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Goldy’s Almanac: World War I & Minnesota Football 1917

This is the second installment of Goldy’s Almanac a weekly thing written by Ryan Barland (aka @HipsterGopher). Last week’s post was cool.

Today’s Goldy’s Almanac builds off of yesterdays #TBT post about the 1916 Minnesota Football team. That post had more to do with the on the field success in 1916 and the craziness of 22 of 23 players enlisting when World War I broke out. Today’s post is about the logistics of the 1917 season while the War was raging in Europe.

The 1917 season was almost cancelled when the United States entered into the War. That didn’t happen but most of the Summer passed with America not knowing if college football would be played in the Fall. Spring practices were cancelled further limiting a Gopher team that did not know how many players it would need to replace.

By the end of the Summer vacation Minnesota decided to play it’s season. However another issue had arisen, the University had pushed back the first day of class to let the boys help out with the harvest. Head Coach Doc Williams called the teams first practice for September 25th, but with the school not starting until October 10th, there were not enough players to even run practices for the first week.

Two games had to be cancelled on account of the late start to the season. So Minnesota would only play 5 games during the season. Thankfully these were considered “practice games” and the Gophers didn’t miss playing the University of North Dakota and University of South Dakota

When the first game of the season finally came on October 13th against South Dakota State, the Gophers had only a few practices behind them. Thankfully some players had returned from the 1916 team. While most of the 1916 team would eventually enlist several lineman including Captain George Hauser played in the Fall of ‘17. Gone ‘over there’ was Bernie Bierman, Bert Baston the heroes of 1916, but breaking in new ball carriers wasn’t a problem against SDSU as Minnesota rolled them 64-0.

Offense was not the problem in 1917. Wisconsin’s passing game was the problem. November 3rd the Badgers “open game” caused all sorts of problems for the Gophers in a 7-10 win for Wisconsin. So for the second straight year Minnesota had one loss, good for second place in the Big Ten.

Most accounts of the time mark the 1917 season as a success. The War had put the game into perspective and Captain George Hauser would lobby to keep the game going calling college football, “the great scheme of national training is a success and should be carried on as long as the war leaves any men in the colleges who are able to benefit by the sport.”

The War had stopped Walter Camp from issuing his All-American list, probably robing George Hauser of that honor. So while some writers thought that Minnesota would have played well against Ohio St, the Big Ten champion, and other national teams E.C. Patterson wrote, “The “World War” has, of course, had its effect on most of the big elevens, some more so than others, so why not, under the circumstances, lay aside all comparisons or championships and admit that football as sustained in the West in 1917 was the means of getting a large number of young men into excellent physical condition.”

E.C. Patterson’s point was certainly true for players like George Hauser who took his excellent physical conditioning with him into the Navy a few months after the season ended.