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Contact:
Brian Kunderman
Phone: 314.977.7063
bkunderm@slu.edu

September 1, 2006

Football’s Forward Pass Turns 100 Years Old

ST. LOUIS – Tuesday marks the 100th anniversary of the first documented forward pass in American football history, a play that would change the game forever.

On Sept. 5, 1906, Saint Louis University football player Bradbury Robinson threw a pass to teammate Jack Schneider. The “projectile pass,” as it was known back then, was the brainchild of SLU head coach Eddie Cochems (coke-ems).

Eddie Cochems

The auspicious play took place in a game between Saint Louis University and Carroll College in Waukesha, Wis. In a scoreless tie, an intense Cochems had enough with his team’s lackluster performance running the ball. So, after several weeks of secretly practicing the art of the forward pass, Cochems commanded his squad to break open the “air attack.”

Robinson’s first pass was incomplete, thus automatically turning the ball over to Carroll College in accordance with the rules of the time.

However, on Saint Louis University’s next offensive possession, Robinson hit Schneider with a 20-yard strike. The play surprised everyone in attendance, including the Carroll College defense, and Schneider marched in for a touchdown.

Cochems ordered the team to attempt the pass a few more times before returning to the more recognizable running game. Saint Louis University beat Carroll 22-0.

Saint Louis University’s prophetic play might not have happened had the 1905 season not been so brutal. That year, there were several deaths and numerous serious injuries on the field. A public outcry followed and in response, President Theodore Roosevelt met with leaders of major universities to take steps to eliminate the game’s more dangerous aspects.

To give teams more options to score other than via the grueling ground assault, the rules were modified to allow forward passes. But the play did not come without risk.

Incomplete passes were not the only problem. Passes that hit the mark less than five yards from the line of scrimmage also led to an automatic change in possession. In addition, if a player caught a pass in the end zone, the play would be deemed a touchback – or a change of possession – instead of a touchdown.

The aforementioned restrictions kept most college football coaches from attempting the play in 1906. But not SLU’s crafty Cochems, the first collegiate football coach at the time who understood the impact the forward pass could have on the game.

In the years following SLU’s historic pass, much debate swirled over who should be given credit for first using the forward pass. In the early 1900s, most top college football programs, as well as the bulk of the national media, were based on the East Coast. So even though Saint Louis University mastered the pass a month earlier, many fans thought it originated when the regular season began at East Coast institutions.

Legendary Notre Dame coach Knute Rockne, who some believe pioneered the forward pass, set the record straight in his own biography when he wrote that Saint Louis University’s Cochems “…enrolled a few boys with hands like steam shovels who could toss a football just as easily and almost as far as they could throw a baseball.

“One would have thought that so effective a play would have been instantly copied and become the vogue. The East, however, had not learned much or cared much about Midwest and Western football. Indeed, the East scarcely realized that football existed beyond the Alleghanies…”

Saint Louis University discontinued its football program in 1949, so ironically, the university which gave the sport its most interesting play bid farewell to football more than 50 years ago.

Saint Louis University is a Jesuit, Catholic university ranked among the top research institutions in the nation. The University fosters the intellectual and character development of 11,800 students on campuses in St. Louis and Madrid, Spain. Founded in 1818, it is the oldest university west of the Mississippi and the second oldest Jesuit university in the United States. Through teaching, research, health care and community service, Saint Louis University is the place where knowledge touches lives. Learn more about SLU at www.slu.edu.

To download a high-resolution photo of Coach Cochems, click here.


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