Football began at Brown as an annual violent clash between the freshman and sophomore classes. The sport, banned by President Sears in 1862, became very popular with all the classes when it was reinstated in 1866, and then reverted to its former status as a freshman-sophomore encounter. In 1874 a football association was formed, but Brown did not play an intercollegiate game until invited by Amherst College in 1878. On November 12, 1878 (nine years to the day after Rutgers and Princeton played the first intercollegiate game) Brown arrived at Amherst fitted out with white canvas uniforms and brown stockings, which they had obtained two days before the game for a fifty-dollar down payment and Brown Football Association President George Malcom’s watch as security for the balance. There they found the Amherst team more up-to-date in jersey uniforms, which Brown captain Alfred U. Eddy 1879 recalls, enabled them “to dash up and down the field without encumbrance, and when our men got hold of an opposing runner, the jersey stretched and he either pulled away completely or added four or five yards to his journey.” The game was won by Amherst, the score being four tries and one goal to nothing, which the account in the Brunonian gallantly credited to a favorable wind, a lucky kick, and two scores gained “by the practice of a somewhat doubtful expedient.”
Brown played one intercollegiate game in 1880, which Yale won with a score of five tries and eight goals to nothing. Six years later Brown played two games, beating Providence High School 70-0, and losing to Boston University 6-10. In 1886 a league was formed by Amherst, Brown, Dartmouth, M.I.T., and Stevens Institute, but the league games did not begin. There were no games between 1886 and 1889, when Brown might have made use of a student named John Heisman 1891, who stayed for only two years.
An important development in Brown football was the arrival of John Lindsey 1892 from Fall River. With Lindsey as captain-coach, Brown played four games in 1889, defeating the Pawtucket Cricket Club and Tufts and losing to M.I.T. and the Boston Athletic Association. The 1890 team recorded two victories (Tufts and Harvard freshmen), fives losses (Fall River, Pawtucket, Boston Athletic Assocition, Trinity, and Wesleyan), and one tie (M.I.T.). The 1891 team, suffering from injuries and a shortage of substitutes, finished its season 4-6. Brown was beginning to take football seriously and acquired a coach, Mr. Howland, in 1892, a year marked by a victory over Wesleyan, 6-0, on a touchdown scored by freshman fullback Edward North Robinson 1896 (future Brown coach) with only ten seconds to play. A contested game in the annals of football was Brown’s meeting with M.I.T. in New Bedford on November 9, 1892. The two teams were tied, 6-6, near the end of the game when, as the Brunonian described it, “At the close of the second, with the ball on Brown’s five-yard line, the referee called time supposing that Tech. had scored a touch-down, but on learning of his mistake he returned to the field and announced that fifteen seconds remained to play. The Technology men then lined up, in spite of Brown’s protest, and scored a touch-down, without goal. As the referee admitted that he had called time as stated above, the score of 10 to 6 ^four for touch-downs, two for goals` is not allowed and the game stands 6 to 6.” For the next three years Brown had three different coaches, and successful seasons with the playing of William Burr Hopkins 1897, Charles D. Millard 1897, William F. Donovan 1897, and 140-pound Charles McCarthy 1896, who scored Brown’s first touchdown against Harvard (although Brown lost the game). On November 9, 1895, the Brown team scored against Yale for the first time in a game which ended in a 6-6 tie. Yale graciously sent the ball to Brown, although the home team was entitled to keep it in case of a tie. F. D. Stidham 1891 later provided a bronze plaque for the gymnasium to commemorate this near victory. The 1896 team featured John “Daff” Gammons 1898, Dave Fultz 1898, Brown’s first Walter Camp All-American, and also John D. Rockefeller, Jr. 1897 as manager. Brown defeated the Carlisle Indians, 18-14, in 1898 at the Polo Grounds in New York in a game called because of darkness just after Gammons’ winning touchdown. Edward North Robinson replaced Wallace Moyle as coach in 1898, beginning his first of three coaching stints at Brown. In 1899 Willis Richardson 1899 kicked Brown’s first field goal and made Walter Camp’s second All-American team for the second time.
