Chicago Dental Page


The 1903 Chicago Dental Game:
A Tenth Win, Reclaimed

The official NU football history and results used to show 1903 as a nine-win season, with two losses: a loss to the Carlisle Indians and a loss to Chicago Dental, by a score of 10-11 on October 7, 1903.  Not only had NU's records indicated that the team lost that game, but that game had been the butt of at least one writer's joke during the 1995 Rose Bowl season (making the crack that, after all, this was the school that had once lost to a dental school!).

However, an article in the Chicago Tribune from October 8, 1903 showed instead that NU won the game with Chicago Dental by a score of 18 to 11.  There was no available copy of the student newspaper from that time.*  From the time that it was uncovered in 2003, until 2008, the Tribune account was the only primary source to contradict NU's official record.

Here is the Chicago Tribune account of the game:

Methodists Win from Chicago Dental
by a Total of 18-11, the Los-
ers Being Handicapped by Lack of
Condition-- One Touchdown Against
McCornack's Pupils Is Made on a
Lucky Run Across Field, but Other
Results from Straight, Steady Gains

In a game which showed Northwestern weaker than even the most pessimistic feared, the Methodist school yesterday allowed the Chicago Dental college eleven to make two touchdowns, scoring only three itself, so that the final score was 18-11.  One of the touchdowns made by the Dental college was scored on a run of 105 yards, but the other was made by straight playing, the dental backs pushing the ball by line bucks the length of the field.

The game opened with Northwestern in possession of the ball, and the backs pushed it steadily down the field until within ten yards of the goal line.  Then Blair fumbled and Baird got it and ran the length of the field.  He was closely pursued by McCann, but the Northwestern quarter was pushed out of the way by Craber, and Baird carried the ball over.

In the second half Sayler returned Colton's kickoff to the twenty-five yard line, and then, by gains through the line which repeatedly netted five to ten yards, the Dental school backs pushed the ball steadily down the field.  A run of fifteen yards around the left end by Longacre brought the ball to within two yards of the Northwestern line, and Barlow carried it over.

Northwestern's gains were made by straight line bucking for the most part, the only end runs being  by McCann, who scored one touchdown on a thirty yard run.  The dentists played a hard, fierce game, but were handicapped by lack of training.

The playing of Northwestern was such as to discourage the Methodist rooters.  While gaining sometimes with apparent ease, the backs played an erratic game, and the line men gave them little support.  The game was played on a slippery field, and this accounts, in part, for the slowness of the purple team.

Colton played the best game, but he was not always to be depended upon.  On the defense the team was weaker than on offense, the only redeeming feature being the work of Kafer in stopping plays and of Colton in backing up the forwards.

Northwestern 18 - Chicago Dental college 11
Touchdowns -- Baird, McCann [2], Barlow, Blair.  Goals -- Colton [2]; Gilbreth.

I had posted this article on in 2003 and mentioned the win in my 2005 book.  The 2005 ESPN Encyclopedia (edited by a Northwestern alumnus) listed NU's 1903 season record as 10 wins, one loss, and three ties.  It showed the Chicago Dental game as an 18-11 NU win.

However, NU told me that the Tribune might have erred, and there was no way to validate the NU win and change the official record.  We needed to find a second contemporary source.

In 2008, after searching periodically for a second, confirming source showing NU won the game, I found it in an obscure, defunct Chicago newspaper, the Chicago Chronicle.

Here is how the Chicago Chronicle reported it (from its Oct. 8, 1903 issue):



In the hardest game of football seen on Sheppard field this season the Northwestern university team defeated an eleven from the Chicago Dental college yesterday by a score of 18 to 11.  It was a struggle from the first kickoff and the game was in doubt until the call of time put an end to the contest.  The field was sloppy and good defensive work in the lines was almost impossible.  In consequence the side that had the ball was always able to gain ground through the opposing line.  Though the purple scored the greater number of points and made all its touchdowns by straight football and the "dents" secured one of their scores by a fluke, it was admitted by all who saw the game that the teams were evenly matched.

After the game Coach McCornack expressed some disappointment at the showing made by his men, though he excused their work by saying the team was the best they had been against, having some as good individual players as the purple will have to face this year.  Among the stars on the dental squad was Irwin, coach for the team and one of the best players on the Chicago team of two years ago.  He played tackle for the "dents."  The lineup:

Peckum L.E. Melaik
Kafer L.T. Longaker
Phillips L.G. Hunsman
Carlson C. Buncsh
Fountain R.G. Platts
Bell R.T. Irwin
Weinberger R.E. Baird
McCann Q.B. Leigh
Ruber L.H. Barlow
Colton R.H. Jones
Blair F.B. Sayler

Referee-- Dr. Richards.  Umpire-- J.A. Brown:
Linemen-- Pierson and Hamilton.  Timekeepers-- Clark and Hanson.  Time of halves-- 25 and 20 minutes.  Substitutes-- Northwestern: Sherlock, Scott, Gunsul, Williamson, Stribling, Gilbreth.  Dental School: Joyce and Craber.
Touchdowns-- McGann (2), Blair, Barlow, Baird.  Goals-- Colton (3), Barlow.

It's apparent that the Tribune has the correct score, but flubbed on its reporting of the goals scored in the game, which the Chronicle appears to have correct.  In this game, touchdowns were worth five points (TDs would not be worth six points until 1912).  For NU, quarterback George McCann scored two touchdowns, and fullback Charles Blair scored one TD, for a total of 15 points.  Chauncey Colton kicked all three P.A.T.s successfully, for a total score of 18 for NU.  John Gilbreth, while playing for NU, likely did not kick a P.A.T.

For Chicago Dental, the two touchdowns by Barlow and Baird, and one successful P.A.T. by Barlow would total 11 points.

Clearly the game was a "moral loss" for NU, since it was assumed prior to the game that Chicago Dental would not even threaten to score, not to mention score twice.  However, NU did obviously win the game.  The record for 1903, NU's first Big Ten title season, should be 10-1-3, not 9-2-3.


NU has corrected this record!  After the correct score was mentioned by both The Sun-Times and in early 2009, the 2009 NU media guide officially listed the win, and credited NU with 10 wins in 1903.

*The Northwestern, the predecessor to the Daily Northwestern, did publish an account on Oct. 9, 1903, but it was not available until NU began to digitize its collection. The Oct. 9 issue of The Northwestern also confirms the 18-11 NU victory.