Football Urban Legends Revealed #26

This is the twenty-sixth in a series of examinations of football-related urban legends and whether they are true or false. This week, learn about the Georgetown mascot that was a war hero, find out the history of the Rose Bowl and discover how the Cardinals got their name!

Click here to view an archive of all the previous football urban legends.

Let’s begin!

FOOTBALL URBAN LEGEND: One of Georgetown’s canine mascots was a war hero.


The first live animal mascot in college football was “Handsome Dan,” a bulldog who was purchased by Yale student Andrew Graves in 1889. The bulldog became quite popular with other Yale students and eventually became the official mascot of Yale’s football team, who were dubbed the “Bulldogs.” Yale is currently on its seventeenth Handsome Dan. While Handsome Dan is one of the most famous mascots of all-time, not even he could rival the achievements of the mascot of the Georgetown Hoyas from 1921-23, Sergeant Stubby, a true war hero!

The pit bull/terrier mixed breed puppy that would eventually be named “Stubby” entered the world in rough fashion. The dog lived off of garbage as a stray dog in his early months before being discovered on the campus at Yale University in 1917 by soldiers of the 102nd Infantry, 26th Yankee Division who were training before being sent over the Europe to fight in World War I. Private J. Robert Conroy adopted the dog who soon became a favorite among the troops. Dubbed “Stubby” because of both his short little legs and his short little tail, Conroy taught the dog to shake hands. Conroy then theorized that if he could get the dog to raise its paw to shake hands, he could get the dog to raise its paw even higher. Soon, when Conroy gave the command “Salute!,” Stubby would raise his paw in a close approximation of an actual military salute.

Conroy smuggled Stubby on to the troop transport ship headed to France. When Stubby was discovered, he charmed the superior officers enough that Conroy was allowed to keep him for “morale purposes” (the salute gag surely came in handy when it came time to charm officers). Stubby, Conroy and the rest of the 102 reached the front lines of France in February of 1918. Stubby took awhile to grow accustomed to the hellacious environment that the soldiers in the trenches were exposed to daily, with rifles and artillery fired constantly (dogs, as you might know, aren’t exactly fans of loud noises). Eventually, he grew accustomed enough to artillery attacks that he could hear incoming shells ahead of his human companions and warn them of incoming attacks.

The brave pooch suffered his first war injury when he was exposed to German gas. The rest of the men had gas masks, but although Conroy tried to use a gas mask on Stubby, he was unable to create an airtight seal and he was forced to take Stubby to a field hospital where the dog was given oxygen and eventually recovered. However, the attack left Stubby extremely sensitive to the odor of gas. This came in handy one morning later on in the war when the dog awoke the sleeping American troops with barks and nips to alert them of a surprise launch of mustard gas by the Germans. His actions helped to save the entire Division.

A month or so later, Stubby was injured in a grenade attack, being hit with a lot of shrapnel in his leg and chest. Luckily, after recovering at a Red Cross field hospital (where he cheered troops up by visiting with them), Stubby returned to duty.

During the war, there was the so-called “No Man’s Land” area between the trenches of both sides. It was dubbed this because you really did not want to be wandering out there, since the lack of cover would leave you an unprotected target for enemy snipers. It was here that trained army dogs would come in handy searching for wounded soldiers trapped in “No Man’s Land.” Stubby was trained to approach soldiers and respond to soldiers speaking English by barking loudly, alerting the Division to the whereabouts of wounded soldiers. If the soldiers were not incapacitated, he could also lead them back to the American trenches. It was on one of these missions that Stubby discovered a German spy mapping out the locations of the American trenches. Stubby approached and when the German did not respond with English, Stubby attacked, pinning the soldier down until American soldiers came by to capture the German (Stubby’s fellow soldiers had devised a military jacket for Stubby to keep the various medals awarded to him, and after he captured the German they pinned the German’s Iron Cross on to Stubby’s jacket). For capturing a German Spy, Stubby received a promotion to Sergeant. He now outranked his own master, who was by then “only” a Corporal!

