Football of the 1880’s and going into the 1890’s put the stress on brawn. Since Yale and Harvard were important in football, the big youths of the nation, ready for a college career, usually chose those institutions, since it meant a chance to become a member of the champion squad. Those who passed up Yale and Harvard usually showed up at Princeton, Pennsylvania or Columbia, and such institutions became the abiding places of giants in an era when gigantic players meant possible football crowns.
In 1905, Penn was matched to meet Swarthmore, whose team was built around Bob Maxwell, a 250-pound lineman of high speed and great strength. Penn knew that victory over Swarthmore would be insured only if Maxwell were put out of commission early. So the word was out, “Get Maxwell,” and the Penn players made a valiant effort, with 11 men concentrating on reducing Maxwell to wreckage at the earliest possible time. They took “dead aim” at the Swarthmore giant and submitted him to a merciless battering.
Maxwell stuck it out, but when he tottered off the field his face was a bloody wreck. Some photographer snapped him, and the photo of the mangled Maxwell, appearing in a newspaper, caught the attention of the then President Theodore Roosevelt. It so angered him that he issued an ultimatum that if rough play in football were not immediately ruled out, he would abolish it by executive edict.
The Rules Committee of Football, meeting in the winter of 1905-06 and determined to save the game, legalized the forward pass, even as it forbade some of the more dangerous scrimmages. The forward pass became legal with the start of the 1906 season and the game was somewhat revolutionized.
However, Columbia, one of the foremost among the football pioneers, abandoned the game as did many colleges along the Pacific Coast, where rugby was substituted in some instances, soccer in others. Although permitted to forward pass by the new regulations, the colleges along the Atlantic Seaboard rarely called the play into action. One of the first major colleges to use a forward pass was Yale, in 1906. Failing in all other offensive attempts against Harvard, it tried a forward pass. The play succeeded and Yale won, 6 to 0.