While major league baseball will experience its mid-summer classic this month with the All-Star game, there was a time when college football annually experienced a summer pre-season classic. This month we’ll look back at the College All-Star game which was held in Chicago from 1934-1976.
Professional baseball’s All-Star game was the brainchild of Chicago Tribune editor Arch Ward. The game was created to augment the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair. Originally, thought to be a onetime affair, the game immediately became a yearly held contest. The 1933 fair was so successful that it was continued into 1934. Since both the All-Star and the fair was so successful it was decided that a second sporting should exist in 1934. Thus, Arch Ward created the College All-Star Game.
Chicago’s Soldier Field fielded its first All-Star team of post graduate senior college players to play against the defending NFL champion Chicago Bears in a pre-season contest. Ward faced many obstacles in getting the game established. Thankfully, he had a personal friendship with coach and owner George Halas who helped secure the Bears. However, the other pro owners were not enthusiastic about having their best rookies miss two weeks of training camp and risking injury in an exhibition game.
Player selection was determined by ballot in the Chicago-Tribune as well as 30 other newspapers scattered across the nation. There were 165,000 ballots cast loyal by readers with Notre Dame Tackle Moose Krause receiving the most votes. All-Star coaches’ were also selected and distributed by ballot. Purdue’s Noble Kizer was voted the honor of the first All-Star coach. Over 200 newspapers and radio stations produced millions of ballots that annually clogged the Chicago Tribune mailroom. In future years, the balloting became a sham as the ballots went largely uncounted and Ward selected the team. Eventually, the fan balloting would be discontinued all together.
To accommodate the team’s living arrangements, the players and coaches were housed on the Northwestern campus for their two-a-day practices at Dyche Stadium.
A crowd of 79,000 fans attended the Friday, August 31, 1934 contest to witness a disappointing scoreless tie. The All-Stars reached the Chicago Bear’s 16 and 27 yard lines but had both scoring drives stopped by lost fumbles. The Bears also fumbled away a scoring opportunity at the All-Star nine yard line. Then another Chicago scoring threat was thwarted with a goal line interception. Late in the contest the All-Stars missed a 40-yard field goal attempt. The defensive struggle saw a combined total of eight interceptions and only nine first downs.
The second contest drew a crowd of 77,000 and was the Bears won 5-0. In 1936, it was agreed that all future games would now be played against the defending NFL champion. The College All-Stars finally scored by tying the Detroit Lions 7-7.
From 1934-1947, the All-Stars held their own against the pro champions winning five and tying two of the first 14 games. After that point, the All-Stars only won four of the last 28 games. The game was extremely popular with the public and annually drew over 90,000 fans with three games topping the 100,000 mark. However, as the game became less competitive, the pros became less willing to have their best prospects miss training camp, the increased risk of injury, and the climbing insurance costs to the Tribune, the last game was played in 1976.