College Football fans have argued for years over whether it was Yale’s Walter Camp or Notre Dame’s Knute Rockne, both pioneers of the modern game, who invented the forward pass. History shows that Camp standardized passing and Rockne was the first coach to use it effectively, the first true forward pass was thrown in…Chapel Hill, North Carolina?
That’s right, John Heisman himself was there when UNC was playing Georgia in 1895. The Tar Heels were forced to punt, but the line didn’t do a very good job of blocking, and their punter was quickly surrounded by Bulldogs defenders. In a moment of panic, he ran to his right, saw a wide open UNC player downfield and threw the ball up. George Stephens caught it and ran for the 70 yard touchdown.
At least, that’s how I think it happened (and Dave’s Football Blog thinks the same way, although he describes it as the moment that killed rugby in America). Mr. Heisman thinks they planned it all along. Per the 1973 book “They made the Bell Tower Chime”:
“John Heisman, a noted historian, wrote 30 years later that, indeed, the Tar Heels had given birth to the forward pass against the Bulldogs (UGA). It was conceived to break a scoreless deadlock and give UNC a 6-0 win. The Carolinians were in a punting situation and a Georgia rush seemed destined to block the ball. The punter, with an impromptu dash to his right, tossed the ball and it was caught by George Stephens, who ran 70 yards for a touchdown.
Heisman wrote he was at the game standing near the action on the sidelines. He is emphatic that Pop Warner, who was coaching Georgia, protested to the referee to no avail. And he adds that he personally wrote Walter Camp, the final authority on football, of the possibilities of the ‘forward pass’ making football a new and more exciting game.”
So there you have it. We have our modern American football thanks to a UNC punter. I find it a bit ironic, because UNC has historically been one of the best running teams in college football. But at least now I have a some obscure player from the 19th century to blame when our secondary gets burned this season.