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Parke H. Davis: Total Dedication to College Football


Parke Davis: Total Dedication to College Football ©2016

No, he didn’t play in college football’s first game in 1869; however, 20 years later he would make his mark on the game—entering Princeton as an 18-year old freshman.
While he was a member of the school’s foot ball teams, 1890-92; it was with his post-playing days that brought the man’s true existence with the sport—more so, what he did for the game off the field.

Today on, Sunday, July 16, 1871, Davis was born in Jamestown, N. Y.

In honor of the man, Parke H. Davis, who was responsible for the inclusion of statistics—in very basic form—in the annual publication Spalding Official College Foot Ball Guide, this site remembers the man and his accomplishments, as a player, coach, referee, statistician, historian and author.

Accomplishments taken from Athletics at Princeton © 1901
Seven games into the 1890 season, Princeton would claim a victory over the University of Virginia, 115-0; as Davis’ playing career began. The game was played on Nov. 1—the game was five days shy of the 20th anniversary.

Playing in his second, and last game, as sophomore, was in Philadelphia. Princeton tallied a 6-goal to 0 victory over the Quakers.
Davis would return to the “City of Brotherly Love” six short years later; as a second-year coach at Lafayette...more on this game later.

Playing Left End in Princeton’s 115-0 victory over the University of Virginia; with the game being played at Oriole Park in Baltimore, of the first day of November. (A week later he played in his second and last game of his sophomore year: a 6-0 victory over Philadelphia, in the “City of Brotherly Love.”)

Rosters in early college football contained a limited number of players; without knowledge of the exact number of players, usually the starting 11 and no more than 2-3 substitutes.

Davis was like any other player; he wanted to see the field. In the 1891 season, Davis’ practice sessions must have paid-off; as has he started in seven of the Tigers’ 12 games during the fall that season.

Available scoring statistics in the games he played revealed that Davis scored twice, as his team was winning big each time.
• Touchdown scored in a 78-0 mauling of the Manhattan Athletic Club on Oct. 28
• His final tally came later in the season; when Princeton tallied a 40-0 over Lafayette.

Scoring values during Davis’ time on the gridiron were: Touchdown, 4 points; Field Goal (or as it called at that time...Goal from the Field), 5 point and successful kick—on converting an extra point—would add 2 points to the scoring team; while a safety was a single tally.

Worth Noting: Conversions during early foot ball, was call Goal from a Touchdown.
Coaching Career

But before embarked on a post-playing career away from the gridiron, he would have an active five-year tenure as head coach at three schools.
  • Three-years prior to the Western Conference (now Big 10) playing its first game in 1896; Davis was leading the charge at Wisconsin; leading the Badgers in 1893 to 4 wins in 6 tries (4-2-0).
  • After one year in the “Middle-West, as this part of the country was called at this time; Davis would return to the East Coast, landing in the state of New York—at Amherst College.
Another one-season at a college, Davis would leave the school—heading to state of Pennsylvania.
Davis Finds a Home

Arriving in the Quaker State, he would stay three seasons at Lafayette College—and bring it into national spotlight.

In his three years at the Easton, Penn., school he compiled a 26-2- 2 record and a mythical share of the 1896 national championship.
His 1896 Leopards finished 11-0-1; with only a scoreless tie against his alma mater marring an otherwise perfect season. This campaign also contained some of college football’s most memorable events.

Following the deadlock with the Tigers, Lafayette would hit the road for the first time in 1896—heading to the state of West Virginia.
There he would play the Mountaineers three times in an equal number of days and cities (Oct. 15-17)—coached by Davis old teammate “Doggie”  Trenchard. 

One of Trenchard’s outstanding players was a tackle; and he caught the opposing coaches’ eye!

Following the three games against West Virginia, Lafayette would meet the University of Pennsylvania, one of college football’s Big Four: others would be Yale, Princeton and Harvard.

The Quakers, were coached by Hall of Famer mentor, George Woodruff (who compiled a lifetime mark of 142-25-2 [1-2-0 vs Davis]).
Davis, impressed with a Mountaineer tackle’s play, “recruited” him. His name was Fielding Yost.

