Campus News

The Unresolved Football Dispute with Michigan

November 24, 2019

Communications Staff

Oberlin College Varsity Football team 1892 posing together.
The Oberlin College football team in 1892. John Heisman is in the second row, first on the left.
Photo credit: Photo Courtesy of Oberlin College Archives

"In Oberlin History" is a series dedicated to notable events in Oberlin College history. It is created in partnership with the Office of Communications and Oberlin College Archives.

In November 1892, the Oberlin College football team, coached by John Heisman, achieved an undefeated season when they beat the University of Michigan, 24-22 on November 19.

However, this win is a controversial one, and the game’s outcome is disputed to this day. 

On a very cold day, the Oberlin College football team arrived by train in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Before the game began, both teams agreed to stop playing at 4:50 p.m. so that the Oberlin team could catch the last train of the day. This type of agreement was not without precedent, as the two teams made this same arrangement the year before in 1891.

The game was replete with delays due to penalties, turnovers, and poor weather. By 4:49 p.m., the game was tied, 22-22. Oberlin managed to kick a quick goal, which brought the score to 24-22, in favor of Oberlin. When the teams lined up for the next play, time was called. Oberlin determined that they were the winners and left the field, even though there were four minutes left in the game.

As Oberlin was departing, the Michigan team lined up on the field and walked the ball over the goal line for a touchdown—despite the fact that time had been called. This put the score at 26-24, Michigan. Michigan then claimed victory, saying that Oberlin forfeited.

The disagreement was never resolved, and Oberlin counts the 24-22 score as their victory, while Michigan counts the 26-24 score as their win.

Interested in more Oberlin College football history from the 1890s? You can read about it in When Oberlin was King of the Gridiron: The Heisman Years by Nat Brandt.

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