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The Upset of 1896 (Part II of III)

by Don Sayenga '56 - December 2013

The Rose

His unusual acumen, speed and agility were already well established while he was still in prep school. He attended Bucknell Academy in Lewisburg, Pa., a secondary school attached to the college, where the existing athletic regulations allowed the 17-year old to play on the college varsity teams. At the same time he also starred for the Academy in games against local high schools. Bucknell’s yearbook L’Agenda describes him as “unclassified” which implies he may have audited a few college lectures.

In May 1893, Bucknell’s student newspaper Mirror reported he played catcher in the 10-2 baseball loss to Penn State at Beaver Field. He got two hits in that game. Later in the year, when Bucknell’s football captain was injured in the Haverford game, the team chose Barclay, despite his age, to be its replacement captain and signal caller.

When he enrolled at Lafayette for the spring semester of 1894, it was the best of times for student-athletes because Lafayette’s 33-year old President E.D. Warfield, was well-known everywhere for his intellectual enthusiasm toward college sports. Dr Warfield was an accomplished scholar who held degrees from Princeton, Oxford and Columbia.

Warfield was strongly opposed to what he called “the gambling and gate money evils” combined with the tendency for any successful athlete to be brought “perilously near the dime museum freak” but otherwise he believed all students should take part in sports.

At the time Barclay began attending lectures, Dr. Warfield wrote: “Most outdoor games not merely strengthen the limbs, give certainty to the movements, make skillful the hand and sure the eye, but also give great command to the will over the actions of the body. The well trained will in a successful ball player is as important as the steering gear in a line of battleships."

Due to experience gained at the academy in Lewisburg, freshman Barclay was able to win the position as catcher on the Lafayette baseball team, a role he retained four years. The college recently had purchased a ballfield site in an open area where Olin Hall now stands. For the Fall semester Dr. March reported “the new field has been leveled and fenced” permitting football games to be played there. At first there were no bleachers. Football fans stood on the sidelines to see the games.

In September 1894, a front page editorial in The Lafayette mentioned Barclay by name, asserting: “Football prospects are good. The new class has brought in a number of men admirably qualified for fine playing.” The Rose scored two touchdowns in the first home game on the new field when Lafayette routed Gettysburg 36-0. In 1895, Maroon & White teams capitalized on his skills. On the baseball diamond (W-11 L-10) he got a hit almost every time he came to bat. On the gridiron (W-6 L-2) he advanced the ball consistently, kicked accurately and displayed strong tackling skills on defense.

In addition to playing baseball and football, The Rose and George Walbridge also enjoyed success as sprinters on the track team. These activities set the stage for their dynamic duo partnership in ’96. Lafayette produced its first-ever unbeaten football team. It was not scored upon except for one touchdown given up to Penn and another when they beat Navy 18-6 at the end of November. The Rose had two TD’s in that game which turned out to be his final one as a collegian.

In the spring semester, Barclay captained the baseball team, attended the big June commencement dance, then headed off to western New York where he joined a group of touring collegiate hardball players. At the end of that summer he returned to campus for a brief visit but instead of enrolling for what would have been his senior year, he continued onward to Greensburg, Pa. He had been hired as player/coach of one of the nation’s first pro football teams.

For the next 10 years, The Rose alternated between professional football and baseball. He played in the first-ever pro football all-star game at Pittsburgh. The high point of his career was attained from 1902-04 when he was an outfielder for the St. Louis Cardinals and batted over .300. After that he played one year in Boston with the ball club that later became the Atlanta Braves. In his spare time he completed formal education at what is now Penn’s graduate school of medicine, enabling him to set up a successful dental practice at Philadelphia.

The Helmet

Anyone who has ever played any variant of “football” knows a sharp kick in the shins is a common risk. In all versions, shin guards are as much a necessity as proper shoes. An anomaly appeared in the American college game which Walter Camp called “a system founded upon...interference." Camp said it “became so attractive that this play was legalized to a certain degree.” When attempting to clarify the concept of physically blocking opposing players, he explained: “The side whose man has possession of the ball may, so long as they do not use their hands or arms in the act, obstruct or interfere with anyone about to tackle the runner."

Collisions caused by “properly timed body-checking” established a mandatory need for American boys to wear garments filled with heavy padding at the knees, thighs, and shoulders. Soccer and Rugby, however, are bareheaded games, then as now. When the college kids first introduced head-bashing in the early 1880s, adults began to question their sanity. A punch in the nose hurts a lot more than a kick in the shins, and even worse, a bang between two skulls can do more internal damage than any visible surface injuries such as a cut scalp or a cauliflower ear.

Among the students, the initial responses to allowable body-checking were divided. Some of the macho players (for example The Babe) believed any type of protective appliances were strictly for wimps. Others sought to establish formal legislative barriers in the student-run rules committee. Group interference plays, then known as “mass momentum plays”, were outlawed. In 1887, student representatives from Harvard, Penn, Yale, Princeton and Wesleyan signed a pledge to halt “slugging, and other objectionable features of the game.” In 1889, the entire Princeton team introduced the shaggy hairdo which was a lot cheaper than the NFL’s recent concussion settlement.

The majority of players simply began to use bandages. William “Pudge” Heffelfinger of Yale, perhaps the best footballer of all in that era, wore a “broad white bandage” covering his ears. Joseph Reeves, a Navy tackle, played several games with a huge bandage like a beehive over his entire head. One of Harvard’s star ends, Arthur Cumnock, obtained a patent on a face mask made of rawhide, leather and wire.

Cumnock’s facemask patent description declares: “In playing foot-ball, although blows with the clinched hand are not permitted, it is allowable to push or ward off one's opponents with considerable force, using the open hand, and in the excitement of the game this allowable degree of force is frequently exceeded and injuries to the face and head are not unusual."

Bandages, earpads, facemasks and similar prosthetic gear became common but all of these had one big drawback. If they became disarrayed during the excitement of the game (which happened all the time) they tended to interfere with an athlete’s breathing, hearing and vision. In short, they made matters worse. What was needed was some kind of easily donned protective garb shielding the ears and forehead against accidental or deliberate collisions.

The Rose is the person who came up with the concept of something he called his “head harness.” Although didn’t leave us any written description of the reasoning for creating an innovative change, his idea has evolved into the American football helmet which today is symbolic of the pro game. Where did he get the idea? Is it possible he was motivated by the catchers’ masks he wore for baseball?

Back then in the horse-and-buggy era, every town in America had a repair shop for saddles and other leather rigging, making it easy for any player to get fitted. The first Barclay head harness was made at Easton in 1894. It comprised a ring of sheepskin with the wool faced inward over the forehead, held in place with a tie under the chin and x-bracing over the skull. Loops of sheepskin surrounded the ears without covering them. News of the Barclay invention spread rapidly, sustained in part by sportswriters who viewed it as a curiosity.

Many of the other Lafayette’s players immediately recognized a good idea when they saw it. A study of the ’94 Lafayette team photo shows about one third of the varsity team holding Barclay-style head protectors. After thousands of fans had seen them in use during The Upset of ‘96, many other teams began to use them. One action photo from the Harvard-Penn game of 1897 shows two players, one wearing a bandage and the other with a Barclay head harness. Even so, decades passed before the contrivance gained any general acceptance. The NCAA didn’t make helmets mandatory until 1939.