1917 - Part 3: A Title Game

The Thursday December 6 papers included three short stories in the La Crosse Tribune. The first, reading left to right is a story with a Milwaukee Sentinel byline by a person with the last name of Vaughn. It says that both Watertown and Waukesha wanted to play a home game so negotiations between the two had broken off. Marshfield has called it a season so he felt that a playoff now was senseless and the season should close altogether.


As you look to the right a few columns, a story from the Sentinel headlined "Watertown claims State High Title Over All Elevens" with a subheading "But is Willing to play Marinette if Northeastern Team Insists Upon it." It printed a letter from R.A. Buell, principal of Watertown who mentions that Waukesha had refused to play them and Watertown refused to acknowledge Waukesha as the champ and since Marinette wants to play, they seem to be the logical opponent for Watertown.


At the far right was a story from Green Bay announcing that Marinette and Watertown had agreed to play for the title in Green Bay on Saturday, December 8th. They decided on a neutral site as the gate profits would go to the Red Cross. Neither team would take a profit after expenses.


The day before the game, Friday December 7th, The Green Bay Press Gazette was full of information about the next day's game. It published the lineups including weights of the players and messages to the public from the coaches. A huge crowd at City Park, maybe a record for the city was there that day. The mayor asked the citizens to be courteous to all visitors and wished both teams well. The paper showed the game schedule for each team as well as highlighting the officials. It was also announced that the Watertown team was arriving at 7:15pm via the Chicago and Northwestern railroad and Marinette would travel by rail, arriving at 9:40am on Saturday. the paper asked that "Mr. Weatherman" hold off the incoming snow. They should have asked him to hold off the cold as well.


The title game was set. Fans were coming to town. There would be a dance for both teams and visitors at the Elks Club following the game. But few would show up as the weather went from cold to freezing. Friday night the temperature at 6pm was 18 degrees but overnight into mid-morning Saturday it hit 7 below. The gates opened at 1pm and the temperature was 0. To the northwest, Duluth and Superior were 15-20 below at the same time and icebreakers were called out to help shipping.


The Press Gazette gave a near play-by-play account of the game and it appeared that even with a long layoff the teams were sharp. Overall, there were only three penalties between the two teams. Marinette took the opening kickoff and with a fairly crisp passing attack, despite the weather, marched down the field as their quarterback, Medley passed to his left end, Peters for 30 yards and the first score. The extra point kick was missed. After exchanging punts, Marinette drove again and Medley again hit Peters for a 20 yard touchdown. Their right tackle, Nelson made the extra point and Marinette was up 13-0 through the end of the half.


In the middle of the fourth period, Peters intercepted a Watertown pass and returned it 30 yards for his third score while Medley made the extra point. The weather was getting colder and the wind was picking up. Despite the weather, Watertown tried to comeback but couldn't. Near the end, Marinette's quarterback Medley passed to the endzone to Peters between two defenders. The ball slipped off his fingers and fell incomplete to the ground. Marinette's team captain, Wagner complained to the referee that there was interference and the official agreed and awarded the tam their fourth score. I don't know if this was a fluke or a rule of the day but it seems strange to have allowed the score. It ultimately would not affect the outcome as Medley kicked the extra point and the game ended 27-0 for the state champion Marinette squad. Watertown failed to show the expected aggressiveness, though Coach Thomas refused to blame the loss of their star halfback Wegemann who was unable to play. He had ripped a tendon in the Marshfield game and the doctor refused to clear him. Thomas admitted that Marinette was the better that day. J.E. Dahlgren of the La Crosse Tribune even agreed that Marinette was tops.


Final Notes


One of the major complaints by my son when we were putting together my book was often when we posted a team's record the scoring totals didn't match the game by game scores. I mentioned earlier that the Waukesha Freeman and the school yearbook had different opponent scores for the win over Milwaukee Washington so I used the yearbook score. When the La Crosse Tribune printed the schedule for Watertown, they had a few scores different from the Watertown yearbook as well. Same with the Green Bay Press Gazette with their feature about the team before they played for the title. I again decided to use the yearbook as my guide. However, there were two problems with the yearbook. I wrote the team's schedule along with others and wrote the total of 270 points scored on the season. They didn't have calculators back then and the correct total was 290 points. I had often taken the yearbook totals as correct rather than doing the math but my son and I found they were often miscalculated. I also found several mentions of the school's record going into the Marinette game that they were 9-0-1 but the yearbook only had them at 8-0-1. The school reported to the Gazette that they had played and beaten the "College Scrubs" 46-0. After further review it turned out to be the Watertown Northwestern College Seconds, the varsity second string. So, I added that game to their record along with the correct scoring for the season.


I also want to mention the newsman who wrote "Cal's Comments" for the Green Bay Press Gazette. His name was George Whitney Calhoun. His great grandfather, Daniel Whitney, was the first 'Yankee' to settle in Green Bay in 1832. Calhoun was, at various times a telegraph editor, sports columnist and city editor for the Gazette. He was 27 years old in 1917 and as a newsman he had become familiar with many of the high school athletes in town. By all accounts he was a fair writer. Calhoun would only write his column for a few months and then move to other tasks but his work was insightful. In 1919 he teamed with a 20 year old former Green Bay East star, Curly Lambeau, who was home from college (Notre Dame) recuperating from a severe case of tonsillitis. they convinced the owners f the Indian Packing Company to put up $500 for uniforms and in August of 1919 the Green Bay Packers were born. Calhoun would work as publicity director and he passed the hat among the fans to collect anything they would pay as there was no fence to the field at that time. When a fence was added he stood at the gate to ensure all fans paid to get in. He was part of the Packer organization in various capacities, as a fan and a member of the Packer Board of Directors until his death in 1963. He was inducted into the Packer Hall of Fame in 1978.


J.E. 'Jack' Dahlgren was born and raised in La Crosse where he became a reporter for the La Crosse Daily Tribune upon graduating from high school. He resigned in September of 1908 to attend Beloit College. Just a few weeks later he returned home to take a position as a reporter with the La Crosse Leader-Press where he specialized in sports stories. He also did some side reporting on other events and was considered to be a fair and accurate writer. Having played football, basketball and track (as a pole vaulter and high jumper) in high school he seemed to key his attention toward the first two sports. He was also an accomplished billiards player and won many YMCA sponsored tournaments as well as an accomplished hand-ball player and bowler. When the Leader-Post merged with the Tribune in 1917, Jack came on board as a member of the newly combined staff. He left the paper in 1918 after being inducted into the army where he trained at Fort Grant in Rockford, Illinois. There he contracted the 'Spanish' Flu but recovered and was mustered out of the service in January of 1919. He served on the County Board of Supervisors and was serving his second term when he died suddenly from pneumonia (perhaps weakened by his experience with the flu) in late January of 1920 at age 31. He had been sick only a few days prior to his sudden death. In a 1917 story, then at age 28 he mentioned that the 'young scribe from Green Bay (George Whitney Calhoun, age 26 at the time) had a lot to learn about La Crosse football."