above is the 1902 Michigan-Wisconsin game, played in Chicago on
November 1st. It ended up being Michigan's toughest game of the year, a
The 1902 national championship breaks down just like the 1901
championship did: Michigan
vs. the best team of the East. But this time around, almost everything
that went against Michigan in 1901 came out in their favor:
East was still the strongest region, but this time, the East's best
team, Yale, did not have a perfect record. They were 11-0-1, whereas
Michigan was 11-0.
did not play the other best teams in their own conference in 1901, but
this time they did, beating 14-1 Chicago, 9-2-1 Minnesota, and 6-3
time Michigan played more teams that would have been top 25, and more
importantly, they beat a potential top ten opponent in Chicago and/or Minnesota.
writers of the time still looked Eastward, however, and Yale was widely regarded as the best team in the nation, and routinely
referred to as the "champion" of college football. They were, in fact,
more highly esteemed than 1901 Harvard, who had been a perfect 12-0.
But here is how the "major selectors" listed in the NCAA
Records Book, all selecting long after the fact, see the 1902 national
championship (omitting math/computer
ratings, which neither I nor
anyone else recognize as constituting titles):
You can click on the selector to read my review of that person or
We can safely say that Michigan will be getting at least a share of the
national championship this season. That leaves Yale as the subject of
all the questions. Should Yale be #1? Should they share #1? Should Yale
be #2, but national co-champion? Or should Yale not be a national
champion at all? My analysis and answers lie below, following a review
of the two teams and their 1902 seasons.
All rankings in the following article, except as noted, come from my 1902 top 25, which is based on a hypothetical AP poll (within logical reason of course).
Yale was the
unquestioned and unparalleled king of college football. They had dueled
with Princeton for the mythical title of best team through 1885, but by
1886 they had captured the throne, and would remain there for 23 more
years. In their last decade of greatness, 1900-1909, they went 100-4-5
and won what was considered to be 6 national championships at the time.
Of these 6 national championships 1900-1909, this 11-0-1 team of 1902 was
sometimes regarded as the best, even though 3 of the others were
unbeaten and untied. Princeton great John DeWitt declared it the best
Yale team he had ever witnessed. In an article in 1920, writer William
Hanna declared it to be the best team he had ever seen in 28 years of
Yale had 7 consensus All Americans, and an 8th would
be named in 1903, but the reason for this team's high regard is that it
was the only year that the following Yale greats all started on the
same team: halfback
George Chadwick, tackle James Hogan, and Tom Shevlin, who played
tackle, halfback, fullback, and end.
had also been a consensus All American on the 1900 Yale championship
team that went 12-0, and was the captain of this '02 edition. But his
fame in early decades really boiled down to just one game: the 1902
Princeton game, where he scored on two long touchdown runs to secure a
hard-fought 12-5 win (details below).
Chadwick was very fast, and like
Michigan's Willie Heston, he was known for being able to stop on a dime
and quickly cut back full speed the other way. But he was not at all a
featured ball carrier, as Yale evenly distributed carries amongst their
backs, ends, and particularly their tackles.
Probably for that reason, Chadwick is not in the college football Hall
of Fame, whereas James Hogan and Tom Shevlin are.
for his time at 210 pounds, Hogan lettered four years 1901-1904, and
was a consensus All American 3 straight years 1902-'04. He was born in
Ireland to a working class family that moved to America when he was
young. He had to work to pay his way through Exeter, then had to work
to save up enough for Yale. He was thus 28 when he graduated, but it
wasn't long after he arrived at Yale that he didn't have to work to pay
his way anymore.
the time he was a senior, Hogan's tuition, room, and board were paid,
and he had a $100 scholarship, a share of the Yale baseball gate, and a
commission on every package of cigarettes sold in Yale's stadium. On
top of that, at the end of his senior season, boosters presented him
with a bonus gift of a 10 day vacation in Cuba. Still, unlike most paid
players from the time, Hogan actually attended classes, worked hard,
headed the debate team, and graduated with honors.
was one of the most famous players of the decade. He was a tremendous
defensive player and generally unstoppable as a ball carrier in the
middle of the line. But he did not get along well with Yale's biggest
star, Tom Shevlin, another Irishman who was nevertheless very much
son of a wealthy family from Minnesota, Tom Shevlin dressed in
expensive clothes, carried a gold-headed cane, and in a time when cars
were new, he had the best and most expensive in town. He liked to race
it and once had a warrant issued for his arrest for reckless driving.
