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Life on the Quads
A Centennial View of
the Student Experience at the
University of Chicago
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John "Jay" Berwanger (AB 1936).

John "Jay" Berwanger (AB 1936). In three seasons the All-American Berwanger earned every football honor imaginable, including the Fairbanks trophy for college football's most valuable player, the Chicago Tribune trophy for the conference's best performer, and the inaugural Heisman trophy. Many football experts at the time called the six-foot, 190-pound Berwanger the best halfback in history.

 

Physical Culture and Athletics

Football
Chicago won championships again in 1907 and 1908 and lost only two games over five years, culminating with another perfect season in 1913, to firmly establish itself as a football power. The big games attracted over twenty thousand spectators in a stadium designed to hold eight thousand.

For the students, football was a major focus of student life. Students invented cheers and yells, formed cheerleading squads, and bonded around the fortunes of their team. While social unity was a blessing, the administrations from Harper through Hutchins feared that football's popularity could become a curse. Football and all other sports, as outlined in University policy, had to remain at a purely amateur level, but football had grown to immense proportions, obscuring the line between professional and amateur sport.

Throughout the 1910s and 1920s the team was highly competitive and maintained the appeal if not the status of professional sports. By the mid-1930s, however, as the state universities became ever larger, the Maroons' ability to compete declined sharply, buoyed only briefly by the heroics of the first Heisman Trophy winner Jay Berwanger (AB 1936). In 1939, Chicago won just twice and suffered embarrassing defeats to Michigan (85-0) and Ohio State (61-0). President Hutchins and the Board of Trustees decided this season would be the University's last. Alumni howled.


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