This article first appeared in the Early November issue of Inside Indiana. To subscribe, call 800-524-9527 today!
To say Indiana hasn’t been known as a defensive team in the recent past isn’t a stretch by any measure. The Hoosiers currently rank toward the bottom of the Big Ten in average points allowed, last season’s squad ranked among the worst in the country and nobody can forget the time just a couple of years ago when IU scored 20 points vs. Wisconsin but still managed to lose by nine touchdowns.
In fact, defense hasn’t been the Hoosiers’ calling card since the days of Bill Mallory, and even a hint of success has been seen as a positive. When IU gave up just six points to Massachusetts in the second game of the season, fans were thrilled with the progress the defense had made.
But once upon a time, long, long ago, IU football was known for its stingy defense. And by stingy, we mean there once was a Hoosier football team that went an entire season without allowing an opponent to cross the goal line. The game may have been different back then, but the accomplishments of IU’s 1910 squad is still deserving of admiration.
James Sheldon was excited.
Indiana’s head coach took in the late September air at Jordan Field and was pleased with what he saw. It was Sept. 21, 1909, and IU had never welcomed a bigger group of players to its first football practice of the season. A total of 44 players came out for the team, and more than 200 onlookers watched the Hoosiers go through their paces from the wooden bleachers along the sideline.
After going 3-4 overall and 1-3 in the Western Conference in 1908, optimism couldn’t have been higher for Sheldon’s squad. IU’s offensive line was back intact save for one starter, and former captain Scott Paddock had been replaced with a freshman, Thomas Andrew “Andy” Gill, who seemed poised to make an immediate impact. Both of IU’s Ends, including Arthur “Cotton” Berndt, were back as well, and Sheldon was poised to use them.
Head coach James Sheldon knew he had a special team on his hands for the 1910 season.
In a nod to the changing winds of college football, Sheldon planned to make the forward pass a bigger part of his offense. It was a risky move. The forward pass had only been legalized three years earlier in an effort to open the game and make it safer, and it came with a number of rules. Passes could only be thrown to the outside of the field, and they had to be caught by a player more than five yards past the line of scrimmage or it would be ruled a turnover. A throw that touched the ground without hitting anyone also resulted in a turnover, and a pass that touched an offensive player but fell incomplete resulted in a 15-yard penalty. Oh, and passes caught in the end zone were ruled a touchback.
Despite the risks, Sheldon decided throwing the ball could solve some of IU’s offensive problems. Indiana scored just 43 points during the 1908 season, and the Hoosiers suffered through a three-game stretch late in the season in which they were shut out by Wisconsin, Illinois and Notre Dame. With only three downs to gain 10 yards — on a field 110 yards in length from goal line to goal line, mind you — Sheldon needed to find a way to move the ball at least into field goal range without beating up his players (1909, by the way, was the first season in which field goals were worth three points. Previously, they had been worth four points. Touchdowns back then were worth five points, plus there was an extra point attempt).
Sheldon’s team worked on the forward pass with right halfback Howard Paddock showing particular skill. He was ambidextrous, and his left-handed passes were described as “remarkable” by the Indiana Daily Student. The Hoosiers impressed Sheldon enough that he provided a bit of early bulletin-board material for one of IU’s biggest rivals.
“We have the best chance we have ever hard to beat Chicago,” Sheldon said.
In the early part of the 20th century, few teams could match the power and pure innovation of Amos Alonzo Stagg’s Chicago Maroons. The Maroons had won three of the previous four Western Conference titles and a national championship in 1905, and Sheldon, a former player for Stagg, knew full well Indiana had never beaten Chicago in seven previous tries. In fact, the Hoosiers had been outscored in those games 234-25, including a 29-6 whipping in 1908.
Still, Sheldon had a feeling about his team. The players were as crisp as ever following a long summer away from the gridiron. IU’s first game seemed to prove it. The Hoosiers hammered DePauw 28-5, and they needed just four minutes to score their first touchdown of the season. Gill, the talented freshman, went around left end for a 10-yard TD run, giving IU a 6-0 lead. DePauw quickly answered with a score of its own, but it missed the extra point, leaving IU up 6-5.
That lead grew to 17-5 by halftime, and Indiana continued to march after the break. IU scored twice more, sending the nearly 300 DePauw supporters home on their special train in a sour mood. The win, however, was tempered by tragedy. That same afternoon, senior Frank “Duke” Trimble passed away less than two weeks after suffering a minor injury in a scrimmage, putting a pall over the Hoosiers’ win..
The mighty, mighty Maroons were next on IU’s schedule, and Sheldon felt like the season rode on that game. If the Hoosiers could just break through vs. Chicago, everything could change for the program.
Cotton Berndt was a captain for the 1910 team and became one of the Hoosiers' early stars.
