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Walter Eckersall
Date of birth: June 17, 1886
Place of birth: Chicago, Illinois
Date of death: March 24, 1930
Place of death: Chicago, Illinois
Career information
Position(s): QB
College: University of Chicago
Organizations
College Football Hall of Fame

Walter Eckersall (June 17, 1886 – March 24, 1930) was an American football player, official and sportswriter for the Chicago Tribune. He was elected to the College Football Hall of Fame in 1951. He was arguably the best College Football Player in the history of the University of Chicago and in all of College Football for the 1900-1910 era.

Contents

Early life

Eckersall grew up in the Woodlawn neighborhood of Chicago just south of the University of Chicago, he lived his football fantasies watching Coach Amos Alonzo Stagg's daily practices. His special talent emerged at Hyde Park High School, where he dashed 100 yards in 10.0 seconds (an Illinois record for 25 years) and ran rings around opponents on the football field. In 1903, he quarterbacked Hyde Park to an undefeated season and then led the Hyde Park squad to a 105 to 0 trouncing of Brooklyn Polytechnic at Marshall Field on December 5, 1903 to claim the national championship.[1]

Eckersall was highly recruited out of high school and both Fielding Yost of Michigan and Chicago Maroons' Amos Alonzo Stagg wanted the high school sensation. Stagg resorted to chicanery, by snatching Eckersall off a train platform to keep him from attending a recruitment rendezvous arranged by Michigan coaches in Ann Arbor in 1904.

The National Championship Game of 1905

In 1905, the sophomore quarterback led the Maroons to the national championship. On November 30, in the final game of the season, the battle of the Western Conference (Big Ten) undefeated powerhouses met at University of Chicago's Marshall Field in front of 27,000 spectators, at that time the largest crowd to view a football game. Michigan was 12 - 0 - 0 and had a 56 game undefeated streak on the line, while Chicago was 10 - 0 - 0.

The game was a punting duel between Eckersall and Michigan's John Garrels and was scoreless until early in the third quarter when a Michigan punt and Chicago penalty, pinned the Chicago inside their own ten yard line. On third down, as Eckersall attempted to punt, he encountered a fearsome rush, he evaded the Michigan tacklers and was able to scramble to the 22 yard line and the first down. After three more first downs, the drive stalled and Chicago was forced to punt again. Eckersall's booming punt carried into the end zone where it was caught by Michigan's William Dennison Clark who attempted to run the ball out. He advance the ball forward to the one yard line, but was hit hard by Art Badenoch and then was brought back inside his own end zone by Mark Catlin for a two-point safety. Under the rules of the time, forward progress was not given and a ball carrier could be carried backwards or forwards until he was down. The rest of third and fourth quarters would continue on as a defensive stalemate. Chicago's 2 - 0 victory would snap Michigan's 56 game unbeaten streak and give the University of Chicago the National Championship for 1905.[2]

As a tragic note to this game, Clark received the blame for the Michigan loss and in 1932, he shot himself through the heart. In a suicide note to his wife he reportedly expressed the hope that his "final play" would be of some benefit in atoning for his error at Marshall Field. [3]

Eckersall's Career and Legacy

In Eckersall, Stagg saw the promise of "a selfless performer, marked by complete dedication" to victory. At the same time, "Eckie" maintained a firm sense of self-preservation, as can be seen in his refusal to call a Stagg-designed play that had the Maroons, within five yards of their end zone and hurl the 136-pound Eckersall goalward.

During his stellar career, Eckersall led Chicago to a 25 - 2 - 1 record (.911 winning percentage), with Chicago outscoring their opponents an amazing 856 - 66. The two losses were to Michigan in 1904 and Wisconsin in 1906, and 6 - 6 tie was with Illinois in 1904. [4]

Following his career, he was selected to Walter Camp's "All-Time All-America Team" honoring the greatest college football players during the sport's formative years..[5] Eckersall was selected to Walter Camp's All-American Team for 1904, 1905 and 1906. [6]

Later life

When Walter Eckersall was finished as a player but he would remain a prominent figure in football for years to come. Eckersall would go on to have a successful dual career as a sportswriter for the Chicago Tribune, and as a referee. As an official, Eckersall was considered one of the best. He officiated at many high profile games. Highly regarded as an authority on football, he selected the Chicago Tribune’s all star team. His ‘All Western Eleven’ carried a lot of prestige. Today, he is more remembered as a writer and a referee than as a player. His place in history is largely as a footnote in the story of Knute Rockne, and the well documented history of Notre Dame, because of his presence at many of their games. Eckersall was an idol of Rockne who grew up in Chicago and watched Eckersall play in high school and in college. [7]

Death

Eckersall's boozing and carousing often contradicted Stagg's prescription of football as a surefire builder of moral character. Stagg gradually distanced himself from his greatest player, especially when Eckersall reneged on a $20 debt and was later featured in a national ad campaign for cigarettes--a habit Stagg regarded as sinful. In March 1930, Eckersall was hospitalized for illnesses associated with his hard living, Stagg came to his bedside with the firm advice to "turn over a new leaf." "Eckie" promised his old coach that he would. Eckersall died of cirrhosis of the liver and pneumonia on March 24, 1930 at the age of 43.[8]

References and Footnotes

External links

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