Features appear in each issue of Pennsylvania Heritage showcasing a variety of subjects from various periods and geographic locations in Pennsylvania.

Gentlemen, you are now going to play football against Harvard. Never again in your whole life will you do anything so important.

Yale’s noted football coach T.A.D. Jones delivered his message just as his team was going out to defend Yale Bowl against its ancient rival. But it’s not only coaches whose pas­sion for football is ardent­ – millions play the game on high school, college, professional and “pick-up” teams, as well as throng the stadiums, march with the bands, lead the cheers or spend hours in front of the television for what has become hallmarked as Mon­day Night Football. And at a small college in Pennsylvania, the passion – and the excitement – continues season after season ….

Located in southwestern Pennsylvania, Washington and Jefferson College did not expe­rience the thrill of football until near the end of the nineteenth century. While class day races, soccer and rugby were popular sports throughout the second half of the nineteenth century, football did not arrive on the college’s campus until 1890. In spite of its size – through the first half of its football century, Washington and Jefferson College averaged fewer than five hundred students – the players’ and their fans’ fervor mounted, year after year, until the little school actually at­tracted national attention and a national following.

Washington and Jefferson College actually began as Washington Academy in 1781. The nation’s eleventh oldest college, it was located in west­ern Pennsylvania’s vast fron­tier wilderness, where Indian massacres not infrequently occurred during the 1770s and 1780s. Thirty miles from where Dr. John McMillan commenced his classes, the stalwart de­fenders of Fort Henry’ in Wheeling, West Virginia, turned back the British and Indians in 1782 in what is considered by many historians the last battle of the American Revolution. And just eight miles from Washington Acad­emy, Canonsburg Academy­ – which later became Jefferson College – also persevered in the largely uninhabited region.

Washington College and Jefferson College merged under a charter granted by the General Assembly of Pennsyl­vania on March 4, 1865, al­though each retained separate campuses until 1869, when, after much debate and deliber­ation, Washington was chosen as the site for the new institu­tion. Today, the college is home to twelve hundred students – and a legacy of football honors that spans an entire century.

Washington and Jefferson College’s first intercollegiate football game was played against the Western University of Pennsylvania, now the University of Pittsburgh, on November 1, 1890. In that inaugural contest, the Western University of Pennsylvania was no match for Washington and Jefferson’s Red and Black, which handily won, 34-0. W & J’s good fortune contin­ued in their second game, as they defeated – by ten to zero­ – the semi-professional East End Athletic Club of Pittsburgh. The Red and Black closed Washington and Jefferson’s first season with a controver­sial game in Pittsburgh against the College of Wooster, hailed as “champions of all Ohio, 11 on November 29. W & J was ahead late in the game and, claiming that time had run out, most of its players left the field. After arguing on whether or not time did re­main on the clock, the two officials decided the game should proceed. With almost no opposition, Wooster pushed the ball over the goal line for a touchdown, made the conversion (touchdowns counted four points, conver­sions two) and claimed a 6-4 victory over the disillusioned Red and Black.

Washington and Jefferson College opened its second season by again soundly tromping the Western Univer­sity of Pittsburgh, 40-6, and later Geneva College, 26-8, inspiring the initiation of an­other long and spirited intra­Pennsylvania grid rivalry. The Red and Black then Jost two close contests to Pittsburgh semi-professional aggrega­tions. After a 50-0 triumph over West Penn Medical Col­lege, the W & J’s gridders traveled to Morgantown, West Virginia, to provide opposition for West Virginia University’s very first football encounter. The result was an embarrass­ment for West Virginia’s Mountaineers: Washington and Jefferson scored 72 to the opponent’s zero. In 1891, W & J won all of its collegiate games and outscored West Virginia and Pittsburgh uni­versities by 112 to 6! And this was just the beginning ….

W & J continued to pro­duce successful teams throughout the 1890s, during which the Red and Black posted 62 wins and only 13 losses, five of which were suffered at the hands of semi­professional teams.

College sports were not without incident and contro­versy during their embryonic years. During the game with Gettysburg College on Octo­ber 28, 1893, the Red and Black took an early lead against the Battlefielders. Late in the con­test, the Battlefielders forged ahead by two points, 18 to 16. W & J controlled the last pos­session. With time running out, W & J’s players drove the ball down the field for what they hoped would be the win­ning touchdown. Just as the Red and Black’s star runner, Herman Suter, broke loose, Gettysburg’s fans rushed from the end zone and threw him back. According to Washington and Jefferson, Suter crossed the goal line for the winning touchdown. Accord­ing to Gettysburg, the game was over, and the Battlefielders had won. Deke Houlgate, compiler of the authoritative Football Thesaurus, sided with W & J, although his decision came more than half a century after the game.

