*Before I go any further, LIFE UPDATE: I work for Sports Illustrated now. It still blows my mind to believe that I write for one of the greatest sports publications EVER. However, with the Coronavirus pandemic running rampant, there isn't a lot of sports to talk about, so I felt inspired to write about this very special event in Oberlin history that occurred WAY back in the day. ENJOY!*
The game of football in the state of Ohio is viewed as very competitive when it comes to the people involved with it.
This includes the players, coaches, and especially the crazy fans who dedicate themselves to the teams they cheer for. However, this idea seems to apply more to the professional teams in Ohio, which are the Cleveland Browns and the Cincinnati Bengals. This idea also applies more to high school football, where there are many historic rivalries which have lasted for decades, along with teams who have been historically great. However, when a person thinks of Ohio college football, he or she would think of Ohio State University, who has been very successful as of late. Ohio State’s dominance has been noticed on a national level for decades, with eight national championships and thirty-seven conference championships to show for it. This football team is almost always a contender for the National Championship, and it always recruits some of the best high school football players in the country because of its tremendous success over the years. The state of Ohio has many elite colleges; however, when I’m using the term “elite,” I’m referring to Ohio’s institutions academically. There is only one elite college football team in the state of Ohio, and that is Ohio State.
With all of that being said, it’s time to travel back in time.
The year is 1921. Football wasn’t quite as popular as it is now, but it was still very much a big deal, especially to Ohioans. There was a very significant football game that was played this year. This game featured the Ohio State Buckeyes, of course. Who did they play against? The Oberlin College Yeomen. A typical college football fan may seem confused at this point, and might ask the question, “Who?” Indeed, Oberlin College is definitely NOT known for its football. However, it is an elite academic institution and is also known for its incredible music program. “Oberlin is also famed for its music program, which turns out world-renowned sopranos and tenors with the same regularity that Penn State mints NFL linebackers” (Stone). However, it’s not a widely known school for its football team. Back in 1921, though, Oberlin football was a pretty big deal, especially with its own rich football roots.
Before I briefly discuss the 1921 Oberlin football team, I must also address the 1892 Oberlin football team, which is arguably the most famous and most successful football team in Oberlin’s history.
I’m referring to the 1892 team because the 1921 team is always being compared to them. The reason for this (Warning, spoiler alert!) is because both of these teams had undefeated seasons. “The 1921 team was the first Oberlin squad to record an undefeated season since the 1892 varsity did so almost thirty years earlier” (Brandt 160). Therefore, people throughout history have constantly compared and referenced these two teams as being great displays of Oberlin’s glory days in football.
This 1892 team featured one particular player/coach who is quite well-known in the world of sports. That player/coach is John Heisman, who is seen by many to be one of the greatest football players to ever live. Heisman did indeed coach the team as well as play for it. People could actually do that back then, as long as they were enrolled in the college they were playing and coaching for. However, people don’t coach and play for a team these days, because the game of football is a lot more complex. Also it’s a violation of the NCAA rules and regulations. Heisman was also Oberlin’s very first football coach, which makes his significance at the college even greater.
Therefore, Heisman and his greatness with the 1892 team tends to overshadow Oberlin’s 1921 team and all it had accomplished at its time.
The 1921 Oberlin College football team is often overlooked and lost in the shadow of the 1892 team’s greatness. However, the 1921 team was just as great and just as significant, if not even more so. This all ties back to the fact that this Oberlin team was the last team before Ohio State to reign supreme in the game of football in the state of Ohio.
Ever since 1922, Ohio State has been the best team in the state. Schools larger than Oberlin such as Ohio University, the University of Toledo, Bowling Green State University, and Youngstown State University have all failed at trying to defeat the Ohio State Buckeyes. Of all teams, the Oberlin College Yeomen were the last group of men to defeat Ohio State, and this occurred nearly a century ago. This fact alone displays the greatness of that 1921 Oberlin football team, who were also expected to lose that game against Ohio State.
How did Oberlin do it? How in the world did Oberlin College of all teams defeat the great Ohio State in 1921?
The Buckeyes were indeed predicted to win that game, which made the Yeomen underdogs. Oberlin was David, and Ohio State was Goliath. Sure, Oberlin was still considered to be a respected football school. However, Oberlin hadn’t been considered as an elite football program since the Heisman years decades prior to this game. This made no difference for the Yeomen, who were highly determined to face this challenge.
