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In more than a century and a half of college football, there have been plenty of match-ups of No. 1 vs. No. 2.
Those contests often bear the name, “Game of the Century”. The 1905 match-up between Chicago and Michigan is sometimes referred to as the “First Greatest Game of the Century”.
There was no such thing as the AP Poll back then, but most knew that a national championship was on the line. In that contest, it was Chicago that snapped Michigan’s 56-game unbeaten streak with a 2-0 victory.
Setting the Stage
Under head coach Fielding Yost, Michigan was known for its “point a minute” teams. As the Wolverines arrived at Marshall Field on Nov. 30, 1905, they were 12-0 and had outscored opponents 495-0. Michigan had not lost a game in five years and tied just once — against Minnesota in 1903.
Chicago also arrived unblemished. Under head coach Amos Alonzo Stagg, the Maroons were 10-0 and had allowed just five total points all season. It was no surprise the defenses dominated.
Throughout the day, the contest was dominated by defenses and punters. Chicago’s Walter Eckersall and Michigan’s John Garrels had a busy day trading punts. It seemed fitting that it was a punt that would decide the contest.
The teams combined for just 260 total yards, but the Maroons finally broke through in the fourth quarter. Michigan’s Denny Clark fielded the punt in his own end zone and decided to try to return it. That would be a mistake.
At the time, there was no such thing as forward progress. Clark left the end zone where he was met by Chicago’s Mark Catlin. Catlin drove Clark back into the end zone before tackling him for the game-winning safety.
Chicago remained undefeated. Michigan’s 56-game unbeaten streak was over.
Clark’s decision to return the punt would go on to be considered quite the gaffe — one he never got over. Clark never played another game at Michigan, but instead transferred to MIT to finish up his academic career. In 1932, Clark committed suicide and left a note explaining that he hoped his “final play” would atone for his decision to bring the punt out of the end zone at Marshall Field.
As for Chicago, it would go on to win the national championship. It would be the first of two under Stagg. It was ultimately decided with a thrilling victory over Michigan on this day 115 years ago.