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Minnesota Football: #TBT 1903 The Last Time Gophers Turned Down A Bowl Game, Kinda

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After the championship season of 1903 Minnesota agreed to play a New Year's game with University of California. Then the Gophers got greedy and everything fell apart.

Bowl Game? Or Nah!
Bowl Game? Or Nah!

The 1903 team was the first great squad at Minnesota. Going 14-0-1, tying Michigan in the first Little Brown Jug game and in the Big Nine standings. Four players from the team received All-American status, including Ed Rogers. In these early days of college football there were no bowl games or post season play.

Some schools, like Michigan and the University of Chicago, had gone west to play California schools on New Year's Day. These games were purely exhibitions intended to promote the schools, the game, and make money. Before the 1903 season ended, rumors spread that Gopher officials were trying to set up a New Year's Game. Negotiations about logistics with the Tournament of Roses, University of California, and Stanford lasted from about November 20th to December 16th, when everything fell apart. Instead describing the action to you, let's take a look at newspaper accounts, because they are fun.

From November 20, 1903.

Ok. Pretty straight forward article with details that the game will be played in Pasadena, alongside the other activities of the Tournament of Roses. Fast forward to December 12th.

That's wild that they traveled half way to make the final arrangements. California would pay for all of Minnesota's travel expenses, up to 20 players would come out for the New Year's Day game. The team starts practicing and fans start making travel plans. Everyone's excited. The newspapers cover the Gophers practices and the fans travel plans daily.

Less than a week before the team is to leave for California problems arise. From December 16th:

New Year's Day may be cancelled. Manager Decoto, of California, declared that Dr. Will­iams director of the Minnesota team, is asking for concessions not in the original agreement. Decoto has telegraphed to Minnesota to accept the signed contract or call the game off.

Yikes! Was Dr. Williams really getting greedy though? The good Doctor tried to explain his case to the newspapers a couple of days later on December 18th:

"...the trouble arose out of a misunderstanding. Everything has been done by wire and with rather unsatisfactory results. I think that when my letter reaches them they will understand everything. A written contract has been signed and I do not see how they can overlook that....

The addition which Minnesota has asked for would not amount to much over $300, and as California is in fair way to make $10,000 on the game, the Gopher management seems to think their requests are not exorbitant."

Well that seems reasonable. Communication was bad, time was short, and the $300 shouldn't have been a deal breaker.  Seems like Cal should come to their senses? From December 20th:

Oh. Damnit. No further explanation is given. Was Dr. Williams really telling the truth about how this had all just been a misunderstanding over a small bit of money? The California Manager on December 16th seemed to indicate that Minnesota was asking for far too much and wouldn't negotiate. Or was University of California just scared?

Whatever the reason, Minnesota sadly wouldn't play in a post season game for almost 60 years. The Great Gopher teams of the 1930s and early 1940s weren't allowed to play in the Rose Bowl because Bernie Bierman would not risk playing meaningless exhibition games. His reasoning being if Minnesota would ever lose in a bowl game that their championship claims might be questioned.