1920s Football and a Folly of My Own

I was looking for something in an early scrapbook this afternoon and I got caught up in some serious strangeness. The scrapbook belonged to a guy who played football at Rice in the middle of the 1920s–the John Heisman era, in fact. He was apparently quite good, an All-Southwest Conference center. The book was filled with newspaper clippings and various memorabilia. The piece that caught my eye was this letter. I think it was written to his father by a friend of his in Dallas who had seen Rice play Trinity the week before. It’s pretty funny and definitely worth a read. The writer’s assessment of the quality of Rice’s team was spot on. We lost the game he watched 13-0, and did indeed squeeze out a win in the next one, beating Arkansas 13-9. It was pretty much downhill from there. The Owls finished the season 4-4-1.

But when I looked at the pictures in the scrapbook, they absolutely didn’t make sense. They clearly had the guy’s name on them, but they were just impossible. Look at this picture over here. There’s no way that was taken in 1925–it’s before the fieldhouse and stadium were built. (I don’t know if you can tell here, but this is an exceptionally nice image, one of the crispest I’ve seen from this period.)

So I sat and stared at it all for a long time. It slowly dawned on me that there might be items in the scrapbook that belonged to two different people. But that didn’t seem right either, because the name was the same throughout. I sat and stared some more. (I’m not saying how long this took, but it was pretty long.) Was it possible, I wondered, that there could be two people both named “Heavy Underwood”?

It seems unlikely, but readers, it is true.

This is John “Heavy” Underwood, Class of ’22, of Honey Grove, Texas. (And no, I don’t know what he’s got going on with his helmet there.)

And here’s a sketch from the 1926 Campanile of Wash “Heavy” Underwood, Class of ’27, brother of John. They took to calling them “Big Heavy” and “Little Heavy” to avoid confusion, but I found out about it too late. I guess Mom or somebody just put all their pictures in the same place for safekeeping, never anticipating the havoc this might wreak on some hapless historian. They both could play, by the way.

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5 Responses to 1920s Football and a Folly of My Own

  1. James Medford says:

    In a box somewhere I have a book that I inherited from my grandfather (see link below). I seem to recall that it mentions both of the “Heavy” Underwoods.


  2. Philip Montgomery says:

    Melissa, I love your blog. Thanks for that snippet of Rice history. Love those scrapbooks.

    Philip Montgomery

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