Sheldon pushed his players harder than ever and even brought in arc lights to illuminate Jordan Field. Using a ball that had been painted white, Sheldon worked his team, according to the IDS, until “half-past supper time,” mostly focusing on the offensive line.
When Saturday rolled around the Hoosiers earned the praise of everyone who saw the game in the Windy City. Sheldon’s squad was hailed as “a revelation of football speed and brains” by some observers, and one Chicago player was quoted as saying, “Give that Crimson team two weeks with their nose to the grindstone and the West will open its eyes.”
In one of the best examples you’ll ever read of someone watching IU football through Crimson-colored glasses, the IDS wrote, “With a machine that outplayed the champions of the West and only lost through hard luck, Indiana’s chances for victories in the rest of her schedule are brighter than they’ve ever been.”
It was an odd sentiment about a Hoosier team that had just lost 28-0.
The loss to Chicago didn’t completely derail the 1909 season. The Hoosiers went 3-2 the rest of the way and finished tied for fifth in the Western Conference with a 1-3 mark. But after the loss to the Maroons, something seemed to click in the Hoosiers on the defensive side of the ball that would set the tone for a brighter future. After giving up 28 points to Chicago, Indiana allowed just 20 points the rest of the season and hammered Purdue 36-3.
In early December, shortly after IU senior Carl Keiss became the first man in the state of Indiana to photograph Halley’s Comet, the football team was celebrated as one of the best in school history, and a banquet was held in the team’s honor at the Men’s Gymnasium, which would later be known as the original Assembly Hall. The band and drum corps were on hand, as were food and cigars. But the real draw for the assembled crowd wasn’t the eats or the smokes. It was the girls. Co-eds were allowed at the affair, a fact that made it the most popular event of the month on campus.
“The girls have as much voice in the homage to be paid to the Crimson heroes as the men of the University,” the IDS wrote.
Roughly a week after the banquet, the Hoosiers got the news they were hoping for. Sheldon would return as head coach for the 1910 season, but IU’s Director of Athletics would not be around Bloomington for a while. He would spend the spring and summer in Chicago practicing law, and he would run the athletic department from a distance.
The opening kickoff to the 1910 season at Jordan Field was filled with promise for the Hoosiers.
Before leaving, Sheldon announced that Berndt had been elected team captain for 1910, and he expected Berndt to provide leadership for the ballclub during his absence. He also advised the Hoosiers to stay off the baseball diamond during the summer, and every player took an oath to “run whenever he saw a baseball from now on.”
Sheldon couldn’t afford to lose any more players. After all, he was certain 1910 was going to be everything 1909 wasn’t.
Then the 1909-10 school year finally came to a close in mid-June, the departing players had big plans for the summer. Halfback Harold King planned to prep for the football season by shoveling gravel during the last half of the summer term, ensuring that he would be in “good trim” by the fall. A player named Oakley planned to work on his physique by working in the hay fields “out west” during the summer months. Berndt, the Hoosiers’ captain, wanted to take a different approach.
“What I need is a quiet place in the country with lots of time to rest and lots of milk to drink,” Berndt told the IDS.
Three months later, Sheldon hit the ground running. He wasn’t interested in the number of bodies that came out for practice. He didn’t care about the enthusiasm on campus for his team. He had work to do, and he was going to wring everything he could out of his players.
A 10 a.m. Sheldon assembled his team on Jordan Field and spent the first hour running drills with the ball. Another half hour was spent going over the new rules. The only eligible receivers would be the two ends, and they weren’t allowed to catch a pass that was thrown more than 20 yards past the line of scrimmage. Passes could only be thrown by the quarterback, and he had to be at least five yards behind the line of scrimmage. All other players, save for the two ends, had to be at least one yard behind the line of scrimmage for a pass to be legal. On the defensive side of the ball, players were not allowed to leave their feet to make tackles. Diving was outlawed, as were “flying” tackles, which saw players just launch themselves sideways at ballcarriers. Under the new rules, a player making a tackle had to have at least one foot on the ground. On kickoffs and punts, meanwhile, the kicking team’s players could not be blocked past the line of scrimmage until they had advanced 20 yards.
You can see why it took 30 minutes to explain the new rules.
Fullback Olice Winters (center, with striped arms) was a key part of the offense who overcame an early shoulder injury to play an important role.
The afternoon session was described as more “strenuous” and saw players working in more scrimmage situations.
“The little coach realizes that he must have his men ready for hard work early,” the IDS wrote. “To this end (he) has been doing his best to get them physically right. As soon as the men can stand it, he will send them into the hardest sort of workouts to master the new rules from the practical side. As it is now, he has them studying out all the possibilities of the revised style.”
All but four starters were back from the 1909 team with only Paddock, Adam Leonard, Lloyd Sholty and “Cy” Davis missing from the lineup. The first two graduated in the spring of 1910, and Sholty left to study medicine in Indianapolis. Davis, meanwhile was sick, and the IDS oddly reported that he was “enjoying a siege of typhoid fever.”
