Grinnell College Holds Important Piece of College Football’s Early Growth

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GRINNELL, Iowa -- A snow-trodden field and empty stands is all that remains of an abruptly shortened football season for Grinnell College, but 130 years ago it was place where history was made.

"It`s cool.  It`s one of those deals where you tell people that and they think you are joking," said Ted Schultz, Grinnell College's sports information director.

In the fall of 1889, the University of Iowa issued a challenge to any football team in Iowa to play the first college football game west of the Mississippi River, and Grinnell College responded.

"Grinnell happened to have a few students who were from New Jersey who had played football before.  They got a team together and they had two weeks of practice," Schultz said.

The game was much different 130 years ago. For instance, teams had just nine players.  "Touchdowns were four points and extra points or drop kicks were two points.  Iowa came in these really nice uniforms and Grinnell had ragtag uniforms," said Schultz.

However, Grinnell did have a coordinated game plan.  Schultz added, "Grinnell also used a flying wedge to really spark its attack."  That attack overwhelmed the Hawkeyes and Grinnell won 24-0.  Schultz said, "Today that would be David felling Goliath."

But the victory wasn`t without controversy, as Grinnell had several players who were only part-time students. But Iowa wasn`t innocent either.  "Iowa's head captain Mark Sampson was not a student at all.  He was in fact a professor of English literature," said Schultz with a laugh.

The Vidette-Reporter, an on-campus newspaper in Iowa City, claimed home field for Grinnell was an immense advantage. An excerpt from the article read, "Encouraging shouts and hurrahs of friends must necessarily inspire them to an almost reckless audacity."

Near the north end zone is a memorial marker dedicated to the anniversary of the first college football game west of the Mississippi River right on the Grinnell campus.  It proves that Grinnell College will always hold a piece of history when it comes to college football.  "Definitely a conversation piece that really showed what Grinnell did for football west of the Mississippi River," said Schultz.

A rematch was scheduled for Thanksgiving that year, but it was cancelled due to weather.  Iowa plans on commemorating the anniversary on the exact date this Saturday, Nov. 16 during their game against the University of Minnesota.

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