After the war ended, Conroy brought Stubby back to the United States with him where Stubby was treated as a national hero. Stubby toured the country doing promotions to sell war bonds. He was given awards, took part in parades, he even met with three separate sitting U.S. Presidents (Woodrow Wilson, Warren Harding and Calvin Coolidge). For a military dog, though, perhaps his greatest honor was receiving a medal from the Humane Society that was presented to him by General John Pershing, the Commanding General of the United States Armies.

Since 1964, Georgetown University’s animal mascot has been “Jack the Bulldog” (since their team name, the Hoyas, does not translate well into a mascot). However, before they settled on Jack the Bulldog, they had a number of other canine mascots (even a Great Dane at one point), including Stubby. You see, J. Robert Conroy began attending Georgetown Law School in 1921 and he, of course, brought Stubby along. Stubby then became the mascot for the school’s football program for the length of Conroy’s time at Georgetown, doing a “halftime show” that consisted of him pushing a football around the field with his nose (when Stubby left, a terrier dubbed “Hoya” would do similar tricks).

Stubby passed away in the arms of his master in 1926. His remains are held by the Smithsonian National Museum of American History as part of its The Price of Freedom: Americans at War display (he is currently on public display).

Here is a list of all the medals and honors Stubby received during his lifetime: 3 Service Stripes, Yankee Division YD Patch, French Medal Battle of Verdun, 1st Annual American Legion Convention Medal, New Haven World War I Veterans Medal, Republic of France Grande War Medal, St Mihiel Campaign Medal, Wound stripe (replaced with Purple Heart when introduced in 1932), Chateau Thierry Campaign Medal, 6th Annual American Legion Convention and the aforementioned Humane Education Society Gold Medal.

FOOTBALL URBAN LEGEND: The original Rose Bowl was the first postseason “bowl game.”


At the end of each year, we enter into the holiday season. We also enter into the season of College Football Bowl Games, over two dozen of them every year. The Rose Bowl is nicknamed “The Granddaddy of Them All,” because it is the oldest of all the current bowls, taking place every year since 1916 and originating in the 1902 “Tournament East-West” football game in Pasadena, California as part of the Tournament of Roses (which also included the Rose Parade). When the stadium known as the Rose Bowl was introduced in 1923, the name of the game changed from “Tournament East-West” to “The Rose Bowl Game.” The Rose Bowl became so famous that all other bowls take their names from it, even if they do not actually take place in bowl stadiums such as the Rose Bowl. So it is clear that the Rose Bowl well deserves it reputation as the “Granddaddy of Them All,” as it is clear that all other current bowls were based on the success of the Rose Bowl. However, was the 1902 “Tournament East-West” game actually the first postseason “bowl game?”

The answer is a bit tricky, but ultimately I believe that the answer is no.

Thomas Bayne, a New Orleans native who had played football for Yale during the 1880s, brought intercollegiate football to New Orleans with a special game played on New Year’s Day in 1890 at Sportsman’s Park in New Orleans. Bayne brought together players from all over the East Coast to form two teams dubbed “Yale” and “Princeton” (then two of the most famous football programs in the country) who played against each other. The game was scoreless throughout most of the game before ending in a 6-0 “Yale” victory (the game ended following the point after the touchdown, as the only ball was kicked out of the stadium on the point after – touchdowns were worth five points back then). The same day that this “Yale”/”Princeton” game took place, the first Tournament of the Roses was held – a full twelve years before football was added to the program.

On New Year’s Eve, 1892, Bayne was at it again, only this time aided by his brother, Hugh, in organizing a special game between players from Louisiana against players from Alabama. The success of this game led to Bayne organizing football as a sport at Tulane University. Soon, Louisiana State University picked up the sport, as well (Tulane and LSU had a celebrated match against each other in 1893 that, due to LSU’s coach being indisposed, saw Bayne coach both sides!) and college football in Louisiana was well on its way to prominence.