Indiana had four home games on its schedule, but the battle with Chicago would once again be held in the Windy City. Fan interest was once again sky high with more than 200 fans showing up for every practice, including class registration day.
Sheldon was focused on the fundamentals, much to the surprise of his players and the students who watched the practice. They came out to Jordan Field to watch the team scrimmage, but instead they were treated to drill after drill.
“Most people would think Jimmie is doing it backwards,” IU player “Cunny” Cunningham told the IDS. “I’ll bet three-fourths of the coaches (at other schools) are working their men to death in an attempt to get into the new rules and the new plays. That isn’t the thing. The fundamentals still hold no matter what the rules are, and players are still going to have to know how to tackle and fall on the ball and all that…. Sheldon is doing it the right way even if it does look to be backwards.”
Despite the boring practices, the enthusiasm surrounding the team continued to build, so much so that the IDS felt the need to let a little air out of the team just a few days into practice.
“Great expectations sometimes bring great disappointments, and it is not wise to expect too much of a football team,” the IDS wrote in late September. “Furthermore, Indiana University students as a rule are not much given to optimism. These two facts being noted, a third comes up. Either this University will boast of the greatest football eleven in its history this fall or there will be a wondrous amount of knocking on a bunch of fallen idols at the end of the season. One of these things is bound to come about.”
Unlike in modern times, punts were one of the main ways teams tried to advance the ball.
Gill was one of the standouts in the early workouts, and he amazed the onlookers with his runs and ability to pull off “trick” plays during the practices. The only hiccup was the lack of a coach for the freshman team, and Sheldon was distracted by having to make calls and send telegrams to Chicago searching for someone to fill the job.
Just days before the season opener vs. DePauw at Jordan Field, however, Indiana looked to be in trouble. Injuries had decimated the squad, and several key players were hobbled. Frank Kimble, a guard on the team, was out with a severely sprained ankle, although he vowed to play even if he was on crutches at gametime. Fullback Olice Winters had a wrenched shoulder. Halfback Harold King, after spending the summer shoveling gravel, could hardly walk thanks to his own sprained ankle. Two more players, Homer “Hercules” Dutter and Cloice Hatfield had ankle problems, and a number of other players were struggling with minor injuries.
Indiana would start the season at less than full strength, but the Hoosiers were ready to make a statement.
DePauw at Indiana * October 2, 1910 * Jordan Field
DePauw had not forgotten the whipping it took a year earlier, and the game with the Hoosiers was considered the biggest of the year for the fellas from Greencastle. DePauw had hired a new head coach, and the optimism for the team, known as the Methodists at the time, was as high at DePauw as it was at Indiana.
Besides, DePauw accused the Hoosiers of playing “sissified” football. The Greencastle Herald claimed IU was an inferior team that had to resort to tricks to score wins.
“It will be remembered that last year Indiana defeated DePauw by the repeated use of the forward pass,” the paper wrote. “As far as straight football was concerned, she was on par if not better than the IU team.”
Early on, it looked like the Herald might have a point. Dutter kicked off at precisely 3 p.m., and after a DePauw punt, IU’s George Roberts fumbled after catching a pass. Indiana’s defense held, and following another punt, Gill fumbled the ball away, giving DePauw the ball at the IU 40-yard line.
Andy Gill was the Hoosiers' Mr. Everything, serving as IU's best offensive threat and a bone-jarring hitter on defense.
Again, Indiana’s defense came up big. It forced a turnover when DePauw fumbled, and Frank Lindley scooped up the ball and scampered 40 yards before being brought down. A 20-yard run by Merrill Davis put the Hoosiers closer to the goal line, and three plays later Berndt scored IU’s first touchdown of the season when Gill found him with a pass and Berndt scooted five yards into the end zone. Gill added the extra point — no easy feat considering the ball had to be kicked in a straight line from the spot where the TD was scored, creating some odd angles for conversions — to put IU up 6-0.
Another DePauw punt was followed by another Indiana fumble — ball security was an issue back in those days — and neither team managed to score through the end of the first quarter. It’s important to note that time was not kept on a scoreboard as it is in modern football. Instead, teams agreed prior to gametime how long halves would be, although halves were limited to a total of 45 minutes on the clock, give or take a minute. That’s not gametime. That’s 45 minutes on the referee’s watch, which means the first quarter ended at 3:23 p.m.
The Hoosiers managed to score again in the second quarter when Davis went around right end for a 13-yard TD run, and IU’s extra point gave Indiana a 12-0 lead.
It was an edge that held up. DePauw only threatened in the closing minutes when a player named Overman returned a punt 70 yards, but Kimble tracked him down from behind, and the Methodists were limited to a field-goal attempt, which they missed. When the gun went off, the Hoosiers were 12-0 victors, and Sheldon was happy that he hadn’t been forced to open his playbook. He only called simple plays, keeping IU’s arsenal under wraps for the upcoming battle with Chicago.
