John Counselman Talks Football

As we’re well into college football season, I thought this would be a good time to share a letter, relevant to the game’s history, written by a one-time Tech player and found within our collections:

Born in Wythe County, Virginia, in 1880, John Sanders Counselman matriculated at Virginia Agricultural and Mechanical College and Polytechnic Institute (often referred to as VPI, for the sake of much-needed brevity) at the age of twenty. Upon graduating with a bachelor’s degree in science in 1903, he was awarded a fellowship in surveying and drawing, and he earned a master’s degree in civil engineering the following year. Soon afterward, Counselman accepted a position as instructor of mathematics and civil engineering  at the Georgia School of Technology (today, Georgia Tech).

On January 7, 1906, Counselman sat down to write a letter to his friend and former civil engineering classmate, Louis O’Shaughnessy, to acknowledge receipt of the solutions to some shared mathematical problems. Counselman then discusses at length a particular problem involving the area of a cone. Those who aren’t math nerds might be forgiven for not reading past the opening paragraph, but those who are football nerds might regret the decision.

John S. Counselman (from the 1903 Bugle)

In addition to his mathematical prowess, John Counselman displayed great skill on the gridiron from 1901 to 1903, starting at fullback for VPI’s team, then most often known as the Polytechs or the Techmen. For his abilities, Counselman was named Second Team All-Southern in 1901. He may have received many more accolades had he not been overshadowed on the playing field by VPI’s legendary halfback, Hunter Carpenter.

After discussing mathematical conundrums, Counselman quickly transitions to other matters, noting that he’d recently sent O’Shaughnessy a “copy of the system of F. B. … [m]ost of it being Heisman’s.” It takes only a moment to realize that “F. B.” is “football,” and that “Heisman” is none other than John W. Heisman, the iconic coach for whom college football’s Heisman Trophy is named. Over a 35-year career as a head coach, Heisman amassed a record of 186-70-18, and he’s credited with a number of early football innovations, among them the forward pass. In January, 1906, Heisman had just finished the second season of what would be a 16-year stint at Georgia Tech. Counselman apparently served as assistant coach during both of Heisman’s first two seasons at Georgia Tech.

I find no record of Heisman having published anything about his system of coaching prior to his 1921 book, Principles of Foot Ball (or “Football,” in subsequent editions), but it’s obvious from Counselman’s letter that the coach had already made a name for himself as a football guru.:

“The old maxim that tricks won’t win games in F. B. is true till Heisman takes charge of affairs, and then the ‘saying’ is false. Since his migration to the South since when he has coached Auburn Ala. 4 years, Clempson [sic] 4, [Georgia] Tech. 2 and coached 3 yrs prior to them, he has lost few games.” He continues by lauding Heisman’s system and claiming that a team coached by him would defeat any team of similar skills. Counselman expresses wariness of running any of Heisman’s “trick plays,” however, concluding that “no coach can make them go, but Heisman.”

Counselman then diagrams and describes a favorite play of Heisman’s, one that he had used when coaching Clemson against VPI in 1901. “You see that Quarter faces slowly to the left, taking one step in that direction but not moving one foot. The Back who finally takes the ball hides behind the Q and the two other Backs running between these two completely hide the runner. Suddenly the Q shoots thro [through] in front of them, taking out any defensive player in the road.” (Whether or not the play itself was successful, Clemson fell to VPI in that game, 11-17.)

Counselman shares Heisman’s “criss-cross” play with O’Shaughnessy

Why Counselman would be showing Heisman’s plays to O’Shaughnessy is something of a mystery. By early 1905, O’Shaughnessy had been working as an instructor at VPI for nearly a year, but I find no record of his having been associated with the football team in any way. As athletic programs were then less structured than they are today, however, it’s not unlikely that members of the faculty may have been pro viding informal assistance to VPI’s head coach at the time, Clarence “Sally” Miles.

Counselman’s letter is written on the letterhead of the Georgia School of Technology, but the envelope was posted from Ann Arbor, Michigan, and by the time of its writing, Counselman was halfway through a year’s study at the University of Michigan. Counselman would soon be searching for a job. The former Polytech writes that Heisman has been using his influence to win him a teaching/coaching position at Mississippi A. & M. (today Mississippi State University), but he expresses reservations about taking the position: “[T]heir math course strikes me as being rotten.”

