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Throwback Thursday: Fifth championship marks big improvement over Bison’s 1904 team

There's been no end to the superlatives attached to this year's North Dakota State University Bison football team, which solidified a powerhouse reputation with an unprecedented fifth consecutive championship last weekend.That's a far cry from th...

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NDSU’s first football team in 1893: Left to right: first row, Charles Van Kleek; Harry Saunders; Robert Reed; Purl Bottenfield. Second row: Carl Lee; Claude Nugent,; A.C. Nyhart; Ralph Ward; Fred Loomis. Third row: Miller; Addison Leach; Charles Phalene; Elwind; Dosdel; Tom Gibson; O.A. Thompson; H.L. Bolley; Charles Hall.

There’s been no end to the superlatives attached to this year’s North Dakota State University Bison football team, which solidified a powerhouse reputation with an unprecedented fifth consecutive championship last weekend.

That’s a far cry from the 1904 season, when they posted a .500 record and got shut out by some high school grads.

Back in 1904, NDSU was called the Agricultural College and football, which had been played there for about 9 years , was decades away from the level of organization and popularity that mark the modern-day sport. Games in Fargo were often postponed or canceled, with coaches struggling to find the money to bring in good teams or find enough bodies fill a decent team.

“Coach Marshall deplores the lack of heavy and experienced men for the football squad,” The Forum reported on Oct. 8, 1904. “To make the first team a success, a good second team is indispensible (sic), but, so far the good second team has not been forthcoming. The lads who do get out have the right spirit however, and this is half the battle.”

Their loss in the first game of the season probably seems the worst in hindsight. The “Farmers,” as they were offhandedly called back then, lost 5-0 to Fargo High School alumni.


Reports at the time put a positive spin on the young team, though.

“The A.C. line was fairly strong and the boys put up a fair game considering the fact that it was the first contest in which many had participated,” The Forum reported on Oct. 10, 1904. "Only one old player was in the line-up.”

The team then posted three straight wins against teams from Fargo College, St. Cloud State and Red River Valley (Wahpeton), according to records provided by the NDSU Athletics Department. Coverage of these games doesn’t appear to have made it into The Forum, although they were occasionally advertised.

A big-time matchup was supposed to occur on Saturday, Nov. 8, when Macalester College stormed into town. Somewhat forebodingly, The Forum reported on Nov. 3 that the game had been scheduled after a lot of difficulty, citing a fear that some teams apparently had to face a “very heavy and swift” A.C. team in years prior.

But that game didn’t come to pass and The Forum didn’t report why. Instead, two games were played against the University of North Dakota, one on Friday and one on Monday. UND won them both, 22-0 and 17-0, respectively.

The day after the second shutout, The Forum succinctly wrapped up the sentiments of a young, inexperienced team coming to the end of frustrating season at the hands of a blossoming rival.

“The relations between the two institutions is now at the flood tide of harmony as a result of the two U. victories,” The Forum chided in a Nov. 8, 1904 article. “Pleasant relations will probably continue and games will be played between the two institutions as long as the management of athletics at the U. feels that it can defeat the A.C.

“When there comes a time, as last year, when defeat stares the U. in the face,” the article goes on, “the management will, as in the past, probably dig up some excuse to prevent a return game and turn the A.C. down at the last moment.”


Kris Kerzman is the social media manager for InForum.
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