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A Century Ago, This Was a U of C Maroons Football Town

By JoshMogerman in News on Sep 17, 2011 7:00PM

Jay Berwanger won the first Heisman Trophy in 1935...while playing for University of Chicago... [AP]
As you gear up for the Bears-Saints game tomorrow, consider this: Julius Peppers owes a debt of gratitude to the nerds on the South Side who paved the way for football here. This town’s real football giants come from the original Monsters of the Midway at the University of Chicago. All but lost to history, a century ago, the Maroons were the most glorious football power on the planet. Yup, before Lovie and Ditka, there was Amos Alonzo Stagg. And, while we dare not defile the Payton name, long before Forte and Sayers, there was the first Heisman Trophy winner Jay Berwanger. Heck, the Bears wouldn’t have their greatest nickname, or even a logo, if it wasn’t for the Maroons.

Sure, today the University of Chicago is known more for Nobel Prizes than nose tackles…but in 1905, it was their national championship that wowed the world. A great New York Times feature brings us back to the glory years, from the last turn of the century into the 1920’s, when the Maroons were a Big-10 powerhouse mopping the floor with teams like Notre Dame and Michigan (not that wins over either of those programs is much to brag about these days) in a stadium that seated 55,000. These days Stagg Field has room for 1,600 fans who root for a division three school with student athletes that boast “something like 3.24,” according to their coach. Brains still beat brawn at U of C.

With those glory days long gone, Chicago is a Bears town. But that doesn’t mean that the U of C stamp is gone from our football. In 1920, when Poppa Bear Halas brought the Bears to Chicago, he was so enamored with the U of C team that he stole the wishbone C logo that still graces both teams’ helmets. And, did you ever wonder what “Monsters of the Midway” refers to? Look no further than 59th Street and the Midway Plaisance, a remnant of the Columbian Exposition at the edge of the University of Chicago campus. As for the monsters part, Stagg won 242 games on the South Side and Jay Berwanger, the 1935 Heisman winner, played almost every position on offense and defense. Think Devin Hester is up for that today?