Pop Golden figured Penn State would’ve won on a dry field.
If that name doesn’t sound familiar to Nittany Lion football fans, it’s understandable. After all, William “Pop” Golden coached Penn State more than a century ago, and for only three seasons (1900–02).
However, if the 1900 contest against Buffalo is any indicator, he enjoyed an eventful tenure as head coach.
The details of this game are thankfully preserved by the University at Buffalo’s University Archives. We say “thankfully” even though Penn State was tagged with a 10-0 defeat, because the circumstances surrounding the contest are part comical, part impressive, and entirely worth remembering, if only to recognize how far college football has come since its beginning 150 years ago.
So, about the playing conditions:
The game was played on Thanksgiving, with the Buffalo Athletic Field featuring “the worst bog imaginable,” according to the Buffalo Evening News. The outlet also described the season-ending win coming amid “a hard and muddy struggle” in its headline. The New York Times, meanwhile, declared that the gridiron was more fit for water polo than football.
The reason for the undesirable field was that when the Buffalo Railway Company’s scrapers cleared off the snow, they took the turf, too.
Visibility was so bad that players on both sides couldn’t tell who was who. Often, a player would pull who they thought was a teammate from the mud, only to discover they were staring at their opponent.
Making matters worse for the Nittany Lions, they were placed in a cold room at halftime, resulting in the players coming out stiff in the second half, according to Golden.
He also said: “I think that Penn State would defeat Buffalo on a dry field.”
Golden hoped Penn State-Buffalo would turn into an annual series, though it was another 107 years before the two squads played again — a 45-24 victory for Penn State at Beaver Stadium in 2007.
You can read the full recap from the 1900 classic — including plenty of other fascinating details — at University at Buffalo’s University Libraries’ website
For the Glory,
— John Patishnock ’05