When the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference announced that collegiate football would be one of several fall sports moving to Spring 2021, it came with more questions than answers. What’s a fall like without football? Will football in the spring be the same? How can we play in the midst of a pandemic? But Mines’ football program has faced each of those questions before—it’s just been a while.
The last fall season without football was in 1944, when the Orediggers were on hiatus for nearly three full seasons due to World War II. Although the team played a relatively normal seven- game schedule in 1942, by the fall of 1943, it became clear that due to a combination of opponents suspending their programs, students joining the military and wartime travel restrictions, football needed to be put on hold. Games didn’t return until the program rebooted in 1946, and football has been played at Mines every fall since.
But football played in the spring? You’d have to look back to the 1800s—1888, to be exact. In Mines’ very first football season, the Orediggers began play in November, but, uniquely, their last two games were played after the new year. Mines defeated Denver High School 10-0 on Jan. 12, 1889, and the Denver Cricket Club 22-2 on Feb. 2 in what was touted by local newspapers as the first “Championship of Colorado” game. This spring, 132 years later, will be the first time since then that the Orediggers will play a game in the second semester.
And the last time Mines played football during a pandemic is perhaps one of the wildest, weirdest and most successful Oredigger seasons in history: 1918. With influenza sweeping the globe and World War I raging in Europe, new head coach Irving Barron cobbled together 17 men to play a seven-game schedule. He had to replace his star player and quarterback, F.M. Bell ’21, who had broken his leg falling down a mine shaft before the season, and turned to basketball player George Dunn ’20, who had never played a snap of football in his life. Coach Barron himself was a replacement after his predecessor, Poss Parsons, was drafted into service. And much like in 2020, the looming flu pandemic threatened to halt play at a moment’s notice. The 1918 season seemed doomed from the start.
The Orediggers managed to play a preseason game in early October, but games later that month were canceled due to flu-related travel restrictions and outbreaks. Mines finally got back on the field on Nov. 9 with a crowd consisting solely of ROTC cadets after the City of Golden ordered the game closed to the public.
On Nov. 15, flu conditions improved, and Mines walloped Colorado College 48-6 with fans in attendance, but by Nov. 23, the flu had returned to Golden, and the team would only be able to play one more game. With the RMAC title on the line, the Orediggers shut out Northern Colorado, 41-0. The Orediggers’ last game of the season was canceled, ending the “pandemic season” with an unbeaten record.
Through stoppages and adversity, one theme remained constant: the Orediggers prevailed. From championships in 1889 and 1918 to the return in 1946, football has remained an indelible part of life at Mines, and whenever “normal” returns, it’s a sure bet that the Orediggers will continue that legacy.