Ghosts of Football Past

Travis Normand
March 8, 2018

The following is an episode from RadioLab titled “Ghosts of Football Past.” I am sharing it here as I believe the readers of this site will really enjoy it.

Ghosts of Football Past
Saturday, February 3, 2018
by RadioLab.org

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Baylor vs. Texas A&M: Remembering a 1926 tragedy

Travis Normand
January 2, 2018

I have been looking for this article for some time (I remember having read it a while back) and I finally found it. I am reposting it here for future reference. Enjoy!

Baylor vs. Texas A&M: Remembering a 1926 tragedy
Web Posted: 09/29/2005 12:00 AM CDT
Mark Wangrin – Express-News Staff Writer

WACO — Eighty-five miles down the Brazos River from here, in a college town where many hate Texas or Texas Tech with every ounce of their being, Baylor University suddenly is relevant again.

The Bears’ 35-34 overtime victory over Texas A&M at Floyd Casey Stadium last season, in which a team that hadn’t defeated the Aggies in 18 years jumped from speed bump to mountain, has Aggies’ emotions normally reserved for Longhorns or Red Raiders boiling over.

They are angry with Baylor in College Station, but not as angry as they were in 1926.

Not as angry as when one of their own was beaten to death in full view of the crowd at halftime of a game against the Bears.

Not angry enough to commandeer a howitzer to shell the Baylor campus. Not angry enough to sever all athletic competition between the Southwest Conference schools for four years.

What happened the afternoon of Oct. 30, 1926, at The Cotton Palace in Waco is an event disputed in fact and wrapped in legend.

This much is certain: Lt. Charles Milo Sessums of Dallas, a senior in the Corps of Cadets, died at 9 a.m. Halloween morning at Providence Sanitarium in Waco. The cause of death was listed as a blood clot stemming from a fracture at the base of his skull, the result of being severely beaten at halftime of Baylor’s 20-9 victory over A&M the previous afternoon.

From here, paths to the truth diverge. Culled from newspaper articles, letters, statements and eyewitness accounts; from sources at research libraries at Texas A&M and Baylor and Baylor’s alumni magazine, this is what likely unfolded:

The predominant Baylor version is that a Ford — described as a “stunt” car and flatbed truck in different accounts — was paraded at halftime. Six women, carrying signs with the scores of big Baylor victories over SWC rivals, passed in front of the A&M cheering section.

Aggies accounts contend that the cadets thought the women were men in drag, and that the appearance of the car violated an agreement between spirit groups that a “bucking” Ford, which was used in a stunt at the 1924 game and nearly ran over some Aggies players, not be used. Baylor’s yell leader, Frank Wood, denied such an agreement existed.

A statement later released by a committee of 10 A&M seniors, while conceding it was not the same Ford, said “it was just as obnoxious and insulting.”

Three cadets rushed the car to seize control of it, knocking Louise Normand off the back.

“Then almost the entire Baylor student body and most of the Aggie contingent stormed simultaneously onto the field and all Hades broke loose,” recalled former San Antonian A.T. Moses, then a Baylor freshman, to The Baylor Line alumni magazine in 1985.

“Precisely what happened next, I could not tell, nor could anyone else, for in a moment, there was a swarming crowd of hundreds in a melee,” Esther Didsun of Houston told the Express-News in an eyewitness account published Nov. 2, 1926.

M.M. “Barney” Hale led a wave of Baylor freshmen players, sitting nearby, toward the vehicle.

“These were A&M students, had their uniforms on,” Hale told The Baylor Line in January 2005, seven months before he passed away in Brownsville at 100. “And we started picking them up and throwing them over the fence.”

A&M’s senior statement said the assault was the result of a misunderstanding.

“We apologize to the ladies of Baylor for this incident, because one of our traditions is that no A. and M. man has ever willingly or knowingly harmed a woman,” it read.

When that excerpt appeared in The Lariat, the Baylor school paper, it read, “no cadet had ever willingly laid hands on a woman.”

Thirty yards behind the melee, someone struck Sessums’ fatal blow. The Aggies seniors’ statement contended that 1,500 Baylor supporters were armed with clubs, stick and iron rods. Another account suggested that the attack was premeditated because Baylor had two trunks filled with sawed-off two-by-fours.

Hale denied those charges, saying only football equipment was in the trunks. The likely weapon, the Bears said, was part of the fence or a broken chair.

As the public address announcer detailed the riot, the Aggies’ band struck up the opening chords of “The Star Spangled Banner.”

The cadets sprang to attention — some later claimed Baylor supporters continued to beat them as they stood — and the riot was quelled.

Head Aggie Yell Leader J.D. Langford came over to his Baylor counterparts to apologize and Corps Captain P.L. Ware of the commandant’s office at A&M issued a statement of contrition that read, “The college does not in any degree condone ungentlemanly conduct, and this act this afternoon was the result of three unthoughtful men from the college.”

