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Minnesota Football: #TBT Ed Rogers Ojibwe Baller

The Gophers oldest Hall of Fame inductee may be one of the least well known, but has an incredible story. Ed Rogers may be the best Native American player to ever suit up for the University of Minnesota.

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Ed Rogers, 1903
Ed Rogers, 1903
U of M

The idea for this piece came a few months back when I read the book The Real All-Americans by Sally Jenkins. It's a extremely good read about football at the Carlisle Indian Industry School in the early years of college football. Names like Pop Warner and Jim Thorpe are names you might recognize but not realize they are associated with the all Native American school. If you're looking for something to read, I'd strongly recommend it. The Gopher connection to Carlisle comes in the form of Edward Rogers, first a player at the Indian school, he would go on to Captain the legendary Gophers 1903 team.

Ed Rogers bottom right, and the 1903 Carlisle eleven. Parting your hair in the middle was clearly the dope style that year.

Ed Rogers was born on April 14th, 1876 in Libby, Minnesota (about 90 minutes west of Duluth). As a child he would take the train into Minneapolis on the weekends to watch Gopher football games. Getting his own chance to play football at a high level happened in 1897 when he made it onto the Varsity team for Carlisle. Playing against the best teams of the era, Ivy League schools and the service academies, Rogers stint at Carlisle can't be understated. Pop Warner, the famous coach would later say that Ed Rogers was the best End that he ever coached. His great skill on the football field was the drop kick, which during Rogers career was worth 5 points (the field goal was reduced to 4 points in 1904 and finally to 3 points in 1909). In his final season at Carlisle he captained the team to a 6-4-1 record with wins over the University of Virginia and Utah in Salt Lake City.

The University of Minnesota team after a practice, 1903. Via MNHS.

Edward Rogers had always wanted to play for the University of Minnesota. In 1901 at the age of 24 Rogers enrolled at the U of M's Law School, and joined the football and baseball teams.

Rogers wasn't the first Native American to play football for the Gophers, that honor goes to a teammate of his, John B. Warren. Warren, born on the White Earth Reservation, had made the Varsity team in 1900. In 1903 both John and Ed played together on the U of M line. Also on the line was Minnesota's first black player Bob Marshall. The Minnesota line was so diverse (including a German, an Irishman, and a Jew, which were all minorities as well at the time) the local newspapers took to calling the team "cosmopolitan". Could be worse I guess.

Probably Rogers punting against Iowa St, 1903. Via MNHS.

That 1903 team, captained by Ed Rogers is one of the most successful of all time. That season the Gophers went 11-0-1. The tie was against Michigan's "point-a-minute" team in the game that started the Little Brown Jug rivalry. Captain Rogers, as he was called, led the team in points scored and kicked the extra point against Michigan to tie the game. The winningest coach in Minnesota history, Doc Williams said of Rogers 1903 season "Edward Rogers proved himself a splendid captain and magnificent leader. The result of the year's work was largely due to his example and precept in setting a high standard for his men."

Drawing! from the Gophers touchdown in the 1903 Gophers vs Michigan game from the St. Paul Daily Globe.

Despite being 27, he had another year of eligibility to play in 1904, instead he chose to return to Carlisle to coach his other alma mater leading them to a 9-2 record.

At the end of 1903 Rogers had played 7 years of college football 4 years at Carlisle and another 3 at Minnesota. In 1903 similar situations were occurring at Illinois, Northwestern, and Wisconsin with former Carlisle players playing beyond the 4 year eligibility at Western Conference schools (current day Big Ten) . Other teams began complaining and for the 1904 season the Western Conference announced that the 4 year eligibility would be more 'stringently enforced'. Rogers' success at Minnesota influenced the wider college football community, and in this way it is probably his most lasting legacy.

What surprised me during my research is how little racism I could find, even by modern standards he seems to have been treated well. The possible exception is his yearbook profile. The most interesting point is the note that Rogers served on a police court jury to determine the source of "firewater". To date I haven't been able to find any other record of this, and I am starting to wonder if it isn't a joke that doesn't translate to a modern reader.

To tell Rogers' full story would be a much longer post. After his one year stint coaching Carlisle he began his successful law career he practiced for 62 years. Rogers lived to the ripe old age of 95, passing away in 1995 1971 in Minneapolis.