From 1 to 800: A look back at Penn football

Last week, the Penn football team officially began its fall workouts, and in a little more than two weeks, the Quakers’ season will begin with a home game against Lafayette.

When the 2010 season opens, a myriad storylines will accompany it: How will the team react to the unthinkable tragedy of star player Owen Thomas committing suicide? Can the defense be as dominant as it was last year when it led the nation in scoring ‘D’ on the way to an Ivy League championship? How will head coach Al Bagnoli deal with what Pennsylvania Gazette writer David Porter calls a backfield as crowded as a “free buffet anywhere sportswriters are around?”

On a more historic level, a win over Lafayette in the season opener would mark the 800th win in program history, a plateau only nine other college football teams across all levels – Michigan, Texas, Notre Dame, Nebraska, Ohio State, Alabama, Penn State, Yale and Harvard – have reached. (Oklahoma’s first win of the season, which will likely come this weekend, will also be its 800th victory).

A lot has changed since Penn first started playing the sport a couple of centuries ago, but here’s a look back at some of the program’s most significant wins on the way to 800:

Nov. 17, 1876: Win No. 1 came against the “All-Philadelphia” team as the Quakers scored four “goals” to their opponents’ zero. (Penn’s other two games of its inaugural season were losses to Princeton, but we don’t have to talk about those.)

Nov. 11, 1878: Penn’s first win against another college team was an all-out dismantling as it scored nine goals and 16 touchdowns to Swarthmore’s zero in both categories. (16 touchdowns was a lot back then, right?)

Nov. 5, 1892: After 27 straight losses to Princeton, Penn finally beat its neighbors to the north, 6-4. Penn went 15-1 that season – George Woodruff’s first as head coach – as it began to assert itself as a national powerhouse.

Nov. 29, 1894: Penn’s 18-4 win over Harvard put the finishing touches on the program’s first undefeated season and what is generally considered its first national championship. (Although no official trophy was awarded at the time, Penn was also regarded as national champs in 1895, 1897, 1904, 1907, 1908 and 1924). 

The 1894 Quakers won the program's first of seven national championsips (courtesy Penn archives)

Oct. 1, 1895: Penn opened Franklin Field in grand style, shutting out visiting Swarthmore, 40-0, on its way to another national title.

Nov. 24, 1904: One of the most dominant years in Penn history concluded with a 34-0 whitewashing of Cornell. The Quakers allowed only four points the entire season.

Nov. 14, 1908: Head coach Sol Metzger’s only season in charge produced an unblemished record, a national championship and this 29-0 win at Michigan, the winningest team of all-time.

Nov. 30, 1916: A 23-3 win over Cornell in the regular-season finale set up Penn’s only bowl appearance. Sadly, their trip to the Rose Bowl did not add to the program’s win total; the Quakers and quarterback Bert Bell lost to Oregon, 14-0.

Future NFL commissioner Bert Bell led Penn to the Rose Bowl in 1916

Sept. 24, 1921: The first game of famed coach John Heisman’s second year produced an 89-0 win over Delaware, which matched Penn’s largest margin of victory of the century. The Quakers’ other most lopsided win? An 89-0 triumph over – you guessed it – Delaware two year earlier.

Oct 1, 1924: The only time Penn ever played neighbor Drexel in football led to an easy 54-0 win for the Quakers, who went on to claim their final national championship that year.

Oct. 25, 1947: Head coach George Munger’s only undefeated season included this 21-0 shutout of Navy at Franklin Field. Hall of Famer Chuck Bednarik was the team’s star two-way player on that squad.

Reds Bagnell set two NCAA records during a 1950 game against Dartmouth

Oct. 14, 1950: A packed Franklin Field and a live television audience (ABC Sports broadcasted all of Penn’s home games that season) watched as Reds Bagnell amassed a whopping 490 yards of total offense by himself in a 42-26 win over Dartmouth. That was an NCAA record, and so were the 14 consecutive passes he caught.

Oct. 3, 1953: Penn beat Penn State, 13-7, which marked the last time the Quakers would ever defeat the Nittany Lions. The once-yearly series between the two state rivals fizzled out following the 1958 season, but the Quakers can take pride that they won the overall series, 25-19-4.

