We received an interesting research question recently that we wanted to highlight based upon the impending Rose Bowl game. A local astrologer in Eugene wanted to know the exact date and time when Oregon football was “born”. Hoping to utilize this information to predict the outcome of the upcoming Rose Bowl and the College Football Playoff fate of the Ducks, she was seeking the time of the opening kickoff in Oregon’s first football game. The intriguing question sent us into the stacks to find out more about this historic event that had great significance for the future of campus life in Eugene.
In the spring of 1894, two teams converged in Eugene to play the first football game at the University of Oregon. A field had been set up southwest of Deady and Villard Halls, on the site where the Computing Center, Chiles Hall, and Peterson Hall now comprise part of the Lillis Business Complex. Oregon, coached by Cal Young, had started organizing its team earlier that spring and had already scheduled three games for play in the fall. But in a move that would anticipate the spring football scrimmages of the modern-day sport, Young and the administration organized a game against Albany College to be played on March 24, the Saturday before Easter Sunday.
The two teams arrived at the field that afternoon along with a group of interested spectators. No bleachers had been erected for this contest; instead, those who stayed to watch the game stood along both sidelines and massed along Kincaid Street. 13 players suited up for Oregon that day, though Young would use his starters throughout the contest as the players took the field on both offense and defense. Albany kicked off to the Webfoots at 2:55 pm on that Saturday afternoon, and the Ducks went into a still-legal flying wedge formation on the return. It was at that moment when Oregon football was born.
By halftime, team captain and quarterback Frank Mathews had helped guide the home team to a 22-0 lead. By the final whistle, UO had doubled its point total. While on defense the Webfoots kept the visitors from scoring. Only a safety in the second half prevented a shutout, as Oregon won 44-2.
It was a high mark in an otherwise disappointing inaugural season for Oregon football. Cal Young would not return to coach the team in the fall, and J.A. Church took over leadership duties. The team struggled through the fall schedule, losing the inaugural Civil War game 17-16 to Oregon Agricultural College in Corvallis on November 3 and falling 19-12 to the University of Portland three weeks later. They ended the three-game season with a 2-2 tie at home against Pacific University, capping a 1-2-1 season.
So while they would ultimately struggle in their first season, the Oregon football team did at least “Win the Day” on their birthday.
Information for this article was collected from the following sources:
- Libby, Brian, University of Oregon Football Vault : The History of the Ducks (Atlanta, GA: Whitman Publishing, 2008)
- Eugene Daily Guard, March 24, 1894. Microfilm collection, UO Knight Library.
- Photos sourced from the UO Athletics Digital Photo Archive.
Student Research Assistant