It was a good thing, too. Maroons assistant coach Tom Kelley was in attendance at Jordan Field, and he returned to Chicago to tell Stagg that IU’s size and shiftiness in the backfield would cause problems for his team. Stagg agreed, and he told reporters he was worried about the Hoosiers.
It was music to Sheldon’s ears.
Indiana at Chicago * October 8, 1910 * Marshall Field
Sheldon worked his team hard during the preseason, but those workouts were nothing compared to what he had in store for the Hoosiers in the days leading up to the Chicago game. The lights were brought back out to Jordan Field to let the team practice late into the evening, and the “ghost” ball, the white-painted pigskin, made its first appearance of the year. Spectators to the workouts saw a team that looked nothing like the Hoosier squad that beat DePauw. Indiana’s offense was completely different — by design.
Indiana set the tone for the 1910 season when they traveled to Chicago to take on the Maroons and Amos Alonzo Stagg.
More than two dozen plays were installed on Monday evening alone, and Sheldon was excited that he would have something new to throw at his alma mater. The weather, however, complicated things. The skies opened up for the next couple of days, turning Jordan Field — a notoriously slow-draining facility — into a quagmire. The Hoosiers weren’t able to get much work done before they left for Chicago, and their final practice prior to the game was held at a beach on the shores of Lake Michigan following the long train ride north. In that workout, the Hoosiers didn’t even work on plays. Sheldon knew full well that Stagg would have spies in the area, and he didn’t want to give anything away.
Adding to the drama was the uncertainty about the status of Gill. Early in the week the Hoosiers’ halfback-punter-placekicker-defensive fullback received a telegram informing him that his mother had fallen ill at his home in Linton. Gill jumped on the earliest train back home straight from practice to be by his mother’s side, and whether or not he could make it to Marshall Field hinged on the health of his mom.
Two days before the game, Thursday, Oct. 6, Gill’s mother underwent a procedure at noon to remove what was described as a “severe tumor.” The surgery went well, and doctors told Gill he would be safe to head back to Bloomington. Early Friday morning Gill arrived back on campus, and shortly thereafter he boarded a train to Chicago along with his teammates, more than 500 IU supporters and prominent citizen George “Uncle Jake” Buskirk (whose family name now adorns the Buskirk-Chumley Theatre on Kirkwood Ave).
Despite Gill’s arrival, the IDS wasn’t optimistic about how much he could help the Hoosiers.
“It is hardly likely that he will be able to play his best game for the illness of his mother has been a great worry,” the paper wrote. “Besides, he missed practice yesterday and has not scrimmaged since last Saturday.”
The IDS was wrong.
In front of a crowd estimated at more than 5,000 fans, Gill and the Hoosiers gave the Maroons everything they could handle. The first time he touched the ball, Gill picked up 10 yards. On his first punt, he booted the ball 55 yards. With the game still scoreless late in the second quarter, Gill crushed a 70-yard punt. That punt went into the end zone, however, and Gill was forced to kick the ball a second time (it was the rule at the time). Gill’s second kick was returned 20 yards, and Chicago lined up for a field-goal attempt, its second of the game. Like the first, the Maroons’ drop kick missed, and the teams went into halftime scoreless.
Defense ruled as the game remained scoreless late in the fourth quarter, but IU broke through when Cunningham found Berndt with a 25-yard pass that put Indiana at the Chicago 12. On the next play, Cunningham found Gill with another pass, and the sophomore bounded into the end zone for the first score of the game. He added the extra point to put Indiana up 6-0, and the Maroons were forced to punt on their next possession. IU kept Chicago pinned in its own territory for the rest of the game, and the final gun sounded with the Hoosiers walking off with their first-ever win over Stagg’s club.
Crowd support for the Hoosiers at Jordan Field set new standards in 1910.
As the happy Hoosiers made their way back to Bloomington on their train from Chicago, the IU campus exploded in joy. Let’s just say that if there was a Showalter Fountain at the time, the fish would have been in jeopardy. Bonfires sprung up everywhere, cigars were passed out, bands played and more than 1,000 people came out to the Student Building to celebrate. An impromptu parade broke out, and torch-carrying students made their way around campus, singing and dancing along the way.
With the Bloomington police acting as escorts, the students headed into town, and they wandered into a local playhouse. The booze flowed, and local businesses threw open their doors to join in the celebration. The procession, however, didn’t cause any issues, and nobody was arrested in the chaos.
Two days later with the team back in town, an event with the far-from-PC name of “The Great Chicago Fire” saw another huge bonfire lit, and there was more dancing, singing and speeches to mark the occasion. By the time the smoke cleared, Indiana’s students were wiped out, but everyone was thrilled to have the much-sought-after win under their belts.