The most famous football player of his time, and probably the biggest
celebrity in general, there are a lot of great stories about Shevlin,
some of which are recounted in summary in his Wikipedia
195 pounds, Shevlin was powerful, versatile, and fast (he ran 100 yards
in under 11 seconds). He started at four different positions as a
freshman in 1902, but settled at end for most of the rest of his career. As great on defense as Hogan, he
made an All American list all four years, and was a consensus choice in
1902, 1904, and 1905.
Shevlin was boastful and conceited, and that rubbed half his fellow
players and students the wrong way. He was elected captain for his
senior year by only a single vote, and outgoing captain James Hogan did
not, as was customary, shake his hand in congratulations. Shevlin was
also not invited to become a member of Skull and Bones (of which Hogan
was a member), or of any of the secret societies, costing him a $100
bet he had made with another student who was apparently better informed.
The Rest of the Team
great strength was its
"Irish Line," named for Irish players Hogan, Shevlin, tackle Ralph
Kinney, and end Charles Rafferty. Not actually Irish were center Henry
Holt and guards Edgar Glass and George Goss. Averaging over 200 pounds
in 1902 and 1903, this was easily Yale's biggest line of their glory
years, and much bigger than opposing lines. Kinney
and Holt were 2-time consensus All Americans. Consensus AA Edgar Glass,
along with Hogan and Shevlin, was the heart of the defense, and Glass was
also adept at pulling ball carriers forward through tacklers. Rafferty
would not be consensus AA until the following season, when he was named
captain. Goss was never consensus AA, but was nicknamed "The Strong
Man" because he was the strongest member of the team.
backfield was not nearly as talented as the line. All four starters
were named to at least one All America list, but aside from Chadwick,
the only consensus AA in 1902 was quarterback Foster Rockwell, who was
also selected in 1904. He was the field general, calling the plays. And
while Edgar Glass pulled ball carriers forward, Rockwell's job was to
push them from behind. He also sometimes grabbed them and swung them
around into an unexpected hole that had just opened up in the line.
year, the coach at Yale was a new former player, generally one who had
graduated the previous Spring. But Walter Camp was the "advisory coach"
at Yale through 1906, although he continued to help out through at
least 1909. As his presence lessened, Yale's fortunes would decline,
and after 1909 they no longer ruled over college football.
"Father of American Football," Walter Camp was the most influential
person in the evolution of early football rules. He also published
numerous books and articles that popularized the sport, and his All
American list was the most widely published, best known, and most
influential of the first few decades of the 20th century.
Yale defeated every opponent by more than a touchdown (5 points, conversion for 6 at that time) except one: 6-1-1
Army (#4). Led by Hall of Famers Charles Daly and Paul Bunker, Army had tied
11-1-1 Yale in 1901 and also given national champion Harvard their
toughest game. In 1902, they tied Yale again, 6-6. Army would also deal
Yale its only loss in 1904, knocking them out of the national
key to the 1902 result was a disagreement before the game. Army wanted
to play 20 minute halves, while Yale argued for at least 25 minutes.
Regulation time for major teams playing each other was 35 minutes per
half, but of course, shorter games greatly favor the underdogs. Yale
acceded to Army's wishes, and it cost them the win, as Army tired out
in the second half, and Yale was driving to a likely score as time ran
teams scored touchdowns in the first half. Yale followed a 40 yard punt
return with a series of runs into the line for the opening score, and
Army answered with a big break, a blocked kick they recovered at the
Yale 5 and cashed in for the tying touchdown with 2 runs. It was Army's
only scoring opportunity, as they produced no offense in this game, and
were greatly outgained by Yale. But Yale lost a fumble deep in Army
territory late in the first half, and lost another scoring chance on a
penalty in the second half. Late in the game, with Army tired out, Yale
drove steadily from their own 10 to the Army 20, when time was
mercifully called, leaving the score at 6-6.
Harvard had already beaten Army in 1902, so Yale could still win the
championship of the East by sweeping their final two games against
unbeatens Princeton and Harvard. Princeton proved to be the far tougher
of the two games.
Princeton was 8-0, playing at home, and was
considered to have an impregnable defense. Thomas Alva Edison was there
to film the game, making it the first football game to be captured on
film. Walter Camp had created a new play that Yale had been working on
all season, but had not shown yet, saving it for Princeton or Harvard,
as the need arose.
With Princeton's defense playing as well as
advertised, and Princeton leading 5-0 on a 50 yard John DeWitt field
goal, the need arose. The play involved the entire line moving to the
right, with ball carrier George Chadwick running right behind them.
Then he cut back left and hit the left side of the line between Holt
and Goss. Holt and Goss were supposed to keep tight together until they
felt Chadwick hit them, then part to spring him.
out of seemingly nowhere and ran for a 57 yard touchdown and 6-5
lead (pictured above). That would be all they needed, but Chadwick scored another
cutback touchdown from midfield in the second half for the 12-5 final
score. Princeton was finished at 8-1, and I have them ranked #5 for 1902.
left the much anticipated finale against 11-0
Harvard (#3), the defending champion and winner of 23 straight games. The
New York Times called it "the great championship football game of the
season." But the game was anticlimactic, as Yale pounded Harvard 23-0.
