Idaho opened the six-game 1920 season with the annual contest against the border rival cougars.  WSC was heavily favored but the “Idaho Fights!” tradition was proven true once more by the brave and bold.  Idaho held the more experienced cougars to 14 points.  Unfortunately the Vandals scored only 7, but it was a great showing by a team that was expected to be trounced by the cougs.  The second half of the game was played in a rainstorm with cold wind and hail to boot.  The game was described by the Tribune as one of the best ever played between the two schools.  In news that won’t surprise anyone from Idaho, the Vandals were deemed to have the better band…and better fans…and came away with the Harvard yell contest championship.  More about the Harvard Yell contest can be read in the Argonaut.

Idaho Rooters

Idaho Rooters prove to be the better fans – (WSU ??) – Image courtesy of VandalMar

As of 1920 Idaho had never defeated Oregon.  This year, though, Idaho was confident that it could break its jinx against the ducks.  The Vandals strong showing inspired the students to join the team at the train station to send Idaho off to Eugene.  The crowd and band sent the team off with songs and music.  Unfortunately this wouldn’t be Idaho’s year as the Vandals dropped its second close game of the season in a loss to Oregon.  On the bright side the Oregon loss would be Idaho’s final loss of the season.

The Vandals luck would turn around the next week in its game against Whitman in Walla Walla.  Once again, the students sent the team off with a pep rally at the train station.  This time, however, the Vandals would return victorious.

MacLean Field 1920

MacLean Field 1920

At this point your author probably seems like a broken record beating the “Boise game” drum.  However, one only needs to review the literature to see what an important event this was.  Idaho’s Armistice Day game in Boise in 1920 was played against regional rival Utah.  Utah’s newspaper described the situation with the headline “Boise Suspends Business Today as Utah-Idaho Game Holds Sway“.  Utah’s governor made the trip up to Boise for the game.  Idaho came in as the favorite despite losing the 1919 game to Utah.  In typical Idaho fashion, the Vandals used a strong passing attack to snatch the 10-0 victory from Utah.

Idaho defeats Utah

Idaho defeats Utah in Boise – Image courtesy of VandalMar

Idaho’s next game was against the hated Griz from Montana.  As usual, Idaho was a two-touchdown favorite in Missoula.  Idaho proved the dopesters right and beat Montana 20-7.

In the season finale Idaho would meet Gonzaga at the Spokane County fairgrounds.  The game was expected to be close and lived up to expectations.  The good guys came out victorious with Idaho prevailing 10-7.  Over 4000 people were on hand to see Idaho kick a field goal in the closing minutes of one of the finest games of the year.

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Idaho opened the 1921 season by travelling to Portland to battle the Oregon Ducks.  In the 13 previous meetings between the two teams, Idaho had never come away with the victory.  This year would be no different, although Idaho would battle valiantly and come away with a tie.  Idaho blocked an Oregon punt and recovered the ball for a touchdown resulting in Idaho’s only score of the game.  Oregon would tie the game shortly thereafter for the only other score of the afternoon.  The game would end in a 7-7 tie.

The Vandals didn’t fare so well in the second game of the season.  It was the annual battle of the Palouse with Idaho visiting Pullman.  WSU handled Idaho easily and won 20-3.  Idaho took an early 3-0 lead after one quarter, but WSU was too much for Idaho and scored a touchdown in each of the following three quarters.

Idaho would fall again in the third contest of the season by the score of 17-7 to regional foe Utah.  The game would be played in Salt Lake City.  Beautiful weather greeted the Vandals and Idaho gave the home team all they could handle.  Unfortunately the breaks of the game went Utah’s way and Idaho fell before the Utahans.

Idaho would return home in week 4 to host Montana.  Although Idaho’s media guide shows this as an away game, it occurred in Moscow. By all accounts it was an easy victory for Idaho.  Montana’s only score came via an interception.  Meanwhile, Idaho put up 35 points in a rout of their rivals from Montana.

Idaho’s Armistice Day game in Boise was against the Cowboys from Wyoming. Idaho was heavily favored to beat Wyoming and delivered on those expectations.  The governors of Idaho and Wyoming were expected to be in attendance for the holiday game.  Why Idaho has given up on an event with such potential is a glaring weakness in Vandal athletics of today.