James Millikin at Indiana * October 15, 1910 * Jordan Field
While the fans partied, Sheldon was focused on making sure his team didn’t suffer a hangover at the level some of the students undoubtedly were sporting when the Hoosiers took on their next opponent, James Millikin University.
At a Jordan Field that was under repair — the rain softened the ground so badly the goal posts fell over — Sheldon pushed his team back to work the Monday after the Chicago game, and he pounded home the fact that Millikin was an unknown quantity. The university had been around for less than 10 years at the time, and although it was thought Indiana would easily win, Sheldon was nervous about the game. His starters were nursing a number of aches and pains from the hard-fought Chicago game, and with a battle with Wisconsin looming, he didn’t want his players to overlook Millikin.
Of course, that didn’t stop Sheldon from bolting town.
The Friday before the game Sheldon left the team in the hands of a pair of assistants and boarded a train bound for Champaign. With the Chicago game behind him, Sheldon was focused on Illinois, the only team he deemed a real threat to the Hoosiers’ conference championship hopes. In those days before coaching film or television, the only way to scout an opponent was to go watch them in person. It’s not clear why Sheldon didn’t send one of the assistants, but by the time kickoff arrived against Millikin, Sheldon was hundreds of miles away.
Indiana took on Wisconsin in Indianapolis at a site that is now home to the Indianapolis Zoo.
Not that he had to worry. Indiana scored in the first minute of play when Gill scored on a run, and he added another touchdown a few minutes later. He added a third score later in the game, and IU emptied the bench to save the starters for the future. When officials fired the pistol to end the game, the Hoosiers were up 34-0 and Millikin didn’t come close to scoring.
Indiana was 3-0 for the second time in its history, and it had outscored its opponents 52-0.
Wisconsin vs. Indiana * October 22, 1910 * Washington Park
Although Indiana’s official records list the Hoosiers as having played a road game at Wisconsin in 1910, that isn’t the case. In fact, the Hoosiers’ battle with Wisconsin took on the air of a special occasion thanks to some Indianapolis businessmen.
The Hoosiers and the Badgers alternated the locations of their games with Wisconsin hosting one year and Indiana the next. IU played in Madison during the 1909 season, and the 1910 game was considered an opportunity for Indianapolis-based alumni to see the Hoosiers in person. Wisconsin didn’t really care where the game was played, but the lure of a larger turnout — and therefore higher gate receipts — made the Badgers amenable to a change.
The railways saw an opportunity to make some extra money, as well, and as the Hoosiers practiced at Jordan Field early in the week, the Indianapolis Southern Railroad announced a pair of special trains that would run from Bloomington to Indy the day of the game. The IU band would be on one of the trains, and the drum corps would take the other, giving the entire excursion the feeling of being an event.
The players would enjoy a special bonus. H.O. Smith of the Premier Motor Manufacturing Company agreed to furnish enough cars to take IU’s players from the train station to their Indianapolis hotel when they arrived in town Friday, and the same cars would ferry the athletes to the stadium for the game Saturday. The Hoosiers would play Wisconsin at Washington Park, a baseball field that was home to the Indianapolis Indians at the time (it would later become the site of the Indianapolis Zoo).
The week leading up to the battle with the Badgers was unseasonably warm, and with the season in full swing, Sheldon didn’t want to push his players too hard. Practices were held in the evening, and the lights were brought out once again. Indiana knew it would face a challenge in playing UW thanks to the size of the Badger line, which impressed an IU assistant who had been dispatched to watch Wisconsin’s previous game.
In front of a massive crowd at Washington Park, the Hoosiers got an early scare when the Badgers became the first team to score on them all season. The Badgers cracked the scoreboard first when a UW player named Burch split the uprights with a drop-kick to give Wisconsin a 3-0 lead. Indiana went into the second quarter still trailing for the first time all season, but the Hoosiers’ work with the forward pass started to pay off in the second period.
A series of short passes helped Indiana move the ball down the field and put Wisconsin on its heels, and Olice Winter finished off the drive with a one-yard TD run. Gill added the extra point to put Indiana up 6-3 and ease the fears of some of the Hoosier faithful.
Gill broke the game open late in the second quarter. Let’s let the IDS tell the story.
“Near the end of the second quarter (Gill) pulled off the greatest play of the day, and one that will probably stand as the best of the season,” the IDS reported. “He received a punt from Pierce on the fifty-five-yard line (Editor’s note: that’s not a typo; remember, the field was 110 yards long) and ran through the entire Wisconsin eleven for the second touchdown. Practically every Badger had a shot at him, but they all rolled off like water from a duck’s back. His dodging was something wonderful.”
Gill once again added the extra point, and IU went up 12-3. It was all the Hoosiers would need. Indiana’s defense forced Wisconsin to punt time and time again, and in the strategy of the time, the Hoosiers kept punting the ball right back to the Badgers on first down to drive them deeper and deeper into their own territory. Indiana did have an opportunity to score again in the second half, but three field-goal attempts by Gill missed.
