[This post originally part of the Potvin Spotlight series.]
Last year, when the New England Patriots went undefeated in the NFL regular season after winning all 16 games, many people thought they were the best team ever. Then they lost. So much for that.
But realistically, for any team to be considered as the best or greatest team in the history of the sport, they’d have to be better than the team that clearly holds that distinction: the 1888 Yale Bulldogs.
120 years ago, the Yale football team had a simple idea: let’s score a lot of points and not let our opponents score any. It was a novel concept, but many believed it was foolhardy and impossible. Still, Yale accomplished their goal, outscoring their opponents 698-0 in a 13-0 campaign that saw them crowned national champions.
Unfortunately, no one on the roster made the All-America team, as that idea of having an All-America team was not thought of until 1889. The team did have five future College Football Hall of Fame inductees at its disposal, however.
The team was coached by the Father of Football, Walter Camp. Earlier in the year, Camp had decreed that rugby was “sort of the way of the man-lovers and such things of the like.” In an effort to further separate football from rugby, Camp legalized below-the-waist tackling, which then made American football “far better than the English-styled rugby sporting socials, and a lot fucking cooler, bitches,” as Camp put it.
“Famous” Amos “A-lonz” Alonzo “Big O” Staggs played end for the legendary best team of all-time. He later went on to coach for 54 seasons and is one of only ten coaches in the “300 Wins Club” (not an actual club). He was recently honored on the cover of the 2K Sports All Pro Football 2K8 video game (which was forced to use famous football players not currently in the NFL due to the league’s licensing lease to the Madden franchise).
Below: The Video Game Cover That Honors Staggs
Staggs Pictured Upside-down Left-right Center (Not Shown)
William “Pudge” Heffelfinger played guard for the Bulldogs. At 6’3″ and 195 lbs, he was the largest recorded person in human history up to that point. He broke the backs of countless children who would asked to play touch-football games with him. Pudge was never known for doing anything with less than 100% effort, however, and many were left for dead.
George Woodruff played tackle-back or box-guard or wing-safety or forward-centerback or some shit. But he was damn good at it. He did play on the best team evah, so, I think that says it all. I hope it does anyway.
Lee “Bum” McClung played halfback on the ’88 squad. He later became the United States Treasurer. That’s nice.
Center William “Pa” Corbin was distinctly known for his handlebar mustache. But Corbin was also a brilliant strategist, once bringing on an Austrio-Hungarian mule named Gus to be the team’s place-kicker. Gus later went on to have moderate success with a professional team, the California Atoms.
Below: Gus the Mule
Based on a True Story
With all of this talent, it’s no surprise that the Yale team did so well. But their greatness is not fully understood by just simply saying they outscored their opponents 698-0. Back in those days, a touchdown was worth only four points, though field goals were worth five. If today’s scoring system is used, the Yale would have scored 865 points. Not too shabby.
The Bulldogs somehow played three championship games that year, and obviously won them. They were also named the de facto national champions, which really makes them champions four times over in 1888. Nowadays, few teams manage to win four championships in a decade.
Basically speaking, the 1888 Yale Bulldogs were the greatest football team ever assembled. The next time you hear about the “perfect” 1972 Miami Dolphins, just ask, “Hey, did those guys get scored on during that season? Oh, they did? Huh, guess they’re not so ‘perfect’ after all.”