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1923 College Football National Championship

1923 Illinois-Chicago football game

Pictured above is 1923's consensus national champion, 8-0 Illinois, lining up against 7-1 Chicago in the first game played at Illinois' Memorial Stadium. Despite a steady rain, 60,000 fans showed up to watch Illinois win their biggest game of the year 7-0, the legendary Red Grange scoring the touchdown.


Here is how the "major selectors" listed in the NCAA Records Book, all selecting long after the fact, see the 1923 college football national championship (omitting math/computer ratings, which neither I nor anyone else recognize as constituting titles):

8-0 Illinois:
Helms, Parke Davis, CFB Researchers, National Championship Foundation (tie)
8-0 Michigan: National Championship Foundation (tie)

As you can see, Michigan shared the Big 10 title with Illinois, and the school claims a share of the mythical national championship (MNC) for this season as well. But that's not all: 8-0 Cornell also claims an MNC for 1923, even though no one listed in the NCAA Records Book selected them-- I guess they selected themselves. Yale makes a 4th major football school that went 8-0 in 1923, but though the school does not claim an MNC for it, they are our 4th contender here.

A number of other schools posted perfect records, but all played weak (and usually regionally confined) schedules, and therefore none of them were close to meriting MNC contention. Those teams included 8-0 Marquette, 9-0 Colorado, 9-0 Southern Methodist, 7-0 Pacific, 8-0 Davis & Elkins, and 9-0 New Mexico State.

California went unbeaten for a 4th straight season, but a shocking 0-0 tie with 2-3-3 Nevada left them 9-0-1 and out of MNC contention for the first time since 1919. Notre Dame's "Four Horsemen" backfield crushed every opponent except 4-2-2 Nebraska, who upset them 14-7 in Lincoln, leaving them 9-1 and out of the race, though they might well have been the best team of 1923. The "Four Horsemen" would not actually be named as such until the next season, when they posted a perfect record, capped by a Rose Bowl victory, and claimed a virtually unanimous MNC. But I'll get to that in my 1924 article.


All rankings in the following article, except as noted, come from my 1923 top 25, which is based on a hypothetical post-bowl AP poll (within logical reason of course).

A Hypothetical AP Poll for 1923

College football historian Bob Kirlin thinks 8-0 Illinois would have been voted #1 in a final regular season AP poll, but unfortunately he does not provide any reasoning for that opinion, just the list of schools year-by-year, so I do not know what he based it on. My reading of 1923 college football articles does not support that conclusion, but then it doesn't support any team as a clear consensus national choice for best of 1923. Frankly, I think it's impossible to make a reasonable guess on what an AP poll would have come up with for #1 in 1923.

All 4 of our major 8-0 teams were big-name schools with a history of success. Illinois did have 2 consensus All Americans, which shows national esteem for the team, but Yale also had 2, and Yale had a total of 7 players make AA lists, while Illinois had just 3. Most of the selectors were Easterners, but not all were, and anyway, Michigan had 5 players make various AA lists.

Cornell had just 2, but Cornell also had a huge advantage over the others going into 1923: they were 8-0 in 1921 and 8-0 in 1922 as well, and would have been very highly ranked to start this season. They then destroyed their opponents, including 34-7 over 6-2-1 Colgate and 32-7 at 8-1 Dartmouth, who would have finished in the top 10. It is hard to see exactly when any of the other contenders would have passed them up in an AP poll, but they did struggle to a 14-7 win at 5-4 Penn in their finale, so perhaps they would have been passed up then, right at the finish line.

Yale had the more hallowed name, and they certainly got more attention from Eastern writers this season. This was their first perfect finish since 1909, the last year of a 2-decade stretch during which Yale had ruled college football. Eastern writers, at least, felt a huge sentimental draw to this team, as 1923 was their long-awaited return to the "top."

But Michigan would have had sentiment going for them too. If there had been an AP poll 1901-1923, Michigan would not have finished #1 in any of the seasons before this one. But by the time the 1920s rolled around, Michigan coach Fielding Yost was one of the best known and most respected coaches in college football, and it was in the 1920s that his "Point a Minute" teams (1901, 1902, 1903, 1904, and 1905) started to gain true national respect, albeit in hindsight. Yost was a frequent author of football books and articles, and a popular speaker in the off-season, and this was supposed to be his final year coaching at Michigan. There would have been enormous national sentiment that 1923 was Michigan and Fielding Yost's "turn" to be ranked #1. Michigan also finished 6-0-1 in 1922, and therefore would have started 1923 with the advantage of a high rating.

And then there is Illinois, who had gone 2-5 in 1922 and would have been lowly ranked to start 1923, and probably not ranked at all. Why does Bob Kirlin think Illinois would have been voted #1 in an AP poll in 1923? I can only guess that it's because of their star halfback, Harold "Red" Grange, who in the 1920s reached a level of celebrity never matched by a college football player, before or since. But the problem is that Grange, while a consensus All American in 1923, was not at all the nationally revered superstar he would go on to become-- Grange mania would not start until the next season: October 18, 1924 to be exact. But more on that later. The point is, in 1923 "Grange" was not a big enough name to push Illinois to #1 in an AP poll all by itself.

On the other hand, writers who actually saw Illinois play appear to have been convinced that they were the best team of 1923, and many of those writers also saw at least Michigan play. Unfortunately, they would have constituted a minority of voters in a national poll, so I don't know that they could have pushed Illinois to #1. But Illinois certainly outperformed Michigan against a similar schedule. In fact, Michigan needed some fluke plays to beat a couple of their opponents, and that would have hurt their cause.

Conclusion? As I said at the outset, it is impossible to reasonably guess which of these 4 teams would have been voted #1 in an AP poll. It would have been a true horse race, and a very close vote. My guess would be Yale, just because they were so beloved in the East, and outside the East they were still well remembered as college football's greatest giant in the first decade of the 20th century. But enough of what writers at the time thought-- time to look at the 4 teams and see who actually deserved the 1923 MNC. We'll start with Illinois, the consensus choice among retroactive MNC selectors.
 