As for the Ohio State football players, they were highly confident in their abilities to defeat Oberlin. In fact, they felt highly superior to Oberlin and believed it would be an easy task to beat them with ease. “The Buckeyes didn’t seem worried about the conditions or the game, which the Columbus Dispatch regarded as a 'practice game'” (Podolski). Ohio State wasn’t worried about Oberlin, to say the least. Here is some context which displays why Ohio State felt so confident: “It made sense since OSU beat Oberlin, 37-0, the year before, and 128-0 in 1916” (Podolski). 128-0 is a score that is an absolute atrocity, even back then. It’s completely understandable for Ohio State to approach this game with extreme confidence.
There was also another advantage which Ohio State benefitted from, and that was the fact that Ohio State was becoming a much larger school than Oberlin was. “Before the turn of the 20th century, Ohio State and Oberlin were comparative in size, but by 1921, Ohio State’s enrollment grew to over four times the size of Oberlin’s student body” (GoYeo.com). Because of Ohio State’s growing population, it gained access to a lot more talent than Oberlin did, and this also applies to how the two schools compare to this day.
While Ohio State approached the game with little to no concern, Oberlin felt highly disrespected.
Any team who is highly favored to lose by the community and the media would feel this way. Therefore, Oberlin did what an upset yet determined football team would do at this point; they prepared with high intensity and heavy focus. People all across the state of Ohio as well as the rest of the United States of America believed Oberlin would lose to Ohio State again. That thought more than likely angered and motivated the Yeomen to rise to the challenge and conquer it, which would shut the mouths of all the doubters who had their own negative opinions about them.
The game itself seemed to be quite sloppy.
The two teams played on a very wet field in Columbus, Ohio. “As for the game, it was played on Oct. 8, 1921, and conditions at Ohio Field were soggy because of heavy rain the night before” (Podolski). Usually, football games that are played on soggy fields tend to have very low scores. This fact remained true with this particular college football game in October. The final score only consisted of two touchdowns total. Playing football on a wet field is extremely difficult, because it limits the mobility for both teams. Also, this makes aspects such as carrying and throwing the football a lot more difficult, because the moisture that the football is exposed to makes it very wet. This also means the game was played on a muddy field, because Ohio Stadium consisted of grass. Turf wasn’t a concept that was developed until later in history. The Yeomen didn’t use this as an excuse to give up, though; they persevered.
At first, “the Buckeyes gained the lead in the first five minutes of the game after they scooped up a blocked Yeomen punt and scored” (GoYeo.com). This didn’t stop Oberlin, though. In fact, the next statement is the ultimate display of the grit the Oberlin football team had at the time: “The Buckeye score would be the last time Ohio State crossed Oberlin’s goal line” (GoYeo.com). Oberlin scored a touchdown late in the game, and their kicker made the PAT, which is the point after the touchdown. The score ended up being 7-6, and Oberlin defeated Ohio State.
This achievement is one Oberlin College still cherishes.
As a "retired" football player for Oberlin College, I can assure people that the win over Ohio State in 1921 is still indeed a huge deal to many people. It’s significant to many Oberlin alumni. It’s significant to the people in the town of Oberlin. It’s significant to the current players and coaches who represent the Yeomen.
I believe it should be a significant fact to anybody who cares about Oberlin College. At the end of the day, who else is going to cherish this historic victory? Since 1921, Ohio State has never lost to a college in the state of Ohio. The last Ohio team to do so is Oberlin, and that is indeed something to be proud of.
Brandt, Nat. When Oberlin Was King of the Gridiron: The Heisman Years. Oberlin, OH: Oberlin College, 2001. Print.
Podolski, Mark. “College Football: Oberlin College Still Savors Historic Win over Ohio State in 1921.” Morning Journal, 26 Sept. 2014. Web. 03 Dec. 2016.
Stone, Christian. “LOST GLORY OBERLIN IS JOHN HEISMAN’S ALMA MATER AND A FABLED CONQUEROR OF OHIO STATE, BUT THE YEOMEN HAVE HAD LITTLE TO CELEBRATE LATELY.” SI.com. Sports illustrated, 26 Aug. 1996. Web. 01 Dec. 2016.
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November 5, 2022