James Hogan scored two touchdowns, and the other tackle, Ralph Kinney,
Details of Michigan's great coach and players can be found in my review of the 1901 national championship. Most of the players from the 1901 team returned, the losses being fullback Neil Snow and tackles Hugh White and Bruce Shorts.
One tackle spot was ably filled by Joseph Maddock, an
all-conference player in 1902 and 1903. He was also the punter and a
powerful short-yardage ball carrier. The other tackle spot was a
problem area, with six different players starting there.
The 1901 team had won their games by an average of 50 points per
game, but the 1902 team actually outdid that by more than a touchdown,
winning by an average of 57.5 per game. In total they outscored
opponents 644-12. That is the best of the "point-a-minute" teams
1901-1905, and of course the school's best ever.
They beat Michigan State 119-0 and Iowa 107-0. But unlike 1901, one team did come within a touchdown of them:
6-3 Wisconsin (#9), who fell 6-0 at a game played at Marshall Field in Chicago.
was a matchup of teams that had gone unbeaten and untied in 1901, with
much speculation as to who would have won had they played. Wisconsin,
unlike Michigan, had lost most of their 1901 players, but interest in
this game still ran high, and 22,000 fans jammed into Marshall Field
for the game, with many more trying to get in. A temporary grandstand
collapsed under the weight of 1000 people, twice its capacity, injuring
Michigan controlled the game, but managed only one
touchdown. Halfback Al Herrnstein did most of the work on that drive,
but Willie Heston scored the capping touchdown (Herrnstein had scored 6
touchdowns against Ohio State the previous week). Most of the game was
played on Wisconsin's side of the field, with Michigan once being held
on downs at the Wisconsin 1.
prepared them for the Western Conference championship game against
unbeaten Chicago (#7) on the same field. Michigan won that one much more
easily, 21-0. Their finale against powerful Minnesota (9-2-1, #8)
was also little challenge, a 23-6 win (the game pictured above).
vs. Michigan in 1902
significant games for each team in 1902. The
rankings come from my 1902 top 25, which is based on a hypothetical AP poll (within logical reason of course). Click on the links in the table headers to see Yale or
Michigan's full schedule at the College Football Data Warehouse.
Yale defeated the rest of their opponents by an average of 35-2, Michigan by
an average of 82-1.
One of the most prominent football writers of the time, Caspar Whitney,
ranks the relevant teams like this:
Yale #1, Harvard #2, Army #3, Michigan #4, Princeton #5, Brown #7,
Amherst #10, Minnesota #15, Syracuse #16, Chicago #18, and Wisconsin
actually think Whitney was adept at rating teams, and don't endorse his
top 20. I merely bring it up to demonstrate the prevailing feeling of
that time. Chicago and Minnesota would both make my own top ten, as well as the top ten of Western writers.
Much of what I wrote for Harvard vs. Michigan for 1901
applies here as well. The East was a stronger region in general, and
Yale played a far tougher schedule in any sense. And Michigan's greater
propensity for running up the score is irrelevant.
played a tougher schedule than they had the year before, while still
outperforming the 1901 team's scoring mayhem. That one game against
Wisconsin does show a vulnerability that Michigan never showed in 1901,
but on the other hand, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Chicago in 1902 were
better than any opponent Michigan played in 1901.
But the big difference between 1901 and 1902 is that Yale has that
tie with Army in '02, whereas Harvard was perfect in '01. So it's the
classic case of the team with the tougher schedule but worse record
(Yale) against the team with the weaker schedule but better record
Similar to 1901, it
would be interesting
to see where, exactly, modern day organizations that single out
Michigan for 1902, without even mentioning Yale, would rank Army,
Harvard, and Princeton in a top 25 for 1902. I don't believe
they stopped to think about it at all, because I don't see how those
teams would finish outside the top 5 or 6 of any rational list. And given
that fact, how do you select Michigan alone as the "national champion"?
Yale may have that tie blemishing their record, but Michigan did not
play a team as strong as Army (or Harvard or Princeton).
Yale vs. Michigan Conclusion
little to no intersectional play in 1902, comparing the two is almost
like comparing two teams from entirely different sports. All we know is
that the East was better than the West both before and after this time,
and specifically that Michigan performed poorly against the East before
and after their 1901-1905 period. But this was Michigan's strongest of
the five teams, and the only one that defeated the other best team in
their own conference.