In a major regional game Idaho blanked Gonzaga 6-0.  In what was a punters duel, Idaho recovered a fumble for the only score of the game.  These regional opponents are important for student and local interest.  Gonzaga doesn’t immediately come to mind when thinking of Idaho’s main rivals, but the bulldog faithful burnt Idaho in effigy at their bonfire and pep rally the day before the game. With the victory Idaho had won 6 out of 8 from the team from Spokane.  More than 1500 fans braved near-zero temperatures at the Spokane County Fairgrounds to see the bulldogs fall to the mighty Vandals.

Idaho’s final two games – a loss to Whitman and victory over the 9th Army Corps from Washington – were hardly mentioned in the papers.  Neither the Spokesman or Chronicle published scores from what I could find.  At least we have this photo, one of the more famous old photos, documenting Idaho’s win over Army in picturesque Maclean Field.

1921 would also mark coach Thomas Kelley’s final season with Idaho.  He would move on to coach at Missouri where he woudl make a whopping $4500 compared to the $4000 Idaho was offering.

The end of the 1921 season saw the admittance of Idaho and USC into the Pacific Coast Conference.  USC had been rejected by the league just one  year prior.  The league’s official stance was that USC involved too much travel for the northern schools.  But, USC was of the opinion that the rejection was based on USC defeating many of the league’s teams.  Since Idaho’s chances of admittance seemed slim, one can only assume that Idaho was admitted to prevent the league’s balance of power from shifting too much in the direction of the southern schools.

Idaho defeats Army 6-0

Idaho defeats Army 6-0

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The year 1922 was a respectable one all around for Idaho’s main sports. In their first year in the league the Vandals won the basketball championship in the Pacific Coast Conference and won the Northwest Conference as well.  As champions the Vandals were invited to participate in the first ever national basketball tournament in Indianapolis. The Vandals were eliminated in the first round against Kalamazoo College by the score of 38-31. In his first year as Vandal head coach, Robert Mathews led Idaho to a 3-5 record including wins over Utah and Montana.  At this time, Idaho was still playing in the Northwest Conference.  The season opened with a conference game at Walla Walla against Whitman College.  The season started off slowly with Idaho and Whitman playing to a first quarter tie.  The Vandals would score the only points of the game in the second quarter by way of a 21 yard field goal, kicked by fullback Bob Fitzke, whose participation was protested by Whitman for unknown reasons.  Fitzke went 1-3 kicking on the day and provided Idaho its first win of the season.

A page from the UW yearbook shows Idaho against Washington

A page from the UW yearbook shows Idaho against Washington

The second week of the season the major local news was the big game between Washington State and Gonzaga, which was the first game played in Gonzaga’s new stadium, and which was won by WSC.  Idaho, meanwhile, traveled to Seattle to face the Huskies and lose a close game 2-0. The annual clash with WSC would follow the next week, and as usual the game with big news.  The Spokane Daily Chronicle featured a photo of the Vandal squad (although it called the team the ‘huskies’).  In what was a fairly high scoring game, Idaho led 9-5 entering the fourth quarter but would fall by the final score of 18-9.  The following week, Idaho would travel to Eugene and lose another close game to the ducks by a score of 3-0.

1922 Game against WSC

1922 Game against WSC

A page from the UW yearbook shows Washington against Idaho

A page from the UW yearbook shows Washington against Idaho

For the annual game in Boise, special trains were, once again, scheduled to transport fans from North Idaho to the capital city.  The game was beginning to be a bit of a tradition.  It was the third year in a row that Idaho would play in Boise on Armistice Day and hold an alumni reunion.   Idaho would play Utah and would win 16-0.  Utah sent trains to Boise as well and expected a close game. The Deseret News published a very entertaining article recalling the ancient Vandals and their sack of Carthage when recapping the 1922 grid matchup. Idaho would make its last attempt at a coast conference victory against mighty USC the next week.  By all accounts Idaho was competitive despite being outweighed by the Trojans.  Idaho would fall by the final score of 14-0.  A big crowd of 10,000 people saw the Vandals put up a valiant effort.

