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Friday, October 5, 2012

Happy anniversary, Browning Field - Quad Cities Online

Happy anniversary, Browning Field - Quad Cities Online:

Happy anniversary, Browning Field

By Steve Tappa,
Tonight marks the 100th anniversary of the first high school football game at Moline's Browning Field.

However, Oct. 5, 1912 did not double as the debut of the oldest facility in the tradition-rich Western Big 6 Conference.

Instead, the rainy Saturday afternoon the prior weekend owns that distinction, when J.T. Browning's donated cow pasture was the site of a season-opening scrimmage between the Maroons and an amalgamation of their alums.

And, especially compared to tonight's speech-and-balloon-filled celebration, Moline's new park and athletic field opened with no fanfare.

"Browning field, at 15th St. and 23rd Ave., after much uncertainty, is being put in shape, and everything now depends upon the weatherman,'' wrote The Dispatch, in the final sentence of its preview of Moline's season, a day before kickoff on Friday, Sept. 27, 1912.

Though listed as part of Moline's 6-2 season, the annual affair with the alumni was used as a "tryout'' for varsity "candidates'' after two weeks of preseason practice, the newspaper noted.

Except for a "rooters' meeting'' at the high school that Friday afternoon "with a large attendance,'' the Dispatch wrote, there was no build up to the opening of the future local landmark.

But then, that was a different day, when horse-drawn carriages still shared the roads with the new-fangled technology of automobiles.

In 1912, The Dispatch normally ran 16 pages.

Usually, that left only one page for sports, unless something big like the World Series was going on.

Plus, commanding the headlines in the week between the first two games at Browning? There was much hand-wringing over the rising Mexican Revolution, the European powers pleading for peace in the Balkans, and then-Colonel Teddy Roosevelt running for president while fighting off charges over nefarious campaign contributions.

There also was no Sunday paper back then, with The Dispatch in newsstands six afternoons a week, selling for two cents per day.

So the write up on the first game at Browning didn't appear until Monday, Sept. 30, 1912.

The below-the-fold item played underneath a picture-and-story display titled, "How one can swim without any previous knowledge,'' right alongside a headline about preparations for the Chicago Cubs to open play in a new field in 1913 -- yep, with construction delayed a year, and later renamed Wrigley Field.

"Alumni take game,'' the headline read. "Ex-stars defeat high school in opening contest by 6 to 0 score; Alumni advantage in weight partly overcome by great defense of regulars.''

"In spite of the rain of the early afternoon, the field was in good condition, and later on, when the weather cleared, playing conditions were ideal,'' The Dispatch wrote.

The "has been'' alumni also had only 10 players, so borrowed "Ellis and Sehnert from the high school reserves,'' The Dispatch said, with first names omitted for some reason in its early high-school coverage.

"Though greatly outweighed,'' according to the story, the high schoolers, "put up a game that made the outcome uncertain at all times.''

The only score in the game came in the final 10-minute frame, when "the alumni found the high school line impregnable and it was only a wide end run that Livingston managed to cross the line,'' the unbylined writer said. "The spectacular player of the game was Stow, who measured up to expectations by reeling off several long runs. After covering half the length of the field, and dodging through the entire team (in the first quarter), he was overhauled by the fleet Livingston, and robbed of a touchdown at the 10 yard line.''

The Moline varsity never got closer to scoring that weekend.

But a week later, on the same day Augustana College announced a bequest by the Ericson family, for donated land and money, which later turned into Ericson Field, the Maroons made Page 2 news in Sports.

After a full page breakdown of the impending World Series, between the New York Giants and Boston Red Sox, and after a cartoon laughing about the impossibility of finding Series tickets, there was a story about a 34-0 Moline victory flanked by a picture of a boy and his bulldog.

"Maquoketa defeated,'' the headline noted. "High School swamps visitors in first game 34 to 0; Reel off end runs and forward passes with bewildering rapidity -- Stowe (sic) is star.''

"Stow made several sensational runs,'' the story went on to note, crediting the "fleet halfback'' with a pair of second-half scores.

Isaacson, Hannah and Neuhaus scored in the first half, and Kiel "kicked goal'' to give the Maroons a 21-0 lead at halftime.

"The team as a whole did excellent work, and may prove to be one of the best the school has had for several years,'' The Dispatch opined.

Ironically, the weight of the contest was ignored with the longest-lasting part of that day never mentioned.

Browning Field history

1910: Moline city attorney John T. Browning alters his will in his final days, giving an old cow pasture to the city of Moline for a park and athletic facility.

1912: Moline defeats Maquoketa (Iowa) 34-0 on Oct. 5 in the first high school football game on the field.

1914: The Moline Plowboys begin playing pro baseball at Browning.

1916: A cinder track is laid and a wooden grandstand added.

1920: A baseball grandstand is added in the southeast corner.

1923: Browning hosts boxing for the first time on July 4.

1926: The Rock Island Independents, charter members of the NFL, move to Browning and play in the American Football League for their final season. They host Red Grange and the New York Yankees in an Oct. 3 game, losing 26-0 in front of a crowd of 5,000.

1928: Wharton Field House opens just north of the stadium.

1930: Lights are installed. Jay Berwanger, the first Heisman Trophy winner, plays for Dubuque High School in the second night game on the field.

1940: Five years after his retirement, a 45-year-old Babe Ruth plays in an exhibition game at Browning on June 26.

1947: Browning hosts motorcycle races.

1948: A June festival celebrates the 100th anniversary of Moline as a city.

1957: The baseball grandstand burns to the ground.

1960: Moline wins the state track title.

1969: The wooden stands on the north side are damaged when a light pole falls on them during a storm.

1972: The first all-weather track is installed. New lights follow a year later.

1976: Browning hosts a celebration of America’s bicentennial.

1995: New bleachers and a new press box are installed.

2004: A new entrance from the east parking lot is built.

2005: The track is named for former state title-winning track coach Gene Shipley.

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