Rice’s First Football Hero

I’ve been immersed the last couple of days in the early history of Rice football. The Rice team (briefly called the Greys) played it’s first game in October 1912, only days after the Institute’s formal opening. The first season was sort of catch as catch can. With only freshmen to work with, Coach Philip Arbuckle wisely chose to begin by playing an ad hoc mix of local high schools, a couple of colleges and Sam Houston Normal School. In the first game it ever played, Rice won a tight contest at West End Park against Houston High School by the score of 7-6. The difference was a point after touchdown missed by Houston but made by the Rice kicker.

So who was our hero?

It was my old friend W.T. Betts!! (Click here and here for the earlier posts.) I knew that guy was good stuff. Really, you can’t even imagine my delight.

I apologize for the lousy quality of the picture, but it’s a scan of a copy made from microfilm. There was no Thresher or Campanile in 1912, so the only way to find out what happened in these early games is to dig through the microfilmed newspapers in the basement of the library. It’s actually pretty interesting. There seems to have been intense interest in college football, primarily Texas schools and the Ivy League. Interest in Rice football was also very high–it was Houston’s first hometown team and expectations were possibly a bit unrealistic.

If I can figure out a way to get a clean copy, I’ll post the whole story of this game. The 1912 season saw a cluster of really significant rules changes, including adding a 4th down to make ten yards and creating “end zones.” These changes, taken together, revolutionized college football, primarily by making it possible to integrate the forward pass into a normal offensive scheme. The story reveals a certain amount of uncertainty about how this would all play out on the field. Here’s my favorite bit: “Once during the game High School had an opportunity to make a forward pass over Institute’s goal line and into the end zone. The attempt proved a fizzle for the ball struck the ground, making it an incomplete forward pass.”

I hate it when that happens.

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2 Responses to Rice’s First Football Hero

  1. Nancy Burch says:

    Great stuff, Melissa.

  2. Pingback: Norman Hurd Ricker and the Physics Building, with a Surprise Appearance by an Old Friend | Rice History Corner

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