Still, Indiana walked away a 12-3 winner to move to 4-0 on the season, much to the delight of the Indiana fans in attendance. The train cars were a merry place on the ride back to Bloomington that night, but the partiers couldn’t have imagined they had witnessed something that wouldn’t be seen at IU for more than half a century.
Indiana wouldn’t open a football season 4-0 again until 1967.
Butler at Indiana * October 29, 1910 * Jordan Field
Indiana’s next opponent was Butler, a team that put absolutely no fear into the Hoosiers. In contrast with the Millikin game earlier in the season when Sheldon made sure his team wasn’t overlooking its next opponent, IU’s coach didn’t make any pretense about the Bulldogs. The Hoosiers practiced lightly all week, and when Friday rolled around, Sheldon again headed out of town, this time to West Lafayette to watch Purdue take on Illinois. The coaching of the team for the Butler game was again left to the assistants.
But there was an extra wrinkle this time around. Not only did Sheldon skip the game, he took Gill and Cotton Berndt along with him on the scouting trip. Sheldon put so much stock in the upcoming Illinois game — a Homecoming game and the battle that could very well decide the 1910 Western Conference champion — that he robbed his team of its two best players to scout an opponent. In today’s day and age, it is a mind-boggling strategy, but for 1910, it was par for the course.
It also turned out that the stars weren’t needed. Indiana piled up 33 points in the first half alone, scoring two touchdowns in the first quarter and four more in the second. Despite the fact IU pulled its starters at halftime, Butler still couldn’t crack the end zone and never really threatened. The 33-0 final, however, was seen as somewhat of a disappointment considering Wabash had hung 48 points on Butler earlier in the season, and IU fans were warned that the Wabash faithful might get chatty after the game.
One of the most notable items about the Butler game was the fact that Cunny Cunningham came out of the game. Prior to the Butler blowout, Cunningham had played 10 full games without missing a minute of action. Since the end of the 1909 DePauw game, Cunningham had played every snap of the Hoosiers’ games vs. Chicago, Lake Forest, Wisconsin, Saint Louis, Illinois, Purdue, DePauw, Chicago again, Millikin and Wisconsin. He didn’t miss a play along the way, another mind-blowing fact.
Illinois at Indiana * November 5, 1910 * Jordan Field
“And then — and then — well, the fight is on,” the IDS opined following the Butler game. “All of the practice games and the monkey business is out of the way now, and Illinois comes next Saturday. The real big game of the season, in the light of past events, is scheduled for next Saturday afternoon on Jordan Field at whatever o’clock the officials may decide. Indiana will be ready in every way for the hardest game in years.”
Despite the fact he had obviously had this game circled on his calendar since the start of the season, Sheldon tried to act as if Illinois was just another game once the week finally arrived. He made no changes to his practice schedule, working the players hard Monday-Thursday, and Friday saw a let-up. The Hoosiers were relatively healthy, although Kimble had been bitten by a Butler player the previous week, and Gill and Berndt were fresh after taking a week off.
Around the team, however, it was clear that it wasn’t a typical week. The sound of hammers accompanied the noise of whistles at practice as Indiana worked to finish the addition of more bleachers to Jordan Field. Tickets were selling briskly, and Illinois’ supporters had bought tickets for every seat on the north side of the stadium. As of Tuesday more than 3,000 tickets had been sold, a staggering number so early in the week during a time in which walk-up sales were the norm.
By Wednesday the pressure was starting to get to Sheldon, and he cancelled a freshman game vs. the reserves that had been slated for 3 p.m. at Jordan Field, and he closed practice to the public. Anybody caught peeking into the stadium was quickly shooed away, and students were warned to keep a close eye out for anybody who didn’t look like they belonged on campus.
Wednesday also brought the first sign of what would become a running story long after the game ended. It started to drizzle during practice, and Sheldon believed the cool weather would allow his players to work a bit harder. He closed the practice with wind sprints, which the IDS described as “the frightful foe of fat fellows,” and he felt confident that his Hoosiers were ready.
Meanwhile, in Champaign, Ill., was driving its players harder than it had at any point in the season. Three-hour practices were the norm for the afternoon, and two more hours of signal practice were held in the Armory at night. Its fans were excited as well. Two trains were scheduled to run to Bloomington bringing an estimated 2,000 Illini fans with them.
Thursday in Bloomington saw the rain continue as the Hoosiers turned in their final strenuous workout, and water continued to pelt Jordan Field on Friday as well. Even as alumni started to arrive in Bloomington to enjoy Homecoming festivities, there was concern that the condition of the field could have an impact on the game. Although Illinois — which the IDS inexplicably nicknamed “The Suckers” – weighed on average six pounds more than the Hoosiers, IU fans believed Indiana’s speed would make the difference. A wet field, however, could change all that.
