Looking Back: The Rise and Fall of Football at DePaul
September 13, 2012
By Ryan Johnson and Ryan Leahy
Special thanks to DePaul University Archives
In athletics circles, DePaul is mostly remembered for its Final Four men’s basketball team of 1979. In the early part of the 20th century, however, tens of thousands packed the stands to watch DePaul on the football field.
DePaul football started in 1907 when the school was still known as Saint Vincent’s College. The team played and practiced in the open field behind the St. Vincent de Paul Church on the corner of Webster and Sheffield avenues where the Student Center now stands.
For more than 30 years, DePaul’s football team was a force on the Chicago football scene, drawing NFL-sized audiences at its peak. Some 80,000 people packed Soldier Field to watch DePaul University play Loyola University Chicago for the annual “Battle of the ole’ Brown Barrel” at the 1928 homecoming game. 
While Chicago-area football today consists of Northwestern and Notre Dame, in early 20th century, Chicago college football fans had three major teams that they could follow: DePaul, Loyola and the University of Chicago. The University of Chicago was near the top of the college football world, being a founding member of the Big Ten Conference (they remained in the conference until 1946). The Chicago Tribune covered the program very closely during the fall with a large part of the sports section dedicated to University of Chicago football updates. Loyola closed down its football program in 1929, leaving DePaul and University of Chicago as the only major teams left in Chicago.
While University of Chicago was the dominant program in Chicago, DePaul was by no means lost in the shuffle. The Tribune dedicated significant sports coverage to DePaul football, and the team’s winning ways encouraged coverage.
The DePaul team, known as the Red and Blue, initially played only Catholic League foes such as Loyola and St. Rice, and dominated the league on several occasions. As the program progressed, however, so did the level of competition.
In the 1933 season, DePaul began playing non-Catholic League programs such as Texas Tech (a 49-19 loss) and Valparaiso (a 19-0 loss).
The team improved against nationally regarded opponents in the 1934 season. The team played Northwestern University in front of 20,000 fans in Evanston (a 14-0 loss) and games against St. Louis University (a 6-0 loss), Texas Tech (a 0-0 tie), the University of Dayton (a 14-3 win) and Valparaiso (a 46-0 win). The Red and Blue recorded only two losses on the season.
Coaches of note
In fact, most of the club’s seasons were successful – the program suffered only three losing seasons in 40 years of existence.
This included six years under College Football Hall of Fame Coach Eddy Anderson. Anderson compiled a 21–22–3 record at DePaul before leaving for the College of the Holy Cross, where he had a record of 47–7–4 from 1933–1938.
After Anderson left, Jim Kelly took over and had several successful seasons before becoming athletic director after the 1936 season.
Kelly hired assistant coach Ben Connor to take over as the head coach of the football program. In the 1937 DePaulian yearbook, Connor was noted as a coach who taught “the Notre Dame system” and who “has consistently produced outstanding teams.”
Connor had a strong season in 1936, a season that opened with a 9-6 loss to the University of Illinois in Champaign. Season highlights included wins over Arkansas Tech (26-19) and Texas Tech (13-6). Team captain Harold Carlson, who played tackle, entered the Hall of Demon Grid Fame and was presented the Blue Key Grid Trophy.
However, Connor had a tough time continuing the team’s winning ways. As the team fought to improve and recruit the high-quality talent from the city of Chicago needed to compete, the once-proud program was beginning to struggle. As the 1938 DePaulian notes, DePaul’s 1937 football activities “were not a success.”
In addition to poor performance on the field, the team was also struggling with attendance. Each game averaged tens of thousands of attendees from 1929-1931, but less than 30 percent of the student body attended any one game during the final four seasons. What generated such apathy among students is unclear, but it was not brought on by losing. The team’s record in its last five years was 23-15-3, winning 65 percent of their games during that stretch.
By the end, however, the team’s on-field performance was as dismal as the attendance. In the final season of 1938, the DePaul football team went 2- 7 (including a 44-7 loss to Illinois) and had the worst student attendance of any year to date. Fewer than 1,000 fans attended the homecoming game at Wrigley Field.
The last touchdown
On Dec. 13, 1938, DePaul announced that it would no longer have a football program. A large article on the front page of the sports section of the Chicago Tribune attributed the cancellation to student apathy and financial loss by the university.
DePaul had suffered very serious enrollment losses during the Great Depression. In 1929, before the depression hit, DePaul University was home to more than 5,000 students. By 1934, there were just under 3,500 students enrolled. By 1938, DePaul was more than $811,300 in total debt and posted a deficit of almost $200,000 for that academic year alone because of the building of a new academic facility on the Lincoln Park Campus.
The Tribune noted that the program was not bringing in sufficient revenue, some of which was due to the fact that DePaul did not have its own stadium and had to rent space for games. It was also noted that DePaul would dedicate its resources to intramural activities and to the basketball team, ranked among the country’s elite at that time.
Like Loyola and University of Chicago before it, DePaul walked away from football and never looked back.
 DePaulian, DePaul University 1928,
 O’Connell, M.J., “Fr. M.J. O’Connell Issues Statement on Removal of Football,” DePaulia, 12/14/1938, 1.
 DePaulian. DePaul University 1929-1939.
 Bartlett, Charles. "DePaul Drops Football; Sport Financial Loss." Chicago Daily Tribune, 12/13/1938, 23.