Counselman then discusses the future of college football: “What is going to become of the game? They are surely giving it h—. Representation from the Big Nine meet next Friday in C— to discuss it, and they are discussing it lots in the East. Well I don’t care my self what they do. It is a brutal game and one that I got damn tired of playing at V. P. I. I love to watch it, however, and am of the opinion that the more they open it, the more dangerous it will become. I think Billy Ried [sic] is correct in his views and especially when he says that those who expect the roughness to be eliminated had as well abandon the game entirely. “

As indicated by Counselman, representatives of the Western College Conference, the “Big Nine,” met in Chicago that January to address the problem of a game that had become increasingly violent. Between 1900 and 1905, according to the Washington Post, more than 40 players died from injuries sustained on the playing field.  In the east, talks were held in the White House. Together, these and other reform meetings resulted in a number of changes that made the game safer and led to the formation of a rule-making authority, the Intercollegiate Association of the United States, now the NCAA. (The “Billy Ried” to whom Counselman refers was William T. “Bill” Reid Jr.,” who coached Harvard in 1905/1906 and, despite initially resisting changes, would eventually play an important role in reforming college football.)

In the end, Counselman didn’t get the position in Mississippi. Later in 1905, he was hired as physical director at Cumberland University (Lebanon, Tennessee), where he also served as football coach. On October 28, Counselman faced his former boss when Cumberland met Georgia Tech on the playing field. Despite having firsthand knowledge of Heisman’s system and having a hand in developing it, Counselman was no match for his mentor. Georgia Tech came away with an 18-0 win, largely credited to the “double-pass” play, on which Counselman himself had drilled the Georgia Tech players the previous season.

Counselman ended his first season as head coach with a 5-4 record. The following year found him at Howard College (now Samford University) in Birmingham, Alabama, coaching the team to a respectable 6-2-1 record in his first year. The following season, at 3-6, was much less successful, however, and after losing the first two games of the 1908 season, Counselman resigned. It was his last experience as a head coach. Counselman’s career in education continued, however. He remained in Birmingham, heading the Central High School Mathematics Department until 1920. He also had stints as professor of mathematics at the College of William and Mary and superintendent of schools in Tallahassee, Florida.

Counselman could never quite give up participating in the game he loved. Beginning in 1912, his name appears among those officiating games at Auburn. The former fullback continues to be listed as a game official in various directories and game summaries through 1924. John S. Counselman died in 1955.

This isn’t Louis O’Shaughnessy’s first appearance in our blog. More can be found here. And more about the J. S. Counselman Letter (Ms1993-009) may be found here.

A Little Something Extra

Archives are so very rarely complete. Its an unusual thing for the archivist to be able to point to a collection and say with full confidence, Thats all there is. More often, we have to admit, Thats all we have. And so, researchers make due with whats on hand, knowing that someday, some newly discovered item may appear and bring their well-argued theses crashing down. Though it deals with the past, history is a living thing, open to reinterpretation as long-hidden documents are discovered and shared. We regularly hear of such discoveries being made in attics or at flea markets and the like, but sometimes theyre made within the archives itself.

Last month, your blogger was working with a small collection of papers from Sidney B. Jeffreys (Ms1986-007), who graduated from Virginia Tech with a bachelor’s degree in industrial engineering in 1931. Jeffreys maintained a lifelong attachment to his alma mater, becoming an active member of the Virginia Tech Alumni Association and a generous supporter of the university. In 1981, he was recognized as a College of Engineering Distinguished Alumnus. (You can read more about Sidney Jeffreys and his papers here.) Given Jeffreys attachment to Virginia Tech, its not surprising that most of the papers in his collection relate to his time as a student and his activities as an alumnus.