Illinois 1923

1923 Illinois football team

Illinois had previously won national championships in 1914 and 1919, and it looks like they stuck to about a 4 year cycle, because they are the consensus choice for 1923 and will be again for 1927. The head coach for all of these MNC titles was Hall of Famer Robert Zuppke, whom I covered in most detail in the 1914 article. Illinois had posted losing records for 2 years prior to this season, 3-4 in 1921 and 2-5 in 1922, but the future looked bright, because their 1922 freshman team simply had to be the best freshman team in the country. They scrimmaged against the varsity team twice a week, and handily won most of the scrimmages. Zuppke started spending more time with the freshmen than with the varsity, preferring the rosy 8-0 future to the dreary 2-5 present.

Unfortunately for Zuppke, most of the best players from the 1922 freshman team transferred elsewhere. Quarterback Ralph "Moon" Baker went to Northwestern and tackle Frank Wickhorst went to Navy, and both became consensus All Americans. Halfback Paul Cook became a starter at Michigan. On the bright side, the best of the lot, the now-legendary halfback Red Grange, remained at Illinois, and that rosy 8-0 future was thus secured.

Red Grange

Red Grange against Michigan, 1924

Harold "Red" Grange was just 5' 11" and 166 pounds, but he had scored 75 touchdowns and 532 points at Wheaton High School in Illinois, and he could reportedly run the 100 yard dash in 9.8 seconds, so there was great anticipation among Illinois fans for his sophomore debut with the Illini. He did not disappoint, scoring 3 touchdowns against Nebraska in his first game and totaling 723 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns for the 1923 season, including at least one touchdown in every game he played. He also added 178 yards receiving, 212 returning punts, and 140 returning interceptions.

But he did not become a legend until the 1924 game with Michigan (pictured above), who at that point had not lost in 3 years. On that day, October 18, 1924, Grange returned the opening kickoff 95 yards for a touchdown, then scored 3 more times on runs of 67, 56, and 44 yards, all in the first 12 minutes of the game, after which he took a seat on the bench. He returned briefly in the 3rd quarter, long enough to add an 11 yard touchdown run and a 20 yard touchdown pass, and then his day was done. In less than one half of a game, he accounted for 6 touchdowns, rushed for 212 yards, passed for 64, and returned a couple of kicks for 126.

That one game made him the biggest celebrity college football has ever known, and thereafter he was nationally known as "The Galloping Ghost." For his 3 year, 20 game career, he totaled 2071 rushing yards, 253 receiving, 575 passing, 939 in punt and kickoff returns, 247 in interception returns, and he scored 31 touchdowns. He was a consensus All American all 3 years, then signed a lucrative contract with the Chicago Bears the day after his last game at Illinois. He is often credited with getting the NFL off the ground financially, as well as "legitimizing" the league in terms of publicity. He also went out to Hollywood and starred in a couple of movies about himself, as well as a 12-part serial. He is in both the college and pro football halls of fame, and he makes the short list for practically any discussion of the greatest college football player of all time.

The Greatest Player of All Time?

Illinois halfback Red GrangeHowever, call me a grinch, but he wouldn't make my short list for such a discussion. Sure, I never saw him play, but then neither did anyone at ABC (the television network), who proclaimed him the greatest college football player of all time in a 2008 list. But how much research went into that list? How closely did they compare Grange's college career to Jim Thorpe's (whom they rated #6)? Red Grange was obviously a great offensive and defensive back, as was Jim Thorpe. But Grange kicked 2 punts in his college career, and no field goals or extra points, whereas Thorpe was the greatest punter and kicker of his time (and possibly the greatest punter of all time)-- and this was during an era when the kicking game was absolutely paramount. To me, that takes Red Grange off the short list right there. And even his offensive numbers-- 2071 yards and 31 touchdowns in 20 games-- are great, but not all-time-best great. A lot of backs put up those kinds of numbers and better. Jim Thorpe scored more points in one season (1912) than Grange did in his career, and Thorpe had a crazy 1869 yards rushing that year, nearly Grange's career total.

There are plenty of backs in history whose accomplishments compare well to Grange's overall numbers (including his 11 interceptions in 20 games), but let's just look at Aubrey Devine, who starred for the Iowa team I selected as a national champion for 1921. Devine is nowhere near as famous as Grange, and makes no one's list of the greatest players (except perhaps among Iowa fans), but his 895 rushing yards and 2211 total offense yards in 1921 simply blow Grange's best season out of the water. And Devine was also his team's punter and placekicker. He even had one transcendent game that was comparable to Grange's 1924 game against Michigan. Against Minnesota in 1921, Devine accounted for 484 yards and 6 touchdowns (similar to Grange's 402 and 6), but on top of that he added 5 extra points-- so he accounted for more yards and more points than Grange did in what is supposedly "the greatest single game performance of all time," and did so just 3 years earlier.

So what, exactly, made Grange such an all-time superstar, and Devine just another great back, now largely forgotten outside Iowa? It's impossible to say, really, why one player catches the public's fancy and another doesn't, when the answer isn't in the actual accomplishments. It may come down to one simple factor-- whether or not Grantland Rice writes a nationally published poem about you.

"There are shapes now moving,

Two Ghosts that drift and glide,
And which of them to tackle
Each rival must decide.
They shift with spectral swiftness
Across the swarded range,
And one of them’s a shadow,
And one of them is Grange."

The Rest of the Team

Hard to remember, but there were actually a few other good players on this Illinois team, and one of them was also a consensus All American this season. That would be senior guard and captain James McMillen, who went on to play 5 years for the Chicago Bears, where he would be reunited with Red Grange in 1926. End Frank Rokusek would succeed McMillen as captain in 1924, and was a nonconsensus AA that season.

And then there was the forgotten man, fullback Earl Britton. He never made a first team AA list or even all conference (though he was eventually selected as 3rd team all Big 10), but he was a very big back for his time, 6' 2" and about 220 pounds, and fast and agile for his size. He was Grange's best blocker all 3 years, and he was an excellent punter and placekicker as well. His 50 yard field goal, a school record for longest that lasted another 44 years, made the difference in a 9-6 win over Iowa this season. He went on to play for 5 years in the pros.

But while the world at large may not have taken much notice of Earl Britton, Grange never forgot Britton's importance to his success. Years later, he lamented the fact that Britton never made an AA list, calling him "the best blocker I ever saw." He also called Britton's 50 yard field goal against Iowa, for which he was the holder, his single biggest thrill in football. After Grange left school and signed with Chicago, the Galloping Ghost sent for his wingman, and Britton left school one week later to join Grange with the Bears. Earl Britton's hometown didn't forget him either, as he is in the Elgin (Illinois) Sports Hall of Fame.

