As one of the highlights of the year 1913 (“The Time Machine,” November 1988), you listed the upset victory of the Notre Dame football team over Army, due mainly to the exploits of the passing combination of Knute Rockne to Gus Dorais. Your report, however, seemed to support the old myth that the forward pass as we know it today is dated from this game, that it was the famed Rockne-Dorais duo that brought the forward-pass play kicking and screaming, so to speak, into the twentieth century.
This widely held misconception apparently got its start because of Notre Dame’s unexpected and stunning win over a highly favored Army team, a victory that the shocked football powers of the East could accept only on the basis of what was to them a new and thitherto unused tactic on the playing field. But this conclusion does an injustice to a little-known football team from the Midwest and its innovative coach.
It is to Eddie Cochems and his great St. Louis University teams of 1906-08 that credit should be given for development of the modern forward pass. Prior to this time, the pass was lobbed, rather than thrown, due largely to the fact that the ball used in those days was little more than a slightly elongated spheroid, suited more to kicking than throwing. It was Cochems and his great quarterback Brad Robinson who figured out the correct way to throw, by grasping the ball with the fingers on the lacing and giving the ball a spin as it left the hand.
An athlete of considerable ability, Robinson in one game threw the ball for an airborne distance of forty-nine yards, which, considering the awkward shape of the ball, was no mean achievement. In 1906, largely based on the performance of its great passing team of Brad Robinson to Jack Schneider, St. Louis swept to an undefeated season, including a victory over Iowa, one of the powerhouses of the Western Conference (which later became the Big Ten).