Oregon, football and stadiums: a recap

When I first wrote the blog Early Portland and the flying pigskin I had no idea I was merely scratching the surface of this fascinating topic. And, whereas I frequently remind folks that I am no historian, I do find the stories I have learned to be an interesting and welcoming distraction during these times we are living in.

My initial interest, how my great-grandfather helped bring the game of football to Portland, has morphed as I have learned so much about this earliest football played in the same location we know today as Providence Park. I’ve learned the difference between early “football” rules adopted by Harvard, McGill, and Yale – and why some prevailed and others didn’t. And about the fact that as early as 1894 in PDX, 1,550 spectators lined up to watch a game they didn’t even yet know the rules of! Can you imagine hearing the comments yelled by boisterous Portland spectators: it’s bad enough when excited fans know the rules!

I offer thanks to the Oregon Historical Society’s Research Library and The Oregon Encyclopedia Project for protecting and sharing old photos and stories, and the Multnomah Athletic Club for sharing a few of their own. I appreciate both the Multnomah Athletic Club and the West Linn Historical Society for inviting me to present virtually on this topic, and most recently the West Linn Historical Society for recording it, just in case you want to hear it, blow by blow. If you don’t have enough patience or time for that, peruse the photos in the slideshows below to pick up a few highlights, with context provided in the following paragraphs. In my talk I included a bit of back story – basically how my great grandfather came to be that, and some of you have read about bits of that before (see: My Music Man).

In the slideshow images above, my great-grandfather William Montgomery is pictured in 1884 as an 18-year-old attending Wesleyan University in Connecticut where it is said he played football. A decade earlier, an important two-game football game series was played between Canada’s McGill University, and Boston’s Harvard at Cambridge – two teams having adopted somewhat similar, although not identical rules. Up until this point Harvard had not opted to join the new Intercollegiate Association, with teams like Yale and Princeton, as the game rules adopted were a bit more like soccer than the union rugby and tackling game adored by Boston fans – or so a story goes!

Soon after graduating, William moved to Portland to teach English and English History at Bishop Scott Military Academy (BSA) located in the heart of Portland’s “Slab Town” (today the site of Northwest Portland’s Trinity Church). In 1889, BSA organized itself into this first Oregon collegiate team, and William Montgomery was identified as coach. In 1889, 20 men (many English) organized themselves into the Portland Football and Cricket Club. The BSA team challenged the Portland Club to a game – now considered to be the first collegiate game in Oregon – and with Will Lipman and Ray Green (both with Harvard roots) coaches for the Portland Club. As reported in a 1902 Oregonian article, celebrating the game’s anniversary twelve years later, BSA won by two touchdowns and 1,550 people attended the game.

In 1891, the Portland Football and Cricket Team members invited others players to form a permanent athletic club which led to the creation of the Multnomah Amateur Athletic Club (today’s MAC or Multnomah Athletic Club). The MAAC was formed by 26 founders including 17 footballers. My grandfather William, and a few others from the BSA team joined to be part of this original 26. See the 17 footballers above, photo credit thanks to MAC archives and Oregon Jewish Life by Lori Delman. Soon after the team went on to beat the Tacoma Athletic Club’s “City of Destiny” team in Portland, marking the beginning of football in Oregon.

I suspect that the coolest connection for me in all of this, is to recognize that the football field William and his earliest Portland teammates played on beginning in 1892 is the same space where most of us today have attended a football or soccer game: Providence Park. (I have memories of playing field hockey in this field, then Civic Stadium, as a Lincoln High freshman, and attending early Timbers’ soccer camps.) This newly formed MAAC Club first rented an athletic field in Goose Hollow adjacent to the 1887 Industrial Exposition Building, and built a small grandstand. A few years later the MAAC moved its gymnasium and club to SW 10th & Yamhill. (In 1910 after a fire destroyed that building, it moved to its location today – across the field to Salmon Street.) The field and early stadium attracted crowds exceeding its grandstands: In 1908 10,000 people watched Oregon play Oregon Agricultural College (today’s OSU), and 30,000 people came to the stadium in 1923 to hear President Warren Harding. In 1926 the MAAC constructed what many of us know as the earliest beginnings of this Multnomah Stadium (an upgrade to the Multnomah Field), and sold it to the City of Portland in 1966. Since its years as Multnomah Stadium, it has been known as Civic Stadium, Portland General Electric (PGE) Park, Jeld-Wen Field and today, Providence Park.

I knew my WLHS talk couldn’t be complete without a bit of attention given to our Oregon Ducks and Beavers. University of Oregon Duck Football began in 1894, playing on Hayward Field (after upgrading it from a cattle pasture to provide milk to dorm students) from 1919 until 1967. Football at Oregon Agricultural College (OSU today) started in 1893 as athletics were banned prior to May 1892. The rivalry between the Ducks and the Beavers, evident by the annual Civil War game, is the seventh-oldest college football rivalry game, having played each other 121 times.

And, naturally, given the talk being sponsored by the West Linn Historical Society (and me astutely noting that a longtime previous Lion Football Coach had pre-registered for it!) I did feel obligated to give a shout out to this school. West Linn High began as Union High School in 1919, originally the only high school in the Portland Metro Area outside of Portland limits, and unifying high schoolers in West Linn and Wilsonville. Over the years the school was known as Union High, West Linn-Union, Oswego-West Linn, and finally in 1938, West Linn High. My slides include a photo of the football team from 1922. I offer a shout out to this Lion’s Coach who let us know during my talk that this year marks a century of rivalry games between the West Linn Lions and Oregon City Pioneers, the longest west of the Mississippi.

Whew! That’s a lot of looking back at football, teams and stadiums. If you still want more, check out the recording of my recent Zoom talk, thanks to West Linn Historical Society. And looking ahead? Join the West Linn Historical Society on Zoom for our June 21 West Linn Ignite: History on Fire.

Recording of July 17, 2020 “Field Goals and Touchdowns: Early Football in Oregon,” sponsored by the West Linn Historical Society. I thank WLHS for making this recording available.

4 thoughts on “Oregon, football and stadiums: a recap

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