South Bend High used ‘trick’ forward pass before Notre Dame

The more liberalized rules on the forward pass did not go into effect until 1906, following the Roosevelt Commission’s rules, which were an attempt to reduce injuries and deaths on the playing field.

It was not either Notre Dame coach Jesse Harper, nor QB Gus Dorais, nor End Knute Rockne who invented the forward pass, which led to N.D.’s November 1, 1913 historic 35-13 win over Army.

But, it would not be incorrect to say that the three of them perfected its use for Notre Dame’s second major football win, which put ND FB on the national map. (The November 6, 1909, 11-3 win in Ann Arbor is arguably the first major win for N.D.)

While doing some research on Notre Dame’s 58-4, October 19, 1908 win over Ohio Northern, I found a story which illustrates what might be the very first time the forward pass was experimented within South Bend.

The headline in the South Bend Tribune was “Forward Pass is Perfected.” The sub-head included the words “Players Work Trick Successfully Eight Times (out of 9).”

So, who was the mastermind and the “flinger & clinger” on this very new stratagem?  Coach Romine, QB Kirby, and RE Whitaker. 


They were part of the South Bend (Central) High School football team, practicing this play in anticipation of their upcoming clash with Winona Academy.

So, how did the boys from S.B. do against Winona Academy?

The Benders defeated a strong Winona Academy team, 18-10.  The game account, however, does not list any information about passing, though RE Boswell did score a TD.

How strong was the Winona Academy team?  Their fullback, George Courtright, played the entire game, despite breaking his nose early in the first half.