Tacoma Memories: How an Undefeated Football Team Helped Save the University of Puget Sound

  • By Bill Baarsma
  • Posted 8/19/2023
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 22781
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After Puget Sound University was dissolved for financial reasons in 1902, a new Tacoma institution, the University of Puget Sound (UPS), was reincorporated in 1903 on a campus at 6th and Sprague. Faced with competition from Whitworth College, then in the city's North End, and Pacific Lutheran Academy in Parkland, UPS President Edwin Randall realized that the school of 300 students needed to establish its viability through a major public relations splash in the community. That splash was accomplished through coverage in the pages of The Tacoma Daily Ledger of the remarkable and historic success of its undefeated football team.

Big Doings in Tacoma

It can be surely said that 1903 was a big year for Tacoma. On May 22, President Theodore Roosevelt came to town during a tour of the Northwest to be welcomed by an estimated 30,000 people in Wright Park. On an elevated platform, he received a bouquet of flowers from excited school children, gave a typical, rousing TR speech, planted a tree (it still stands), and later helped lay the cornerstone of new Masonic Temple (which has been torn down). He then traveled by carriage to the grand Tacoma Hotel (which mysteriously burned down in 1935), where he viewed the world’s tallest replica totem pole, which had been hastily erected next to the hotel the day before his 21-gun salute arrival by train. Roosevelt removed his top hat, pointed to the pole, and smiled a toothy grin as he passed by (the pole has since been taken down). Next came a lavish hotel banquet attended by Tacoma’s most notable citizens.

The year also saw the continuation of a heated dispute between Seattle and Tacoma over the rightful name of the mountain. To Seattle, it would remain Rainier, named after the British Admiral Peter Rainier, who fought against the Americans in the Revolutionary War. To those living in Tacoma, the name rightfully belonged to the Native Americans who referred to the peak as Takhoma. Locals were delighted when Roosevelt called the mountain Tacoma and never "pussyfooted about it" ("Justice to the Mountain").

In December, the E. W. Scripps-funded The Tacoma Times published its first edition. The Times, which lasted until 1949, was a tabloid-style daily featuring stories about crimes, scandals, and news oddities, and posted large front-page political cartoons. In the first edition, headlines included "Panic on Steamer When She Struck," "Not Guilty Of Course," "Alderman Sentenced," "Undertakers Make Overtures," and "Trouble." But there was another big story that captured the fancy of the locals: The University of Puget Sound’s undefeated football team, which claimed to be the Northwest Collegiate Football Champion. The timing of the team’s success couldn’t have been more important to the newly reconstituted University of Puget Sound.

Out of the Ashes

Through the efforts of the United Methodist Church and civic leaders, UPS rose in 1903 from the ashes of the defunct Puget Sound University, which was dissolved for financial reasons as a corporation in 1902. Sited on a new campus located on 6th and Sprague avenues, UPS found itself competing for students with Whitworth College in Tacoma’s North End (Whitworth moved to Spokane in 1913) and Pacific Lutheran to the south in Parkland. In its first year, the struggling UPS had enrolled fewer than 300 students and needed a strong public relations push, and got it. The remarkable success of the football team put the school on the front page of the city’s leading newspaper, The Tacoma Daily Ledger.

As classes began in the fall of 1903, the school announced an audacious schedule for the first-year football team that included games against the University of Washington, Washington State (then known as the Washington Agricultural College), the University of Idaho, and small-college power Whitman College. The Tacoma Daily Ledger enthused: "The team the University of Puget Sound is putting on the field this fall is giving surprising promise of being by long odds the best football eleven that ever represented Tacoma on the gridiron" ("Good Football for Tacoma").

The team included holdovers from the defunct Puget Sound University, plus a number of transfers. Player-coach Paul Rader, the fullback who transferred in from Colorado, put together an offense that included the lightning-fast Joe Craig, a Native American and member of the Puyallup tribe who played end and halfback; seasoned quarterback and team captain Paul Beach; and halfbacks Alvia Nace and David Williams. The experienced two-way line was anchored by Rader’s brother Ralph at left tackle and included Clinton Medcalf (left guard), Andrew Marker (right guard), John Olson (right tackle), Clyde Nelson (center) and Ray Cook (right end). The line averaged 183 pounds. Elmore McMaster handled the kicking. John Anderson, Edwin Pittman, Max Welchbrod, Jasper Noyes, and Bruce Robbins were the substitutes. (The Rader brothers’ father was Daniel L. Rader, chair of the University of Puget Sound’s Board of Trustees.)