Lloyd Sholty, the Hoosier starter who left the football team to go to medical school in Indianapolis prior to the start of the season, showed up in Bloomington, but he wasn’t there for a visit. Sheldon gave the senior a uniform, and despite the fact he hadn’t practiced all season, Sholty was put on notice that if the Hoosiers needed a substitute, his would be the first name called.
As kickoff time approached, however, Sheldon told Sholty he wouldn’t be serving as a backup. He would be starting. And when the two teams lined up at 2:23 p.m. under cloudy skies, Sholty was on the field ready to go back to battle. He made his presence felt on the defensive side of the ball immediately. After an IU punt, Sholty made the tackle on the return. Then on first down, he stopped an Illinois runner at the line of scrimmage. On second down, he plastered the ballcarrier again for no gain, forcing a punt.
Neither team could gain much traction with the ball, although the Jordan Field surface was holding up nicely. The field wasn’t a muddy mess, but it was soft, limiting some of the Hoosiers’ cuts. The game was scoreless after the first quarter, and the defensive battle saw neither squad come within 25 yards of the goal line as the gun sounded to close the first half.
Sawdust was spread on the field during intermission to try to soak up some of the remaining moisture, but the presence of the bands on the field limited its effectiveness. Both offenses were limited in their effectiveness, as well, until the Hoosiers started to get something going midway through the third quarter. After Indiana turned the ball over on downs at the Illinois 30-yard line, the Illini tried to gain ground by punting the ball on first down. Illinois shanked the kick, however, and it went just 15 yards. Cunningham then gained back that distance and more when he found Berndt with a pass, giving the Hoosiers the ball at the Illinois 26. Dutter and Cunningham both were stopped at the line of scrimmage on successive runs, and Gill lined up for a drop kick that could break the tie.
Gill missed, however, partially thanks to some shaky footing, keeping the game scoreless. IU again threatened late in the third quarter when Indiana drove to the Illinois 25-yard line. While the Hoosier fans sang “It Looks Like a Bonfire Tonight” from the stands, Sheldon and his team worked to come up with a play that could break the game open.
On the first play of the fourth quarter, Indiana threw an interception, ending the threat. The two teams tried to advance the ball via punts, and Illinois got its first big break of the game when a 25-yard run around end by Chester Roberts gave the Illini the ball at midfield. Naturally, Illinois immediately punted, with QB Otto Seiler booting the ball 45 yards to Gill. Gill was immediately swarmed under, and on first down IU punted the ball back. The exchange of possessions, however, resulted in a net of 10 yards for the Illini, which means their strategy worked. Two plays later, Seiler drilled a drop kick from 35-yards out to give Illinois a 3-0 lead.
Indiana didn’t have an answer. The spirit was sucked out of the fans, and the Hoosier offense failed to get anything going. Not that Illinois moved the ball, either. Seiler could only manage two more field-goal attempts, but he missed both of them.
When the time ran out, Indiana had lost 3-0, ending its chances of winning a Western Conference crown. Illinois fans celebrated in the bleachers while Hoosier fans sobbed. Well, not all Hoosier fans. IU’s accountants were thrilled. Thanks to the more than 5,000 tickets sold, the gate receipts were estimated to total more than $2,000, a hefty chunk of change for 1910 and more than double the amount IU earned from its game in Champaign 12 months earlier.
The money didn’t matter to Sheldon or any of the players. All they knew is they had let a winnable game slip away, and despite the fact they still hadn’t allowed an opponent to score a touchdown all season, they wouldn’t finish the year undefeated. Sheldon’s dream of a title was dead, and all of his preparation had gone for nothing.
Purdue at Indiana * November 19, 1910 * Stuart Field
To say the campus was deflated would be a massive understatement. The season had been a joy ride that everyone had been on board with, but the loss took all the fun out of the year. Even though Indiana had one game left on the schedule, against arch-rival Purdue no less, enthusiasm for the football team plummeted.
With the game being held in West Lafayette, a special train had been arranged to take IU supporters to the game. But whereas a few weeks earlier fans packed the tracks to head to the Wisconsin game in Indianapolis, there were major concerns that the trains would go virtually unused. Adding to the lack of excitement was the fact Purdue wasn’t very good. The Boilermakers were in the throes of a 1-5 season, and Purdue had managed to score a total of 19 points on the season. The Boilers’ 14-6 win over DePauw the week after IU lost to Illinois — the Hoosiers enjoyed a bye week after the devastating defeat — was a bright spot and showed Purdue wasn’t about to give up.
The Hoosiers continued to work hard on Jordan Field, but the team had lost its edge. Sheldon was still installing new plays and drilling the fundamentals, but the sense of urgency that gripped the Hoosiers throughout the season was gone. He had given his players Monday and Tuesday of game week off. Another game between the freshmen and the reserves was called off at the last minute, mainly because Sheldon wanted to keep his players healthy.
