The early days of college football spawned some absolutely wild stories, and one tale involving an unsanctioned trip the team representing the University of Missouri took to Mexico has to be near the top of the list.
The first college football game in recorded history took place when Rutgers faced off against Princeton on November 6, 1869, and the sport experienced plenty of growing pains as it evolved into the pastime we know and love today.
One of the biggest hurdles was the brutal nature of a sport that was derived from rugby but wasn’t necessarily prepared to deal with the fallout of rules and regulations (or lack thereof) that left plenty to be desired.
For example, for decades, there was no rule that said you couldn’t punch or choke your opponents to gain a competitive edge, and offensive and defensive strategies that were largely built on a foundation of brute force—combined with a lack of helmets and other safety equipment—led to the death of at least 45 players between 1900 and 1905 (a statistic that inspired Teddy Roosevelt to lead the charge while ushering college football into a new—and safer—era).
Back then, college football teams also served as de facto ambassadors for introducing people in the United States and beyond to a relatively new form of athletic competition, and while the squad representing the University of Missouri did what it could to aid that cause in the late 1800s, the manner in which it attempted to do so end up ruffling plenty of feathers.
The University of Missouri football team spent a month in Mexico without bothering to tell the school
On December 14, 1896, the Texas Longhorns hosted Missouri for a game in Austin that ended with the Tigers walking away with a 10-0 victory.
At the time, a local promoter named George Hill was attempting to organize the first-ever college football game in Mexico.
While he’d initially planned to assemble a team of the country’s best players to face off against the Longhorns on a multi-stop tour of the country, he pivoted and asked Missouri head coach (and former Yale lineman) Frank Patterson if he and his guys would have any interest in crossing the border if he covered all of their expenses.
The players were already gearing up for winter break, and after a teamwide vote, they decided to take Hill up on his offer. However, there was just one problem: no one bothered to inform University of Missouri President Richard Henry Jesse or any other authority figures back in Columbia.
The Tigers and Longhorns played a couple of exhibitions in Texas before hopping on a train to Monterrey to play their first game in another country. From there, they headed to Mexico City and introduced spectators to a different type of football than what they were accustomed to in exhibitions that were held on December 27th and 29th.
It’s believed Jesse only found out about the trip after reading about one of the games in a newspaper, and while Patterson eventually wrote a letter attempting to defend the move while still on the road, he was (understandably) fired after the team made their grand return to Missouri after going A.W.O.L. for more than three weeks.