Illinois' Season

Foregoing the usual opening day patsy, Illinois started with Missouri Valley power Nebraska, and Red Grange introduced himself to the college football world by scoring 3 touchdowns on a 35 yard run, 20 yard leaping catch, and 60 yard punt return. Illinois won 24-7. Nebraska went on to finish 4-2-2, taking a couple of ugly ties to 5-0-3 Kansas and 2-3-3 Missouri, but they rebounded with a huge 14-7 win over 9-1 Notre Dame (#7). Their second loss came to 8-1 Syracuse (#8) by a score of 7-0. I have Nebraska ranked #19 for 1923.

Zuppke wanted to keep his prize player healthy for the crucial Big 10 contests to come, so he sat Grange for Illinois' next game against Butler. Or at least he tried to. Butler was not quite the patsy they were supposed to be when originally placed on the schedule, and in fact they had beaten Illinois 10-7 the previous season. This time, Zuppke sent Grange in to break open a tight game in the 2nd half, and Grange ran for 142 yards and 2 touchdowns, leading Illinois to a 21-7 win. So we can see the impact Grange had on Illinois' 1923 fortunes right there. Butler was a strong minor team, finishing 7-2. Their second loss came 34-7 to Notre Dame, but they went 7-0 against other minor teams
.

Iowa

That brought Illinois to their first big game, at Iowa. The 2-time defending Big 10 champ had not lost in 3 years. Fullback Earl Britton did not show up to the team meeting before the game, and Zuppke sent Jim McMillen to find him. In telling this story to Sports Illustrated many years later, McMillen explained that Britton "was a hard man to get serious about a game." He found the big fullback on the roof of the team's hotel, overlooking Iowa's homecoming parade. Britton was writing "To Hell with Iowa" on sheets of hotel stationery, folding the sheets into paper airplanes, and floating them out over the crowd.

This ended up being Illinois' toughest game by far. Iowa had successfully diagnosed the key to beating Illinois, and they knocked Grange out on the opening kickoff. Grange came right back, but he wasn't the same, and Iowa held Illinois to just 58 yards rushing in this game. Britton kicked his 50 yard field goal for an early 3-0 lead, but there would be no more scoring by either team until the 4th quarter. Grange had his head packed in ice at halftime
.

Iowa finally pushed over a touchdown to take a 6-3 lead early in the 4th quarter. These were the last points Illinois gave up in 1923. In the latter half of the quarter, Illinois, unable to move the ball on the ground, took to the air. Quarterback Harry Hall completed 3 long passes to Red Grange, setting up Grange's short touchdown run for the 9-6 win.

Iowa lost twice more, finishing 5-3, and they would not have been ranked in an AP poll's top 25 (I have them at #26-33). However, their 3 losses came to top 10 caliber teams (8-0 Illinois, 8-0 Michigan, and 5-1-1 Minnesota), and they gave 8-0 Michigan an even tougher time than they gave Illinois, so power-wise it's possible that Iowa was a #15 type team. On the other hand, Iowa's 5 wins all came over losing teams, and they only beat 2-5-1 Purdue by 7 and 2-6 Northwestern by 3, so it's very difficult to gauge exactly how good Iowa was this season.

Chicago

Illinois next trounced 2-6 Northwestern 29-0 on the road, Grange scoring 3 touchdowns, including a 90 yard interception return. Then they came home to face Chicago in their biggest game of the year. Chicago had lost just 1 game in each of the previous 2 seasons, and this would be the only loss they would take this season. It was the first game played in Illinois' new stadium, and 60,000 fans filled it despite a steady rain.

The rain reduced both offenses to conservative straight-ahead football. Chicago drove to the Illinois 6 yard line in the first quarter before running out of downs, but it was an even game for the rest of the half, both teams occasionally edging into enemy territory, but neither producing a serious scoring threat. In the 3rd quarter, Illinois finally drove 63 yards to pay dirt, Grange supplying 51 of it, including the 5 yard touchdown to cap it. Britton kicked the extra point to make it 7-0. Grange had a number of big plays in this game, including a 60 yard interception return, but none of them resulted in points beyond the one touchdown. Chicago finally went to their air game in the 4th quarter, but that went nowhere, and so 7-0 held up as the final score.

Chicago finished 7-1, and I have them at #6 for 1923.

The Rest of the Season

Next up was Wisconsin, coming in at 3-0-1, their tie with Minnesota (who finished 5-1-1). Illinois mounted an early 80 yard touchdown drive, Grange breaking free for runs of 14, 13, 25, and 26 yards, the last for the touchdown. He then led a drive to a 33 yard Earl Britton field goal, and just like that, Illinois led 10-0. The game ended that way too, mostly because Grange was injured in a 2nd quarter pile-up, and did not play in the 2nd half. He finished with 121 yards rushing.

Wisconsin lost their next 2 games, finishing 3-3-1, and they would not have been ranked in a final AP poll, but they were probably about #15 power-wise, and could viably be rated as high as the top 10. They tied 5-1-1 Minnesota (#10), and their 3 losses came to 8-0 Illinois, 8-0 Michigan, and 7-1 Chicago, all top 10 caliber teams. They lost to Chicago by 7 and Michigan by 3, and in fact Michigan only beat them on a fluke play (as covered in the Michigan summary below). I have Wisconsin at #23 for 1923.

Grange remained out for the next game against Mississippi State (5-2-2), whom Illinois nevertheless dispatched with ease, 27-0.

Illinois then hit the road for their traditional finale against rival Ohio State. It was OSU's homecoming, and they were 3-3-1 coming in, their losses taken to 8-0 Michigan, 5-3 Iowa, and 7-1 Chicago. But they had tied 6-2-1 Colgate, who had given 8-1 Syracuse their only loss 16-7, and Colgate would have finished about #15 in a final AP poll (I have them at #14).

Ohio State took the proper course, arranging their entire defense around stopping Red Grange, which successfully kept the game scoreless through 3 quarters. OSU had 3 shots from inside the Illinois 1 yard line in the 3rd quarter, but they were unable to punch it in. Actually, the Buckeyes felt that they did punch it in, but unfortunately for them the referee did not see it that way. It didn't matter, because Illinois scored twice in the 4th quarter anyway, winning 9-0. The game was essentially won on a 10 play, 82 yard touchdown drive, Grange galloping over from 31 yards out. That completed his streak of scoring a touchdown in every game he played this season. Earl Britton later added a 32 yard field goal to put the game out of reach.

