12. December 2009 · Comments Off on Pioneering Play-by-Play (1903) · Categories: Archive 2009 · Tags: , , ,

A very cool post from the excellent UniWatch blog (HT: Jerry @ WarBlogEagle) that leads with a photo of fans gathered in the streets of New York watching the 1911 World Series play out via the Playograph, essentially a former-day version of the ESPN Gamecast.  Play-by-play game updates were wired in and represented on the board for fans to enjoy (and apparently everyone was required to wear a hat):


As Paul of Uni-blog notes, Michigan was a pioneer in bringing the road game experience to fans back home.   According to the wonderful U-M Bentley Library, the Michigan Daily posted score updates during the early days of the Fielding Yost Point-A-Minute era, but then stepped things up prior to the 1903 game against the Gophers in Minneapolis:

In 1903, a UM student, the Athletic Association and the Bell Telephone Company teamed up to bring Wolverine fans in Ann Arbor a nearly "live" account of the Minnesota game played on October 31 in Minneapolis; a game that would determine the "Champion of the West." Reporting the game from a specially built tower at Northrop Field, Floyd (Jack) Mattice, Law 1905, could lay a justifiable claim to being one of the first broadcasters of a college football game.

Here’s how he did it:

In Minneapolis, Bell engineers erected a wooden tower 40 feet high at the 55-yard line (football was played on 110-yard fields in those days). On top of the tower was a wooden telephone booth.

Mattice climbed the tower, entered the booth and donned a headset and voice transmitter. When he spoke into the transmitter, he was answered by a professor speaking from University Hall in Ann Arbor. Some 3,000 persons were assembled there to hear Mattice’s description of the game. The Bell company had several other cities hooked in on the same broadcast.


Back in Ann Arbor, the University Hall fans, who had paid a 25 cent admission fee, eagerly awaited Mattice’s report. Since in that time there was no radio, no loudspeakers or no way to amplify telephone transmissions, and head phones could not be supplied for all the listeners, an ingenious system was worked out, according to Mattice. The Bell engineers placed 10 telephones on 10 tables backstage in University Hall. Ten students, who knew football and the opposing teams, sat at the tables in numbered order.

The first student listened to as much of Mattice’s description as he could remember, dropped the receiver and rushed to the stage. By megaphone he told the crowd what Mattice had said. Meanwhile, the second student had picked up Mattice’s conversation and in his turn rushed to the stage while the third man listened to the description of the play from distant Minneapolis. In this manner the 10 students dashed back and forth to transmit the description. The course of the game was also charted on a large diagram of a football field on the auditorium stage. As play progressed a marker charted the position of the ball.

Pretty cool.  It’s unknown whether Mattice noticed that Michigan left behind their water jug that day.

College Football Relic: a program to the 1873 Rutgers-Yale game on eBay.  Just $10,000.
* Want the 2009 version of real time updates?  Follow MVictors on Twitter 

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