After winning sixty-two of its seventy-five games played in the 1890s, W & J did not let up with the turn of the century. Between 1900 and 1911, they met many mighty grid luminaries, including the Carlisle Indians, Army, Navy, Cornell, Yale, West Virginia, Princeton, Pitt and Penn State. The Red and Black posted 89 wins, 32 losses, and seven ties – a .736 winning percent­age. But a new decade brought new hope for the Red and Black.

In 1912, W & J’s beloved graduate manager R. M. “Mother” Murphy induced coach Bob Folwell to leave Lafayette College in Easton for Washington and Jefferson College. It was a brilliant coup that transformed the team from “very good” to “super” in the eyes of the football world.

Bob Folwell’s 1912 team – his first at W & J – won eight games, lost three and tied one. The 0-0 tie occurred with the Carlisle Indians and Jim Thorpe, who went on to lead the nation in scoring that year with an incredible 198 points. W & J lost to Penn State, Yale and Cornell, but a 13-0 win over arch-rival Pitt made the season a definite success. Folwell continued to prove his coaching ability, and in his second season, the team rose to unprecedented football heights. W & J and its legend­ary halfback Johnny Spiegel led the country in scoring, defeating Pitt (19-6), Penn State (17-0), West Virginia (36-0), Bucknell (52-0) and Grove City (100-0). The only dose game that season was waged against the powerful Yale Uni­versity, which resulted in a scoreless tie. W & J finished only a field goal or safety away from a national title, and Bob Folwell was named the na­tion’s 1913 Coach-of-the-Year.

The team’s success contin­ued throughout the 1914 sea­son, as it beat every collegiate opponent. Pennsylvania’s own Red and Black earned a trip to the national championship, in which the team would play Harvard, the championship team of 1913, in Cambridge, Massachusetts. W & J led, but the Red and Black’s All­-American tackle Britt Patterson was ejected from the game in the first half for fighting. On top of that, W & J’s other All­-American, Spiegel, left the game early in the third quarter with an injury. Without their best players, W & J lost a 10-9 decision.

One of the best things Folwell did for W & J before leaving in 1915 was to turn a fullback into a lineman. A chunky freshman, Wilbur F. Henry, was practicing one day when Folwell walked over to him and yelled, “Henry, you’re a tackle!” Truer words were never spoken. W. F. “Pete” Henry became one of the greatest tackles in the history of football. In a close game against Westminster, Henry displayed his defensive talents. Westminster’s punter prepared to kick on fourth down. Ball met toe and Henry at the same time. No one knew where the ball was­ – except Pete Henry. He had it clutched to his stomach and never showed it until he had crossed the goal line. The big W & J All-American was so good that Pitt refused to play if W & J used Henry in the 1919 contest. Pitt coach Pop Warner bitterly claimed that Henry had played his fourth year in 1918, cagily referring to an abbreviated, wartime season discounted by almost every college, including Notre Dame, whose George Gipp was caught in a similar circumstance.

By 1921, Earle “Greasy” Neale had been named the Red and Black’s coach, under whom the team went unde­feated, setting up a significant game at Syracuse. A ninety­-eight yard kickoff return by Pruner West and an intercep­tion and score by Chet Winderquist gave W & J a 17-10 win in this crucial contest. The Red and Black then beat West­minster, Pitt and West Virginia to finish the regular season undefeated and untied.

For some, however, the season was not over. The Uni­versity of Detroit, also boast­ing a spotless record, challenged W & J to a “Little Rose Bowl” contest. W & J won the game, 14-2, and re­ceived an invitation to the genuine Rose Bowl. The opposition would be none other than the University of Califor­nia’s Golden Bears-billed as the “Wonder Team 11 -starring All-American Brick Muller.

Probably few Pennsylva­nians realize it, but W & J set two Rose Bowl records by using only eleven men and holding the Bears to two first downs. The eleven iron men were Herb Knopf, Russ Stein, Ray Neal, Al Crook, Ralph Vince, Chet Winderquist, Carl Konvolinka, Pruner West, Hal Erickson, Wayne Brenkert and Joe Basista. After a touchdown was called back, the game ended in a scoreless tie. Never­theless, Washington and Jef­ferson is still the only small college to have ever played in what players and fans and critics revere as the “grand­daddy of the bowl games.”