Bayne’s informal games were more like All-Star Games, though, so I could see an argument being made that they can be differentiated from the idea of a “bowl game.” However, the same cannot be said for Adolph Stagg’s University of Chicago team. In 1894, Stagg’s Chicago Maroons played a New Year’s Day game against Notre Dame (like Bayne’s New Year’s Games jump-started New Orleans college football, so, too, did these early matches jump-start Notre Dame’s football legacy). Stagg then took his team to California later that year (in a sort of nationwide tour demonstrating how good the University of Chicago’s football team was) to defeat Stamford in a game on Christmas Day and then the San Francisco Reliance Athletic Club on New Year’s Day 1895.

While clearly none of these games were dubbed “bowl games,” it seems fairly evident that the idea of playing postseason games on New Year’s Day pre-dated the first New Year’s Day Game in Pasadena by a number of years. Again, this does not take away from the importance of the Rose Bowl. Clearly, it took the idea and made it into a tradition with a capitol T. It deserves all the accolades it gets for establishing the popularity of postseason games. It just was not the first instance of these sort of games occurring.

Thanks to Ronald Austin Smith and his excellent book, Play-by-play: radio, television, and big-time college sport for his valuable research in this field.

FOOTBALL URBAN LEGEND: The Cardinals got their name from the faded used jerseys they wore.


As noted in the legend above, the University of Chicago Maroons were one of (probably the) most dominant football teams in the early days of college football. It is fascinating to think of what the program would be like if the school had not discontinued the sport in the late 1930s (by the time they picked it up again, decades had past).

In any event, it was likely the success of the Maroons that inspired Chicago painter/contractor Chris O’Brien to create an amateur football team in Chicago in 1898. The local club soon began playing at Normal Park on Racine Avenue in Chicago. The team therefore became the Racine Normals.

In 1901, O’Brien made a major purchase. He bought the used uniforms of the Chicago Maroons to use for his team. Here is a basic idea of what the maroon color looked like in the Chicago Maroons’ uniforms…

Obviously, by the time the Normals received the used jerseys, they were faded. O’Brien famously quipped, “That’s not maroon! It’s Cardinal red!”

And thus, the Racine Cardinals were born.

After a break from 1906 to 1913 (just not enough people were interested in football in Chicago), O’Brien got the team back together and began to turn it into a semi-professional team. O’Brien and another Illionois semi-pro team owner, George Halas, felt that their teams would benefit by being part of an organization – both by helping to promote the sport but also by preventing players from jumping from team to team…if there was an organized league, the players couldn’t play teams against each other.

In 1920, the American Professional Football Association was born. The following year, a team from Racine, Wisconsin joined so the Cardinals became the Chicago Cardinals. In 1922, the league was re-named the National Football League.

Ninety years later, the Cardinals are still part of the NFL, one of only three original franchises (Halas’ Decatur team, who also moved to Chicago and eventually became the Chicago Bears) and a team that joined the year that the American Professional Football Association became the National Football League – the Green Bay Packers (so depending on how you want to look at it, the Packers might not be considered an original franchise).

Okay, that’s it for this edition!

Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future installments! My e-mail address is

-Brian Cronin

5 Responses to “Football Urban Legends Revealed #26”

  1. So, what’s the name of the official NFL football? That information is teased at the top of the page, but I can’t find it in the article.

  2. PowerBook Pete on April 20th, 2012 at 5:31 pm

    “In 1984, Stagg’s Chicago Maroons played a New Year’s Day game against Notre Dame (like Bayne’s New Year’s Games jump-started New Orleans college football, so, too, did these early matches jump-start Notre Dame’s football legacy).”

    The date’s off.

  3. So, what’s the name of the official NFL football? That information is teased at the top of the page, but I can’t find it in the article.

    Here ya go, Ed!

    The intro was just accidentally used for the previous installment (which was the one that told you about the name of the official NFL football).

  4. The date’s off.

    That it is, Pete. Thanks, fixed it!

  5. Many thanks for posting this extremely useful dose of information. Your opinions on this particular subject are incredible and therefore I’m sure that all of these suggestions will definitely apply to many other individuals around. Once again many thanks for posting.

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