A hundred and one years ago, on a field in the Bronx, N.Y., a tragedy occurred that led to a radical off-season change in the football rules -- making the 2006 season the 100th anniversary of the forward pass.
On Saturday, Nov. 25, 1905, William Moore of Ogdensburg, N.Y., traveled to New York City to see his son, Harold, play football for Union College against NYU.
The New York Herald described what happened in a front-page story (preserved on microfilm at the Library of Congress).
"Fifteen minutes after play started, New York had the ball and Hayden, New York's right end, was sent around the end," said the Herald. "Moore ... dived at him at lightning speed. They crashed and both fell. Hayden's head struck Moore under the chin with tremendous force. The ball slipped away and another man fell on it. When the down was called, the players saw Moore on the ground writhing in convulsions. Hayden was unhurt."
But Moore died from a cerebral hemorrhage. "The grief of his father was pitiable," said the Herald.
Crusading newspapers pounced on the event, inflaming a long-running debate over football violence. The debate had intensified that season, John Sayle Watterson points out in "College Football: History, Spectacle, Controversy," when President Teddy Roosevelt -- an avid fan whose son played for Harvard's freshmen -- called in leaders from the Harvard, Yale and Princeton football programs (who dominated the Rules Committee) and counseled them to reform the game.
The same day Moore died, an Indiana high school player was killed. The next day, the Chicago Sunday Tribune printed an open telegram to Roosevelt on its front page. The headline: "Football Year's Death Harvest."
"Today's fatalities bring the total of slain to 19 and the injured (record only being made of accidents out of the ordinary) to 135," the Tribune informed Roosevelt.
The Tribune's Monday headline: "Toll Knell of Brutal Football -- University and College Heads in Messages to Tribune Advocate Reform or Abolition."
One of the more moderate messages came from Father John Cavanaugh of Notre Dame. "Essential football is too good a sport to be abolished," said Cavanaugh -- as he called for terminating the game in high schools but not colleges.
Shaller Mathews, dean of the University of Chicago Divinity School, epitomized the anti-football academics. "As an institution, it is a boy-killing, man-mutilating, money making, education prostituting, gladiatorial sport," he said.
On Tuesday, The New York Times followed the Tribune with this headline: "Abolition of Football or Immediate Reforms -- College Presidents Denounce Game and Demand Change -- Crisis of Sport at Hand."