These old photos show that early Ohio State football was gritty and amazing

Photographs document the Buckeye gridiron

When Ohio State University began playing football, touchdowns were only worth four points and the football was shaped like a melon.

A collection of black and white photographs from the Ohio History Connection documents the earliest days of Buckeye football.

An image of the fledgling team, taken in 1890, captures the group in striped caps and simple jerseys with the letters “OSU” on the front. Their expressions are stern as they pose against a rocky background.

A student at the school, George N. Cole, is responsible for forming the inaugural team, according to the Ohio History Connection. Cole purchased the first football for the team and wrangled his friend, Alexander S. Lilley, to take an unpaid position as the coach. In their first game, held May 3, 1890, the team beat Ohio Wesleyan University 20-14.

Gaylord “Pete” Stinchcomb, his face streaked with grime from the gridiron, grins at the camera in photograph taken in 1921.

Stinchcomb played for Ohio State 1916-17 and 1919. In the year between, he was fighter pilot in World War I. An All-American all three years he played, Stinchcomb was the first Ohio State player to be inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame.

In a second photo Stinchcomb mugs for the camera with teammate Chick Harley while their teammates can be seen just out of focus in the background.

Harley, a running back, began playing in 1916. The author and humorist James Thurber, a Columbus native, described Harley’s electric running style as “a cross between music and cannon fire.” In 1919 Harley helped OSU win its first game against Michigan.

A photograph reminiscent of a landscape portrait captures the team practicing in 1923 outside of the newly built football stadium. The players, some frozen by the camera’s shutter and others a blur of motion, are dwarfed by the concrete structure.

The stadium was the largest west of the Allegheny Mountains and the first horseshoe-shaped, double-deck stadium when it was completed in 1922, according to the university libraries at The Ohio State University.

An aerial photograph taken Oct. 21, 1922 during the stadium dedication game against the University of Michigan shows the 66,000-seat stadium filled to the brim with 72,000 fans.

During that game vendors sold 10,000 hot dogs, 70,000 bottles of soda, 8,000 boxes of Cracker Jack, 70 gallons of coffee and 25 gallons of mustard, according to the university.

The sidelines also offered interesting photographs. One image, described by the Ohio History Connection as football fans and players on the sidelines in 1920, shows the group bundled up against the cold.

In the center, a bit taller and broader than the rest, a player sits with a basket at his feet and using a metal coffee pot balanced on his lap as a hand warmer.


HISTORY EXTRA is a weekly pictorial history feature showcasing the Miami Valley’s rich heritage. If you have a unique set of historic photos found in your parents’ or grandparents’ attic that depicts the past in the Miami Valley, contact Lisa Powell at 937-225-2229 or at

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