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[[File:682px-President_Theodore_Roosevelt,_1904.jpg|thumbnail|250px|President Theodore Roosevelt in 1904]]The headline at the top of the right hand column in ''The Chicago Sunday Tribune'' on November 26, 1905 screamed, "Football Year's Death Harvest - Record Shows That Nineteen Players Have Been Killed; One Hundred Thirty-seven Hurt - Two Are Slain Saturday." <ref>”Football Year's Death Harvest,” The Chicago Sunday Tribune, November 26, 1905, page 1</ref> Contemporary numbers differ on the exact number of football fatalities suffered on the playing field in 1905, but young men were dying playing football.
At the time that meant college football. The National Football League was fifteen years away from forming in a Canton, Ohio Hupmobile dealership. There were semi-professional and club football in the first decade of the 20th century but those were local games played by grown men and that was a different matter. College football, however, was drawing tens of thousands of spectators to games, joining baseball and horse racing as the biggest sports of their day.
==College Football in the Early 1900s==
Immediately upon learning of the news, New York University Chancellor H.M. McCracken wired Charles W. Eliot, the President of Harvard University, and called for a "meeting of heads of universities, with the object of reforming or abolishing the game." <ref>”Union College Man Dies of Football Injuries,” ''Los Angeles Herald'', November 26, 1905, page 1</ref> The "game" in 1905 would be scarcely recognized as football today. There was no forward passing and so the ball itself looked more like a watermelon. Only five yards was required to make a first down and the typical strategy was to bludgeon the opposition in an attempt to gain that precious fifteen feet of territory. The most popular technique was to lead the ball carrier into the line with a flying wedge, where players would interlock arms and form a battering ram. Players sported no padding, no helmets, no protection of any sort.
So did Theodore Roosevelt really save football? 1905 represented a point of no return for football. The arbitrators of the sport had a choice to either "change or die." Roosevelt forced the leaders of college football to address their problems and, as president, Roosevelt had sufficient gravitas to force the college football to change. His action provided an impetus for football to move beyond its brutal 19th century origins and try to reform itself.
19th Century History]] [[Category:United States History]][[Category:Sports History]]