Between 1900 and 1919 Brown had seventeen winning seasons with Robinson as coach, relieved by J. A. Gammons in 1902, David Fultz in 1903, and Gammons again in 1908 and 1909. In 1906 John Mayhew ’09 became the first Brown player to make Walter Camp’s first All-American team. In 1908 John Hartigan ’10 threw Brown’s first touchdown pass to Frank “Spike” Dennie ’09. An historic moment in Brown football was the first victory over Yale in 1910, 21-0. At a banquet in honor of this event the Brown players received little gold footballs with the score engraved on them, and stars Bill Sprackling ’12 and Russ McKay ’11 made Camp’s first and second teams respectively. In 1912 a spot on Camp’s first team went to George “Kid” Crowther ’13, nicknamed for his small size, 130 pounds, which did not prevent him from making a dazzling 48-yard run for a touchdown in the Harvard game that year, after the Harvard coach had suggested that the small player should be removed from the game for his own safety. Perhaps the most memorable moment in Brown football history is the 1915 team’s appearance in what is referred to as the first annual Rose Bowl game. The word “annual” is important here, as the first such game was played by Michigan and Stanford in 1902. Brown did not have a really outstanding season in 1915, ending with a 5-3-1 record. The new star who flashed across the field that year was Fritz Pollard ’19, the first black to make Camp’s All-American backfield, but the decisive play was Captain Buzz Andrews’ ’16 first and only field goal of his career, which clinched a 3-0 victory over Yale and the invitation to the Tournament of Roses Association Game (which became known as the Rose Bowl Game in 1923). On January 1, 1916, Brown was defeated by Washington State College, 14-0, in a heavy rainstorm which hampered Pollard’s performance. The 1916 team, one of Brown’s best and the first to beat Harvard, won its first eight games, then lost to Colgate in the final game. Coach Robinson’s teams of the early 1920s managed to win more games than they lost, but they were losing the important ones. In 1926 Robinson was replaced by DeOrmond “Tuss” McLaughry from Amherst, who was to lead Brown into a new era of football.
An all home game schedule was arranged for the season of 1925, the first played in the new stadium on Elmgrove Avenue. The stadium was dedicated at both the Harvard and the Yale games, both of which Brown lost. The most unusual game that year was the one played against Boston University on November 7. By agreement between the two coaches and with the consent of Dr. Marvel, director of athletics at Brown, the game was played under the rules for the “40-play-per-period system,” which had been originated by Harry R. Coffin, Harvard ’94. Under this system the length of the game was 160 plays divided into four periods of 40 plays each, a play being a recorded down. By mutual agreement of the contesting teams the number of plays could be reduced. In the game between Brown and Boston University, it was decided at half time that the third period would be 35 plays, and it was later agreed because of an impending storm to shorten the fourth period to 35 plays. Brown won the game, 42-6. The new system won the approval of the coaches and officials concerned, but did not gain general acceptance.
In the middle of the 1926 season the “Iron Men” came into being when the same eleven men played against Yale for sixty minutes and a 7-0 win. The next week the same eleven played without substitution against Dartmouth and won 10-0. Two weeks later the Iron Men played 58 minutes against Harvard. In the last two minutes the substitutes came in to earn their letters. Brown won all its games that year until the Thanksgiving game against Colgate ended in a 10-10 tie. The famed “Iron Men” were Thurston Towle ’28, Paul Hodge ’28, Orland Smith ’27, Charles Considine ’28, Lou Farber ’29, Ed Kevorkian ’29, Hal Broda ’27, Al Cornsweet ’29, Dave Mishel ’27, Ed Lawrence ’28, and Roy Randall ’28. At the end of the season the San Francisco Shriners offered to pay the expenses of three of the men to travel to San Francisco to play on a selected All-Eastern team against a Western team. When it was pointed out to the players that “they would be lowering to a commercial basis the great college football game which they had done so much to exalt,” they declined. The 1928 team lost only to Yale. The 1932 team continued to defeat previously undefeated teams until the very last game of the season, which Colgate won, 21-0. Brown renewed football relations with Princeton and Syracuse in 1930 and with Harvard in 1932.
Between 1878 and 1932 Brown’s powerful teams won 254, lost 158, and tied 23. After 1932 Brown teams met with less success. Although the seasons from 1932 through the war years were not outstanding, some of the players were, such as Irving “Shine” Hall ’39, John McLaughry ’40, Dick High ’42, who scored the winning touchdowns against Yale in 1940 and 1941, Bob Margarita ’44, who set a single-game rushing record against Columbia in 1942, and Daniel “Doc” Savage ’44. On April 18, 1942, in a game which was announced as Brown’s “first regularly scheduled spring game” Brown defeated the Coast Guard Academy, 19-6. The 1948 team was the best since 1932, winning seven of nine games (the two losses were to Harvard and Yale). During the season Ed Finn ’49 completed 47 of 102 attempted passes for 917 yards and thirteen touchdowns. Chuck Nelson ’50 caught 16 of them for 435 yards. The 1949 team, with the help of Joe Paterno ’50, was even better, losing only to Princeton and finishing the season with a spectacular victory over Colgate, coming from behind to score three touchdowns in the last four minutes for a final score of 41-26.
