Opposing Player Oddities

Feb 20, 2016

As most of you know, I am researching what I am calling the “pre-historic era” of Notre Dame Football.  Why do I call it that?  The Notre Dame Football Media Guide has a lot of holes and errors for this period because many of the sources I have been able to access were not readily available when our original football history was written.  While poring over information in the Notre Dame Archives on-line records, I have come across some fascinating information.

Most Notre Dame Football fans know the story about the University of Michigan coming to Notre Dame, on November 23, 1887 to teach the nascent football (“rugby”) team of Notre Dame the finer points of football.  What is odd about the game is that two of Michigan’s veteran starters were former ND students.  

William Harless, spent the 1884-1885 and 1885-1886 years at ND.  George DeHaven was at ND from 1879 through 1886, except for the 1881-1882 school year.  Both were from Chicago.  During the 1887 inaugural game, Bill and George were each around 21 years of age.

John Studebaker and Walter Muessel were star football players for Purdue, in 1891 and 1892.  The former would later become Treasurer of the automobile company founded by his father and four uncles; while the latter would become President of the Brewery founded by his grandfather.  Muessel Brewery would eventually become Drewry’s, located in an area now called Muessel Grove.  Both men volunteered to help “coach” the Notre Dame Football team, in the days when there were no paid coaches.  Studebaker upped his role by playing Fullback in four games, 1893 and 1894, scoring 32 points.  Muessel played four games at tackle, in 1893, scoring 46 points.  In those days, linemen often scored rushing TD’s in plays called “tackle around” or “ends back”.  

How many ND Football fans know that the only team that Notre Dame has never defeated from the Conference that is now called the Big 10 is the University of Chicago?  Further, how many know that Notre Dame’s first New Year’s Day game was against the Maroons?  And, that this was Notre Dame’s first indoor game.  It happened on January 1, 1894.  The game was played in Tattersall’s Indoor Arena, in Chicago.  Notre Dame put up a great fight, losing to the Amos Alonzo Stagg coached team, 8-0.  In those days, TD’s counted for four points, so Chicago scored twice.  One of the scores was made by Coach Stagg himself!  His team was short a couple players because of the Christmas vacation break, so he put himself in at right half.  The QB for Chicago was Frank Hering, the man who would later be called “The Father of Notre Dame Football”.

Charles Roby was a starting C-G for ND, in the 1892 and 1893 seasons, scoring one TD.  He was the right guard, alongside right tackle Muessel, in the New Year’s Day loss to Chicago.  He later transferred to Chicago and served as their Team Captain, in 1896 and started at right tackle when the Maroons defeated ND, 18-0, on October 14.

Charles Niezer was the starting left tackle for ND, in 1897.  In 1898, he started at left tackle for Indiana University against Notre Dame.  He later became a prominent Indiana attorney and member of the Board of Trustees of I.U.

On November 10, 1900, Notre Dame lost to Wisconsin, 54-0.  Arguably, the greatest player in Wisconsin Football History was Pat O’Dea.  He was called the “Kangaroo Kicker” because of his Australian birth.  He allegedly made a 116 yard punt (the field was 110 yards long) and a 62 yard field goal.  In those days, the football looked more like today’s Rugby ball.  The ND Coach who absorbed this drubbing was none other than Mr. O’Dea.  After leading ND to a 6-3-1 record in his first year, he upped it to 8-1-1 the following year, losing only to Northwestern.  The tie (0-0) came in the opening game, versus the South Bend Athletic Club.  The star of the SBAC was none other than their player-coach, Pat O’Dea.  Each time ND got close to scoring, he would flip the field with his long punts.  Notre Dame avenged the tie by defeating the SBAC, 22-6, in the final game of the season.  Since O’Dea was the “coach” for both teams, I guess he registered a record of 1-1 that day.  Also playing for the SBAC was John Studebaker, and James McWeeney.  McWeeney coached the Irish in 1899 and assisted O’Dea in 1900.  He later became the South Bend Chief of Police.

The ND Football Media Guide lists a 1903 win over the Missouri Osteopaths.  This school, officially called American School of Osteopathy, was one of four medical colleges ND played that year.  Lorenzo Rausch played for ND, as a two-game guard, in 1914.  The following year, he played for ASO, but did not face his former team.

The above is merely a partial list of ND Football players from the 1887-1917 “pre-historic” era.  But, my favorite player from this group of opposing player oddities was South Bend product Earl Wagner.  As future Purdue grad, he played tackle AGAINST ND, on November 14, 1896.  He played tackle FOR ND, against Purdue and Chicago Physicians and Surgeons, during the 1899 season.  On October 29th, 1903, he played tackle AGAINST Notre Dame, while playing FOR Chicago Physicians and Surgeons.  He later became a Physician and was elected St. Joseph County Coroner.  

In those pre-NCAA days, it was not uncommon for there to be “ringers”, like Studebaker and Muessel and “tramp athletes”, like Wagner, and coaches who inserted themselves into games (Notre Dame had two of them (Haddon and Morrison, both Michigan Grads), but I have found nobody with a longer time span that Wagner’s eight years.  His three college teams, ties the ND record, held by future Major League Baseball player Bert Daniels.  Bert played three years of semi-pro football; three years with Villa-Nova (sic); one year for ND; and two years at Bucknell, before joining the New York Highlanders (now called the Yankees).

Go Irish!


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