Oct. 6, 1956: In their first official Ivy League game, the Quakers doubled up Dartmouth, 14-7.

Nov. 26, 1959: Penn secured its first championship in the newly formed Ivy League with a 28-13 win over Cornell in the regular-season finale.

Nov. 17, 1973: Times were lean during the Harry Gamble era of the 1970s but there was nothing lean about Penn’s 42-8 whitewashing of Columbia as the Quakers set a program record with 627 yards of total offense. The record still stands today.

Nov. 13, 1982: Penn’s long championship drought ended when kicker Dave Shulman booted the Quakers past Harvard, 23-21. This was longtime P.A. man C.T. Alexander’s favorite win at Franklin Field. (Yes, that’s a plug for the profile I just wrote on him for the Gazette. You should read it. Twice.)

Fans rush Franklin Field after Penn's momentous win over Harvard in 1982

Nov. 22, 1986: The Quakers’ fifth straight Ivy League crown – and first undefeated season since 1947 – culminated with a 31-21 season-ending win over Cornell.

Sept. 26, 1992: Current head coach Al Bagnoli recorded his first victory as the Quakers ripped Colgate, 24-0, at Franklin Field. He’d go on to match Woodruff as the only Penn coach to win more than 100 career games.

Nov. 19, 1994: Bagnoli joined elite company again when he became the first coach since Woodruff to guide Penn to back-to-back unbeaten seasons. It ended with an 18-14 win at Cornell’s Schoellkopf Field

Sept. 30, 1995: A 20-19 nipping of Bucknell was the Quakers’ 24th straight win – a Division I-AA streak that still stands today. 

Nov. 6, 2000: The Quakers scored 34 unanswered points to overcome an 18-point deficit for the second straight week and produce one of their best wins over Princeton, beating the Tigers, 40-24. A week later, the Quakers enjoyed another thrilling win – a 36-35 triumph over Harvard – before romping past Cornell to win the Ivy League title outright.

Nov. 16, 2002: Chris Fowler, Lee Corso, Kirk Herbstreit and the rest of the ESPN College GameDay crew came to an Ivy League game for the first time ever as the Quakers hosted Harvard with a league title on the line. Penn responded with an easy 44-9 triumph, avenging a crushing loss from a season prior.

Another huge win over Harvard in 2002 impressed the ESPN GameDay crew -- although fans couldn't get the goalposts down

Nov. 22, 2003: The Quakers’ 59-7 trouncing of Cornell not only capped off an undefeated season and a second straight Ivy League title – it also proved to be the largest margin of victory in the modern era.

Nov. 19, 2009: The Quakers clinched a share of their first Ivy League title in six years with a 17-7 win against Harvard in a driving rainstorm. They won the crown outright the following week with a 35-0 rout of Cornell.

Well, there are 25 of the 799 wins the Quakers have captured over the past 134 years. I know plenty of big ones are missing, so feel free to leave your favorites in the comment section below. And who wants to compile another list when Penn gets to 1,000?


Filed under Football

5 responses to “From 1 to 800: A look back at Penn football

  1. D.

    That comeback against Princeton was great. Penn converted a really exciting Hail Mary to end the first half, and CN8 color guy Bill Bergey said something like, “That might be the play of the half!” Ya think?

  2. John Alexander

    The 1986 Cornell game is listed, but I would argue that the win over Navy at Navy was the most impressive win that year. It was punctuated by a great catch over the middle by future Minnesota Viking, Brent Novoselsky, who ended up breaking a shoestring tackle attempt by a Navy defender and leaving the defensive back sprawled on the turf without his helmet! As quoted from an old DP article, “Crocicchia’s arm was golden in the fourth quarter, connecting twice with Novoselsky and once with tight end Jim Bruni for a total of 20 unanswered points. A late Midshipmen touchdown was too late, as the Quakers left Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium basking in the glory of a 30-26 upset of an average, but heavily favored, Division I-A team. ‘No one expected us to beat Navy.'”

  3. Pingback: By the numbers: the rise and fall (and rise again) of Penn football | Penn Gazette Sports

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