With the game against Pennsylvania on Davis’ mind, he was looking for help along the line.
Wikipedia in Davis biography states: The fortuitous timing of Yost’s appearance on the Lafayette roster did not go unnoticed by Penn officials. They called it ‘the Yost affair.’ The Philadelphia Ledger quoted Yost as saying that he came to Lafayette only to play football. The fact that Yost appeared in a Lafayette uniform once…in the Penn game…and that he returned to West Virginia within two weeks of the contest…did not help appearances.
Lafayette won the contest with a second half TD and conversion, 6-4; snapping the Quakers’ 34 game winning streak—which was the third highest of all-time—at the time the game was played.
Penn started another winning streak following the setback. This time the mark would stretch into 31 games.

Pennsylvania’s streak wasn’t the only thing that was snapped that day. On the game’s second play, Yost’ leg was broken and he never played the rest of the season.
Davis would patrol the sidelines just one more season; finishing the 1897 season 9-2-1; including a 53-0 loss to Woodruff’s warriors.

And get this: Yost was 2 months and 2 weeks OLDER than Davis. (April 30, 1871…July 16, 1871!) How unusual, in the year that no college football games were played, two of its “giants” were born.

While he was no longer on the sidelines, his career with college football was really just beginning.

He would become an active part in the athletic department of his alma mater, 1897-1907; then became its representative on the Rules Committee and officiating games.
Among his several venues he participated in was serving as a referee, including at games when Princeton and Lafayette met. One such game was October 12, 1895, when he was the Linesman—even though he was the coach at the latter.
Being a referee at the same time as a coaching the other team may seem he would be a bit bias; but not Davis—he was a well-respected man and his judgment was impeachable.

It’s not to say there weren’t players who disliked his calls; such as the case came about in the 1902 Villanova-Rutgers match-up.
It had been 12 years since Mr. Davis remembers his last appearance as referee; as he was attacked and given a bloody nose by one of the Villanova players, after being called on to render a delicate decision against that team.

Davis on the Rules Committee

Davis severed as Princeton’s representative on the Rules Committee from 1909-1915; with some of his suggestions being:
1. Division; of game into quarters.
2. Establishment forward pass zone.
3. The numbering of players.
4. Abolition of interlocked interference.
5. Shorting the field to 100 yds.
6. Addition of extra down for offense.

Davis, out of his quest for knowledge, would scan various newspapers for the accounts that would eventually lead into his effort to write his only book, “Football, the Intercollegiate Game—” the first authentic book ever written that dealt with the history of the game.”
(Published in 1911 Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York.)

Parke H. Davis, the game’s early and most recognized expert on the formative falls of the sport added the following: longest scoring plays from rushing, returns and passing plays from 1873 season through 1934. (And when the forward pass was legalized in 1906, he would add these yards on a separate list.

The 1934 edition was his last active season to include these compilations, as he passed away soon after he made the final edit of it. Through the 1937 edition, these compilations were included under Davis’ byline.

Concerning the keeping of the records from 1869 until this day Parke H. Davis explained:
I then conceived the idea of tabulating the scoring plays of the sport and began this work in 1912.”
We know of no one who has a great mania for keeping football statistics, and who gives more time and attention to the work than “Pop,” unless it is Parke H. Davis, the Princeton football authority. The two great statisticians happened to meet at the Lafayette-Rutgers contest, and Mr. Davis said he was giving –up the statistical work. It required too much time and entailed an usual amount of preparation.

National Champions

Perhaps a bit irritated by the flood of experts on the scene, the most noted historian football has ever known, Parke H. Davis, decided to set all the records straight in the 1933 edition of Spalding’s Football Guide.
His selections were all retroactive with the exception of the 1933 season, when he tied Princeton and Michigan as co-champions.
Written Work

Davis wrote and quoted in many different publications, newspapers and magazines— too numerous to mention.
One highlight worth mentioning was his All-Time Team. In 1931, published in the Illustrated Football Annual, a leading football magazine of the time, for the first time it will be seen Davis broke away from the ‘’follow the leader’’ make-up of the team and branched out on his own.