The Richmond Grounds and the Big Games of 1902 & 1903

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by Angus Macfarlane
Copyright © November 2004

Saturday Morning Spectacle

On Saturday morning, November 8, 1902, the residents of the Inner Richmond beheld the greatest horde of humanity to invade their neighborhood since the closing of the Bay District Race Course in 1895. Hours before the 3PM kickoff every electric streetcar, cable car, and steam train serving the neighborhood was filled to capacity carrying the thousands of Cal and Stanford rooters to the suburban Richmond District. Hundreds of carriages and numerous automobiles made trip after trip, transporting the faithful and the fanatic to the new grounds. Every rooftop with a view of the grounds was covered with spectators. The nearby hillsides of the Presidio were thick with tightwads who wouldn't pay the admission price into the stands or were unable to talk their way onto a rooftop.

Big Game 1902 overcoats

The Call estimated that 2,000 people watched the game from outside the field. 15

Two professional ticket-takers (off duty streetcar ticket-takers) at each of the ten entrances assured a smooth entry for the ticket holders. Inside, sixty ushers, thirty from each school, assisted the fans to their seats.

A large force of policemen was on duty to preserve order.

The wooden seats rising 19 tiers high for 11,500 spectators, grandstand covering, and the surrounding fence had been constructed in less than a month. The playing field was laid down just as quickly. The fans would not have seen a grass field, but a mixture of clay, sand and loam. The field sloped slightly downhill toward the north goal. Coupled with the day's prevailing wind from the south, the team defending the south goal had an offensive and a defensive advantage.

Game day began cold, damp, and windy, and by noon all the indications were that a heavy November drizzle would dampen the field. Consequently the traditional wearing of the Blue and Gold or Cardinal gave way to drab rain gear, but the spirits weren't dampened or dulled. Banners, flags, streamers, bunting, pennants, hats and horns gave proof that there were no impartial spectators that day. The student rooting sections for the two schools were on the west stands; Stanford's 500 student rooters sat toward the north end and Cal's 750 student rooters sat toward the south end.

Before, during and after the game, the partisan rooters attempted to out yell each other and the rival bands played simultaneously. Long before game time, enthusiastic cheering was heard with contagious enthusiasm for blocks in the distance.

As they warmed up before the kick off, the Chronicle assessed the two teams

The difference in appearances of the two teams as they limbered up was typical of the difference that later developed in their play. The California men, as a type, were cleanly built, big of chest, slender of ankle and narrow of hip. The Stanford men looked thicker-set, perhaps stronger, but more unwieldy. Of the two lots the Berkeley men appeared the more athletic. 16

The average weight of the Blue and Gold was 169 lbs, the Cardinal 171 lbs.

A hundred years ago American football consisted of two 35-minute halves played on a field 110 yards long. There was no end zone---merely a goal line on which the goal posts stood. Barring serious injury, each team's starters were expected to play the entire game. The offense had three downs to gain five yards. There were three basic plays: runs, kicks and kick returns---there was no forward pass. Nose- and ear-guards were prominent, but there were no helmets or other hard protective padding. The players wore no identifying numbers. Field goals were worth five points as were touchdowns. After a touchdown the scoring team kicked for a one-point "goal". Safeties scored two points.

At 3PM the weather was still holding. California won the toss and chose to receive and defend the south goal. Because of the strong wind, Stanford's kicker, Captain "Tub" Lee, had to fiddle a long time to construct a mound of dirt at midfield that would support the football for his kick-off. Captain Lee was satisfied with his earthen pedestal, and finally, after months of frustrating delays, setbacks, controversies, and threats of cancellation, the twelfth Big Game was underway. 17

Game Time

The Richmond District's first Big Game would be remembered for the historic, the phenomenal and the spectacular.

Fifteen minutes into the game Cal went ahead 5-0 on a 25-yard field goal by Orval Overall. This was only the second successful field goal in the Big Game's twelve-game history. The first, two years earlier in 1900, had been the only scoring in a Stanford win.

The half ended with Cal leading 5-0.

The second half began with Cal kicking off into the wind. The teams pummeled and pushed each other back and forth for the first twenty minutes of the second half until Stanford's Magee punted from his 45 yard line.

Cal's Bobby Sherman, the last minute replacement for the disqualified "Locomotive" Smith, was back to field the punt. He misjudged it and fumbled twice before finally gaining control of the pigskin on his own 10 yard line near the west sideline. Sherman began his punt return near the Stanford rooting section at the northwest corner of the block. He sped across the field to the east sideline. Running like a quarter horse, through the backyards of today's odd-numbered side of the 100 block of 7th Avenue, "Little" Sherman dodged Stanford tacklers. Picking up blocking escorts, Sherman and his teammates approached mid-field where they turned toward the middle of the grid iron. The only Cardinal between Sherman and the south end zone was the kicker, Magee. Three Cal blockers took him out and Bobby Sherman raced unmolested toward---appropriately---California Street.