MacLean Field 1922

MacLean Field 1922

A game of major local interest would follow with the Vandals travelling to Spokane to play Gonzaga.  8000 seats were expected to be sold for the game between the two local rivals. Idaho would send over 150 people to the game in the form of band members and yell leaders. Idaho would finally break into the Gonzaga end zone in the second quarter and take the lead 7-0. Idaho would hold the lead until halfway through the fourth quarter when Gonzaga took the lead 14-7 on a play in which Idaho protested the Zags were offside.  After a lengthy argument the officials upheld the touchdown and Idaho lost the game. Idaho’s season long frustrations would be taken out on the Griz in the final game of the season, winning 39-0.  Idaho fielded what was considered its strongest team in years only to go winless in the PCC losing several close games. 1922

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The most points ever scored by a Vandal squad occurred in 1923.  The game was the season opener against the College of Idaho.  Idaho thoroughly outclassed the visitors, held them scoreless, and walked away with an 83-0 victory.  This era was one of the great periods of Idaho football.  Idaho’s dominating victory over C of I was no fluke – Idaho didn’t allow a single point through the first 6 games.  The streak was only broken in the final two games – losses against USC and Stanford.

MacLean Field 1923

MacLean Field 1923

1923-2 1923-3

After beating Montana 40-0 in the second game of the season Idaho headed to Pullman to take on the Cougs at Rogers Field.  Idaho had lost eight in a row to the Cougs and would finally break through this year.  Powered by strong punting and stout defense, the Vandal defense twice held the Cougs from scoring from six inches out of the end zone.  The crowd was described as the largest in the history of WSC.

Idaho defeats Gonzaga

After beating WSC Idaho looked to end another losing streak the very next week.  Idaho had never beaten the ducks in the two decades since the schools began playing.  This year would be no different, but it would not be a loss either.  Idaho held the ducks scoreless and the game ended in a scoreless tie.  Oregon was the stronger club, but Idaho’s defense once again came through in the clutch and prevented the ducks from scoring.  It was truly a special season for the Vandal defense. Once again, the Idaho team sported the traditional Red jerseys for the 1923 season.

Idaho defeats WSC

The remarkable defensive effort continued the next week against Gonzaga.  Again holding their opponent scoreless, the Vandal defense intercepted many key passes en route to a 13-0 victory in front of a capacity crowd of 8000 at McLean Field.

After defeating Gonzaga, the mighty Vandals would travel south to Boise to face the Oregon Aggies.  In the capital city Idaho would break another losing streak.  Idaho had never defeated Oregon State – until 1923.  The Vandals came out victorious by a score of 7-0.

Unfortunately Idaho’s luck would run out the next week against Stanford.  Not only would Idaho give up their first points of the season, but they would also lose their first game of the season to the team from Palo Alto.  Idaho had a good showing, though, losing a close game 17-7.    In fact, Idaho would go 0-2 during its invasion of California, dropping the final game of the season 9-0 to USC.  Idaho’s defense again was the star of the game, while the offense could not break through the Trojan line.  In fact the Vandal defense gave up only 7 points with the Trojans scoring a safety near the end of the game.

Idaho finished the season unbeaten and unscored-upon in the northwest. Former Vandal Abe MacGregor asserts that it was a running joke that Washington was afraid to play Idaho in those days.

Idaho Vandals 1923

Idaho’s squad was so formidable that a Portland beat writer described them as “formidable dark horse” with a “murderous schedule”.  It’s amazing then that Idaho would go through the Northwest colleges undefeated losing only to the much larger California institutions.

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1924 – Goodbye to the Northwest Conference

1924 marked the end of Idaho’s somewhat unknown history in the Northwest Conference.  The Vandals went out in style, though, winning the conference in their final season.  By 1924 Idaho was the only major state school left in the league.  The remaining members were mostly small private institutions including Gonzaga and Whitman.  Strangely, Idaho competed in both the Pacific Coast Conference and Northwest Conference during the 1922, 23, and 24 seasons.

The first game of Idaho’s 1924 season was against the Bulldogs of Gonzaga.  In what had become an annual meeting, Idaho traveled to Spokane to face Gonzaga.  The entire region was excited because both squads were expected to compete for the Northwest Conference title and the winner of this game would have a leg up in league play.  A capacity crowd of 6000 was expected to fill Gonzaga Stadium with fans coming from all over the Inland Empire.  200 students from Moscow made the trip – an impressive showing.  Idaho outgained Gonzaga and even had the ball within inches of the Bulldog goal line, but the game ended in a scoreless tie.