Michigan 1923

1923 Michigan football team

Michigan previously contended for mythical national championships in 1901, 1902, 1903, 19041918, and 1922, though I only selected them as champions for 1902 and 1918. I covered their Hall of Fame coach, Fielding Yost, in the 1901 article. By this time, he was widely recognized as one of the top coaches in college football history, and this season he tied Minnesota's former coach Henry Williams for most Big 10 titles at 8. But Michigan had been an independent for 10 years 1907-1916, so Yost won those titles in just 13 seasons of Big 10 play, while Williams coached in the conference for 22 years.

This was supposed to be Yost's last year as coach, but his retirement only lasted 1 season, after which he returned for a 2-year encore 1925-1926, winning 2 more Big 10 titles in those seasons. That brought his total to 10 conference championships in just 15 years. Compare that to his Hall of Fame contemporaries: Illinois' Robert Zuppke won 7 in 29 seasons, Chicago's Amos Alonzo Stagg won 7 in 37, Ohio State's John Wilce managed just 3 in 16, and again, Minnesota's Henry Williams won 8 in 22
.

Most of the players from Michigan's 6-0-1 1922 team, covered in that article, returned this season. The main losses were a pair of nonconsensus All American ends, Paul Goebel and Bernie Kirk. Center and drop-kicker Jack Blott was Michigan's one consensus AA this season, while Hall of Fame halfback and punter Harry Kipke, consensus AA in 1922, was dropped from such lists this season in favor of Red Grange. Blott and Kipke were all-conference, and tackle Stanley Muirhead gave Michigan a 3rd all-conference player, one more than Illinois had. Muirhead reportedly made 22 or 23 tackles, depending on the source, in Michigan's biggest game this season, their finale against 5-1-1 Minnesota.

This season's newcomers weren't particularly notable, but at least one made a significant impact in just 2 starts. Substitute quarterback Ferdinand "Tod" Rockwell took over as starter when Irwin Uteritz broke his leg in the 6th game, against the Quantico Marines. Rockwell was the holder for a field goal try in that game, but when it looked like Quantico had broken through for the block, he picked up the ball and improvised a 26 yard touchdown run. In the next game, Rockwell scored a controversial touchdown to beat Wisconsin 6-3 (as covered below). Rockwell then caught a 31 yard touchdown pass in Michigan's finale, a 10-0 win over Minnesota. In 1924, he would score 77 points (10 touchdowns, 14 extra points, and 1 field goal), leaving him just 1 point behind Red Grange for top scorer in the conference. He was a nonconsensus AA that season. Rockwell became a sportswriter for the Detroit Free Press.

Guard Harry Hawkins, who started 4 games, went through his Michigan career unheralded by all but his coach, who later proclaimed him the best lineman of 1925. He won the national collegiate championship in the hammer throw in 1926, and is in the Saginaw Sports Hall of Fame.

Michigan's Season

After feasting on a cupcake, Michigan hosted Southern power Vanderbilt, who had tied them 0-0 in 1922. Home field advantage must have been worth a field goal back then, because this time Michigan center Jack Blott kicked one in the 2nd quarter for a 3-0 win. Vanderbilt finished 5-2-1, and though it's possible that they would have finished in the bottom of an AP poll's top 25 in 1923, it's unlikely, and they shouldn't have. Their other loss came 16-0 to 8-0-1 Texas in Dallas, and they were tied by 5-2-2 Mississippi State (whom Illinois beat 27-0 without Grange).

Michigan needed a pair of fluke plays to win 2 more close games on their way to 8-0. The first came at Iowa, just a couple of weeks after Illinois had barely escaped Iowa City with a 9-6 win. Michigan beat Iowa 9-3 by recovering their own punt in Iowa's end zone for a touchdown. What happened was that referee John Schommer ruled that an Iowa player rushing the punter had grazed the ball with his fingertips. Schommer called out that it was a live ball, but no one heard him except Michigan center Jack Blott. In those days, a punting team could recover a partially blocked punt and retain possession of the ball. So as Iowa's players stood around watching the punt roll into the end zone, thinking it was a routine touchback, Blott ran past them all and fell on the ball for what proved to be the winning score.

Harry Kipke added a field goal to give Michigan a 9-0 lead in the 1st quarter, and Iowa kicked a field goal in the 2nd to make the 9-3 final score. Michigan produced little to no offense in this game, but they didn't need any thanks to Jack Blott's opportunistic touchdown. Blott also intercepted a 4th quarter pass at his own 25 yard line to help preserve the win.

After the game, referee John Schommer was swarmed by Iowa fans out for blood, but Iowa's players came to his aid and escorted him safely off the field. This game led to a change in football's rules concerning partially blocked punts.

Iowa, as discussed in the Illinois summary above, finished 5-3 and would not have been ranked in an AP top 25, though they might have been top 25 power-wise.

Deja Vu All Over Again

Michigan's touchdown to win 6-3 at Wisconsin 2 weeks later supplied some uncanny deja vu. With Wisconsin up 3-0 in the 2nd quarter, Michigan quarterback Tod Rockwell returned a punt to midfield, where he was tackled by a couple of Wisconsin players. As players for both teams gathered for the next play, Rockwell got up, but he noticed that the referee was not coming to get the ball from him to set it. Realizing that the play was still live, he turned and ran unopposed for what was ultimately recorded as a 68 yard punt return touchdown. You see, in 1923, the rules stated that a player was only down if he was firmly in the grasp of a defender while on the ground, which the referee ruled was not the case on this play.

The Wisconsin bench and fans went nuts, and referee Walter Eckersall needed Wisconsin players to escort him from the field unharmed after the game, much like fellow Chicago graduate John Schommer did at Iowa 2 weeks prior. Also similar to the Iowa game, this play prompted a change in the rules of college football, after which a player was ruled down if his knee touched the ground.

Wisconsin almost pulled their own rabbit out of a hat with a "Hail Mary" pass on the last play of the game. A receiver caught the ball and got away for some 50 yards down the field, but Michigan guard Butch Slaughter chased him down and tackled him 20 yards from the end zone. Wisconsin, as discussed in the Illinois summary above, finished 3-3-1 and would not have been ranked in an AP top 25, but they were likely about #15 power-wise, and I have them at #23 for 1923.