One hundred spectacular and record-shattering yards after finally getting a grip on the football, Sherman crossed the south goal---today's even-numbered side of the 4500 block of California Street---and the Golden Bear rooters went insane. 18 The sustained cheering was heard blocks away, and it was fully two minutes before anything could be heard over the noise of the crowd.

Later Overall added a second, phenomenal and unprecedented field goal, and the Richmond's first Big Game ended with Cal 16-0 victors---their fourth Big Game victory in the past five contests.

According to the Richmond Banner,

Nothing like the scene enacted on this field, when Berkeley kicked the final goal, has been witnessed in the annals of football on the Pacific Slope. The great crowd, which rose en masse, rocked and rolled as a monster wave, yelling like mad, throwing hats and canes and handkerchiefs high in the air in one grand chorus of approbation. 19

At dusk, as the defeated Stanford team walked off the Richmond gridiron toward the team tent at the southwest corner of the block, and as the jubilant Blue and Gold supporters took victorious possession of the field, raucous choruses of "Remember Smith, Remember Smith" echoed off the backs of the Cardinal players, the wooden seats and fences of the Richmond Grounds, and the rooftops and hillsides of the Richmond District.

The compromise between the Richmond residents and the universities which permitted the 1902 Big Game to be played allowed for three additional games at the Richmond Grounds before the structure was to be entirely removed by January 1904. The next game to be played at the Grounds was to have been on Christmas Day, 1902, between Cal and the University of Wisconsin. However, the game was canceled because the Cal team did not feel that playing against a team that had lost two games during the season would be of any value in establishing Cal's rank with the big Eastern colleges. 20

The 1902 Big Game earned over $23,000, more than $4,000 than 1901. From that, Dave Brown was paid for his lease and the cost of construction of the facility, netting each team almost $9,000. The revenue generated also provided financial support for the schools' track and baseball teams. 21

One More Time

For eleven months peace and quiet reigned in the Inner Richmond as the Grounds stood empty and unused until the Stanford and Cal Freshmen teams met on October 17, 1903. Stanford won 12-0, attracting, according to the weekly Richmond Banner, "a large crowd of spectators". The Chronicle put the figure at 5,000---the largest crowd to witness a game between the "baby classes". 22

During the 1902 search for a field, there were suggestions that the two universities should combine resources and lease a block of land in San Francisco, erect stands, and use the field for themselves. They could also sub-lease it for other events, thereby generating another source of revenue for the schools' athletic departments. 23

The terms of the Intercollegiate Agreement required that the 1904 Big Game be played on campus, but there was still very strong desire to keep the game in San Francisco. As the debate continued, there was hope and belief that the agreement would be modified and that the Big Game would remain in The City for at least another five years. However, two days before the 1903 Big Game, the Daily Cal headlined "NEW FOOTBALL FIELD DEFINITELY ASSURED", reporting "it is a foregone conclusion that the next Big Game next year will be played on our ground". The location was Bancroft, north of Bowditch in Berkeley. 24

Demand for 1903 Big Game tickets was greater than ever, possibly because this would be the final one played in San Francisco.

Prior to game day Richmond residents demanded a larger police presence, complaining that in 1902 their houses and trees were damaged by men and boys trying to see the game. There were also complaints of "rough characters who came to take advantage of the crowd." 25

The game was to begin at 3PM, but as early as 10AM, thousands of partisans, sporting their team's colors, began to crowd into the grounds. Shortly before 3PM Cal came out of their dressing shed on the southeast corner of the field wearing uniforms of bright blue jerseys with leather padding on the shoulders and elbows, and gold stripes around the arms and legs.

A few minutes later Stanford emerged from their dressing tent at the southwest corner of the field in new one-piece "union" suits. The suits were designed to make tackling difficult since there was no waist or belt for a tackler to grab hold of. The Stanford jerseys were black with three bright cardinal stripes on the arms. The Cardinal also had grease on their shoes, ostensibly to keep the heavy mud from accumulating, but also to make foot tackles more difficult.

Steady rain all week promised to turn the field into a quagmire, but by the 3:08PM kickoff the sky was clear and the field was hard.

Stanford won the toss and chose to kick off, defending the north goal.

Twelve minutes into the game Stanford's captain, quarterback Bansback, scored a 67 yard touchdown on a "trick" play---a quarterback keeper around end. The goal made it 6-0.