Other accounts, though, suggest some cadets weren’t so conciliatory. Legend has it that some commandeered a howitzer, loaded it on a flatbed rail car and were headed to Waco to shell the Baylor campus when Texas Rangers felled trees across the tracks to stop them.

There is no known substantiation for any part of that story.

Fixing blame proved impossible. A.B. Sessums, the dead cadet’s father, demanded an investigation, and Baylor president S.P. Brooks and A&M president T.O. Walton met in College Station on Nov. 4. After 10 hours of consideration, they issued a three-page statement that tried to explain what happened and expressed the regrets of both schools.

The statement set off a rebellion at Baylor. Within hours The Lariat published an extra edition decrying the statement and immediately circulated a petition calling for the ending of athletic relations between the schools. By the end of the day the petition had 500 signatures.

A&M’s seniors, concerned their school was being assigned the blame, said in a statement they were “indifferent” as to whether the series should continue.

On Dec. 8, Brooks and Walton co-signed an agreement that voided all athletic contracts between the schools “that at some future time a renewal of games may be made, and the games played according to the high ideals that govern both institutions.”

They would not play again until 1931, a game A&M won 33-7 in College Station.

Waco and McLennan County police investigated the incident. A.B. Sessums asked Lancaster attorney Byrd White to look into his son’s death, telling him he “had a man placed” as his son’s assailant.

Brooks, in a letter to White, explained a local detective had full run of the campus to investigate.

“I told him frankly I thought he was on a cold trail,” Brooks wrote. “He said he promptly thought I was correct.”

Available records show no one was charged in Sessums’ death.

On Nov. 1, 1926, 2,000 fellow cadets gathered outside the YMCA for a tribute in place of the normal yell practice. Eulogies were given, and the band played “Nearer My God To Thee.” The brief ceremony closed with a solitary trumpet playing “Taps.”

The next day Sessums was buried in Dallas.

A full-page tribute, entitled “In Line of Duty,” was published in The Longhorn, the 1927 A&M yearbook. Beneath Sessums’ photo was a poem, “At The Eleventh Hour.”

“Aggie of ours, in manhood’s prime,
Time leaves little but names.
But you and yours will always live
In Aggie halls of fame.”

Sessums’ death quickly faded from the headlines in Waco, replaced by another, more personal tragedy for Baylor. On Jan.22, 1927, a bus carrying the Bears’ basketball team on a misty Saturday afternoon skidded onto railroad tracks in Round Rock. A northbound passenger train, the “Sunshine Special,” rammed into the rear of the bus, telescoping it and killing 10 players.

Sessums’ death has faded, too, in Aggies lore. Earlier this week, a senior Corps officer who asked not to be quoted said he was unfamiliar with the incident or the Corps’ legendary plan for revenge. He referred the matter to A&M spokesperson Lane Stephenson, who said, “I’ve been here 40 years, and I hadn’t heard about that. At A&M we’re more concerned with today’s service than the past, even the tragic.”

The Corps of Cadets did not attend a game in force in Waco again until 1995. Then, on an overcast Oct. 22 morning, hours before the Aggies took on the Bears, they marched. Thirty companies strong paraded down Franklin Avenue and then turned left onto 32nd Street, ending at the Baylor track stadium.

When they were done, all was quiet.

mwangrin@express-news.net
San Antonio Express News Artlice

 

Hullabaloo

Travis Normand
October 4, 2017

I found this online the other day and contacted the author, Sue Owen, about reposting/sharing it here on OPS. If you haven’t seen this, you should check it out. She does a great job researching the origin of the phrase “Hullabaloo, caneck, caneck” (from Texas A&M’s fight song), and discovers where it might have come from.

Hullabaloo: Ancient Greek and a play by Aristophanes could help decode a famous Aggie phrase
by Sue Owen ’94
Found at: https://www.aggienetwork.com/traditionsthroughtime/hullabaloo.aspx

 

Greatest Comebacks in College Football History

Travis Normand
October 4, 2017

Some of the following information was originally incorporated within another post that I had made back in September of 2017. However, I have added to these lists and consider the information worthy of its own post. So, having said that, here are the greatest comebacks in college football history:

List 1: The winning team trailed by at least 30 points
before overcoming the deficit:

[1] 2006: Michigan State 41, Northwestern 38 – Deficit overcome: 35 points
[2] 2017: UCLA 45, Texas A&M 44 – Deficit overcome: 34 points
[3] 1984: Maryland 42, Miami 40 – Deficit overcome: 31 points
[3] 1989: Ohio State 41, Minnesota 37 – Deficit overcome: 31 points
[3] 2006 Insight Bowl: Texas Tech 44, Minnesota 41 – Deficit overcome: 31 points
[3] 2016: Tulsa 48, Fresno State 41 – Deficit overcome: 31 points
[3] 2015: TCU 47, Oregon 41 – Deficit overcome: 31 points
[8] 1993: California 42, Oregon 41 – Deficit overcome: 30 points
[8] 2001 GMAC Bowl: Marshall 64, East Carolina 61 – Deficit overcome: 30 points

(The above list of games is courtesy of Matt Brown at SportsOnEarth.com)

