Hello once again everyone. Today on the Locked On Cougars Podcast that I host daily, I debuted a new series that will be a months-long endeavor that should carry us through until the 2021 college football season kicks off in early September. I am calling the overall project title “The 100 Years of BYU Football” as we chronicle the 100 seasons of football the school has played since it’s founding in 1875.
Now, the earliest years of what we now call Brigham Young University was then known as Brigham Young Academy. BYA played four seasons of football from 1896-99 under the BYA banner before the program was disbanded and the sport was not played again at the institution on an intercollegiate scale until 1922.
BYU sports information does not formally recognize these seasons as counting for their all-time record for multiple reasons, some of which include that the school at the time would be considered more of a high school in the modern age, that the athletes themselves were high school age and the fact that they played the games as Brigham Young Academy, among others.
For some historical context of what occurred in 1896 where our series begins both in Utah and nationally:
- January 4: Utah is admitted into the union as the 45th state
- May 18: The United States Supreme Court introduces the “separate but equal” doctrine as part of the Plessy vs. Ferguson landmark case
- June 4: The Ford “Quadricycle”,” the first Ford vehicle ever developed, is completed by Henry Ford and his company
- November 3: William McKinley (R) defeats William Jennings Bryan (D) to become president of the United States of America
- December 25: John Phillip Sousa composes his magnum opus, the “Stars and Stripes Forever”
For the purposes of this project (and because the University of Utah counts them), we are going to use the four seasons in the 1890’s as the launching point for this project. Please note that the records of these early years are quite incomplete and rife with errors, but I am going off what I was able to find online as part of the L. Tom Perry Special Collections department inside the Harold B. Lee Library at BYU. With that preamble, let’s meet the 1896 Brigham Young Academy football team!
Back row, left to right: Eugene McArthur, president of the Athletic Association; Heber Larsen, A. D. Miller, Dave Hyde, Alma Carbine, Walter Hasler, manager; middle row: Nephi Otteson, Jesse LeFevre, Orville Larsen, Hans Poulsen, John Peterson, Andrew Peterson; front row: Albert Fillerup, Sam Hinckley, Ben C. Call, and Frank Cox
The above picture is the 1896 BYA football program. They were the first squad assembled to compete in football on an interschool basis. Despite the stellar uniform stenciling and text spelling out “BYA,” my tip of the cap for the best dressed chap in this photo goes to team manager Walter Hassler (top right). That bowler hat paired with the cape/overcoat is one dapper look.
This team according to archive records beat the University of Utah 12-0 (which is disputed by Utah’s records) in addition to playing the likes of the Elks, the Salt Lake Crescents, the YMCA of Salt Lake City, the Wheel Club of Denver and Westminster College. Quite the murderers row of opponents.
The record also reads that BYA “won the championship” that season without revealing the exact nature of what said championship represented. In doing some other research on teams from this same time period (1897’s team will come next), it appears it was a “state championship” in some form or fashion, which makes sense considering that the six-game schedule featured five games against in-state opposition.
Despite the lack of clear records and documentation of the championship this team was deemed to have won, it is clear that this squad of gridders deserves to be celebrated and why shouldn’t there be a banner hanging to celebrate the 1896 Brigham Young Academy triumph.
That’s all for this installment, but coming up next we will recap what the 1897 BYA squad accomplished. How could they follow up a dream debut season? Stay tuned and find out more on the next edition of the Locked On Cougars Podcast or right here with the “Yawk Talk” newsletter.
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