The Worst of the Bearcats: 1906 Football

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Coach William T. Foley and captain halfback Edward Adams (UC Libraries)

“The Worst of the Bearcats” is a series designed to make us grateful for what we have as Bearcats fans in 2016. UC has endured some absolutely putrid years of athletic performance, so we shouldn’t take even the tiniest bit of success for granted. Honestly though, I’m mostly doing this because it’s interesting. Black and white photos of terrible football teams make me laugh.

The year was 1906, and it was as special time for college football. To set the scene, the previous season ended with Chicago’s stunning upset of Michigan in the de facto national championship game, which was played in front of 27,000 fans––the largest crowd in football history. The final score was 2–0, with the difference in the game being a play in which Chicago dragged Michigan’s William Dennison Clark into the end zone for a safety on a punt return. (There was no forward progress rule at the time.) The loss snapped Michigan’s 56-game undefeated streak, which put Clark in the crosshairs for his crucial play. It wasn’t fair, but he forever became known as The Guy That Lost The Chicago Game. He shot himself in the heart in 1932, and in his suicide note he hoped that his life’s “final play” could help atone for his mistake in the 1905 game. Yikes.

A month before Cincinnati’s 1906 season kicked off, football’s first legal forward pass was completed in a game between St. Louis and Carroll College. It was a major revolution in the sport.

I say this to illustrate my point that football at this time in history was reaching newer heights in popularity and in innovation. It was the dawning of a new day. The 1906 UC team would not be participating in any of it.

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Changes in leadership helped Foley secure the UC job. (Enquirer, 3/14/1906)

Things were doomed from the start. The team faced a major hemorrhage of talent following the 1905 season, as all but two players were able to return the following year. Some graduated, others were ineligible for unspecified reasons, and one was coaching the team. That’s right. William Foley, an active student and former player, was now running the football program. Foley was, as The Cincinnatian kindly put it, “the star of former games.” Not exactly a shimmering resume for a coach.

Following a 4–3 finish in 1905, head football coach Amos Foster took his 11–4 career coaching record to Nebraska––although he, somehow, continued to coach UC hoops through the 1909 season. When Foley took over the program in 1906, he had to rebuild the team from the ground up to make up for lost talent. This search for football players went predictably poorly.

Coach Foley remained unrealistically optimistic, and the Enquirer noted before the season that he expected his team to be on equal standing with the best in the Midwest. Spoiler alert: This did not happen.

Foley succeeded in nailing down a lineup of strong candidates, but then discovered “for various reasons the majority of his men were disqualified.” After great effort, he finally fielded a team of eligible players, most of whom had never played football. To give you an idea of how depressing this roster was, The Cincinnatian repeatedly made comments along the lines of, “Hey, considering what we had to work with, it really could have been much worse.”

Looking at their record, it really could not have been much worse.

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A 1906 UC game. (I believe this was the game against Carlisle on November 24, but I can’t say for sure.) (UC Libraries)

The 1906 UC team opened the season at Carson Field on October 6 against Marshall, who was fantastic that year. Marshall shut out each of their first four opponents and allowed just five points on the entire season. The only game they didn’t win was this one in Clifton, which ended in a 0–0 tie. The scoreless tie is arguably the high point of the 1906 season.

The Enquirer was not impressed. In the game’s recap the following day, they penned perhaps the most fantastic summary of all time:

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(Enquirer, 10/7/1906)

The following week, Miami came down from Oxford. Again, UC failed to score. Again, they we able to force a tie. Through two weeks, they hadn’t scored a point, but they also hadn’t lost a game.

UC failed to reach the end zone in the first four games of the season, getting outscored by opponents 24–0 in that stretch. The scoreless trend had continued for Cincinnati, but a losing trend had began.

When Ohio University came down from Athens on November 3, the Bearcats had what must have been the most exciting moment of the season as QB Hayward Ackerson made a “spectacular run down the entire length of the field” to score a touchdown, which was worth five points at the time. UC lost that game 16–5. Ackerson’s touchdown was Cincinnati’s only points of the season.

UC closed the year losing 12–0 to Wittenburg, 51–0 to Marrietta, and 18–0 to Carlisle before a big road trip. The season’s final game was a brutal 41–0 loss to Nebraska… in Lincoln… on Thanksgiving… against their former coach. Misery.

The red and black managed just five points in nine games that year, while surrendering 162. In 127 seasons of Cincinnati football, no offense has been more incompetent.

UC didn’t field a varsity team in 1907, and William Foley never coached again. Instead, he became a surgeon and lived in Clifton until he died in an car accident in Lawrenceburg, Indiana in 1964.

The fullback from the 1906 team, Ralph Inott, came back to coach the Bearcats in their return to varsity football in 1908. They finished just 1–4–1, but he succeed in winning a game. Long live Ralph Inott.

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1906 UC football illustration (UC Libraries)