A Season to Remember

After warmup games against a couple of high schools, UPS traveled to Pullman for the big game against Washington State. The UPS school paper, The Maroon, reported: "The 'farmers' had expected to line up with a weak team and were not prepared for the kind of ball the 'clams' played in Western Washington. They discovered, however, that they were up against their equals and settled down to play hard ball" ("Athletics: Pullman Game"). UPS had a sure score nullified by an offside penalty in the first half, which UPS otherwise dominated. The second half was a defensive struggle and the game ended in a scoreless tie. Wrote The Maroon: "Undoubtedly UPS outplayed their opponents in every part of the game, their goal never being in danger ..." ("Athletics: Pullman Game").

Next up was the game against Idaho in Moscow, to be played two days later on a Monday. The Maroon took note: "The game at Moscow, Idaho, was a big surprise to Idaho’s. It was not expected that a baby institution like the University of Puget Sound could put a team in the field that would stand in the way of any of the older institutions for the Northwest championship" ("Athletics: The Idaho Game"). The Idaho fans festooned in their school colors were stunned when the Tacoma 11 dominated play. Idaho never made it to the UPS side of the field and was shut out by an 11-0 score. 

UPS returned to Tacoma to roll over a hapless Whitman College team 35-6. The Maroon, whose editor was Andrew Marker, starting right guard for UPS, noted that the one-sided score was comparable to Washington's victory against Whitman earlier in Seattle, except that "Two of the U. of W.’s touchdowns were won against Whitman on a fluke, while every point in Monday’s game the UPS boys earned by hard, snappy playing" ("Athletics: The Whitman Game"). The Maroon continued: "Our boys play the U. of W. on the 7th next month (November), and the team is confident of victory" ("Athletics: The Whitman Game").

Washington Backs Out

But the Washington game was never played, and that became a major bone of contention between Tacoma and Seattle. UPS had fully expected to play UW on November 7 or November 21, but although letters between the two institutions clearly stated that a game would be played, Will T. Laube, manager of the UW team, abruptly announced that those dates wouldn’t work. In a prepared statement, Laube wrote: "We are willing and anxious to play Puget Sound university. But we can’t play everybody. Our policy is to meet the state universities and institutions of equal rank" ("Status of the Tacoma Team"). He further wrote, "If we can sandwich a game with the Puget Sound team in between some of these (games against other teams) or play them after the close of the season, we would be glad to do so. But simply because they happened to bop up this year with a pretty good team, they can’t expect Washington to change their schedule to suit them" ("Status of the Tacoma Team"). 

There was another reason UW pulled out of its promised game against UPS, and that was the claim that UPS was using "ringers," in particular player-coach Paul Rader. Rader had, in fact, played one season at Colorado and coached at Hamline University prior to his coming to Tacoma. In response to the ringer claim, Rader argued that he was eligible to play as a fully enrolled UPS student taking eight hours of classes plus tutoring other classmates. He was to say: "I have done all of my college work, and there are only left two studies for me before I complete my course" ("Status of the Tacoma Team"). Meanwhile, UPS President E. M. Randall sent to UW a certified list of the team's players, all of whom were enrolled at the university.

Finally, after weeks of excuses from up north, UPS had had enough. Coach Rader announced: "All our dealings with them (UW) are at an end. We want nothing more to do with them. All the glory they can get out of their unsportsmanlike conduct they are welcome to. This controversy with Washington has spoiled Tacoma’s whole schedule" ("Status of the Tacoma Team"). But the season for UPS was not yet over. 

Showdown With Nevada

Instead of playing UPS on November 21, Washington scheduled a game against Nevada at Denny Field (during this era, teams and schedules were always subject to last-minute change). Carl Eshelman, the UPS team's business manager, saw an opportunity to make a pitch to Nevada to stay in the Northwest for two more days, in the comfortable lodging of the Tacoma Hotel, to play a second game against UPS. In a surprise, Nevada agreed, despite claims from the UW that UPS was using ringers. The game was to be played at the Eleventh Street field in Tacoma on November 23. The "Sagebrushers" from Reno figured it was a way to pad their schedule with an easy win against an overmatched and virtually unknown small college located 35 miles south of Seattle.

Once the game against Nevada was announced, The Tacoma Daily Ledger began to hype it. Nevada was described as claiming the championship of the Pacific Coast with its win over California and its tie with Stanford – this despite games against UW and Oregon State still on its schedule. The Ledger exclaimed: "Nevada is said to have by a wide margin one of the best teams to be found this side of the big cities of the Middle West" ("Nevada Arranges Game ..."). The newspaper praised Nevada for being willing to play the locals and not getting "cold feet as Washington has done with Tacoma" ("Nevada Arranges Game ..."). The game would also be a way of comparing the relative strengths of UW and UPS.

