By JACK KANTOR
In 1915, Schoellkopf Field opened for operation and Touchdown I was climbing the goalposts when Cornell won its first national championship. The Red went an undefeated 9-0 that year, 100 seasons ago.
Last Saturday a statue of Touchdown and the 1915 Plaza, where the sculpture stands, were dedicated in honor of the beloved mascot and the legendary Cornell football team.
Cornellians years and miles apart came together outside Teagle Hall before the Homecoming football game to celebrate.
“After more than 75 years Touchdown has returned home, and on homecoming to boot,” said John Foote ’74.
Cornell used to have a real live bear as its mascot, rather than the plush mascot costume a handful of Cornellians don today. Touchdown traveled everywhere from the boardwalk in Atlantic City, New Jersey, to Cleveland, Ohio, where he was even arrested. The first time Touchdown attended a game at Schoellkopf, he climbed the goalposts at halftime and spent the rest of the game there.
What people didn’t realize was that these live cubs eventually grow up, something that proved to be problematic when it actually happened.
After Touchdown I grew up, three more bears followed him until 1939. No longer did Touchdown travel with the team and dine at the finest restaurants.
As Foote said in his book Touchdown: The Story of the Cornell Bear, “Despite all that has changed … the legacy of Touchdown lives on with the Cornell Bear.”
The celebration was not only for Touchdown, but also to acknowledge one of university’s most successful football teams, the squad of 1915. This Cornell team saw a National Championship and an undefeated season.
“Yes, you heard that right, National Championship football team,” Foote humorously added.
Alumni from all generations came to speak about the traditions and history of Cornell Football and its mascot.
Jim Hanchet ’53, who is recognized as Cornell’s football historian, came to the ceremony to speak about the famous 1915 squad. Foote joked that Hanchett has attended every single Cornell football game since 1949. While Hanchett asserted the claim to be false, he has still attended nearly every football game.
While it did not have its signature crescent at the time, Schoellkopf Field opened for its first football season in 1915. The Red previously played a “bit less far above those waves of blue,” at Percy Field in downtown Ithaca, Hanchett joked.
Captain Charles Barrett ’16 led the Red in 1915 at quarterback to their undefeated season. Barrett had, “uncanny running ability,” said Head Coach Albert Sharpe.
Barrett demonstrated this running ability in the team’s first game at Schoellkopf against Oberlin. The Daily Sun in 1915 described the first of the quarterback’s three touchdowns as almost miraculous.
“Barrett went through right tackle for a touchdown, a run of 22 yards, which was finished with three Oberlin men hanging onto the Varsity quarterback,” said a 1915 article.
That is something football does not see much of anymore — the quarterback carrying three defenders into the end zone.
Cornell handedly won its first four games of the season and faced the National Champion Harvard in the fifth. The Red shut out Harvard, 10-0, for its first win ever over Harvard and its first National Championship.
The 1915 squad’s toughest game that year was a 40-21 win over the Generals of Washington and Lee. The fact that the Red won by 19 points in their toughest captures the squad’s dominance that season. Cornell finished unbeaten with nine wins and zero losses, totaling 287 points and conceding only a mere 50, allowing less than seven points per game.
The class of 1915 Cornell Football team is one that will live on in Cornell history undoubtedly. After the ceremony, the Cornell Dairy introduced a new flavor to honor the 1915 team. The Big Red Band played “Give my Regards to Davy” and the fans enjoyed their “Boys’N Bear Touchdown” ice cream.