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The Student News Site of Saint Louis University

The University News

The Student News Site of Saint Louis University

The University News

Billikens used to hit the gridiron

Almost 60 years have passed since the Billikens last played a college football game.

While the program had a storied history and some students wish they could catch a Billiken football game, Saint Louis University is unlikely to resurrect the team.

“It is not in our plans to add a varsity football program, we are focused on delivering the 18 sports we have,” Director of Athletics Chris May said.

The University currently lacks a playing field, practice field, coaching staff and recruiting staff for a football program.

Rather than moving toward reviving a football program, the athletic department has lately focused on building the men’s basketball program with the additions of Chaifetz Arena and head coach Rick Majerus.

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“We have the right sports for the University, and our focus is on supporting them,” May said.

According to May, reviving the football program would take years and a large budget to see progress on a NCAA Division-I level. The athletic department at SLU would have to focus so much time and attention for a successful football team that it might take away from the other University sports.

Some students feel that college is incomplete without a football team.

“When I was looking at colleges last year, I didn’t think the college football tradition would be such a big deal, but now I realize it is something we are missing out on,” said freshman Joe Andreoni.

While in existence, Billiken football enjoyed various successes and historic moments. The team started on the gridiron in 1899, going undefeated in 1901, 1904 and 1906. The team also did something no other collegiate football team had ever done previously-incorporating the forward pass.

SLU gained a 22-0 victory on Carroll College in 1906 with the help of first-year coach Eddie Cochem’s decision to incorporate the forward pass. SLU football player Bradbury Robinson threw to teammate Jack Schneider for the first legal forward pass in collegiate football history.

The football team was also the first University team to be known as the Billikens. During the 1911-1912 football season, St. Louis Post-Dispatch sports writer William O’Connor observed that coach John Bender resembled a Billiken. O’Connor later wrote in the Post-Dispatch “Why, that guy’s a familiar Billiken!” That comment, along with Charles Z. McNamara’s painting of the coach in the form of a Billiken, led to the SLU football squad to be known as “Bender’s Billikens.”

The Billiken football team started to lose its momentum with consecutive losing seasons and with the success of the men’s basketball program in the late 1940s. College football was not as popular as college basketball during that era. Other universities started to build football programs, while SLU focused more on basketball. Billiken basketball ranked first in the Associated Press basketball poll during the 1948-1949 season and won the National Invitation Tournament championship that year. With the University focused on basketball, there was no room or budget for the upkeep of the football program.

The football program disbanded on Dec. 14, 1949, after a second straight year of heavy financial losses and low attendance. The last game the Billikens played on the gridiron was a 35-0 loss to the Cougars of the University of Houston on Thanksgiving Day.

The Rev. Paul C. Reinert, S.J., SLU’s president at the time, announced the program’s withdrawal from intercollegiate competition due to the financial burden of maintaining the team.

“Any channeling of resources from the essential academic objectives into areas of secondary importance such as intercollegiate football could not be justified,” Reinert said in a 1949 statement, according the University’s archives.

It seems that there will be no revival of the football team as the basketball team prepares to play their first regular season game at Chaifetz Arena on Nov. 14 versus University of Missouri-St. Louis.

“I am so excited for the first game in Chaifetz, I forgot we didn’t have a football team,” freshman Phillip Reyes said.

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