So, on November 24 UPS was the lead story of The Tacoma Daily Ledger with the headline: "Tacoma Victorious in Fierce Struggle: Defeats Nevada by 10 to 0, Heaviest Score Against South Coast Champions." The front page included a scathing cartoon of a crybaby UW player in the shadow of an imposing giant UPS player holding a championship football. The story about the game continued with extended coverage on the inside pages of the paper.

There were a number of stars for the home team. During UPS’s first possession, The Maroon was to report: "... (the team) led by halfbacks Alvia Nace and David Williams went down the field three, four, five yards at a time, while once, little Joe Craig went around end for a sensational 10-yard run that sent the bleachers into spasms of delight" ("U.P.S. 10 ..."). The drive stalled on the 15-yard line. But a fumble by the Reno team was recovered by Ralph Rader. Brother Paul Rader finished a five-play series by "going over the chalk for a touchdown" ("U.P.S. 10 ..."). The team scored again in the second half when David Williams powered through the center of the line from 5 yards out for a touchdown (touchdowns counted for five points in 1903). After the 10-0 victory, the university hosted a reception for the Nevada team. The Maroon noted: "A feeling of utmost cordiality permeated the gathering" ("Society Notes ...").

Worthy Champs

Two days before UPS vanquished Nevada, Washington defeated Nevada by virtue of a fluke safety, 2-0. The following week, the team from Seattle lost to Multnomah (Oregon) Athletic Club 6-0, spoiling an undefeated season. The Spokesman Review of Spokane reported: "The defeat of the State University team disposes of the sweeping and ridiculous claim of the Seattle eleven that it is champion of the Pacific Coast ... The University of Washington made no date with the University of Puget Sound, and it probably saved the contingent from Seattle a defeat, for the varsity team at Tacoma is evidentially the master of all Pacific Northwest football teams" ("Champions No Longer"). 

Thus, UPS ended the season undefeated, with one tie, and proclaimed itself the rightful Champion of the Pacific Northwest. It couldn’t have come at a better time for the struggling Tacoma school.


Although school historian James Earley claimed that the 1903 squad established football as an "important part of University life," such was really not the case (Earley). In 1904, only two members of the undefeated squad from the prior year turned out to play. That team failed to win a game, and the school couldn’t field a team in 1905, 1906, or 1908. The University itself did thrive, at least for a while. By 1906, more than 300 students had matriculated, buildings were added to the campus, and the budget was in balance. A new school president, Julius C. Zeller, then "instituted sweeping academic and organizational changes" (Earley) leading to additional faculty and new construction. Soon the school was deeply in debt, and the Methodist Church was once again considering moving or shutting down the institution. A passionate argument by Puget Sound graduate Pastor Jim Milligan in support of the school at the 1913 Methodist Conference in Olympia saved the day. The school, now named the College of Puget Sound (it reverted to the name University of Puget Sound in 1960) hired Edward H. Todd, a masterful and diligent fundraiser, as president. 


Candace Brown, “To Let It Rot, Or Not — Tacoma Totem Pole Controversy Nearly Ignores Presidential History,” Good Life Northwest (Blog.), May 21, 2013; Owen Atkins, “Justice to the Mountain: The City’s Crusade for Mount Tacoma,” Tacoma Historical Society: City of Destiny Newsletter,” Winter 2013; Robert Matthews, “The 1903-04 Academic Year,” University of Puget Sound Archives; The Tacoma Times, December 21, 1903, p. 1; “Good Football for Tacoma: University of Puget Sound Has Arranged it Season Schedule,” The Tacoma Daily Ledger, October 11, 1903, p. 30; “Status of Tacoma Team: Promises Boldly Broken,” Ibid., November 15, 1903, p. 30; “Nevada Arranges Game in Tacoma,“ Ibid., November 16, 1903, p. 6; “Nevada Team to Play Monday,” Ibid., November 22, 1903, p. 2; “Tacoma Victorious in Fierce Struggle,“ Ibid., November 24, 1903, p. 1; “Much Credit Due to Rader: Played at Colorado and Hamline,” Ibid., November 29, 1903, p. 30; “Athletics: Pullman Game,” The Maroon (monthly journal published by the students of the University of Puget Sound), October 1903, p. 10; “Athletics: The Idaho Game,” Ibid., October 1903, pp. 10-11; “Athletics: The Whitman Game,” October 1903, p. 11; “U.P.S. 10-Nevada 0,” Ibid., November 1903, pp. 1-3; “Reception to Nevada,” Ibid., November 1903, p. 7; “Champions No Longer,” Ibid., Dececember 1903, p. 8; Puget Sound Trail, June 6, 1913, p. 5; James Earley, "The University of Puget Sound 1888-1988: On the Frontier of Leadership," Published by the University of Puget Sound, Tacoma, Washington, 1987. Note: A version of this story was published in the Tacoma Historical Society’s City of Destiny Newsletter.

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