An exchange of punts followed Stanford's touchdown. Then Cal recovered a fumbled Stanford punt attempt on the Cardinal three yard line. Cal's first rushing attempt gained two yards, the next attempt nothing. On the third rushing play Cal fumbled and Stanford recovered the loose ball on the one-yard line.

Later in the first half Cal's team captain Overall attempted a 35-yard field goal that just missed. But it was so close that the Cal cheering section celebrated wildly until Overall prepared to kick off---the procedure following a missed field goal attempt. Then the Stanford rooters took up the cheering for the suddenly-muted Blue and Gold.

On the kickoff Stanford committed a grievous mental error. The kick bounced on the 15-yard line, and probably would have continued bouncing over the "touch" line for a touchback. Instead of letting the ball bounce over the line, Stanford fielded it at the three yard line. Unable to gain the necessary five yards, Stanford was forced to punt on third down. The punt was blocked by Cal's Heitmuller who recovered the loose ball behind the touch line for a Golden Bear touchdown. Overall's one point kick for goal tied the game at 6-6 with 15 minutes left to play.

Following Cal's touchdown, there was a final scoring opportunity when Stanford's kicker, Sprott, beaten and battered to a ghastly pallor, feebly attempted a free-kick field goal from Cal's 36-yard line. The prospect of a Stanford 11-6 score looked especially ominous for Cal, but Sprott, hardly knowing what he was doing, kicked the ball ten yards short of the goal post.

A Last Melee

At 5PM, Stanford's center, Hauvermann, was preparing to place the ball at the center of the field when the timekeeper whistled the game over. Hauvermann picked up the ball and began to leave the field when he was stopped by several Berkeley players, including Stow and Captain Overall, who tried to take the prized game ball from him.

Traditionally the ball went to the winning team. But this game had ended in a tie. The Cal players claimed ownership since Cal's manager, Ezra Decoto, had provided the ball. Hauvermann refused to give it up and Stow made a dive for it, precipitating a melee between the two teams. Finally Overall gained possession of the trophy and made his way to the Cal dressing shed at the southeast corner.

The field belongs to the victors, meaning that the supporters of the winning team would rush the field for a victory celebration. But this game had ended in a tie. At first nobody made a move to claim possession of the field. Then everybody rushed onto the Richmond Grounds. Simultaneously two brass bands let loose jubilant but cacophonous tunes. Out of their seats, over the rails and onto the field poured a bell-ringing, pennant-waving, horn-blowing, cheering mob. As the shadows lengthened across the Richmond Grounds, two separate bodies of celebrants gathered behind the respective bands. Forming themselves into enormous lines, they serpentined over the field, leaving the final footprints on the field of the Richmond Grounds.

Another throng of Cal and Stanford supporters had joined in the sideline fracas over the ball, and if the police had not intervened the Cal dressing shed was in danger of being wrecked.

To the displeasure of Richmond residents, post-game celebrations and impromptu tie-breakers spilled outside the field and onto the neighborhood streets.

Finally, late in the evening of November 14, 1903, as a group of California men serpentined along lower Market Street to the strains of "Oski-Wow-Wow", the final Big Game played in San Francisco was just a memory.

The 1902 compromise called for the Richmond Grounds to be completely removed by January 1904. Dismantling of the grounds began almost immediately after the game, ending the brief but eventful three-game life span of the Richmond Grounds.

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Images: 1) San Francisco Chronicle, November 12, 1903.


15. San Francisco Call, November 9, 1902, pg. 29, col. 1

16. San Francisco Chronicle, November 9, 1902, pg. 14, col. 1

17. Accounts of the Big Games of 1902 and 1903 were compiled from the written game reports printed in the San Francisco Chronicle, Examiner, Call and Bulletin.

18. Contempory newspaper accounts of Bobby Sherman's run were consistent and unanimous that he ran 100 yards. However, over the past century, his run has been extended to 103 or 105 yards, depending on the source.

19. Richmond Banner, November 14, 1902, pg. 3, col. 4

20. San Francisco Chronicle, December 1, 1902, pg. 8, col. 5

21. San Francisco Chronicle, November 14, 1902, pg. 3, col. 4

22. San Francisco Chronicle, October 18, 1903, pg. 27, col. 1

23. San Francisco Chronicle, August 2, 1902, pg. 4, col. 2 and November 13, 1902, pg. 9, col. 11

24. Daily Californian, November 12, 1903, pg. 1, col. 1 and San Francisco Call, November 13, 1903, pg. 8, col. 1

25. Richmond Banner, November 6, 1903, pg. 3, col. 3

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Page launched 1 November 2004; updated 15 December 2004.