Illini Legends, Lists & Lore: Illinois' first football team
The year was 1890. The national population was just shy of 63 million, with Idaho and Wyoming admitted as the 43rd and 44th states. And, on the University of Illinois campus, Scott Williams was introducing a new sport to the 519 students and 39 faculty members. In author Linda Young’s book, “Hail to the Orange & Blue”, she wrote about how Williams matriculated to Champaign-Urbana from Normal’s University High School. “When I inquired about the football team at the university,” Williams recalled, “an upperclassman gruffly replied, ‘there ain’t no such animal.’ Nothing could better illustrate the absolute disorganization of intercollegiate athletics at that time.” Williams rounded up about a dozen men, including an upperclassmen named George Huff, and lectured them about how the game was played. Shortly afterward, he arranged a game on Oct. 2, 1890, between Illinois and Wesleyan University in Bloomington. With Williams serving as coach, captain and quarterback, Illinois’ crew battled valiantly but lost to Wesleyan by a score of 16-0. A month-and-a-half later,
Illinois accepted Purdue’s challenge to play football, but the Boilermaker 11 had already been playing the game for three seasons and won decisively, 62-0. That first season ended on a high note when Illinois hosted Wesleyan on Nov. 27. Nearly 300 spectators gathered at the Champaign County Fairgrounds in Urbana saw Illinois use a few of the tricks that it learned the week before at Purdue and won its very first game by a margin of 12-6. The game ball from the victory 123 years ago still exists, residing in a trophy case at Memorial Stadium.
Sunday: Tyrone Jones, track & field (35)
Monday: Ryan Escobar, baseball (36)
Tuesday: Dan Darlington, football (64)
Wednesday: Wylie Fox, football (70)
Thursday: John “Skip” Pickering, athletic trainer (69)
Friday: Bruce Sullivan, football (68)
Saturday: Hope Sanders, track & field (40)
By Mike Pearson, author of Illini Legends, Lists & Lore.
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