Most of the university-related materials in Jeffreys papers consists of VT publications, and most of these are of the type that are seen by our archivists every day. Included among these were several issues of The Virginia Tech (the forerunner of todays student newspaper, The Collegiate Times), from the years that Jeffreys attended the university. Here in the department, The Virginia Tech is frequently called upon in the course of answering reference questions or providing students with material for research topics. Our holdings of the paper are nearlybut not quitecomplete, and were well aware that we lack a couple of years worth of issues. As it turns out, though, there was at least one missing issue about which we were unaware: there, in Sidney Jeffreys papers, was a special, extra edition of The Virginia Tech, published on Saturday, November 10, 1928.

The reason for this extra edition is readily apparent, as it bears a headline that any Hokies fan will enjoy.

The four-page special edition provides a lengthy, detailed description of the homecoming game, played earlier that day before a near-capacity crowd of 8,000 spectators, and it gives a great deal of credit for the win to the exploits of backs Frank Peake and Phil Spear. Elsewhere in this extra edition, readers found a full account of the game between VPIs freshman team, The Gobblets, and their UVA counterparts, which ended in a 13-all tie.

The newspaper also contains articles about the homecoming festivitiesthis being only the second such event held at Virginia Techand about the upcoming observance of Armistice Day. Another brief article announces that plans are underway for a new, modern, and much-needed hotel to be built near the university. On a more somber note, readers learned of the accidental death VPI alumnus Charles B. D. Collyer, a well-known aviator who, just two weeks earlier, had set a new record for a trans-continental flight across the U. S.

Is there anything in this newspaper that will rewrite Virginia Tech history? Well, no (though anybody whos been looking for a detailed account of the 1928 VPI-Virginia football game will find it a treasure trove). Still, this one item adds just a little detail to the historical record, providing some insight into the activities and cares of the Virginia Tech community in late 1928.

We can only wonder how many more special editions may be out there (or in here), waiting to be found.

The November 10, 1928 extra edition of The Virginia Tech will be added to our existing holdings of the newspaper. It has also been added to the queue in a current project that is digitizing the universitys student newspapers and will soon be making them available online.

Retired Football Numbers

Only four Virginia Tech football players have had their numbers retired: Carroll Dale, Frank Loria, Bruce Smith, and Jim Pyne.

Carroll Dale with coach Frank Moseley
Carroll Dale with coach Frank Moseley, 1960 Bugle, p. 336


No. 84 Carroll Dales jersey was the first to be retired. Born in Wise, Virginia, he entered Virginia Tech in 1956 as an offensive and defensive end. After seeing varsity action as a reserve in the first game of the 1956 season, he started in the remaining 39 games of his college career. He became V.P.I.s first bona fide All-American. As a junior in 1958, he was named the Southern Conference Player of the Year, and for three consecutive years (1957-59), he was voted the Roanoke Touchdown Clubs Lineman of the Year. He was team captain his senior year and earned first team All-American honors. In all four seasons, he led the Hokies in pass receiving. Dale finished his college career with 67 receptions for 1,195 yards and 15 touchdowns. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1987.

Following graduation, Dale played five seasons with the Los Angeles Rams. He scored on a 57-yard touchdown pass in his first NFL game. The highlight of his professional career came with the Green Bay Packers and three straight National Football League championships under coach Vince Lombardi. The 1967 and 1968 games were known retroactively as Super Bowl I and Super Bowl II. After eight seasons in Green Bay, Dale played a season with the Minnesota Vikings when he found himself again in the Super Bowl. He was inducted into the Packers Hall of Fame in 1979. Carroll Dale Stadium, the football stadium of Dales high school in Wise, J.J. Kelly High School, was named for him.


Frank Loria
Frank Loria, football All-American

No. 10 Despite his 5-9, 175-pound frame, Frank Loria was one of the most tenacious football players ever to play for Virginia Tech. A native of Clarksburg, West Virginia, he played basketball, baseball, and football at Notre Dame High School. When he came to Virginia Tech, Loria started every game at safety from 1965-67 and rapidly established himself as one of Techs all-time greats. He was famous for his uncanny ability to diagnose opposition plays and was called a coach on the field. Loria was the first Virginia Tech football player to gain first-team All-American honors in back-to-back seasons (1966, 1967), and he became the Hokies first consensus All-American pick as a senior in 1967, making seven first-team All-American squads. During his Tech career, he had seven interceptions and a number of punt return records. He returned 61 punts, averaging 13.3 yards on each return. He ran four punts back for touchdowns. One was a school record 95 yards.

