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1915 – Champions of All

10/7/2015 By Jim Hanchett '53 | CFA Historian

The years immediately preceding World War I were building times for Dr. Albert Sharpe, who had been a Walter Camp All-America long distance ball carrier and drop kicker at Yale a few year earlier. His 1914 Cornell team, featuring National Hall of Fame end John O’Hearn ’15, had gone 8-2, running up 257 points and giving up but 54. QB Charley Barrett was renowned for “uncanny running ability, coach Sharpe, who should know, said. Fiery center Gib Cool was expected to “be a pest” to the other people in big games.

By Fall ’15, O’Hearn had moved along but Barrett was back. And they had a new mascot, Touchdown I, a crowd-pleasing bear cub who climbed goalposts.

A very big game loomed in late October, when Sharpe’s troops were to meet superpower Harvard, which was enjoying huge success under former Cornell coach Percy Haughton, builder of better mousetraps in the line and given to hidden ball deceptions.

The new Schoellkopf Field and its parking facilities were well-filled on a Tuesday afternoon, the Cornell Daily Sun reported, with 8,000 fitted snugly into the stands and a floral wreath placed prominently on the sidelines for the opener vs. a “heavy, aggressive” Gettysburg team. QB Barrett and right half Carlton (Banty) Collins both tore loose over broken fields but were guilty of costly fumbles. Captain Barrett burst through in the first quarter to cap a 50-yard drive with the stadium’s first touchdown. He carried it through right tackle in the fourth quarter to give the Big Red a 13-0 conquest in 10-minute quarters.

The “light but tricky” Oberlin was next. It scored on a “cleverly executed” long forward pass but it was the only one of 14 attempts that the visitors completed on a wet field against the “vastly improved” Cornellians. They rushed for 339 yards and were forced to punt but once. Left tackle William Jameson blocked two punts.. Barrett crossed the goal line carrying three Oberliners on his back after a 22-yard run. He bucked for two more in the second 12-minute quarter. Cornell won. 34-7.

Williams showed a strong passing attack much like Oberlin’s — one completion for 10 attempts — and that one a TD on the same play that clicked for Oberlin. Williams rushed for 54 yards. Barrett, used sparingly in the 15-minute quarters, was in there long enough to contribute a touchdown. Collins ran for three, with help from a line that was creating wider holes and keeping them open longer, said the Sun. Cornell 46, Williams 6.

On the first play from scrimmage vs. Bucknell, Barrett finessed the Bison left end, stiff-armed two defensive backs and outran the orange-and-blue herd for 72 yards and six points. It was the first of his four touchdowns for the afternoon, one of them a 44-yard rumble. It was another Big Red letter day, 41-0.

Dr. Sharpe’s Big Redders played just three road games in ’15. The first was at Harvard, which had not lost since 1911 (to Jim Thorpe and his Carlisle Indians, 33 games in a row, and was the unquestioned king of the football world. Haughton’s Cantabs were built around quintuple threat Eddie Mahan, brilliant on offense and defense, an artful dodger, passer.kicker, blocker and tackler, three-time Walter Camp All-America and even now still considered the ‘Vard’s greatest back ever.

A mighty clash of Crimson and Carnelian was forecast. The Big Red struck early after Mahan fumbled on his 20 and left end Murray Shelton pounced on the pigskin. Six plays later, Barrett plowed over the last white line with about four minutes gone.

Shortly afterward, he ran head-on into Mahan and was knocked unconscious — and out of business for thew rest of the day.

Pepperpot 160-pound center Cool helmetlessly led the Red in Barrett’s stead. He was all over the field, making trouble for the fiercely fighting Harvards. Collins just kept rolling along afoot.

Fritz Shiverick, unavailable for the early games, took over at QB and ran the team, and the ball, with authority. His deep punts throttled Mahan. One was good for 87 yards, including the roll.

His 38-yard, third quarter dropkick through a strong crosswind gave Cornell an insurmountable 10-0 lead and that’s how it ended.

All 13 Cornellians who played that day were part of the Big Red machine that ended the Harvard reign. It was Cornell’s first vanquishing of the ‘Vard after 10 tries.

It’s said that Harvard ’15 inspired “Cornell Victorious,” the football song composed by Silas Hibbard Ayer Jr. ’14.

Barrett was back in midseason form when VPI came to Ithaca. His three TDs were part of a 45-0 rout. Something new was added: forward passes. Ends Shelton and Paul Eckley were called upon for the first time to gather in forwards. Both succeeded for TDS. They kept up the good work on defense. So did Mr. Cool, who ran a TD in from scrimmage — the first of his career — with roommate Barrett blocking for him.

C.U. came home from Ann Arbor, MI, valiant 34-7 victors.

Washington and Lee, champions of the South, was, the Daily Sun thought the best team Cornell played that fall and the Redders played their best game against them. The visitors scored first, on a pass. Cornell got one back quickly but then John Barrett returned a kickoff 100 yards to regain the lead. Another W & L TD made it 21-7.

But that was it for the Southerners’ day. Cornell managed to draw within one point — 21-20 — at halftime. A determined series of second-half drives produced a resounding run of 33 points and a 40-21 triumph. It was a five-TD day for Barrett.

Penn scored first in the annual traditional Thanksgiving Day battle in Philadelphia and held a 9-0 edge. Barrett scored second and it was 9-7 as the last quarter began. He ran for 40- and 25-yard TDs and kicked a field goal, thereby accounting for all the scoring in a 24-9 conquest of Quakers.

The unbeatable — they were Cornell’s first undefeated football team — Redmen scored 287 points to all opponents’ 50.

Helms Athletic Foundation, Houlgate System, National Championship Foundation and Parke Davis considered Cornell number one in the nation for 1915.

Barrett’s farewell performance at Franklin Field so impressed the Penn players that they joined in a tribute to him in the form of the plaque at the entrance to Schoellkopf for “His splendid loyalty and leadership and as homage to a worthy gridiron adversary” on the occasion of his death as a result of illness contracted on the USS Brooklyn in Yokohoma Harbor during World War I.

He and Shelton were Walter Camp All-Americas and are members of the National Football Hall of Fame. They’re in the Cornell Athletic Hall of Fame with Collins, Cool, Sharpe, Shiverick and coach Ray Van Orman.

A century later Cornell dedicated 1915 Plaza, to honor its unbeatable, unforgettable champions of all and their mascot, Touchdown I. She returned — in bronze — across the street from the stadium that opened in ’15 — on the day after the inauguration of Cornell’s 13th president Elizabeth Garrett. One of her first official duties was to preside over the unveiling of TD 1’s statue. The entire team broke pregame parade ranks to pat the cute little cuh on the way to suit up for their day’s business. The new president proudly wore a number 13 Cornell jersey, on her way to the sidelines and the toss of the coin.