Saturday, January 10, 2015

John Henry Wise

[ed. Marcus Mariota isn't the first Hawaiian football player to gain fame with a big "O" on his jersey, or to be associated with a Heisman. That would be John Henry Wise.

Oberlin was the first school coached by the legendary John W. Heisman. He coached the teams in 1892 and '94, the second and fourth seasons that football was a varsity sport at the college. The faculty had not approved football as a sport prior to 1891, but it agreed to hire Heisman as head coach for the '92 season because he was recommended by Walter Camp. Heisman was a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania where he starred as an end in football. In those days football was quite popular in the East and was just beginning to take root in the Midwest. The hiring of Heisman enabled Oberlin to become one of the leading team's in the Midwest. In 1892 the "O" Men, as they were called at the time, were led by Heisman to their first undefeated season with a perfect 7-0-0 record beating their opponents by an average score of 37-4 which included two wins over Ohio State and one over Michigan. To this day, the Wolverines still claim they won the contest but all agree that both sides played the game as it should have been played (without any slugging.) Because Heisman enrolled in post graduate courses in art, he was permitted to play football for Oberlin as he participated in the late stages of some games near the end of the season. Heisman became known as the leading pioneer in developing the game of football into what it is today with formation shifts, centering the ball, and forward passing. His contribution to Oberlin was in proving that an intelligent coach was an integral part of the sport. The Heisman name is more famous today than back in 1892, being synonymous with the award for most outstanding player in college football. As a result, Oberlin named their athletics booster club after Heisman, in an attempt encourage support for all of Oberlin's athletic programs.

Controversial game vs. Michigan

On a cold Saturday afternoon in November 1892, Oberlin's team took the field in Ann Arbor against a heavily favored Michigan squad which had trounced them handily the year before. Notable among the Oberlin visitors was their new player-coach John Heisman, who had been hired away from the University of Pennsylvania by the Oberlin Athletic Association (a student-run enterprise in those days) and who brought an undefeated team with him to Ann Arbor. The team's fastest running back was Charles Savage, who a few years later would become Oberlin's director of athletics and, like Heisman, a nationally prominent figure. Oberlin's best lineman was theology student John Henry Wise, half-German, half-Hawaiian, who after graduation returned to his island home and joined the 1895 Counter-Revolution aimed at toppling the Republic of Hawaii and restoring Queen Liliuokalani and the monarchy. He was sent to prison for three years charged with treason. Oberlin's team trainer, "nurse to the wounded," was pre-med student Clarence Hemingway, who would go on to practice medicine in Oak Park, Illinois, and pass on his love of hunting in Michigan to his son, future novelist Ernest Hemingway.

The game in Ann Arbor was close all the way. At halftime Michigan led 22-18. The team captains agreed on a shortened second half, to end at 4:50 p.m. so Oberlin could catch the last train home. With less than two minutes remaining, Michigan drove to the 5-yard line before Oberlin stopped them and took over on downs. Then halfback Savage entered the mists of Oberlin athletic legend by dodging through the line and sprinting 90 yards to the Michigan 5, where Michigan's star player, George Jewett, caught him from behind.

Two plays later Oberlin made its final touchdown. Score: Oberlin 24, Michigan 22, with less than a minute to go. As Michigan launched its last drive, the referee (an Oberlin sub) announced that 4:50 p.m. had arrived, time had expired, and the Oberlin squad trotted off the field to catch the train. Next the umpire (a Michigan man) ruled that four minutes remained on the game clock, owing to timeouts that Oberlin's timekeeper had not recorded. Michigan then walked the ball over the goal line for an uncontested touchdown and was declared the winner, 26 to 24. By that time the Oberlinians were headed home clutching their own victory, 24 to 22. Officially, each school recognizes a win for themselves in the respective archives.

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