Harmon’s Histories: 1898 Grizzlies football team was the talk of UM’s newly minted campus
By Jim Harmon/Missoula Current
It’s the beginning of another college football season! Let’s introduce the University of Montana’s starting lineup:
George. Kennett, a “well-built athlete” weighing in at 185 pounds, is our starting fullback and team captain. He’s the “best punter on the team,” and “as captain has the respect of his team who always respond to his call and never fails to execute his orders.”
H. Goodfellow, our 200-pound center, “never made a fumble on the center’s work.” He plays great defense and his passing is good, and “he rarely mistook the signal or the duty assigned to him after passing the ball.”
The year was 1898, and UM Chemistry Professor Fred D. Smith found himself the leading voice on the newly established campus in Missoula for creating a football team to play for the honor of the school.
He wrote in the very first issue of the student newspaper, the Kaimin, “Students, faculty and citizens both in Missoula and throughout the state are wondering what the University students are going to make out of athletics (and) the true ideal of athletic sport ... the love of the sport for the sport and science in itself.”
While some questioned the expense of collegiate sports, Smith contended “the public, the students and the faculty can be relied upon to furnish the means for the support of this game, not because of love for the University, but because of the enjoyment and pleasure derived from the sport itself.”
He also argued for athletes to follow a strict code, writing, “At the very outset of intercollegiate athletics in Montana let the University of Montana establish and maintain that code of actions as follows: Gentlemanly conduct in our athletics at all times, strict adherence to amateur rules for players, and the refusing to tolerate anything appearing as illegitimate conduct on the part of any player in the game.”
“The future of our athletics will never be dark if that standard is never lowered.”
Meantime, back to the 1898 roster: H. Schroeder was another of the team members. Weighing 190 lbs., he was the team’s right guard, but started late in the season. As a result he was described as “strong on the defensive line” but slow to mature on offense.
S. M. Ward, at right tackle, weighed only 170 lbs. But, boy, was he strong! He “used his great strength to “the discomfort of his opponent.” He also had great running speed and likely was also considered “for a position back of the line.”
F. O. Crain, a real “light-weight” at 145 lbs., played end for part of the past season but “was (later) given the place for which he was most fitted: right half-back.”
D. Heyfron, at 155 lbs. “had no competitor (as) left-halfback because all knew that he had no equal in the University. His playing was brilliant because in this position he could use his great speed. Still it was regretted that he could not train more faithfully in order to do team work, for his brilliant gains were always from star individual work rather than from any well-directed team play, a thing not desirable in the football world.”
The quarterback for the 1897/1898 team was H. Kennedy, who weighed only 119 lbs. “His extreme light weight would seem to preclude all work except the usual passing of the ball, yet no player accepted more chances at tackling, and few tackled more brilliantly. His passing was good, and he rarely mistook the signal or the duty assigned to him after passing the ball.”
C. H. Rittenour, 160 lbs., played left guard. He “did good work offensively but his defensive work was not up to the standard for reason of his lighter weight and inability to practice continuously.”
M. Jones, 160 lbs. was left tackle. “He possesses great strength for his weight, and can use it to do good work as shown in the last game at Butte. He was slow in learning the game having never seen a game before this fall.”
“G. C. Westby, 156 lbs., had the misfortune to be required to play in many different positions alternating between tackle and end. He is a fast runner but being obliged to learn two positions in a new game worked much against him and prevented the strong work that he is capable of doing.”
“H. N. Blake, 145 lbs., commenced to play the position of left guard, but quite late in the season. Consequently not much could be learned about his football qualities.”
“L. Ebert, 135 lbs., despite his light weight, gave promise of making a valuable end, and his work at tackling heavy backs in the first game with the B. B. C team, won the admiration of all. His withdrawal from the team, though necessary, was a great misfortune, for his place was never filled.”
“E. Murray played substitute guard, but his physical condition was not equal to the heavy work of guard assigned to him.”
F. J. Latiner, 185 lbs., “was placed at right guard in the last game, without having more than
two days practice. This was a mistake, for he was in no way able to show to a good advantage, but he possesses the strength and quickness to make one of the best guards on
the football field.”
Professor Fred Smith, who helped develop the team, also played in some games as halfback, “an arrangement which is not the best for the team, since either the coaching or the playing must suffer. It should not be necessary again.”
Hmm. It makes one wonder what the 2022 Gris Win/Loss column might look like with Bobby Hauck on the roster as “player/coach"?
Jim Harmon is a longtime Missoula news broadcaster, now retired, who writes a weekly history column for Missoula Current. You can contact Jim at firstname.lastname@example.org. His best-selling book, “The Sneakin’est Man That Ever Was,” a collection of 46 vignettes of Western Montana history, is available at harmonshistories.com.