It was old-time football – rough, tough and a player literally put their life at risk on the field.
The Fort team was unbeaten, untied and unscored upon. They crushed everyone they played and I suspect, the Syracuse University football team dodged playing them due to their success.
The time period is World War I – the most brutal war in history. Inventions such as the machine gun, tanks, war planes, chemical gases, flame throwers and other deadly devices were introduced and those affected were treated at Fort Ontario.
Just when the season was supposed to begin the Spanish Influenza epidemic hit. Some 20-100 million died worldwide, 750,000 in the United States and in Oswego, home of the Fort, the rate per 100,000 was worse than in the big cities like New York, Philadelphia and Chicago.
The team was made up of an interesting cast – a Native American from Oklahoma, the second best player on the team, he fought for a country that hadn’t even given him citizenship yet…a Britain born Irishman who had played in the 1916 Rose Bowl…a Russian born Jew whose family had escaped a pogrom in his home country intent on killing them…a tough hardnosed local player who had come from the ranks of the amateur fields…there were Catholics playing alongside Protestants alongside Jews alongside Native Americans.
The team manager was a German descended Priest (Gustav Unterkoefler) whose name alone put him at risk in a country hateful of anything German.
The Fort’s commander who at 56 married an actress 20 years his junior (at the Fort) at a time when actresses were looked upon with social disdain.
A soldier who may have been a ringer brought to the Fort but died from the influenza before he could suit up.
A nurse who refused to leave the side of her “boys”, caught the influenza and died two hours after her mother arrived from Chicago to be at her deathbed.
A local soldier who shot down an enemy plane with a single rife shot, was praised as a hero but died soon later from wounds on the battlefield.
There was alcohol prohibition (and those who broke the rules)
A deserter and attempted escapee from the fort who was shot in the act
And so much more…
These are just some of the highlights and the most interesting part? They are 100% true! Can you imagine the story lines if Hollywood adds a little flair?