After Ivy League play began in 1956, Brown was outclassed. The earlier successful seasons had included more non-Ivy opponents, and Brown had not usually done well against the teams which now made up the Ivy League. In 1959 John McLaughry ’40, son of coach Tuss McLaughry, came back to Brown as football coach, after a successful coaching career which included three years at Union College and nine at Amherst, an overall coaching record of 61-29-5 and an undefeated season at each college. Unfortunately his eight years at Brown (17-51-3) were less successful, as dedicated teams lacking “raw material” were not enough to face overwhelming opponents. In the 1963 season John Parry ’65 captured six Ivy and five Brown pass-receiving records. Leonard Jardine began coaching in 1967 and compiled a record of 9-44-1 before John Anderson took over as coach in 1973. In 1971 President Hornig had made a statement that football like anything else at Brown should be first-class. In 1971 and 1972 Brown lost eighteen of nineteen games. The Anderson years were better, as his teams finished 4-3-1 in 1973, 5-4 in 1974 and 6-2-1 in 1975. In 1976, with an 8-1 overall record and 6-1 in the Ivy League, Brown shared its first (and to date only) Ivy title with Yale. The team lost only to Penn, 7-6, on a late touchdown by Penn after a controversial call on a fumbled punt return by Brown. The next year Brown finished 7-2, and three more winning seasons followed, after which three losing seasons resulted in the resignation of a discouraged Anderson, who said it was “time for someone else.” In 1983 the Brown team was invited to play Penn State by coach Joe Paterno. As might have been expected, Brown lost the game, but only by a score of 21-38. John Rosenberg was named coach in 1984 and had three winning seasons from 1984 to 1987, including a second place in the Ivy League in 1987, before a losing streak of fourteen games in the 1988 and 1989 seasons, which was finally broken by Brown’s defeat of Cornell on October 19, 1989. At the end of the 1989 season, Rosenberg resigned and was replaced by Michael Kwiatowski.
The coaches and their records (assuming that the early coaches were there for the whole season, which may or may not have been so) were: Mr. Howland (4-5-1) in 1892; William Odlin (6-3-0) in 1893; Mr. Norton (10-5-0) in 1894; Wallace Moyle (18-15-2) from 1895 to 1897; Edward North Robinson (140-82-12) in his three times as coach from 1898 to 1901, from 1904 to 1907, and from 1910 to 1925; John A. Gammons (17-10-2) in 1902, 1908, and 1909; David Fultz (5-4-1) in 1903; DeOrmond “Tuss” McLaughry (76-58-5) from 1926 to 1940; J. Neil “Skip” Stahley (14-11-0) from 1941 to 1943; Charles A. “Rip” Engle (28-20-4) from 1943 to 1949, when he left for Penn State and took Joe Paterno with him; Gregory “Gus” Zitrides (1-8-0) in 1950; Alva E. Kelley (31-39-2) from 1951 to 1958; John J. McLaughry (17-51-3) from 1959 to 1966; Len Jardine (9-44-1) from 1967 to 1973; John Anderson (60-39-3) from 1973 to 1983; and John Rosenberg (23-33-3) from 1984 to 1989.
While mention of Mr. Howland in the Brown Daily Herald in 1892 does not include his first name, there is noted as an umpire at games that year a Howland identified as “Harvard” or “Yale ’91” (identified as Charles P. Howland, Yale 1891, who received an advanced degree from Harvard a few years later). William Odlin was a Dartmouth graduate who had coached at Andover. Mr. Norton, who played football at Dartmouth and also coached there has been identified of Joseph M. Norton, Dartmouth 1892, who began teaching at the Friends’ School in Providence in 1895. Wallace Moyle, Yale 1891, also played for Yale and coached the Dartmouth team. Edward North Robinson was coach three separate times, during the seasons of 1898 to 1901, 1904 to 1907, and 1910 to 1925, a total of 23 years. As a player at Brown, he had the distinction of scoring the first Brown touchdown against Dartmouth. For two years after his graduation in 1896, he coached the University of Nebraska football team before returning to Brown to coach from 1898 to 1901. In 1902 he coached the University of Maine to a state championship, and in 1903 coached Exeter. In 1904 he returned to Brown for three more seasons, but in June 1907 read in the paper that he was not being rehired. Left without a coaching job that year, he was coach at Tufts in 1909, and the next year was once more at Brown, remaining this time until 1925. Again relieved of his job along with assistant coach Reginald W. P. Brown, he coached the Boston University team from 1926 to 1928 and the Providence Steamrollers from 1931 to 1934.
Brown men who have been elected to the Football Hall of Fame are John W. Heisman 1891, DeOrmond McLaughry, Frederick D. Pollard ’19, Edward North Robinson 1896, and Wallace Wade ’17.