Loria was assistant coach at Marshall University on Nov. 14, 1970 when all players and coaches died in a plane crash. The tragic accident took 75 lives. Loria was 23 years-old and was married with two children and a third on the way. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1999. In the 1970s Frank Loria Memorial Field opened in Clarksburg City Park. Notre Dame High School plays its home games there.


Photograph; Dates: 1981-1984 (Virginia Tech career dates); football;
Bruce Smith battles Clemson, VT Sports Information photo

No. 78 Known as The Sack Man of Virginia Tech football, Bruce Smith capped his sensational college career in 1984 by winning the Outland Trophy as Americas top lineman. The Norfolk, Virginia native graduated from Booker T. Washington High. Following an all-state high school career, Smith accepted an athletic scholarship to Virginia Tech where he had a career total of 71 tackles behind the line of scrimmage for losses totaling 504 yards. Sports columnist Wilt Browning from The Greensboro Daily News noted that in four years Smith accounted for losses totaling more than five times the length of a football field (504 yards). Smith had 46 career quarterback sacks, including 22 during his junior season in 1983 when he was named first-team All-American. In 1984 he was a consensus All-American. His combination of strength, quickness, intelligence, and relentless effort made him the model for a pass rushing defensive lineman.

In the 1985 National Football League draft, Smith was the first selection of the Buffalo Bills. During his pro career, he established himself as one of the greatest defensive players ever to play the game. He was NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 1990 and 1996, when he was named to the NFLs All Decade Teams of the 1980s and 1990s. He was selected to 11 Pro Bowls. He was inducted in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility on August 8, 2009. He ended his 19-year pro career in 2003 as the NFLs all-time sack leader with 200. He anchored a defense that reached four straight Super Bowls. The Bills retired his No. 78 jersey in 2016. It joined Jim Kellys No. 12 jersey as the only numbers retired by the Bills. No player had worn number 78 since Smith left the team.

Bruce Smith served on the Virginia Tech Board of Visitors from 2002 to 2003.


JIm Pyne
Jim Pyne in action against Miami Hurricanes, VT Sports Information photo

No. 73 Center Jim Pyne became Virginia Techs first unanimous All-American when he made all five major teams that were selected in 1993. In addition to All-America honors, he was named winner of the Dudley Award as Virginias Player of the Year. During his four seasons at Virginia Tech, he established himself as one of the Hokies top linemen of all time, leading the charge that rewrote the record books for scoring and total offense. He started 35 consecutive games and 41 of the 42 Tech games in which he played. He allowed just one quarterback sack by the man he was assigned to block during more than 2,700 career snaps. He played on 736 of a possible 770 snaps during his sophomore season. That translated to 96 percent of the Hokies plays on offense. He played every offensive down in six games that season and graded higher for his performance on the field than any lineman during Coach Frank Beamers first five seasons at Virginia Tech. He earned second-team All-BIG EAST Conference honors his junior year and was named to the leagues first All-Academic team. He played on 92 percent of the teams offensive snaps and set a school weight room record with a 401-pound hang clean.

He helped clear the way for a record-setting offense in 1993 as Tech earned its bid to the Poulan/Weed Eater Independence Bowl, the first bowl bid of the Beamer era. VT won 45-20 over Indiana. He was named to the Big East Conference All-time team at the turn of the century. The offensive line meeting room at VT was named in his honor.

A native of Mitford, Massachusetts, he attended Milford High School, where he played for the Milford Scarlet Hawks and Choate Rosemary Hall in Wallingford, Connecticut where he played for the Choate Wild Boars. The Pynes were the first family to play three generations of professional football. Pynes father, George Pyne III, played for the Boston Patriots of the American Football League in 1965. His grandfather, George Pyne II, played for the Providence Steam Roller of the NFL in 1931.

Pine was selected by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the 1994 draft, and he played four of his nine professional seasons with them as a left guard, starting in 38 of his 42 appearances from 1995 to 1997. He played for the Detroit Lions in the 1998 and then became the first overall pick of the Cleveland Browns in the 1999 expansion draft. He was named team MVP by the Akron Browns backers and named top offensive lineman by the touchdown club.