1924 really was an impressive year for Vandal football.  After the nailbiter against Gonzaga Idaho traveled to Missoula and put a beating on the Griz.  Idaho scored six touchdowns in a 41-13 victory.

Idaho: 19, WSC: 3

The Mighty Vandals would return home the following week to take on the hated Cougars from Washington State.  In what would become a habit, a huge crowd was expected for the rivalry game.  Idaho was looking to make it two wins in a row against the cougs and WSCwas trying to avenge last year’s loss.  The biggest crowd in the history of Moscow was bolstered by the 1500 student strong pep rally that took place in the Administration Auditorium.  For two days Idaho’s football team stayed at the Phi Gamma Delta fraternity house so the coach could keep an eye on them.  Whatever his motives, it worked.  Idaho held the cougs to three points while scoring 19 of their own.    It was a great game and great atmosphere, the biggest crowd in history – including 1500 fans from Pullman. It was reported that the crowd eclipsed 10,000 spectators.

Following the great victory over Washington State, Idaho would strangely travel to Portland to take on Stanford.  The Vandals would meet their first defeat of the season at the hands of Stanford, but the 3-0 score would prove that Idaho had one of its strongest teams in a long time. The loss cost Idaho an appearance in the Rose Bowl as Stanford was invited to represent the Pacific Coast Conference. The game was played in Portland as part of a negotiation with Stanford. The Argonaut reports that Stanford, frankly, didn’t want to come to Moscow.The Spokane Chamber of Commerce even offered to match the game guarantee offered by Portland, but the travel was still too much for Stanford. Even in the early 20’s the tension between the larger California schools and the smaller northwest schools was evident. Once Stanford realized Idaho couldn’t match the gate receipts that were split as part of the home-and-home arrangement Stanford quickly had the conference change the site of the game.

As a result of that weird schedule quirk, Idaho played more games in Oregon than they did in Idaho in 1924.  The Stanford game marked the beginning of a three week stretch of games for Idaho in Oregon.  After Stanford in Portland, Idaho took on Oregon State in Corvallis.  At Bell Field, Idaho spoiled OAC’s stadium dedication, holding the Beavers scoreless in a 22-0 Vandal victory.  Quarterback Skippy Stivers was Idaho’s superstar this season and was critical in nearly every Idaho game.

The Vandals concluded their Oregon trip with a game against the Ducks.  Idaho again showed its strength with a 13-0 victory over Oregon.  The stingy Vandal defense gave up only 3 points in their three game Oregon stay and didn’t give up more than 13 in a single game all season long.  On a snowy field, Idaho broke its 23 year jinx at the hands of the Ducks. The game would mark Idaho’s final conference game as a member of the Northwest Conference.

The newspapers reported that the “big five” members of the Northwest Conference – including Idaho – had decided to remain as members of both conference. But, 1924 would prove to be the final years any of them participated in the conference.

Idaho’s toughest game of the season would come against the mighty Trojans of Southern California.  Idaho played a tough game, failing to capitalize on several opportunities and falling to the Trojans 13-0.

In the final game of the season, Idaho hosted Nevada at Boise.  The last 4 years Boise had been a bit of a good luck charm for the Vandals.  Idaho had allowed only 3 points combined over that time.  This year would be no different as Idaho handled Nevada easily and came away with a 23-0 victory.

If you’ve been keeping track you will notice that only 1 game was played in Moscow and that Idaho had only 3 home games on the season – 1 in Portland, 1 in Boise, and 1 in Moscow.  Still, the Vandals produced a 5-2-1 record on the backs on one of the strongest Vandal squads ever.  1924 was a great year to be a Vandal.

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The Vandals opened the 1925 campaign against in-state competition in the form of the College of Idaho Coyotes.  The Coyotes put up quite a fight, exposing the weak Vandal pass defense.  The 16-14 victory over the supposedly far inferior Coyotes gave the Vandals little hope of success in the upcoming conference slate.

Successful or not, fan excitement was already building for the season.  The one and only time that USC would ever visit Moscow would occur in 1925 and fans were excited.  Special trains were being arranged from Boise for a four-day stay in Moscow.

