102 years ago this week, Utes pulled plug on season as football was ‘gasping for breath’

This Tuesday, Oct. 23, 2018, photo shows the headstone of a victim of what was known as the Spanish flu at Hope Cemetery in Barre, Vermont. Across the world the flu killed an estimated 50 million people in the fall of 1918. | Wilson Ring, Associated Press

1918 flu pandemic took a tool on college and high school programs in Utah even while other teams around the country played on

Just as the COVID-19 pandemic has for the past few of months, the Spanish flu played havoc with college football back in 1918, causing some programs to shut down for the year, while others played on.

The University of Utah was one of the colleges that chose not to play that season, while the majority of colleges did play, despite World War I still being fought in Europe and the Spanish flu pandemic raging in full force.

A century ago, the football season didn’t begin until mid-October and ran through late November, with most colleges playing around six or seven games total. That sounds like the University of Utah’s schedule this year, although the Utes will play their seven games (hopefully) in November and December.

The Spanish flu pandemic began in the spring, but hit its peak in October 1918 with nearly 200,000 people dying that month in the United States alone. In the middle of that month, Utah canceled its season and didn’t play again until the following October. Utah State, which began playing football in 1912, also didn’t play in 1918, nor did BYU, which didn’t field an official team until 1922.

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Exactly 102 years ago, on Oct. 17, 1918, the Deseret Evening News published a half dozen stories on page 3 about football and the flu, along with one about the pheasant hunting season starting later that week, one on boxing and another on golf.

“Spanish Influenza Rapidly Spreading over Entire U.S.” read one headline, while another read, “Football Looks Like a Dead Issue in this Section for 1918 Season.” The subhead to that story read, “Epidemic of Spanish ‘Flu’ May Succeed in Sounding Death Knell of Gridiron Sport This Year.”

The story went on to report that the University of Utah along with high schools in the area, had been closed for a week and wasn’t expected to be open for “as far as five or six weeks off,” which would force that cancellation of the entire season.

“Football in this vicinity is gasping for breath. There’s hardly enough wind to inflate a ball with which to practice,” read the lead paragraph of that story.

The story went on to say, “What scientists declare to be the dangerous ‘streptococclia’ germ is lurking around the lower regions of the atmosphere in such fashion with the system of the human and causes Spanish influenza.

“Almost any way the situation is considered, it looks like bye-bye for football this year.”

It noted that there hadn’t been “a bit of practice on the part of local high schools or the university” in over a week. …read more

Source:: Deseret News – Sports News


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