As the world rolled into 1901 it began to turn upside down. On just the 22nd day of January in 1901, Queen Victoria died and was succeeded by her son, Edward VII. The Victorian Era was marked by tremendous growth in the British Empire and great Industrial growth. The economic power of the empire during her 63 year tenure, still the longest ever, was second to none.
On September 6th, just months after being inaugurated for a second term, William McKinley made a trip to Buffalo, New York to view the Pan American Exposition. While standing in the receiving line he was approached by a mentally deranged man who had a .32 caliber revolver hidden under a handkerchief. McKinley was hit with two shots and dropped immediately. The surgeons operating on the President were ill-equipped and attempted the procedure under poor lighting; one physician even tried using a mirror to reflect the sun’s rays for extra light. The bullet was not removed, the wound wasn’t sufficiently drained and eight days after the bullet entered McKinley’s body he passed away. Later that same day, September 14, 1901, Theodore Roosevelt became President and America began a new era of its own.
Before the 1901 season began Vernon Parrington asked to be relieved of his duties with the football team, not for lack of interest in athletics (he remained Athletic Director), but to focus completely on his academic pursuits. The decision was a tough one for President Boyd to accept, but it was made easier by Parrington’s choice as a replacement. Fred Roberts returned from his stint with Washburn College and began his first, and only, season as Oklahoma Football player/coach in 1901 against the University’s arch nemesis, the Texas Longhorns.
Things went according to form in the early pattern of the series with Texas beating Oklahoma 12-6. The game was promising to the development to the Oklahoma program as the Rough Riders hung tough until the game’s final minute. Oklahoma came in to another season with important replacements needed, especially in the backfield. Lum Roberts, Harv Short, and John McCartney were gone from the powerful team a year before, but Roberts return to the backfield was something to look forward to.
Joining Roberts as a backer was the University’s all-world sprinter, Frank McCoy, a man many believed could challenge for fastest man in the world honors. Texas scored on a brilliant play before half to go up 6-0, but the score was evened on a long powerful drive by Oklahoma in the second half, led by the dynamic Fred Roberts. Texas finally wore down the Oklahoma defense and plunged into the end zone with 56 seconds to go. The local paper, Dallas News’, was blown away by Roberts talent, saying, “Roberts for Oklahoma played one of the prettiest individual games ever seen in this city.
Roberts got his first win the following week over Baylor 17-0, leading the way with two touchdowns of his own. The game actually took place just two days after the Texas game in order to help pay the team’s financial obligations for the weekend. The boys from Waco weren’t accustomed to somebody with the power of Fred Roberts, apparently neither were the referees. Harold Keith reported that the refs even penalized the Oklahoma runner twice for what he called “foul tactics” for the way he broke tackles. Some say he was so strong he could throw tacklers away and into the stands with spectators. Roberts and Company rolled through the penalties to the 17-0 victory, collected their $150 guarantee and headed back to Norman without a financial worry.
OU defeated Fairmount College of Wichita Kansas 42-0 after Fred Roberts campaigned for practice help to President Boyd and Vernon Parrington. Roberts claimed that there were too many good male athletes wasting time at the new University gymnasium and he got the most powerful man in Norman, Boyd, to help him recruit men for a second team.
The help from a practice team obviously made a difference. The Daily Oklahoman described the action saying, “They gave the Kansas eleven what Schley gave to Cervera…Snappy play was indulged by both teams.” The “Schley to Cervera” quote being a reference to a famous Spanish-American war battle won by Roosevelt’s Rough Riders.
November 13th saw Kingfisher College come to town in a game that was billed as the “Territorial Championship”. The boys from Kingfisher were undefeated and apparently boasted a rough defense, not having given up a touchdown all season. Oklahoma dug themselves an early hole by making contact with an errant placekick that bounded off the crossbar and then a player, giving Kingfisher the ball at the Oklahoma one yard line. Just before halftime Frank McCoy bolted 40 yards to the end zone, but Oklahoma missed the point after to trail at the half, 6-5.
The boys from Norman got on a roll in the second half because of the legs of Fred Roberts and Frank McCoy, who scored three touchdowns. Harold Keith told of a Kingfisher player, John Alley, who was in awe of Fred Roberts in his book, Oklahoma Kickoff. “We tore Roberts’ sweater off trying to stop him. We finally stopped the sweater but we couldn’t do much with the man in it.” This victory, allowing Oklahoma to call themselves “Territorial Champions” set up the biggest, most anticipated game in Oklahoma Football history.
1. Oklahoma Kickoff by Harold Keith
2. The Daily Oklahoman Archives
3. Rites of Autumn: The Story of College Football by Richard Whittingham