MU Through the Years
In 1890 Dr. Austin Lee McRae, an assistant professor of physics at the University of Missouri, proposed organizing a school “foot ball” team. The fledgling team’s games were so popular that money raised from ticket sales helped spawn a baseball team, a track and field and tennis squad. Mizzou’s athletic program was born and hasn’t looked back. My new book “Mizzou Sports Through the Ages: An Illustrated Timeline of University Athletics” celebrates the ups and downs of Mizzou sports from those early days all the way up to exciting NCAA national championship of wrestler J’den Cox.
Contained within the pages are legendary stories all Mizzou fans are familiar with, such as the baseball team’s 1954 national championship, the 1994 basketball team’s perfect 14-0 run through the Big 8 schedule and the historic 2007 win over Kansas at Arrowhead Stadium, launching Mizzou to a #1 ranking.
But there are also lesser-known Tiger tales. Below is an excerpt from one:
“The Tiger squad of 1896 agreed to take part in an exhibition game against the University of Texas in Austin at the conclusion of their regular season. This had happened two years before, but unlike the first trip, the team took an unplanned detour.
An event promoter from Texas named George Hill had been organizing a football match between Texas and a team of all-stars in Mexico City. When the all-star team couldn’t be formed in time, Hill invited the Missouri boys to come to Mexico, all-expenses paid, to play in the exhibition.
Fearing the university wouldn’t approve of such an excursion, no one from the team bothered to alert the administration, and the Tiger squad hopped a train for Mexico City.
The team manager, George English Jr., later said of the decision, ‘We didn’t communicate with the college authorities back in Columbia at all. What would have been the use? They would have only ordered us to come home.’
Missouri defeated Texas 18-4 in what was said to be the first football game in Mexico City, and then faced the return to a disapproving university.
To aid in smoothing over relations between the team and its university, former Missouri governor and then consul general to Mexico Thomas Theodore Crittenden, who had been in attendance at the game, wrote to the university’s president, R.H. Jesse, ‘The American boys have behaved remarkably well since their arrival here – so far none of the wild freaks of the College boy – away from the professor’s gaze and the charming Columbians. The boys are making reputations for the University – more than your learned professors could do in quintuple the time.’
The letter did little to improve the temper of the angered university president, and upon the team’s eventual return to campus, Head Coach Frank Patterson was fired and Team Captain Tom Shawhan was suspended from school.
English was also suspended but took the punishment in stride. ‘My suspension, however, was not such a severe penalty,’ English said. ‘It was made effective during the week of the mid-year examinations, and as my standing was luckily good enough for me to pass in all my courses without examinations, it merely gave me a week’s holiday while everybody else was boning up for examinations.’”
There are other nearly forgotten moments like the cancellation of the 1918 football season due to the Spanish Flu epidemic, or the story of Lefty Pruett, a Mizzou pitcher who went on to notoriety for striking out Babe Ruth 15 times in 30 at-bats. Later when both were retired, Pruett approached Ruth and said ‘If it hadn’t been for you, nobody would have ever heard of me.’
Not missing a beat, Ruth replied, ‘That’s all right, kid. But I’m glad there weren’t many more like you or no one would have ever heard of me!”
Another of my favorite Tiger legends is Jack Scholz, arguably one of the most heralded athletes ever to graduate from Mizzou. After his successful college career, he competed in three Olympic games winning a gold medal in the 4×100 relay team in the 1920 Antwerp games, a gold in the 200-meter dash in the 1924 Paris games and a silver in the 100-meter dash that same year.
His career was so successful, actor Brad Davis portrayed him in the 1981 Academy Award-winning film “Chariots of Fire.” Ever the competitor, Scholz always resented his portrayal, noting that the film left out his record-setting win in the 200-meters, in which he smoked both British sprinters who were the film’s protagonists. Scholz was pithy with his film critique. His only comment regarding the film, ‘What a bunch of crap that was!’
Women’s athletics also play an important role in the book. Despite not being formally recognized as part of the university’s athletic program for many years, women at Mizzou did not let that get in their way when it came to their passion for sports.
As early as 1912, female students at the university formed an athletic club and the group’s popularity soared immediately. Before long, there were women’s teams in baseball, basketball, field hockey, tennis, gymnastics and volleyball.
By 1915, women were earning letters. In 1966, Barbara Bubany received the first women’s athletic scholarship, seven years before the passage of Title IX. By 1973, when women’s sports formally joined the university’s athletic department, Mizzou’s women were more than ready to compete at the highest level. In just its third year of existence, Joann Rutherford led the women’s basketball team to its first Big 8 title. The Tigers women’s team would go on to win two more regular season titles and three tournament championships.
These and many more Tigers memories are included, along with classic images such as Don Faurot being carried off the field in his final game, and Norm Stewart sitting in a rocking chair in Lawrence after his. If you bleed black and gold, I think you’ll enjoy it!