10 things you might not know about college football

Tribune staff reporter

College football's title game Monday pits Louisiana State against Ohio State -- two teams chosen through a hopelessly complex formula of polls and computer rankings. The college game is full of such conundrums. We won't even ask why there are 11 teams in the Big Ten. Instead, we present our own big 10:

1. The first college football game west of the Allegheny Mountains took place in 1879 at the Chicago White Stockings' baseball park in what is now Millennium Park. The University of Michigan defeated Racine (Wis.) College.

2. The first all-America quarterback, chosen in 1889, was Princeton's Edgar Allan Poe, grandnephew of the famed writer of the same name. (No, he wasn't drafted by the Ravens.) Two literary giants who played college football were poet Archibald MacLeish of Yale and novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald of Princeton.

3. In 1916, Georgia Tech led Cumberland College at halftime 126-0. Even so, Tech coach John Heisman (the guy they named the trophy after) wasn't satisfied. "Men, don't let up," he exhorted in his halftime speech. "You never knowwhat those Cumberland players have up their sleeves." Not much, as it turned out. Tech won 222-0.

4. A 1920s football player at the University of Southern California named Marion Morrison lost his athletic scholarship because of an injury and dropped out of school. He went into the movie business and became known by another name: John Wayne. Other notables who played college football include Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick (Florida A&M), comic actor Kevin James (State University of New York at Cortland) and Hillary Clinton's father, Hugh Rodham (Penn State).

5. The Rose Bowl is held in Pasadena, Calif., right? Except in 1942, when fears of a Japanese attack on the West Coast forced a move. Chicago's Soldier Field offered to stage the game, but it was shifted to Durham, N.C., where Duke welcomed Oregon State and lost 20-16.

6. Soldier Field has hosted such famous tilts as the 1926 Army-Navy game in front of 110,000 fans. Less famous as a college football venue is Wrigley Field, where DePaul played before dumping football as a varsity sport in the late 1930s. (DePaul's team nickname, Blue Demons, came from the fact that athletes were known as "D-men" because they wore sweaters with D's on them.)

7. Once glorious, now defunct: The Oil Bowl in Houston, the Refrigerator Bowl in Evansville, Ind., and the Salad Bowl in Phoenix, Ariz.

8. Before the 2004 Rose Bowl game against Michigan, USC coach Pete Carroll invited comedian Will Ferrell to practice with the team. Ferrell, a USC alumnus who was a kicker in high school, showed up in full uniform, with his last name on his jersey, and caught a pass for a gain of about 40 yards. Other celebrities who have visited USC practices: George Lucas, Kirsten Dunst, Jessica Simpson, Snoop Dogg, Spike Lee, Alyssa Milano, Anthony Kiedis, Wilmer Valderrama, Jake Gyllenhaal and Andre 3000.

9. As part of a Cuban sports festival in 1937, two American football teams, Auburn and Villanova, were invited to play in the Bacardi Bowl in Havana. But Cuban military dictator Fulgencio Batista flew into a rage because his photo was omitted from the game program. Only a quick trip to the printer averted the game's cancellation.

10. In the Texas-Texas A&M game in 2004, Texas scored a touchdown, but its point-after kick was blocked, and an A&M defender picked up the ball. If he had managed to run all the way down the field, it would have been worth 2 points for A&M. But instead he fumbled backward into the end zone where Texas had just scored its touchdown, and another A&M player jumped on the ball. It was ruled a "1-point safety," giving Texas its extra point in a very strange way.

Sources: "Rites of Autumn," by Richard Whittingham; Sarasota Herald-Tribune; Marin Independent Journal; Evansville Courier & Press; Detroit Free Press; Columbus Dispatch; Auburn University.


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