List 2: The winning team trailed by at least 20 points
before overcoming the deficit:

[1] 2010: Kansas 52, Colorado 45 – Deficit overcome: 28 points
[1] 1994: Florida 31, Florida State 31 – Deficit overcome: 28 points
[1] 1992: Clemson 29, Virginia 28 – Deficit overcome: 28 points
[2] 2000 Outback Bowl: Georgia 28, Purdue 25 – Deficit overcome: 25 points
[3] 1979 Cotton Bowl: Notre Dame 35, Houston 34 – Deficit overcome 22 points
[4] 2010: Auburn 28, Alabama 27 – Deficit overcome: 21 points
[5] 2013 Chick-fil-A Bowl: Texas A&M 52, Duke 48 – Deficit overcome: 21 points
[6] 1980 Holiday Bowl: BYU 46, SMU 45 – Deficit overcome: 20 points

I am still adding to these lists. If you know of a game that should be included, please let me know by posting in the comments below. I am sure there are some games from the 1800’s that have been entirely overlooked, but as I find them, I will include them. Also, all of the above-listed games are Division 1/FBS games. I have not yet researched the other divisions, but I am willing to include them. Again, if you know of a game from another division that should be included, just post it below in the comments and I will add it.

Completing the journey

by Travis Normand
September 2, 2017
Updated: September 4, 2017

Today (September 2, 2017) I start the final leg of a journey I started almost 20 years ago. This grand slam, or superfecta, which can no longer be accomplished due to the loss of the Orange Bowl stadium and the non-use of the Cotton Bowl stadium, will be completed tomorrow when I attend the UCLA vs. Texas A&M football game in the original Rose Bowl stadium.

As many of you know, college football has four major bowl games which are traditionally the Sugar, Cotton, Orange, and Rose. Not only are these bowl games, but at one point in time they were all played in stadiums built for that purpose (or in stadiums that were named after the bowl game itself). In other words, the Cotton Bowl game was played in the Cotton Bowl stadium (as was the Orange and Rose Bowl).

The one exception to this rule is the Sugar Bowl game, as that was originally played in Tulane Stadium in New Orleans, Louisiana. The Sugar Bowl game has never had its own stadium (or otherwise stated, there has never been a stadium that was merely built for the purpose of hosting the Sugar Bowl game; and while Tulane Stadium was referred to as the Sugar Bowl, it was never officially named that).

However, when the sun rises over the San Gabriel Mountains on Monday morning, I will finally be able to say that I have seen A&M play in all three original historic bowl venues, as well as in the Sugar Bowl game.

Now, before you get too much further into what I have written, please take note (if you have not done so already), the distinction between the bowl game and the bowl stadium, as they are entirely two separate things. A perfect example is the Cotton Bowl. As you will read, I have seen the Aggies play in the Cotton Bowl game in the original Cotton Bowl stadium. However, for the purposes of this article, what is most important is having seen them play in the original historic stadium. I make this distinction because, for example, I may someday get a chance to see A&M play in an Orange Bowl game, however it will not be played in the original historic stadium as that is gone forever.

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1908 Missouri State Normal School

by Travis Normand
Originally Published: June 8, 2017
Updated: August 24, 2017

The original photo that I found and began researching.

A couple of years ago I found an old black and white photograph of what appeared to be a college, or maybe high school, football team. While finding an old football photo is nothing special, this photo had my maternal great-grandfather in it (James P. Fitch). I instantly recognized him but I had no idea what team or school the photo was of.

The only identifying information that was ascertainable from the photo itself was the word “Normals ’08,” that someone had written across the bottom of the photo. There was also the coach, who was standing behind his players, wearing a white sweater with a logo that I couldn’t quite make out. The logo appeared to include a “T”, a triangle, and an “S”, although I wasn’t entirely sure. It wasn’t a lot of information to go off of, but with that, I began my search for the source of this photo.

I knew a lot about my great-grandfather but for some reason I didn’t know where he had attended college. I started searching for Normal schools in states where he had lived as a young man. As you can imagine, this didn’t narrow my search very much as there were a lot of Normal schools in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s.

I also tried searching for the logo, but that didn’t yield any results either. This wasn’t too disappointing as I knew that even if I found the logo, it might not be for the same school that my great-grandfather had attended. After all, it is not like schools during this time period had Nike contracts for their athletic apparel, and the coach’s sweater could have been from another school (or anywhere else for that matter). In other words, there was a very real possibility that the logo had nothing to do with this particular school or team.

I continued searching and put in an inquiry with a college football historical research group that I am a member of, but that turned up very little information. Everywhere I looked, I found another dead-end, and I was having a difficult time figuring out what school this photo was of. After a lot of searching, the only information I had was that my great-grandfather was in the photo, it was a “Normal” school, and the year was 1908. I started to think that I would never figure out what school my great-grandfather had attended. My biggest fear was that the school was a small college, located in the middle of nowhere, that had long since demised without a trace, and thus there was little chance that I would ever learn of its existence.

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