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The Most Undefeated Gophers Team Ever

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Want to know more about the last Gopher team to go 9-0?

1904 Gopher Football Team

Back in 2012 the Gophers rediscovered the glory of the 1904 team. That team was so dominant the program never again scheduled 13 games in a single season. So here is your 1904 Minnesota (not quite yet Golden) Gophers.

Playing regular season games in 1904 was unusual, and winning all of them even more so. The team was led by Dr. Henry L. Williams who was in his fourth year. At this point in the history of college football many teams were still coached by the players, so having an employed adult do the coaching was a distinct advantage. So much so that a year earlier Dr. Williams had tied the seemingly unbeatable point a minute Michigan Wolverines, putting the Gophers on the national map.

But the 1903 Gophers were a senior laden team and only one starter came back for 1904. So the summer was spent with the team practicing on Coney Island on Lake Waconia. When the squad came back to Dinkytown they were unbeatable.

Randall Field, Wisconsin - Minnesota vs. Wisconsin, 1904
MBooks - the Michigan Digitization Project

The Players

As a 29 year old in 1904 Moses Strathern or “Mose” was literally the man on the team. Eligibility rules were inconsistently enforced and he may have played in as many as 7 Gopher season from 1899 to 1906. Team captain Mose was the only player at the beginning of 1904 to have played the previous season and as the team center and was so loved that a play was written about his college exploits.

Sig Harris, at five foot five and a half and 145 pounds was small even by 1904 standards. He had been a bit player in 1903 and his claim to fame was being the place holder when the game tying extra point was made in the Little Brown Jug game. Sig quit school citing “overwork” after the 1903 season only to come back one week into the 1904 campaign. At quarterback Sig guided the team through many of its biggest routes. After the season he appeared on several All-American teams, and today is the only Gopher in the International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame.

Walton Thorp called “Sunny” by his teammates was the teams other All-American. Another player that quit after the 1903 season only to rejoin mid season in 1904. While I’m sure he was an effective Guard, the best part of Sunny was that he brought his dog to every game. His dog named Sig which maybe was after his teammate? Strange flex, but I’ll allow it. The dog was a player and fan favorite at Old Northrop Field.

Bobby Marshall, probably the most famous Gopher from this era. This post is getting long but please if you’re unfamiliar read up on him!

The Strategy

Dr. Williams is best known for implementing an offensive strategy called the “Minnesota Shift” but that didn’t happen until 1910. While the offense was dominant in 1904, it was his defensive scheme that is noteworthy. After losing to Michigan in 1902, Pudge Heffelfinger begged Dr. Williams to bring a seventh defender into the box to defend the run. The formation first appeared in 1903, was perfected in 1904 (and went obsolete when the game adobted the forward pass in 1910). It was so effective that only 12 points were scored on the Gophers all season. Today this formation even has it’s own wikipedia page!

The Games

1904 Gopher Football Results

So many thoughts. Talk about a soft schedule. Just unfair to let a 29 year old play against high schoolers. Even at the time it was controversial for the U of M to be playing these games, they quit scheduling local high schools the next year. Ten straight home games to start the year although that shaped up for a tough three games on the road to close out. Some quick hitters from a few of the games:

Game 8 Grinnell 0 - Minnesota 146, is still the most lopsided win in Big Ten history. One account of the game “Seldom was Minnesota obliged to make a second play”. At the time a touchdown only counted for 5 points making the feat slightly more impressive. Minnesota and Grinnell would only play each other once more, in 1925.

Game 11 Wisconsin 0 - Minnesota 28, I really don’t understand how this happened but according to every newspaper report the Gophers rushed for 1,183 yards in the game.

Game 12 Northwestern 0 - Minnesota 17, Northwestern protested Mose’s eligibility and got him banned from the game, not that it helped.