Michigan suffered quite a few injuries down the stretch. They had already lost 3 starters heading into the Wisconsin game, and center Jack Blott broke his leg in that one. Only 5 of the team's original 11 starters took the field in the season finale against Minnesota, who was coming to Ann Arbor at 5-0-1. Luckily for Michigan, Minnesota lost their star quarterback early in the game, and with him went the offense. 42,000 fans watched their team win 10-0. Tod Rockwell caught a 31 yard touchdown pass in the 2nd quarter and kicked the extra point. In the 3rd quarter, a blocked punt set up a Harry Kipke field goal. Kipke also had a great day punting, and he knocked down several passes (Minnesota was 0 for 8 in the air).

So Minnesota finished 5-1-1, and I have them at #10 for 1923. But their tie came to 3-3-1 Wisconsin
, and they didn't beat anyone that would have finished ranked, so just how good they were is a bit of a mystery.

Yale 1923

Yale football coach Tad JonesYale fullback Bill MalloryYale tackle Century MilsteadYale halfback Mal Stevens

Yale's 8-0 1923 team featured 4 Hall of Famers: from left to right, head coach Tad Jones, fullback Bill Mallory, tackle Century Milstead, and substitute halfback Mal Stevens
.

Yale had been wandering the wilderness for 14 years, but before that they had been the 20th century's first "team of the decade," winning mythical national championships in 1902190519061907,
and 1909. Thomas Albert Dwight ("Tad") Jones had played for three of those teams, 1905-1907, and he was a consensus All American at quarterback in 1907. He returned to coach his alma mater in 1916 and 1920-1927, going 57-15-4 and briefly bringing Yale back to the top of the college football world, albeit for the last time. This was of course Yale's first unbeaten and untied season since 1909. His final season, 1927, is the last season for which the school claims an MNC.

The Hall of Famers

Yale had 2 consensus All Americans this season, William "Memphis Bill" Mallory and Century Milstead. Mallory was the captain, and did most of the placekicking. He unfortunately died in a plane crash returning from World War 2.

Century Milstead was so-named because he was born on the first day of the 20th century, January 1, 1901 (but there is some confusion over his birthdate-- see Addendum following this article if interested in such trivia). He transferred from Wabash, whom he had led to a win over Purdue and a 7-2 finish in 1921, and after sitting out the required year in 1922, this was the only season he was eligible to play at Yale. He was 6' 4" and 205 pounds, and reportedly threw the varsity backs around during scrimmages in 1922.

Milstead was suspended from school in 1924 for marrying while still a student, which he had actually done in secret before the 1923 football season. Yale dean F. S. Jones answered protests by pointing out that "Marriage is too distracting to a student." To which Milstead replied, "I've engaged in both marriage and athletics and if the question of distraction is to be argued, I should say that there's something to be said about the distraction of athletics." Yale met him halfway: he could not attend classes, but he was allowed to take his examinations, which he passed to obtain his degree.

Mal Stevens was a transfer from Washburn, where he had been the quarterback for 3 years, so like Milstead he was a one-season mercenary. Unlike Milstead, he was never named to a first team AA list, and in fact he was not even a starter in his one season at Yale, so I don't know what he's doing in the Hall of Fame. It probably has to do with the fact that he became an orthopedic surgeon, and coached at Yale and NYU as well. He succeeded Tad Jones as coach at Yale in 1928, and oversaw Yale's fade from big-time football, going 21-11-8 in 5 seasons. Then he was 33-34-2 at NYU 1934-1941.

The Rest of the Team

Century Milstead and Mal Stevens weren't the only transfers on this team. Quarterback Lyle Richeson had been Tulane's quarterback for 3 years, and halfback William "Widdy" Neale had played at West Virginia and Marietta. Widdy was college and pro Hall of Famer Greasy Neale's brother. Widdy will never join his brother in the college HoF, but unlike Hall of Famer Mal Stevens, Widdy Neale was actually a starting halfback at Yale, so he had that going for him. Neale ran Yale's intramural athletics program and oversaw their golf course 1933-1969, and was a very successful amateur golfer as a senior.

Yale's other starting halfback was Raymond Pond, who would be named a nonconsensus AA in 1924. In this year's rainy Harvard game, Pond scored a touchdown on a 63 yard fumble return through "seventeen lakes, five quagmires and a water hazard," as Grantland Rice put it. Rice therefore named him Ducky Pond, which is still the name he is best remembered by. Ducky succeeded Mal Stevens as coach at Yale 1934-1940 and oversaw a further decline, going 30-25-2. He then went 22-30-1 in 7 years at Bates.

End Dick Luman would be named a consensus AA in 1924, and center Winslow Lovejoy would be nonconsensus AA the same season.

Tackle Edwin "Ted" Blair never received national honors, but he had a couple of big plays in the Army and Harvard games, and Yale's football MVP award is named for him.

Yale's Season

Yale demolished most of the teams on their schedule, outscoring them by a total of 230-38, and none of their 8 opponents had a losing record, prompting more than one observer to proclaim this Yale's best team ever. Yet no organization listed in the NCAA Records Book selects them as a national champion for 1923, and this is not one of the 26 years for which Yale claims an MNC. That is probably because their schedule, while holding no losers, was not very impressive. Princeton (3-3-1) and Harvard (4-3-1) were down this year, leaving 6-2-1 Army as the only team Yale played who would have been ranked in a 1923 AP poll. Still, Yale won by impressive scores over Army and nearly everyone else they played, so they deserve a look when selecting the 1923 MNC.

Yale started with a pair of Southern challengers, routing 5-3-1 North Carolina 53-0 and 5-3-1 Georgia 40-0. 4-4-1 Bucknell put up more of a fight before falling 29-14, but Yale led 14-0 at half, and though the reserves gave up some points, they still won the 2nd half 15-14. Yale then won 21-0 over 6-4 Brown, and that brought them to their toughest opponent of 1923, Army.

Army came in at 4-1, having lost 13-0 to Notre Dame (9-1). A national record 80,000 fans crammed the Yale Bowl, temporary stands added for this game.
Army's passing attack had some initial success, and they drove to an early 25 yard field goal for a 3-0 lead. Yale was stopped at the Army 3 yard line in the 2nd quarter, but Army soon fumbled, and Yale tackle Ted Blair fell on the ball in the end zone for a touchdown and 7-3 lead. Army quarterback George Smythe later took the lead back on a 75 yard punt return, a zig-zagging affair in which he apparently ran around for some 300 yards to advance the 75. Army thus led 10-7 at the half, but Yale crushed them in the next half.

