Carlisle Indians football

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Carlisle Indians
First season 1893
Last season 1917
Location Carlisle, Pennsylvania
League NCAA
Conference Independent
All-time record 173–92–13 (.646)
Postseason bowl record 0–0 (–)
Claimed national titles 0
Conference titles 0
Division titles 0
Heisman winners 0

Red and White

Rivals Harvard Crimson
An early football team, called the "Pirates", at the Carlisle Indian Industrial School in 1879.

The Carlisle Indians football team represented the Carlisle Indian Industrial School in intercollegiate football competition. The program was active from 1893 until 1917, when it was discontinued. During the program's 25 years, the Indians compiled a 167–88–13 record and 0.647 winning percentage, which makes it the most successful defunct major college football program.[1] During the early 20th century, Carlisle was a national football powerhouse, and regularly competed against other major programs such as the Ivy League schools. Several notable players and coaches were associated with the team, including Glenn "Pop" Warner and Jim Thorpe.


The Carlisle Indian Industrial School was founded in 1879 by an American cavalry officer, Richard Henry Pratt, in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. Its purpose was to facilitate the assimilation of the Native American population into mainstream American society.[2]

In 1893, the Indians played their first season recognized by the NCAA.[1] The Indians were consistently outsized by the teams they scheduled, and they in turn relied on speed and guile to remain competitive. Carlisle's playbook gave rise to many trick plays and other innovations that are now commonplace in American football. The overhand spiral throw and hand-off fake are both credited to Carlisle.[2][3] Other strategems caused the National Collegiate Athletic Association to institute rules specifically prohibiting them.

The 1911 Carlisle Indians football team pose with a game ball from the upset of Harvard. Coach "Pop" Warner (standing, third from right) and Jim Thorpe (seated, third from right) are pictured.

In 1903, an Indian team coached by Pop Warner first employed its infamous "hidden-ball play" against heavily favored Harvard. Warner, as coach at Cornell, had already used it against Penn State, but it had not achieved much notice. Carlisle led Harvard at halftime, and hoping to keep the game's momentum, Warner elected to try the play on the ensuing kickoff. Harvard executed the kick, and the Indians formed a circle around the returner. With the aid of a specially altered jersey, the ball was placed up the back of the returner. The Indians broke the huddle and spread out in different directions. Each player feigned carrying the ball, except Dillon, the man with the ball up the back of his jersey. The ruse confused the Crimson players, and they scrambled to find the ball carrier. Dillon, with both his hands free, was ignored by the searching Harvard players, and he ran unmolested into the end zone. With the score, Carlisle extended its lead to 11–0, but Harvard came back and eventually won 12–11. Nevertheless, the close match, and trick play, resulted in national attention.[2][4]

In 1907, Jim Thorpe, undersized even for the Indians, persuaded Warner to allow him to try out for the team. Thorpe immediately impressed his coach and secured a starting position on the team.[3] On October 26, 1907, Jim Thorpe and Carlisle trounced a powerful University of Pennsylvania team, 26-6, before an overflow crowd of 20,000 at Franklin Field. [5] After graduating from Carlisle, he went on to stardom in numerous athletic endeavors, including as an Olympic athlete and professional player in football, baseball, and basketball.[6]

In 1911, the Indians posted an 11–1 record, which included one of the greatest upsets in college football history. Against Harvard, Thorpe scored all of the Indians' points in a shocking upset over the period powerhouse, 18–15. The only loss for Carlisle came at the hands of Syracuse the following week, 12–11.[7]

The Indians' last season of play was 1917. The school would fold at the end of the 1917-18 school year. Many of the Indians' players would eventually end up in the National Football League and other professional football teams during the 1920s.


Notes and references[edit]

  1. ^ a b Official 2007 NCAA Division I Records Book, National Collegiate Athletic Association, p. 399, 2007.
  2. ^ a b c Gridiron Guts: The Story of Football's Carlisle Indians, NPR, May 19, 2007.
  3. ^ a b Carlisle Indians made it a whole new ballgame, The Washington Post, May 13, 2007.
  4. ^ Football, the Indian Way, Newsweek, April 27, 2007.
  5. ^ "15 Most memorable Phila. sports moments.". Philadelphia Inquirer. 2009-05-09. Retrieved 2009-11-09. [dead link]
  6. ^ Jim Thorpe Is Dead On West Coast at 64, The New York Times, March 28, 1953.
  7. ^ Carlisle Indian School Game by Game Results, College Football Data Warehouse, retrieved March 12, 2009.


  • Anderson, Lars (2008) [2007]. Carlisle vs. Army: Jim Thorpe, Dwight Eisenhower, Pop Warner, and the Forgotten Story of Football's Greatest Battle (Paperback ed.). New York: Random House. p. 349. ISBN 978-0-8129-7731-8.