Most football fans are at least aware of Pop Warner, the icon who lends his name to the youth football league where many kids get to experience what it’s like to suit up in a full set of pads for the first time. However, there’s a good chance you’re not too familiar with the man himself—or the lengths he would go to win a game (and win a bet in the process).
“Pop” was the nickname given to Glenn Warner, who was born in upstate New York in the early 1870s and played guard as a member of the football team at Cornell. While he initially worked as an attorney out of college, he managed to secure a job as the head football coach at Iowa State and headed out to Ames in 1895 to start gearing up for the season.
There was one slight issue: Warner had also applied for and secured the coaching job at the University of Georgia, which offered to pay him $34 a week compared to the $25 he was set to receive from the other program. However, the Bulldogs started their season around a month after the Cyclones, so he agreed to start the campaign with the latter in exchange for $150 before making his way south.
It’s worth noting Warner was also an avid gambler, and while horse races were his preferred vice, he was always on the hunt for a chance to make some money—which led to an interesting situation during his time at Iowa State.
Pop Warner entered a game he was coaching at halftime because he’d bet $150 on the outcome
On September 15, 1895, Warner and Iowa State headed up to Montana for a showdown with the team representing the Butte Athletic Club.
Prior to the contest, the head coach was able to connect with a bookie willing to take some action on the game, and he bet every single penny Iowa State had offered to pay him (the equivalent of $5,300) on his team to walk away with the win (you could argue he really paved the way for other Cyclones who’ve ended up in hot water for similar reasons).
It was a somewhat risky move for a man who’d coached Iowa State to a 3-3 record up to that point. With that said, he was confident in his players as well as the game plan and strategy that would eventually make him one of the most influential and legendary figures in the early days of American football.
Unfortunately, Warner didn’t anticipate the uphill battle he found himself facing after arriving in Big Sky Country.
The “field” where the game was held was actually just a giant patch of dirt (all of the grass had been killed by the fumes emitted from a nearby ore processor), the crowd was composed of thousands of miners who weren’t shy about firing guns into the air while rooting on the home team, and the contest was overseen by a local referee who wasn’t subtle when it came to giving Butte’s squad a competitive edge.
By the time the first half wrapped up, Iowa State was down 10-2. At halftime, Warner deployed what could either be described as a “motivational tactic” or “a gambling-related act of desperation” by suiting up at right guard and entering the game in the hopes his presence would swing the momentum in his favor.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough. When everything was said and done, Iowa State lost by a score of 12-10 (and Warner lost his bet) after leaving the field in protest following a dirty play that brought the contest to an end.
Warner was still on the hook for the $150, so he negotiated a new deal to serve as a consultant with Iowa State for the next three years while (he bounced between there and Georgia until balancing the gig with another at Cornell after linking back up with his alma mater in 1897).
Things ended up working out pretty well for Warner, who really turned the football world on its head after taking his talents to Carlisle Indian Industrial School, the Native American boarding school where he’d dream up some of his most revolutionary strategies and eventually join forces with the equally legendary Jim Thorpe.