Mal Stevens ran for 24 yards, then Widdy Neale hit Dick Luman for an 18 yard touchdown pass, and it was 14-10. Army's passing game then failed miserably, as an interception set up a touchdown, another set up a field goal, and a third was returned by quarterback Lyle Richeson for a 35 yard touchdown to finish the scoring at 31-10. Yale had 16 first downs to Army's 6.

Army tied 5-1-3 Navy in their finale, finishing 6-2-1, and I have them ranked #12 for 1923. They didn't actually beat a team who would have been ranked, but they gave 6-1-2 Florida their only loss 20-0, and their tie with Navy held value because Navy tied 10-1-1 Washington in the Rose Bowl.

Trouble with Maryland

Have you ever noticed that teams who win big games by big scores often struggle the next week, even against lesser opponents? Well, that's what happened to Yale against Maryland the week after their big Army win. Maryland was coming in at 5-1. They had created a bit of a stir by beating Penn 3-0 on the road, but Penn ended up 5-4 this season, and Maryland took a 16-7 loss to mediocre 6-3 Virginia Tech a couple weeks later. Maryland had lost 45-3 at Yale the previous season, but this time their 4th year starting quarterback, Johnny "Boots" Groves, had a remarkable game, and Yale barely escaped with a win.

Groves led his team to a pair of 1st quarter touchdowns with great running and passing. Both drives were long, 80 and 85 yards, and Groves capped each by running for the touchdown and kicking the extra point for a 14-0 lead. Yale had no first downs in that opening quarter, but clearly Maryland simply held the ball for almost all of it. Maryland was on the march again in the 2nd quarter, but a fumble at the Yale 30 turned the game around. Widdy Neale ripped a 50 yard run on the way to a Ducky Pond touchdown, cutting the deficit to 14-7. Later, Neale did most of the work on a drive to the Maryland 10, where Bill Mallory kicked a field goal, making it 14-10 at the half.

In the 3rd quarter, Yale drove to the Maryland goal line before Mal Stevens lost a fumble at the 1 yard line. But he made up for it by returning the ensuing punt back to the Maryland 3, then scoring a touchdown to take the lead 16-14. Maryland came back and dominated the 4th quarter, but they were unable to translate that dominance to points. Yale had a lot of trouble defending their passing game, but Maryland lost another fumble at the Yale 30 with 5 minutes to go, and then Johnny Groves barely missed a field goal attempt at the end that would have won it.

Maryland was tied by 6-2-1 Johns Hopkins (whom Cornell beat 52-0) in their finale, putting them at 7-2-1. They would not have been ranked in a 1923 AP poll.

Yale next beat 3-3-1 Princeton 27-0, their most lopsided win in the series since 1890, in front of another crowd of 80,000. Then they went up to 4-3-1 Harvard, their only road trip of the season, and won 13-0 in the rain. This game featured 14 fumbles and 54 punts, as neither team could produce much offense. In the 2nd quarter, Ducky Pond picked up a Harvard fumble, and with no one around him, ran it back for a 63 yard touchdown. It was Yale's first touchdown at Harvard since 1907. In the 3rd quarter, Ted Blair blocked a Harvard punt and returned the ball another 12 yards to set up a Bill Mallory field goal. Later, Harvard fumbled at their own 20, leading to a 37 yard Mallory field goal that closed the scoring. Yale had another couple of scoring chances due to Harvard turnovers, while Harvard never threatened to score.

Cornell 1923

Cornell quarterback George PfannThis was Cornell's 3rd straight 8-0 season, having been a strong contender for the 1921 MNC, and clearly meriting a share of it in 1922. I covered their Hall of Fame coach, Gil Dobie, in the 1921 article.

Gone this year were superstar halfback Eddie Kaw, nonconsensus AA tackle Swede Hanson (actually, he was still around, but as an assistant coach), and 5 other starters from the line. There was some question as to whether the machine could keep rolling, but roll on it did. Hall of Fame quarterback George Pfann (pictured at left) stepped up his game, scoring 15 touchdowns in 8 games and passing for more on the way to being named consensus AA. In fact, despite the terrific debut of Red Grange at Illinois, if there had been a Heisman Trophy in 1923, it would have come down to Pfann or Penn State's Harry "Light Horse" Wilson for the award. After graduation, Pfann went off to study law at Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar.

Halfback Floyd Ramsey and fullback Charles Cassidy had been lost in the long shadows cast by Eddie Kaw and George Pfann in 1921 and 1922, and though they still toiled unnoticed in Pfann's shadow this season, one can see in reading Cornell's 1923 game summaries that both players contributed quite a lot this season. Their school didn't forget them, and both are in Cornell's Hall of Fame. The Pfann-Ramsey-Cassidy backfield went 24-0 1921-1923, and after the threesome graduated, Cornell fell to 4-4 in 1924, never to go unbeaten under Dobie again.

Charles Cassidy was particularly strong, as he could run, block, catch, and was a great defensive back. After college, he eventually became the Attorney General for the territory of Hawaii.

Hall of Fame tackle Frank "Sunny" Sundstrom also returned this season, and was a nonconsensus AA. He kicked 24 extra points on the season.

But there were no notable new players in 1923, so it's no surprise that this was the sunset of Cornell's great run.

Cornell's Season

Cornell didn't just win 24 games in a row 1921-1923-- they mauled their opponents, winning every game by more than a touchdown until the finale of this season. They opened the 1923 season with their typical trio of cupcakes, but the third, Williams, ended up finishing 7-1, albeit against a schedule of mostly minor teams. Cornell had no trouble swatting them aside, though, winning 28-6.

The next week George Pfann sprung a surprise passing attack on Colgate in a 34-7 win. Cornell threw more passes in this game than they had in all their games in 1921 and 1922 combined. Pfann hit Charles Cassidy for one touchdown, and he threw a flurry of passes that set up 3 Floyd Ramsey touchdown plunges. Colgate's offense was smothered until late in the game, when they returned an interception from their own 5 to the Cornell 40, then drove to a touchdown from there.

