Countdown to IUFB Kickoff: 61 Days (IU Football 1887-1899)


Written by Amanda Pavelka

2019 Countdown - #61

With 2019 being the 150th anniversary of the first college football game, we have decided to fill in our player-less numbers with an overview of time periods (I just randomly broke it up) during Indiana football’s history. Today we look at the beginning of the IU football program as we go all the way back to 1887.



One hundred and thirty-two years ago, Indiana football didn’t exist. There was no Memorial Stadium, no cream and crimson jerseys. The Big Ten Conference didn’t exist.

When Arthur B. Woodford came to Bloomington, hailing from Connecticut, he established what would eventually change Saturday’s for the people of Bloomington, Indiana students, and alumni. The Indiana football team was put together by Woodford himself, who served as an economics professor at IU, and led by team captain and fullback Harry Wise. The 37-man-strong squad played its very first game and sole game of the season against Franklin College at Athletic Park, as part of an attempt to establish an Indiana collegiate championship on October 15, 1887. Woodford and the Indiana football squad fell just-short and suffered a 10-8 loss in Indianapolis.

Woodford returned as the coach in 1888 and IU once again played one game— this time against Depauw University— that ended with a 6-6 tie. Evans Woolen took over as coach in 1889– the first season Indiana played two games. Woolen ended 0-1-1– the same as Woolen— and called it quits after a 6-6 tie against Depauw and a disastrous 40-2 loss to Wabash.

Billy Herod picked up the team in 1891 and led them to their first victory in his lone year as IU football coach. Herod led IU to their very first victory in the season-opening game, where they shut down Louisville Athletic Club 30-0. Herod came up empty most of the season— ending his IU coaching career 1-5, the point deficits for losses being by anywhere from 20 to 60 points a piece.

Next up was Ferber and Huddleston. The coaching duo was less than impressive and finished the 1894 season without a single victory— 0-4 and had to forego their matchup with Purdue.

It was when Dana Osgood and Wren took over the helm that Indiana had their first winning record. IU went 4-3-1 in 1895 under the coaching duo, giving them their first victory in four years and their first victory over then-rival Wabash.

IU football was on the rise and Madison Gonterman took the team’s new-born success to the next level. The Harvard grad started hot with a six-game winning streak, and ended his first season 6-2. He left Bloomington with a bang, ending the 1897 season 6-1-1, making him 12-3-1 all-time as Hoosier head coach.

James Horne took the torch in 1898 and coached the Hoosiers through the turn of the century, leading them to a 15-7 victory over Purdue for the first time on November 30, 1899. While coaching the school’s baseball team and serving as athletic director for the university, Horne combined for a 10-3-2 record in the 1898 and 1899 seasons that would mark the end of an era for an organization less IU football squad. In the new century, Indiana University would join the newly-established Western Conference.

Best Coach – Madison Gonterman (1896-97)

The halfback out of Harvard made his way to Indiana with three years of playing experience under his belt, ready to continue the rise of the Indiana football program. He led the Hoosiers to a winning record in back-to-back seasons in 1896 and 1897, all while serving as AD from 1897-98 and completing coursework from the Harvard School of Law. His 12-3-1 record during his two-year tenure was the best mark of an IU coach to that date— and in the 18th century. As a matter of fact, to this day, Gonterman holds the highest winning percentage at 0.781. The Princeton, Illinois native transferred back to his home state to take over as football coach at Knox College. The end of the century marked the end of his coaching career with a 4-4-1 record in his lone year at Knox. Gonterman graduated from Harvard Law School in 1899 and dedicated the rest of his life to his law career, mostly in the New York City Area. He passed away at the age of 70 on September 30, 1941 in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Best Team – 1897

The Indiana Hoosiers  went 6-1-1 in 1897. The 0.812 winning percentage under Coach Gonterman and would remain the highest winning percentage until the 1905 squad went 8-1-1. The Hoosiers tied 6-6 in their home-opener game against Rose-Poly, as part of a four-day series. IU began a series of shutouts, starting with a 12-0 victory over Rose-Poly the next day. The Hoosiers kept the momentum going into games three and four, running Bedford out 40-0 and Manual Training 30-0 in the final game. A Saturday matchup at Purdue broke their three-game win streak— they fell 6-20. Gonterman and the squad the picked themselves off the ground and finished the season strong with another 3-game win streak— 18-0 vs. Depauw, 22-6 vs. Miami, and 14-0 at Depauw.

Best Player – Emmett King

Player statistics from the 18th century are unavailable, but team captains for each season were luckily recorded. Emmett King served as the Hoosiers’ at the center and right guard positions, and team captain for three consecutive years, from 1895-1897. Indiana saw its best records with King as team captain— the Hoosiers went 16-6-2 while the Indiana native held the title. King went on to play football at Harvard in 1902, then took a coaching job in 1904. King led the Maine Black Bears to a 5-4 record. His focus then turned to his law career. He died rather young, a couple weeks after his 59th birthday in Greencastle, Indiana.

Best Game – 30-0 win over Louisville Athletic Club on November 17, 1891.

Some kind of fight was in that squad in the last game of the 1891 season. The Hoosiers not only pocketed their first win, but managed to shut out the Louisville Athletic Club. It may have been home field advantage, or the fact that the Indiana football program was totally winless could have been the motivation. Up until that game, IU had a 0-8-2 record in the history of the program, the 1887-1891 seasons combined. The Louisville shutout was a job well-done by Coach Billy Herod and most definitely one of the best victories in IU football history— it was the very first.

Hoosier Huddle will cover every year, coach, and legends of IU football on special days of the 2019 Countdown to Kickoff. Come back and check everyday for a new article!


In honor of the late Terry Hutchens, we are including a daily IUFB trivia question from his book So You Think You Know Indiana University Football. Hutch is dearly missed and this is our way of keeping his memory with us this season. Please leave your answers in the comments section.

Who was the athletic director who hired Terry Hoeppner?

Yesterday’s Answer: No, they finished 6-1

 (check back tomorrow for the answer)

The Hoosier Huddle Countdown continues each day so check back daily!