A week after the squeaker against the C of I, the Vandals surprised many fans by upsetting Oregon in Eugene.  Idaho came into the game a slight underdog, but held the Ducks scoreless, winning 6-0.  The victory made it two in a row over the Ducks – Idaho’s longest streak against Oregon to date.  The victory also marked 3 games in a row without a loss to Oregon.  The streak would be lengthened to 4 in a row without a loss in 1927.  This four game/five year stretch against Oregon may indicate the all time high water mark for Vandal football.  The Vandals were a very good team in the mid 1920’s.

The next week, Idaho defeated Washington State for the third time in a row.  As always, the game was not short on controversy.  Idaho scored its touchdown on a WSC fumble which was returned for a score.  WSC fans and players claim the play was blown dead, but the referees allowed the score.  To secure the 7-6 victory, Idaho blocked a would-be game winning field goal attempt by WSC in the closing minutes.  The defense of both squads played a great game.  Idaho didn’t complete a pass but the defense limited the Cougars to two field goals.

Unfortunately the 3-0 record would be the high water mark for Idaho’s season.  The Mighty Vandals would go on to lose the next five in a row, finishing 3-5.  The first of those five losses would come against the Bulldogs of Gonzaga.  Idaho held the Bulldogs scoreless in the second half, but could only muster three points for the game, unable to overcome Gonzaga’s early fireworks.

Check out those uniforms

Idaho’s offensive struggles continued against USC in Moscow.  The Trojans scored at-will against the Vandals, winning 51-7.  USC’s sensational quarterback lead the team to eight first-half first downs while Idaho could only muster three.  It was a long day for the Idaho defense giving up touchdown after touchdown to a much better USC team.

In the annual Boise game, the Vandals clashed with the Aggies of Oregon State.  The game was expected to be close and indeed it was, with the Aggies coming out on the right end of a 16-7 victory.

Idaho finished the season with a 2-3 conference record and it figures the dreaded Griz kept Idaho from a winning record in-conference.  The Vandals wrapped up the season with a peculiar intersectional game against the Creighton Jays.  The game was a Thanksgiving affair played in Omaha. The Argonaut reports that one Idaho player had to be carried off the field after breaking an ankle in two places.

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The 1926 campaign opened with a game against visiting Montana State.  MacLean field was inundated by a steady rain and the game ended in a scoreless tie.  The sight must have been quite different then as the teams combined for only four pass attempts.  Idaho looked like the better team, but the game ended in a tie.

The following week Idaho would visit Missoula to give the Grizzlies their annual beating at the hands of the Vandals.  1926 was no different as Idaho outplayed Montana in nearly every aspect of the game.  Even without attempting a single forward pass, Idaho whipped the Griz 27-12.

After their victory in Missoula the Vandals would lay their own egg against Washington in

Idaho lost a hard-fought battle against the Cougs

Seattle.  In defeat Idaho looked as feeble as Montana had looked a week prior.  A bright spot for Idaho, though, was the 200 fans who traveled to Seattle to see the game, along with three cheerleaders and a 20 piece pep band.  Over 20,000 spectators witnessed the game in all.

The next game was basically a breather against the College of Idaho. The Coyotes were no match for the Vandals and Idaho won 30-0.  The following week, however, Idaho got a tough test from Oregon State.   At the time OSU was OAC (Oregon Agricultural College).  The game of football was much different then as well.  Idaho lost two players to injury in what was described as one of the roughest games this author had ever witnessed.  Idaho’s star quarterback was sent to the hospital with temporary paralysis of the spine.  Idaho outplayed OAC in every statistical category except scoring, dropping a close one in Portland 3-0.  But, even with such a dramatic game, the attention was focused on next week’s showdown with the hated Cougars.

It was to be homecoming in Moscow and the Vandals were expecting a MacLean Field capacity crowd of over 10,000 even with the Saint Mary’s-Gonzaga rivalry game being played in Spokane.  The Vandal-Cougar game didn’t disappoint as the two squads played a close one with WSC breaking their three year losing streak to the Vandals and emerging with a 6-0 Victory.  Idaho would make it two losses in a row by dropping next week’s game to USC.

Idaho wrapped up a semi-successful season by travelling to Omaha and blanking the Creighton Jays 12-0.  The Argonaut reports that Idaho outgained the Jays 335 to 69. Idaho simply outplayed Creighton and got revenge for the loss in 1925.


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