Colgate finished 6-2-1, tying 3-4-1 Ohio State and losing 9-0 to 5-1-3 Navy, but they won 16-7 at 8-1 Syracuse in their finale, which would have lifted them up to about #15 in a final AP poll had there been one in 1923. I have them at #14.

Up next was Cornell's game of the year at Dartmouth, who was 5-0. It was the dedication game for Dartmouth's new stadium. Cornell recovered a Dartmouth fumble on the first offensive play of the game, and Pfann threw 2 passes, the second for a touchdown, and just like that it was 6-0. But Dartmouth hung tough and controlled the rest of the 1st quarter through better punting. Early in the 2nd quarter, they mounted a drive to the Cornell 9 before turning it over on downs. Following a punt out, they drove to the Cornell 5 before they were stopped again. Finally, Dartmouth's guard and captain, Cyril Aschenbach, blocked Cornell's next punt and returned it 22 yards for a touchdown, dragging a Cornell tackler the last 5 yards. Dartmouth had a 7-6 lead, and the fans had hope. But it was all Cornell after that.

A bad snap gave Cornell the ball at the Dartmouth 6, and Ramsey rammed it in on 3 runs. George Pfann got off a 35 yard run, setting up a Frank Sundstrom field goal, and Cornell led 15-7 at half. Dartmouth continually turned the ball over in the 2nd half, and things got ugly. Pfann had a touchdown catch, Ramsey another touchdown plunge, and Sundstrom another field goal, putting the final score at 32-7.

Dartmouth finished 8-1, outscoring the rest of their opponents 195-22. I have them ranked #9, but they didn't beat anyone of much value, so it's impossible to know how good they really were. This was Cornell's 3rd straight win over Dartmouth, and by scores of 59-7, 23-0, and 32-7. But Dartmouth's new coach, Jesse Hawley, was about to turn the tide, and he went 4-1 against Dobie and Cornell after this, running up scores like 62-13, 53-7, and 28-0. Ah, sweet, sweet revenge.

Trouble with Penn

Cornell traditionally finished their season on Thanksgiving Day at Penn, and they traditionally put a cupcake on the schedule 12 days beforehand. This year's cupcake, Johns Hopkins, ended up being pretty good, going 6-2-1 and tying 7-2-1 Maryland (whom Yale, of course, was lucky to beat 16-14), but Cornell ate 'em like a cupcake anyway, 52-0.

Penn did not have a good year, losing to the aforementioned Maryland 3-0, then dropping 2 straight to Lafayette and Penn State heading into the finale with Cornell. But they did beat 7-1-1 Centre 24-0, and this was a rivalry game, so Cornell was about to get their toughest fight in 3 years. 58,000 attended, a record for the annual matchup. George Pfann did most of the running in a drive that was stopped at the Penn 9 yard line in the 1st quarter, but Penn's ensuing punt carried only to the 34, and Pfann caught a touchdown pass on the next play. In the 2nd quarter, a Cornell drive was stopped at the Penn 9 again. Later, Penn intercepted a pass at midfield, then drove to the Cornell 19 before throwing 4 straight incomplete passes, the last one inches from the receiver's fingers. It remained 7-0 at half.

In the 3rd quarter, Penn drove to the Cornell 25 before throwing another 4 incompletions. Cornell responded with a series of simple off-tackle runs that pushed the ball back to the Penn 23, where Pfann fumbled possession away. The score remained 7-0 until midway through the 4th quarter, when Cornell intercepted a pass and returned it to the Penn 36. Pfann was interfered with on a long pass, putting the ball at the Penn 5, and he ran it in from there, putting the game practically out of reach at 14-0. But a late Cornell fumble at their own 25 let Penn get on the scoreboard, albeit after 9 tough runs into the line, and that made the final score 14-7. It was the first time Penn had scored on Cornell in 3 years. Cornell greatly outgained Penn in this game, and recorded 15 first downs to Penn's 4.

Penn finished 5-4, and would not have been ranked in an AP poll in 1923, but they were close, and I have them at #26-33.

Selecting the 1923 Mythical National Champion

Here are our 4 contenders-- click on the names to see their full schedules at the College Football Data Warehouse. The opponent rankings come from my 1923 top 25, which is based on a hypothetical post-bowl AP poll (within logical reason of course).

Illinois 8-0

#19 Nebraska (4-2-2)  24-7
at (#26-33) Iowa (5-3)   9-6
#6 Chicago (7-1)   7-0
#23 Wisconsin (3-3-1)  10-0
Michigan 8-0

(#34-50) Vanderbilt (5-2-1)  3-0
at (#26-33) Iowa (5-3)   9-3
at #23 Wisconsin (3-3-1)  6-3
#10 Minnesota (5-1-1)  10-0
Yale 8-0

#12 Army (6-2-1)  31-10
(#34-50) Maryland (7-2-1)  16-14
Cornell 8-0

#14 Colgate (6-2-1)   34-7
at #9 Dartmouth (8-1)  32-7
at (#26-33) Penn (5-4)  14-7

Illinois defeated the rest of their opponents by an average score of 22-2, Michigan defeated theirs 31-2, Yale defeated theirs 31-2, and Cornell defeated theirs 48-2.

The easiest cut to make from these contenders is obviously Michigan, due to their 3 weak performances-- 2 more than any other contender had. They beat both 5-3 Iowa and 3-3-1 Wisconsin on fluke plays, scoring gift winning touchdowns in both cases because the other team thought the ball was dead. Illinois also struggled at Iowa, but they did not win on a fluke play. And Illinois did not really have trouble with Wisconsin, taking a quick 10-0 lead and playing defensively the rest of the way. But Michigan's worst performance was their inexplicable 3-0 home win over Vanderbilt. 5-2-1 Vanderbilt was tied by 5-2-2 Mississippi State, whom Illinois beat 27-0. That's 3 strikes against Michigan-- they're out.

It should also be noted that Illinois' best win, over 7-1 Chicago, was more impressive than Michigan's best win, over 5-1-1 Minnesota, being that Minnesota was tied by 3-3-1 Wisconsin, whom Chicago defeated 13-6. But that matter is trivial compared to the 3 poor performances for which I've already eliminated Michigan from the race.

