Blue and Gold Illustrated

December 2021

Blue & Gold Illustrated: America's Foremost Authority on Notre Dame Football

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Page 43 of 47

44 DECEMBER 2021 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED IRISH ECHOES JIM LEFEBVRE A century ago, Notre Dame officially concluded its 1921 football season with a Thanksgiving Day pasting of Michigan Agricultural College, 48-0, be- fore a record crowd of 15,000 at Cartier Field. Coach Knute Rockne's squad fin- ished with a 10-1 mark, including shut- out victories over rivals Purdue (33-0), Nebraska (7-0) and Army (28-0). But a game played three days later in a central Illinois town created a buzz that lasted through the winter and had major repercussions in the college foot- ball world. In the end, it would serve as a cautionary tale and a pivot point for rooting out the creeping challenge of professionalism in the college game. Throughout the 1910s and early 1920s, college football was plagued by a trend in which players would head out on Sundays, usually under an assumed name, and be paid a few dollars to play for a pro or semi-pro team. Rockne himself, while an assistant Notre Dame coach in 1914-17, had made several appearances for the town team of Massillon, Ohio. But he publicly de- nounced the pro game and its effect on college athletes. In two coal-mining towns in central Illinois — Carlinville and Taylorville — football fever was raging. On Thanks- giving Day 1920, Carlinville defeated its archrival, 10-7, in a game that, typical of the time, made numerous Taylorville supporters poorer than when the day began. As the 1921 season unfolded, an- ticipation grew for the teams' annual battle, set for Nov. 27, the Sunday af- ter Thanksgiving. In Carlinville, there were whispers around town that the team would be sporting something of a "new look" this time around, and that it might be advisable to go a little deeper into one's savings to put money down on the local eleven. Before long, it became common knowledge on the streets that "the Notre Dame team" was going to show up and play for Carlinville. A lad who had grown up and played high school ball in Carlinville, Si Seyfrit, was now a backup end for the Irish. It didn't take much convincing for the local folks to believe that Notre Dame's stars were going to show up in Tay- lorville and bring it home for Carlinville. As the excitement in Carlinville grew, more and more folks found the dollars to put money on the game. Eventually, word spread to Taylorville about Carlin- ville's planned imports, and before long, a representative of Taylorville had con- tacted several University of Illinois play- ers to represent the town in the big game. Two of them — Roy "Dope" Simp- son and Vern Mullen — were Taylorville products. In almost no time, seven oth- ers agreed to join them, including star halfback Laurie Walquist and quarter- back Joe Sternaman. Rockne and his counterpart at Illi- nois, the estimable Bob Zuppke, were never able to agree on a meeting of the Irish and Illini in football. Illinois played very few games outside their Western Conference schedule, and they were usually against lesser opponents. Now, though, it appeared something of a "proxy game" would match players from the two schools in Taylorville. Residents of Taylorville, alerted to the Illini stars headed their way, began emptying their wallets to place bets on the local squad. Folks in both towns, it was reported later, "went to the bank, the family stocking and the cupboard to bring forth, in some cases, the savings of years." By game day, an estimated $100,000 was in play. On a chilly Sunday afternoon in Tay- lorville, in front of 10,000 spectators, the two faux squads took to the field. Taylorville coach Grover Hoover de- cided to keep most of the Illini players on the bench for the first half and to use them as needed to take over the game in the second half. Carlinville came out with four regulars from the Notre Dame line — ends Eddie Anderson and Roger Kiley, tackle Buck Shaw and center Harry Mehre. There was less Irish firepower in the backfield since fullback Chet Wynne was the only Notre Dame starter on hand. So, Anderson switched to quarterback and tried to run the "Notre Dame" of- fense, with little success. The remaining three imports were Notre Dame subs — backs Bob Phelan and Earl Walsh, and the hometown end, Seyfrit. After reports of more than $100,000 in wagers on a semi-pro game between central Illinois coal-mining town teams involving college players from Illinois and Notre Dame hit the newspapers in Chicago, Notre Dame led the way in advocating for a number of new policies for college football, including soliciting a pledge from each man in college eligible for athletics not to play pro games while still in college. PHOTO COURTESY CHICAGO HERALD EXAMINER 1921 Notre Dame-Illinois 'Proxy Game' Caused A Stir, Leading To College Football Reforms

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