W & J boasted great teams and players during the 1920s led by Neale, as well as later coaches, John W. Heisman, Dave Morrow and Andy Kerr. One of their stars, Charles “Pruner” West, a Washington native, was the first black quarterback to play in the Rose Bowl. His collegiate career extended four years, from 1920 to 1923, and he won the na­tional pentathlon champion­ships in 1923 and 1924. Hal Erickson, Bill Amos and For­rest “Jap” Douds also made All-American teams. Amos was the star runner on Coach Kerr’s 1927 team, which was headed to the Rose Bowl until tied by West Virginia in the last game of the season.

While Dr. Ralph Cooper Hutchison coached the Red and Black during the thirties, the college began de­emphasizing the importance of football. After averaging three wins in every four games, W & J’s gridders dropped below .500 during the next four decades. Despite the poor records, however, exciting games and exciting players, still thrilled spectators, particularly during the 1939 game at the University of Akron. Los­ing 6 to 24, W & J rallied in the second half behind a Johnny Macel-to-Don Kreps aerial attack, closing the gap to just two points, 24-22. A last sec­ond Macel-Kreps pass bounced off the latter’s finger­tips to end an incredible come­back.

After World War II, W & J made an effort to recapture the winning record they held during the Roaring Twenties. Several western Pennsylvania all stars – notably “Deacon Dan” Towler, a high school All-American – were in the line-up. Coach Henry Luecht’s team did well in its first year in 1946, but team injuries (partic­ularly to Towler) hurt the suc­ceeding teams’ records, and Luecht’s squads never met their potential. However, Towler set the W & J season scoring record of 133 points in 1948 and went on to a professional career with the Los Angeles Rams.

Even after joining the Presi­dents Athletic Conference (PAC) in 1955, W & J’s results both in and out of the confer­ence were less than satisfac­tory: the teams posted 16 wins, 55 losses and four ties throughout the 1950s. The most notable Red and Black team to surface in the equally dismal sixties (24-50-0) was the 1963 squad, which battled John Carroll for the PAC title in the last game, losing 14-6. During the next decade, W & J won a PAC title as the 1970 Red and Black team, paced by a record-setting Don Kasperik­-Rich Pocock passing duo, went 5-0 in the PAC and 7-1 overall. But the rest of the games in the seventies were just as disap­pointing and hallmarked by losses: 47 wins, 58 losses and two ties. The worst year – 1979 – saw only one win and eight losses!

After two decades of unsuc­cessful teams and discouraging losses, the Red and Black attempted a turnaround in the 1980s. The first two teams of the decade finished with 2-7 records. Washington and Jef­ferson President Burnett hired coach John Luckhart, who had played on Purdue’s Rose Bowl team in 1967 and had served as assistant coach on several successful teams, including Lehigh University in Bethle­hem. However, in Luckhart’s first two years, 1982 and 1983, W & J posted 4-5 and 3-5-1 records. But the tide soon turned. Washington and Jefferson College finally won the Presi­dents Athletic Conference title in 1984, and became one of only eight teams invited to the Division III national playoffs. Led by quarterback Mike John, runningback A. J. Pagano and a strong defense of Ed Kusko and C. R. Chernik (all PAC selections), the Red and Black won a first-round thriller at Randolph-Macon by one point before losing to Central Col­lege of Iowa in the national semi-finals. Kusko was eventu­ally selected for Kodak’s All­-American team.

The following year Carne­gie Mellon University cost Coach Luckhart’s team the 1985 PAC title and playoff bid by handing the Red and Black its only loss. During the next season, however, W & J earned an invitation to the playoffs, winning eight games and losing just one to take another PAC title. In the play­off, W & J took a 20-7 lead over Susquehanna University in the first half, but the east­erners came back to win by eight points, 28-20.

In 1987, Washington and Jefferson found the right com­bination to produce its first perfect season (nine wins, no losses, no ties) since 1921. Highlights included triumphs over Ohio Wesleyan and Carnegie-Mellon, both de­cided by last-minute field goals by freshman John Ivory. The Red and Black won the PAC and made the playoffs, facing one of Allegheny Col­lege’s best-ever teams in the opener at Meadville,Crawford County, on a cold, snowy day.

Allegheny’s Gators scored with fifty seconds left to take a 17-9 lead, but the Red and Black refused to quit. With twelve seconds to go, quarter­back Pat Aigner completed a 27-yard touchdown pass to Pagano. They teamed again for a two-point conversion to tie the game and require over­time. W & J’s Arnold Tarpley intercepted a Gator pass and, four plays later, Rick France strived for an incredible vic­tory. The 1987 Red and Black team made the second round of the playoffs, meeting Emory and Henry College of Emory, Virginia, with the Wasps’ national-leading quarterback Gary Collier. W & J’s luck ran out though. The Black and Red were going for he tying touchdown inside the E & H ten, when a pass by Aigner was intercepted.