In the end, you can make a case for
either, and thus they're both worthy of sharing the "national
championship." But all we can really be certain of is that they are
regional champions: Yale of the East and Michigan of the West.
Or can we? Like Wisconsin in 1901, there was actually another Western team with a perfect record.
10-0 in 1902 and shut out every opponent. Their coach, like Wisconsin's in
1901, was a Princeton graduate. W. C. Booth was 46-8-1 1900-1905, the
highlight being a 27 game winning streak that ran from 1901 to 1904.
The star player was halfback John Bender, who played five years
1900-1904. Such were the eligibility standards of the time (or lack
thereof). He once refused to take the field against Minnesota until he
had been properly paid. Bender is in the American Indian Athletics Hall
of Fame. He was Nebraska's scoring leader with 8 touchdowns, one more
than fullback Orley Mickel collected.
Bender also went on to
coach at 6 schools over the next couple decades, and interestingly, he
was indirectly or directly responsible for giving three different
schools their current nicknames: the St. Louis Billikens, the Kansas State Wildcats, and the Houston Cougars.
Nebraska was deep in linemen, and featured a number of older
players, including a couple of Spanish-American War veterans and a
player who had been teaching for four years. They played a "frightful"
style, something they had in common with Yale. "Frightful" was the
common euphemism of that time for a team that played overly rough. A
popular account of the Yale-Harvard game tells of a Yale player
literally strangling a Harvard ball carrier until he dropped the ball.
For Nebraska's part, Northwestern's coach complained about Nebraska
kicking his downed players in the face and otherwise mistreating them
in a 12-0 Nebraska win.
only played two opponents who were top 25 caliber. Their
biggest game was at rival Minnesota (9-2-1, #8), who generally had their
way with Nebraska (they played almost every year 1900-1913, with
Minnesota going 10-2-1 in that time). Thousands of Nebraska fans took
the train to watch the game in Minneapolis. Nebraska quarterback
Maurice Benedict missed 3 field goals, but Nebraska staged a long, slow
drive late in the game, capped by Bender scoring a touchdown with 2
minutes left for a 6-0 win.
Their other top 25 opponent was 9-2 Knox (#19). Nebraska beat
them in the mud 7-0 in Lincoln, with Bender scoring the game's only
touchdown. Knox did come close to ending Nebraska's shutout streak,
driving the ball inside the Nebraska one before being stopped on downs.
Nebraska also won at 5-1 Colorado 10-0 and against 8-2-1 Haskell
Nebraska applied for membership in the Western Conference (Big Ten)
at the end of the season, but they were denied, as they would be
several more times over the next couple of decades.
vs. Nebraska in 1902
win over Minnesota was not as impressive as Michigan's 23-6 win over
the same team. On the other hand, it was similar to Michigan's 6-0 win
over Wisconsin. But that brings up another point:
Michigan played 3 top teams from the West (Chicago being the other),
and won easily in two of those games. Nebraska played just one and
Nebraska opponent Knox was good, but not much better
than Notre Dame. And while Nebraska beat Knox 7-0, Michigan beat Notre
Nebraska was all
about defense, and shut out every opponent. Maybe they could have done
the same to Michigan had they played (though I very much doubt it). But
given the difference in schedules and performance, there is no good
reason for Nebraska to share the title with Michigan (let alone Yale).
1902 #1: 11-0-1 Yale, or Yale in a tie with 11-0 Michigan National Co-champion: Michigan if Yale alone is #1 Contender: 10-0 Nebraska
are the awards I will be handing out for each season, except seasons
when there are no contenders. For this purpose, what I mean by a
contender is a team that I think is very close to being worthy of
sharing the national championship. A team that you could make an
argument for, even if that argument is weak. But they are
teams that I myself do not see as national champions.
If you were to pick only one team to be #1 in 1902, I think that
team would have to be Yale, due to the regional trend of strength at
that time and Yale's vastly tougher schedule. In other words, I think
that #1 would either have to be Yale alone or both teams in a tie. But
not Michigan alone.
Finally, a tip of the hat to two other teams worth mentioning that had perfect records in 1902: 8-0 California and 9-0 South Dakota.
will be grading the NCAA Records Book's selectors for each season,
and keeping a grade point average, so we can see who is relatively good
at selecting national champions and who is not. And although I do not
consider computer ratings to be legitimate national championship
selectors, I will go ahead and include them in this section as well,
just for comparison's sake. I will be grading on a scale of 0
to 5, with 5 being the best.
Parke Davis selected Yale and Michigan. Grade: 5
Every other organization selected Michigan. Grade: 4.2
Grade Averages 1901-1902:
1) Billingsley (math system)
Houlgate (math) National Championship Foundation Helms