Despite all the hand-wringing about a possible lack of support for the Hoosiers vs. Purdue, a sizable crowd of spectators boarded the Purdue Special at 8 a.m. Saturday morning, and they were warmly greeted in West Lafayette.
At 2:25 the game kicked off in front of 4,214 fans with Sholty again in the lineup. Purdue punted on its first possession, and the Hoosiers wasted no time getting on the scoreboard. A 30-yard pass to Davis was followed by a TD catch and run by Gill, and his extra point gave IU a 6-0 edge two minutes into the game.
Indiana continued to play fierce defense, and Purdue never threatened during the first half. IU went into halftime with a 6-0 lead, and a Gill drop-kick early in the third quarter gave Indiana a 9-0 edge. The Boilermakers managed to drive to the Hoosier 15-yard line midway through the fourth quarter, and Purdue attempted a field goal from the 25-yard line. That kick was blocked, however, and IU took over. Berndt picked up 30 yards on a run, and Roberts gained another 30 on a pass. Two plays later Gill scored another touchdown, and his kick put Indiana up 15-0.
Indiana’s defense made sure the score stayed that way. The season ended with Indiana’s 15-0 victory, giving the Hoosiers a 6-1 record on the season and a 3-1 mark in the Western Conference, good enough for third place behind Illinois and Minnesota, who were deemed to be tied for the championship despite the fact Illinois was 4-0 in the league and Minnesota was just 2-0. Illinois outscored its opponents 89-0 on the year, and Minnesota finished 6-1 with its only loss coming to Michigan, a team that was not yet part of the Western Conference. Either way, Indiana was left out of the equation despite the fact it had allowed six points all season and did not allow an opponent to score a touchdown.
Indiana’s greatest season to date ended as little more than an afterthought.
The Hoosiers saw left end Berndt, left guard Allen Messick and right tackle Dutter land on the all-conference team, and fans were outraged that Gill had been snubbed. He joined Hatfield on the second-team all-conference squad. He also was selected to play an All-Star game vs. Washington University during the Christmas holidays, but conference rules prevented him from appearing in the game. Gill was, however, elected to be the captain of Indiana’s 1911 team.
Indiana’s success on the field didn’t ensure Sheldon’s return. There was some speculation that he wouldn’t be retained for the 1911 season due to his desire to go back to Chicago for the spring and summer once again, but in early December it was announced that Sheldon would be back for at least one more season.
Oddly, after drenching the 1909 squad in honors and glory following that campaign, the same treatment wasn’t afforded the 1910 team. The annual football banquet was held, but there was none of the pomp and circumstance that surrounded the previous season. With so many key players leaving — seven starters played their last game at Purdue — there wasn’t the same buzz around the program.
Maybe it was justified. IU slumped to .500 in 1911, and the Hoosiers fell to 2-5 in 1912. Indiana failed to win a single conference game over those two seasons, and after going 3-4 overall and 2-4 in the league in 1913, Sheldon left Indiana for good. He headed back to Chicago and became an investment banker, leaving the game of football behind. Sheldon closed out his IU coaching career with a 35-26-3 record, which still ranks him fourth on IU’s list of winningest coaches. He currently ranks third on IU’s all-time win percentage list with a mark of .570. He died July 8, 1965 in LaPorte, Ind., at the age of 85.
Berndt, Indiana’s captain in 1910, went on to become the head basketball coach at IU from 1913-15, and he continued to work at IU after leaving coaching. He is the only IU athlete ever to serve as a captain of three sports at Indiana, and he served as mayor of Bloomington from 1935-38. Berndt was elected to the IU Athletics Hall of Fame in 1997. He passed away at the age of 63 in July 1947.
Gill graduated from IU in 1912 and moved on to coaching football. He was the head coach at Lombard College in Illinois and Albion College in Michigan before taking over at North Dakota from 1914-18. He became the head man at Kentucky for the 1918 and 1919 seasons, beating the Hoosiers in his first year at UK. In 1921 he took over as the head coach at Michigan City Elston (Ind.) High School where he spent 29 years in the job. He retired in 1946, and he died of a heart attack March 8, 1947 in Daytona Beach, Fla. Gill was inducted into the Indiana Football Hall of Fame in 2007.
Indiana’s feat of going a season without allowing an opposing touchdown will never be matched. Today’s offenses are too high powered, and the rules have tilted the playing field too much in the offense’s favor for any defense to pull off a season shutout again. Although the game was much, much different 102 years ago, Indiana fans can take pride in knowing that once upon a time, the Hoosiers boasted one of the most feared defenses around, one that shouldn’t be forgotten.
This article first appeared in the Early November issue of Inside Indiana. To subscribe, call 800-524-9527 today!
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