Super Bowl XLV has opened a deep wound here in Dallas. It started when the North Texas Super Bowl XLV Host Committee, sponsor of the big game, began promoting the proposition that North Texas is the football capital of the world. North Texas? It’s understandable why they’d choose a regional designation vague enough to bring everyone into the same tent. The House That Jerry Built is in Arlington, after all. But to bolster the football capital claim, the Host Committee undertook a yearlong effort to choose the 100 top moments in our regional football history (go to centuryinthemaking.com to see the results). Their “century” starts with the first Texas-OU game played on a neutral site, in 1912. That site? Dallas, of course. Not North Texas.
So we were already feeling a bit injured when ESPN came along and added insult by deciding to anchor its Super Bowl coverage in downtown Fort Worth. Fort Worth? Sure, downtown Dallas is not exactly Chicago on a Saturday night. And, yes, we know out-of-towners love the Texas stereotypes that Fort Worth more readily provides. Longhorns! Cowboy hats! Rodeos! But Fort Worth?
That’s why it hurts so much. Dallas winces at those stereotypes. And, really, it is time to face up to the fact that Fort Worth is merely a bit player when it comes to football in—ahem—North Texas. After all, it is the Dallas Cowboys that have been to the Super Bowl more than any other team. Dallas, in fact, hosted the very first recorded football game in Texas. On December 12, 1890, the YMCA played against Professor Cole’s School on a lot at the corner of Gaston and Swiss.
Dallas was the home of the first football club in Texas, organized on August 1, 1891. Fort Worth rose to the challenge three months later by forming its own club, but Fort Worth has a history of copying Dallas.
Fort Worth challenged Dallas to a scrimmage—because Fort Worth always has something to prove—that took place on November 15, 1891. Dallas won 5-0. This was half-amateur, half-professional football, by the way. The Dallas players were paid $10 to $15 a game. The Fort Worth players probably had to buy their own train tickets.
The first big game played between the cities was on Thanksgiving Day 1891. The Fort Worth team arrived at Union Station at 11:30 am, and its members were escorted to lunch at the Dallas clubhouse. (Note: Dallas already had a clubhouse.) “Several hundreds of spectators” greeted them as the two teams emerged onto the field. “About 100 ladies were present,” reported the Dallas Morning News, “and showered their approval by frequent applause, and the excitement at times was so great that the large audience rose to its feet and, with cheers and show of handkerchiefs, attested to their appreciation.”
The Dallas Times Herald reporter had a different take, expressing reservations about the “gouging, pulling, hauling, and snatching one’s limbs asunder.” He was horrified at how the game was played, with “each man seemingly perfectly indifferent to his neighbor’s comfort.”
Dallas, of course, won the game 24–11. Unbothered by the gouging, the two teams “repaired to the Windsor Hotel, where a sumptuous special Thanksgiving dinner awaited them, to which full justice was done and the time fully occupied until the departure of the 9:25 train.” The Dallas team was not only the winner, but an exemplar of Southern hospitality as well.
There you have it. Dallas introduced football to Texas, and Texas is the biggest football state in the Union. And that makes Dallas the football capital of the world.
I love Fort Worth, and if I could change history to make it the capital, I would. But I can’t, and it’s not, and there’s nothing anybody can do about it.
Fort Worth will bring up TCU. It is true that on October 8, 1915, TCU and SMU faced off in the first game of their very long rivalry, and TCU won it 43–0. But that just proves how weak a football town Fort Worth was.
A year later, Rice beat SMU 146–3. Now that’s football.
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