Memorable Moments: Confronting Stagg
All the “dope” from the start of the season in September 1923 focused on announcing the game the Aggies would play against legendary football coach Amos Alonzo Stagg and his defending University of England Big 10 conference champions. Chicago. As of this date, no non-conference game in school history has received as much press as the game against Stagg’s dominant team. With several returning players from the 1922 season, the Aggies appeared to have an extremely strong team in 1923. After an embarrassing 35-0 embarrassment the Maroons sparked against the University of Colorado in 1921, the school hoped Hughes did not. Wouldn’t embarrass the Aggies in the same way.
Stagg’s name remains a legend in college football history, and by 1923 he was also a legend. At 61, Stagg had coached the University of Chicago football team since 1892, won six Big 10 Conference championships, and in 1905 coached the undisputed Brown National Championship team. In his 31 seasons, he had been credited with inventing the side tackle dummy, moving man’s game, and placing numbers on uniforms to distinguish players.
Stagg’s team had won the Big 10 co-championship in 1922, and the press reported the odds in their favor of winning it again with one of their strongest teams ever. Each week leading up to the season opener against Wyoming, the Fort Collins Express Courier article after article on Stagg and Chicago.
After the Wyoming game, Hughes’ attention turned to the Maroons for the October 6 battle. Since the team was due to leave for Chicago on Wednesday afternoon October 3, it only gave Hughes two full practices before his team had to travel 1,000 miles to Windy City.
In a rare Sunday night practice a day after the Wyoming game, Hughes not only coached his team hard, he put them through an 80-minute scrum against the freshman. He brought in searchlights rather than automatic headlights to continue their training after dark, and Hughes ordered Jack Houser to strike over and over again as he knew the strength of the brown defense.
Hughes also had a trump card up his sleeve with Charles Shepardson, the former star of the 1915 and 1916 teams who had been the first-year coach for the past three seasons. Shep took a sabbatical in Iowa to complete his doctoral studies, and still the perfect Aggie, he attended Chicago’s game against Michigan State the week before on a scouting mission.
On Wednesday, October 3 at 3:45 p.m., the Aggies train exited the Fort Collins Union Pacific station at Jefferson Street and Pine Street and headed for Chicago on what became the longest road trip in the history of the school at that time. A massive crowd of fans and students gathered at 3:30 p.m. to say goodbye and wish their team good luck. University president Charles Lory not only accompanied his team on the trip, but he also allowed classes to end early so that the entire student body and group could see the team leave.
At noon Thursday, the team arrived in Ames, Iowa, to do light training and spend time with “Chuck” Shepardson to get a screening report on the Chicago team. The short training session ended in time for the team to get back on the train at 6 p.m. for an overnight trip to the city of Chicago.
In front of an estimated crowd of 15,000, the Colorado Agricultural College Aggies faced the University of Chicago Maroons on Stagg Field. Harry Hughes, 36 and known as a future Western coach, faced Amos Alonzo Stagg, 61, about whom Knute Rockne once said: “All football comes from Stagg.
On a gray and cloudy day, the match opened as a defensive fight against the two teams. Stagg expected to replace his starters in the second half in preparation for his next game against Northwestern, but the Aggies game never reached a point where Stagg could afford to play against anyone in the game. other than his first team. The Maroons struck first when Houser kicked deep into his own territory in the dying minutes of the first quarter. Chicago’s Henderson blocked the punt on the 5-yard line and Rohrke covered the ball in Aggie’s end zone for a touchdown.
As the game continued to be a close battle, Rohrke added three more points on the board with a drop kick from 30 yards in the second quarter. Nearly 20 punts between the two schools as well as a few missed kicks kept the Aggies and Maroons to a final score of 10-0 in favor of Chicago. Shep’s efforts to locate Shep had paid off. Houser’s punt, along with a solid defensive effort, helped prevent the Maroons from an offensive touchdown. Twice the Maroons found themselves on the 5-yard line and each time Aggie’s defense held them back.
Chicago only completed 3 of 13 assists, which showed how effective Aggie’s defense was against the bigger and faster Maroon offense. Although they lost and were excluded, the Aggies limited the Maroons to at least points scored in a game-winning game during Chicago’s 1923 season. According to newspaper reports, “The Colorado Aggies have done a lot to raise the esteem of Western football in the eyes of Eastern conferences.”
The low score in the Chicago game avoided the embarrassment CU received in 1921 and opened the eyes of the nation when the Aggies limited the Big 10 team to just 10 points.
Lory said of the trip: “A world of favorable publicity is coming to the Aggies.”