Throughout history, athletics have been popular. People enjoy partaking in, and rooting for, athletic teams. Times of war are no exception to this. However, when a nation’s resources and its people, are devoted to warfare, friendlier competition is often affected. The first World War was no exception. During World War I, collegiate athletics were interrupted. With so many men fighting the war and with women’s athletics not yet adopted nationwide, friendly competition in the United States nearly ground to a halt between 1918 and 1919.
Because of the war, the 1918 and 1919 college football seasons were seasons like no other. Many colleges did not field their own teams, or restricted their athletes from competing in post-season events. Additionally, many of the best athletes at the time were not even in college to compete, instead they were serving their country in the armed forces.
While many players were in the military, this did not mean that they stopped playing football. Instead, military training camps around the country began to field their own football teams. In the 1918 and 1919 football seasons, these camp teams competed with other collegiate teams. As it happened, these teams proved to be some of the best to take the field during the war.
As this was the case, the 1918 and 1919 Rose Bowls, the premier football championship game at the time, were not played between the country’s best collegiate teams. Instead, the games were played between the best teams the country had to offer, those of the training camps.
In 1918, the Rose Bowl was played between the Mare Island team and the Camp Lewis team. Mare Island, located in Vallejo, California, was a Marine training camp. It was the training station for all Marines who enlisted west of the Mississippi River during the war. In the 1918 season, Mare Island boasted a 10-0 record leading up to the Rose Bowl. Their opponents in the big game hailed from Camp Lewis. Camp Lewis, located outside of Tacoma Washington, was the Army’s largest training camp during the war. It was the training center for the 91st Division. Most of the men at Camp Lewis were draftees from the western eight states. In the 1918 season, the Camp Lewis team held a 5-0-2 record. Ultimately, Mare Island triumphed in the 1918 Rose Bowl with a score of 10-7.
In 1919, the Rose Bowl was played between the Great Lakes Naval Training station and Mare Island. The Great Lakes Training station was the nation’s largest training station during WWI, serving the Midwest states. In the Rose Bowl, Mare Island was unable to defend their title from the previous season. Great Lakes won 17-0.
Elmer Julius Abrahamson was a player on the Great Lakes team. Abrahamson graduated from Lawrence College in 1914. While at Lawrence, he was a multisport star and a four-year member of the football team.
If you are interested in learning more about the history of the Rose Bowl during WWI, Fields of Friendly Fire, by Timothy P. Brown, provides a more detailed examination of the military football teams during WWI.