympics story. A nice GLVC history lesson would be the Truman State big win vs Texas 120 years ago. At that time Truman was Kirksville College (and UIndy was Indiana Central University). And Texas was Texas!

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            • #7
              Originally posted by TheDog View Post
              Thank you for sharing the Drury football in the Olympics story. A nice GLVC history lesson would be the Truman State big win vs Texas 120 years ago. At that time Truman was Kirksville College (and UIndy was Indiana Central University). And Texas was Texas!
              Nice! It would be cool if the big guys still played the little guys on occasion, though I understand why they don't. Colleges would play against anyone and everyone in the early 1900s, even against local high schools - and apparently the games counted!

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