Early Portland and the flying pigskin

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Although this photo is identified by family as being Multnomah Athletic football club, 1898. (William A. Montgomery, 2nd from left in middle row.)  but probably from an earlier BSA photo.

I really don’t care much about football. This is not a claim I make lightly in Duck and Seahawk country. Sure, I was excited when our local West Linn High team won state, as they did just last month, or when my brother’s team won the state title four decades ago. But really, unless I was invited to go out myself for a few long passes (note to self: you are recovering from a fractured foot), I just haven’t been real interested. I’ve never admitted this, but my entire academic career saw me attend zero Montana Grizzly or Washington Husky college football games, even though I suffered through pre-season volleyball triples sprinting across the old Grizzly practice field and shared the cafeteria with football players during early breakfasts. And certainly I was patient with Dad and his love-hate relationship as he watched  his alma mater, the University of Oregon Ducks, on television, often turning the game off when he just couldn’t handle the tension.

But I think it’s only fair that I give this game a bit more honor, as it just seems that my great grandfather prided himself in helping to bring the pigskin out to Oregon. Now you can tell that this wasn’t that important to me as I uncovered that claim, as it doesn’t make it into my book. But I’ve been thinking about it – and wondering, just how much truth is there to this family story? And although he left a team photograph as evidence, I thank Oregon Historic Newspapers for giving me the opportunity to fact check.

Back East in 1876, students from Canada’s McGill University taught football as they knew it while visiting Harvard, leading to the game being adopted with a few rule changes soon after at a college convention. Prior to 1890, football was a novelty way out here in Portland: known only by a few British who might play British ship apprentices when allowed to leave the harbor, in vacant lots using adopted rules that were more of a “kicking” game mixed with moves from Union football.

Sometime around 1889, a notice appeared in the Oregonian asking people (okay, certainly men) to show up in Portland’s old Dekum Building if interested in playing football. About twenty men, nearly all Englishmen, did show and formed themselves into the Portland Football and Cricket Club. About the same time, Bishop Scott Academy organized themselves into the first Oregon collegiate team, coached by William Andrew Montgomery – yep, my great grandfather – a young man then who had played football as a student at Wesleyan. The BSA team challenged the Portland Club to a game under collegiate rules, and now considered the first collegiate game in Oregon. Will Lipman who had played at Princeton, and Ray Green, a Harvard player, were selected as coaches for the Portland Club, with BSA winning after scoring one touchdown in each half.

In February 1891, members of the Portland Football and Cricket Team invited anyone interested in forming a permanent athletic club to attend a special meeting which led to the creation of the Multnomah Amateur Athletic Club with the folding of the Portland Football and Cricket Team. A few from BSA, including my great grandfather William joined in this new club. The members rented space on the third floor of the Willamette Block on Second Street where they eventually installed a gymnasium to facilitate their physical conditioning. Not long after the Multnomah Athletic team was challenged by the Tacoma Athletic Club. The Oregonian reported on the event:

“For the first time in the history of the two cities, athletes from Tacoma and Portland met yesterday in an athletic contest. It was a football game at the Oaks, and the “Webfoot eleven” downed the City of Destiny team by a score of 30 to 8. This marked the beginning of football in the Northwest, and it also demonstrated the fact that the young men were very clever athletes. It was a great game, and all honor is due to Captain Salvage.”

And although the Multnomah team went on to play other teams from Stanford and Seattle, I imagine that first game in Portland must have been as exciting to spectators then as today’s contests between the UO Ducks  and OSU Beavers.

On Nov. 2, 1961, the Oregonian printed a story that included this MAC football team, perhaps from a different year than the photo I’ve posted here. When printed, William A. Montgomery was the only survivor of the original team. Others on the team at the time included men from many pioneer families: E.P. Dosch, A.B. McAlpin, Courteney Lewis, T. Scott Brooke (manager), W.H. Chaplin, W.F. Lipman, Ray Green ,  John Gavin, J.R. Savage (captain), R.L Glisan, W.A. Holt, Harold Fiske, W.L.Kendall, A.M. Ellsworth, C.E.McDonell, and, Mark Brooke.

While I admittedly have had my own mixed sentiments about the MAC, athletic prowess in lieu of academics, head injuries, and so much more, I still have to feel some pride and excitement in reading these old stories. And of course so many more that none of us will ever know. Do you have any related to this team that have been passed to you? I’d love to hear them!

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This photo was the photo shared in the 1961 Oregonian article as well as the menu for Portland’s Sports Pub.

One thought on “Early Portland and the flying pigskin

  1. Pingback: Rip City, Bill Schonley and Title IX | Dede's blog

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