A. J. Pagano ended an exemplary career as the NCAA’s Division III all-time second leading scorer with 361 points, which included 125 in 1987. A product of Pittsburgh’s Knoch School, Pagano was chosen for the Kodak All­-American team in his senior year.

Nineteen eighty-nine­ – Washington and Jefferson College’s final year of its first century of football – was an­other signal success for John Lockhart’s team. The team opened with wins over two of the toughest opponents on the schedule – Juniata College of Pennsylvania and Hampden­-Sydney College of Virginia. Until the game at Carnegie-­Mellon on November 4, the Red and Black remained unde­feated, attaining one of the top national rankings along the way. Carnegie defeated Washington and Jefferson, 17-7, and seemed to have ruined its playoff chances. The Red and Black faced Ithaca College, New York, the defending na­tional champions, for the final game. Quarterback Bob Strope, end Bill Craig and runningback Chris Babirad led the way for a 77-yard drive to a touchdown and a 7-0 lead. The Red and Black’s defense was impregnable, and W & J landed one of its all-time great­est wins, 34-0.

The unexpected win over Ithaca propelled W & J to the top echelons of Division III, and the team was again invited to the playoffs. In the opening round, the squad traveled to Ferrum, Virginia, to face the Panthers, the highest-scoring team of Division III. Led by running backs Chris Warren and Fred Stovall and quarter­back Phil Jones (called he best backfield in Division III by Sports Illustrated), Ferrum never let W & J into the game. It was a 41-7 loss and great blow for the Red and Black. W & J finished the 1989 season ended with eight wins in nine regular season contests and four straight PAC crowns, a record shared with Carnegie. Coach John Luckhart became the college’s winningest coach that year, concluding his first eight years at W & J with a stellar 59-19-2 record.

Washington and Jefferson College has been among the nation’s top ten in winning percentage during the past five years. Its record for the cen­tury was 478 wins, 331 losses and 39 ties-charting it sixth among all Division III colleges. Despite the 1989 playoff loss, the season’s record provided a fitting end to a great century of football for the college. And Washington and Jefferson’s football spirit has not been dampened. As the collegiate football craze still rages across he country, refulgent Red and Black supporters crowd the stadiums, cheering on their beloved team. Football fans­ – whether or not they’re Wash­ington and Jefferson College admirers – can certainly appre­ciate the witticism of Grantland Rice, longtime dean of sports writers, who wrote, “I once met an old grad who didn’t care whether you roasted or boosted his college football team – or whether you even mentioned it. It was the first funeral I had attended in years.”

 

For Further Reading

Coleman, Helen Turnbull Waite. Banners in the Wilderness: Early Years of Washington and Jefferson College. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1946.

Houlgate, Deke. The Football Thesaurus: 77 Years on the American Gridiron. Los Angeles: Nash-U-Nal Publishing Company, 1946.

McCallum, John and Charles H. Pearson. College Football, USA: 1869-1973. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1973.

Menke, Frank and Pete Palmer. The Encyclopedia of Sports. South Brunswick, N.J.: A.S. Barnes, Inc., 1978.

Murphy, Robert M. 25 Years of Football at Washington & Jefferson College, 1890-1914. Washington, Pa.: Ward Printing Company, 1914.

North, E. Lee. Redcoats, Red­skins and Red-Eyed Monsters. South Brunswick, N.J.: A.S. Barnes, Inc., 1979.

____. She Produces All-Americans: W & J Football, 1890-1946. Washington, Pa.: Ward Printing Company, 1947.

Scarborough, David K. Intercol­legiate Athletics at Washing­ton & Jefferson College: A Tradition. Unpublished Thesis, 1979.

Swetnam, George and Helene Smith. A Guidebook to His­toric Western Pennsylvania. Pittsburgh: University of Pitts­burgh Press, 1980.

 

E. Lee North is completing a book devoted to the history of football at Washington and Jefferson College. A graduate of the college, where he served as editor of The Red and Black, president of Phi Kappa Psi fraternity and member of the national honorary journal­ism and history fraternities, North was sports editor of The Washington (Pa.) Reporter. He also served as public relations director at Washington and Jeffer­son College and as proposal manager for Grumman Aerospace Corporation. He is the author of four books, including two histo­ries of West Virginia and an earlier history of football at his alma mater. He is a member of the Football Writers Association of America and the Authors Guild.