Footballs Call to the Millions

Football’s Call to the Millions [1920]

When more than 3,000,000 persons turn out in a single day to see the game of football played in various places throughout the United States, as they did recently, no argument need be advanced that this sport has attained a popularity which places it in public favor second only to the nation’s pastime, baseball. And if the governing forces of the latter fail to purge it of the crooks who have brought it into disrepute—and I mean the contract-jumpers and contract-breakers, slippery players and tricky managers who succeed in “beating the rules,” as well as the moral defectives who threw games for a price—football will become the premier favorite of America’s sport lovers.

Frank Leslie’s Weekly, published from 1855 to 1922, was an American illustrated news publication started by publisher and illustrator Frank Leslie. While only 30 copies of the first edition were printed, by 1897 its circulation had grown to an estimated 65,000 copies.
In fact, if the gridiron game could be played in summer, baseball would have opposition which would give it a fearful jolt, and the millions of dollars which now go toward the support of the splendid college game would pass through the ticket windows at the ball parks.

And the reasons why football is so universally popular are:

First, because it is played by those who love it for its spirit of genuine combat, for its atmosphere of excitement, and who follow its fortunes for honor and glory, not for financial reward or because they intend to make it their life work; second, because it is a game of skill, dash, spirit, played by youths with imagination, a sense of ethics and of moral responsibility which place them on a plane above the average professional athlete; and third, because the game is clean, because tricky playing is properly penalized, because practically every college man who ever trod a gridiron would sooner have lost his right arm than thrown a game.

The rapid development of the small college eleven into a prominent factor in the sport has made intercollegiate football what it is today—at least from the box-office standpoint. Modern rules, featured by the forward pass and the consequent speeding up of the play generally, have done the rest. In fact, because of these things, the game, which formerly was looked upon as a sort of cross between a riot and a Græco-Roman free-for-all, now is classed as a pastime worthy of the patronage of the best type of sport lovers.

An attendance of 3,000,000 persons at a single day’s football matches, at a low average of $2 a head, makes a total of $6,000,000. Exact figures undoubtedly would show much larger receipts. The huge attendances of the 1920 season also indicate, not only a widening diffusion of college education among the American people, because it is the college men and women who constitute the larger portion of the crowds at the football games, but also that the pastime is becoming popular with many whose schooling did not include university training and to whom the battles on the gridiron are comparatively a new thing.

When the Yale bowl was constructed room was provided for more than 60,000 persons. Up to that time the Harvard stadium at Cambridge was the largest of its kind, with a seating capacity of about 38,000. The Palmer stadium at Princeton can accommodate about 36,000 spectators. On one occasion, some time ago, the Yale management cared for 70,000 persons in the bowl by building temporary wooden stands to accommodate the overflow. It is believed by students of football conditions that in the near future the crowds at most of the big games will be limited only by the size of the stadiums, and that seating capacity will have to be provided for 100,000 or maybe 150,000.

Of course, with so much real money in sight, the gambling fraternity has endeavored to put its black mark on the sport, but to date the sure-thing gentry have been so rudely received by the football players approached that they are discouraged.

Two recent incidents will indicate the effective manner in which certain “sure-thing” men were suppressed. One endeavored to obtain a signal code from a player on a Western team. The boy notified his coach, a famous quarterback not many years ago, and the latter enticed the gambler into a room in the training quarters, where he administered a necessary lesson with the assistance of a baseball bat. In another instance a gambler attempted to bribe the fullback on a small college eleven to toss away a game. The player invited the man to his room to settle the details, and when he got him there, locked the door and beat the offender until he yelled for mercy. Then the boy summoned the coach, who ran the gambler out of town.

Source: Frank Leslie’s Weekly, December 4, 1920
Photo: 1908 Michigan Wolverines football team

All images included in blog posts are from either Accessible Archives collections or out of copyright public sources unless otherwise noted. Common sources include the Library of Congress, The Flickr Commons, Wikimedia Commons, and other public archives.

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