Yale

Yale's 16-14 home win over Maryland was as poor a performance as Michigan's 3-0 home win over Vanderbilt, and in fact I would say that it was worse, given that Yale won by watching a late field goal fall just wide of the uprights. That makes it the worst performance suffered by any of the contenders. Unlike Michigan, Yale had just the one poor performance, making it easy to conclude that it was an anomaly, but Yale's other problem is their schedule. Yale was the only contender that did not defeat a likely top 10 team (or give any team its only loss), and also the only contender to play just 1 likely top 25 opponent. That's a pretty weak resume for a national champion, mythical or not.

If you merely look at their scores, it may appear that Yale and Cornell had fairly equitable seasons-- both had one close game over a relatively mediocre opponent, and both crushed everyone else they played. However, there was a big difference between Yale's close game and Cornell's. Yale's came at home, while Cornell's was on the road, and it was a rivalry game to boot. More importantly, Yale was lucky to beat Maryland by 2 points, whereas Cornell dominated Penn, won by 7, and was in no danger of losing the game at all. Penn scored a late touchdown to make the score look closer than the game was.

Cornell romped on 8-1 Dartmouth, and Yale routed 6-2-1 Army-- as you can see in the table above, I think Dartmouth would have been ranked #9 and Army #12 in a 1923 AP poll, and that isn't much of a difference. However, Cornell played Dartmouth on the road, and they gave Dartmouth their only loss, which makes it more compelling. Dartmouth would go 7-0-1 the next season (tying 6-0-2 Yale, interestingly enough), then 8-0 in 1925 to claim a national championship. And Army was the only top 25 caliber team Yale played, while Cornell beat 6-2-1 Colgate.

Yale is hereby eliminated-- they really needed a win against a potential top 10 team-- or alternatively, a better showing against Maryland.

Illinois vs. Cornell

So we're down to Illinois and Cornell. These teams were similar-- both had one close road win over a #30-40 type opponent, and both gave a top 10 caliber opponent their only loss. But Cornell performed much better in both cases. They dominated Penn, won by 7, and were in no real danger in that game, while Illinois beat Iowa by 3 points in an evenly played game. And Cornell beat 8-1 Dartmouth 32-7 on the road, while Illinois beat 7-1 Chicago 7-0 at home. Chicago may have been a bit better than Dartmouth, but the performance difference in those games is much more than "a bit."

One factor that is potentially in Illinois' favor is that the Midwest won against the East this season, going 4-1-1 in relevant games. Most of that was Notre Dame, who defeated Army, Princeton, and Carnegie (relevant because Carnegie beat Pitt this year). 8-0 Marquette beat 7-1-1 Boston College in a battle of strong minor teams, and 8-1 Syracuse beat 4-2-2 Nebraska for the East's only relevant win. But the most significant outcome was 3-4-1 Ohio State tying 6-2-1 Colgate. Ohio State lost by more than a touchdown to every good Big 10 team they played (Michigan, Iowa, Chicago, and Illinois), while Colgate beat 8-1 Syracuse, and would have been ranked in a top 25. That makes their tie a big victory for the Midwest.

However, even if we were to accept that Colgate and Ohio State were equal, the fact is that Cornell stomped Colgate 34-7, while Illinois struggled to beat Ohio State 9-0 (in a game that was closer than the score). So regardless of whether the West or East was better, here is a third case in which Cornell clearly outperformed Illinois against a comparable opponent. And Cornell stomped the rest of their opponents 240-12, while Illinois beat theirs 111-14.

It seems pretty clear to me that Cornell should be #1. However, Illinois' season was more similar to Cornell's than it was different, and I think they merit a share of a mythical national championship for this season. Also, Illinois did play a somewhat tougher schedule, especially considering the fact that Ohio State tied Colgate. If Ohio State was as good as Colgate, then Iowa and Wisconsin were better, and that means Illinois hypothetically played 5 good teams to Cornell's 2 or 3. That seems a bit of a stretch-- more likely, Ohio State's tie with Colgate was an upset, especially since the game took place in Columbus. But in any case, Illinois played 7 teams that could merit inclusion in a top 50 for 1923, while Cornell played 5. That's not a significant difference, but it's the one argument in Illinois' favor.

Awards Ceremony

1923 #1: 8-0 Cornell
National Co-champion: 8-0 Illinois
Contenders: 8-0 Michigan and 8-0 Yale

These are the awards I have been 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 the contenders are teams that I myself do not see as national champions.

So Cornell ought to be #1, Illinois #2. Who should be #3? I'd go with Yale, given the fact that Michigan had 3 weak performances to Yale's 1, and Michigan posted twin wins on fluke plays. However, the fluke wins came over teams that were better than every team Yale played except for Army, and Michigan played both on the road, whereas Yale didn't play a single good team on the road. Michigan's schedule was therefore arguably much tougher, so you could go with either team at #3.

Grading the Selectors

I have been 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 have been including them in this section as well, just for comparison's sake. I am grading on a scale of 0-5 (5 being the best).

Billingsley's computer chose Michigan to stand alone
. Grade: 0.5

The National Championship Foundation split the title between Illinois and Michigan. Grade: 2.3

Sagarin's original recipe system selected Cornell. Grade: 5.0

Everybody else selected Illinois alone. Grade: 4.0

Grade point averages 1919-1923:

1) Sagarin-ELO (math system) 3.90
2) Boand (math) 3.54
3) Helms
    Sagarin (math)
3.52
5) College Football Researchers Association
3.46
7) Parke Davis 3.12
8) National Championship Foundation3.08
8) Houlgate (math) 2.72
9) Billingsley (math) 1.44

How the systems that selected champions for 1901-1918 did:

1) Houlgate (math system) 4.5
2) Helms 4.3
3) Parke Davis 4.2
4) National Championship Foundation 3.7
5) Billingsley (math) 3.6

Addendum

I have found at least half a dozen sources that list Yale tackle Century Milstead's birthdate as January 1, 1900. However, wikipedia and the Hall of Fame list it as January 1, 1901. Who is right? Well, his grave says January 1, 1901, and that's good enough for me to use it as his birthdate in the article above. But can tombstones not have errors? His granddaughter once gave his birthdate as January 1, 1900, and 2 different books have related the following anecdote: he was born January 1, 1900, so his father wanted to name him "Century," thinking it was the first day of the new century, but his mother argued that technically, January 1, 1901 was the first day of the 20th century. His father was wrong, but won the argument anyway, and thus the name.

Now I have to wonder, if he wasn't born January 1, 1900, where did that story come from? Why would someone make it up?
It's just not an interesting enough story for someone to bother making up.

National Champions
1923 Top 25
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