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