New Policy on Retiring Numbers

In 2002, the Virginia Tech Athletics Department developed a new policy on retiring football jerseys. This special honor is bestowed to acknowledge an individual who has won an established national award in his sport, while allowing the number to continue to be worn by others. Virginia Tech no longer retires numbers.

Visit Special Collections

We have historical sports and other photographs, biographical files, sports programs and media guides in addition to many other treasures in Special Collections. We hope to welcome you.


When Orange Became The New Black (and Maroon the New Gray)

1896, a Formative Year for Virginia Tech Football

With a new school year about to start, and Lane Stadium soon to be filled with cheering fans, we cant resist offering a little lesson from Hokie History 101. Well, this piece may belong in a 200-level course, since weve included a few obscure facts that the average fan isnt likely to know.

In recognition of its broadening curriculum in science and technology, the Virginia Agricultural and Mechanical College in 1896 became the Virginia Agricultural and Mechanical College and Polytechnic Institute. The new name being more than a mouthful, it was shortened in popular usage to Virginia Polytechnic Institute, or VPI.

The schools fledgling football program underwent changes of its own that year. Early on, the college had adopted school colors of black and cadet gray, but when worn on a striped football jersey, the colors resembled a prison convicts uniforma similarity that undoubtedly became a source of ridicule from opposing teams.

Norbon R. Patrick, a guard on the 1893 team, poses in the jersey that necessitated a change of school colors.
Norbon R. Patrick, a guard on the 1893 team, poses in the jersey
that necessitated a change of school colors.

A committee reviewed the colors used by other colleges and decided that burnt orange and Chicago maroon would provide a unique color combination (as indeed it did and continues to do). The new colors debuted not in the opening game of 1896, but in the second game, at home against Roanoke College, on October 20.

The black jersey sported by the 1895 team, just prior to the schools name change, featured the letters AMC encircled by a large C in white.
The black jersey sported by the 1895 team, just prior to the schools name change,
featured the letters AMC encircled by a large C in white.
The first orange-and-maroon jersey featured an oversized V under a smaller P, reflecting a de-emphasis of the word Institute in popular usage of the schools name.
The first orange-and-maroon jersey featured an oversized V under a smaller P, reflecting
a de-emphasis of the word Institute in popular usage of the schools name.

Changes came to fan support, as well. By the 1890s, the college cheer, or yell, had become a popular means of boosting enthusiasm at campus athletic events. As long as they incorporated the name of the college and / or team, the words in these yells werent as important as the rhythm and tone. Cheers relied on creative, invented words–words that were easy and fun to yell–as is evident in the first yell adopted by VAMC:

Rip, Rah, Ree,
Vah, Vah, Vee,
A. M. C.
Ree, Ree,
A. M. C.

An abridged, peppier version of the longer yell seems to have been used more frequently by fans at games:

Rip, Rah, Ree!
Va, Va, Vee!
Virginia, Virginia!

By the 1895 season, the students had adopted a new, somewhat more complex college yell, published in the 1896 Bugle:

Hicki! Hicki! Hicki!
Sis! Bom! Bar!
A. and M. College,
Wah! Who! Wah!
Vivla! Vivla! Vivla! Vee!
Virginia! Virginia! A. M. C.!

The “Wah! Who! Wah!” bit may have been a little too reminiscent of the “Wah-hoo-wah!” yell of University of Virginia fans, and the 1896 Bugle records a separate yell that was used to cheer the 1895 football squad :

Do! Do! Ha! Ha! Dom-i-di-i-dee;
Wah! Wah!
A. M. C.
Hip Hip, Hip, Hurrah!
Virgin-u-a!, Virgini-u-ah,
Wee! Wee!
A. M. C.-c-c-c-c-c-boom!!!! Football

The schools new name rendered these yells obsolete, but rather than simply incorporate the new name into existing yells, the Athletic Association sponsored a contest for a new yell (which, as things turned out, is fortunate, or we might otherwise all be cheering Lets go, Hickies! or be members of the Do Do Nation today). The composer of the winning entry would receive a five-dollar prize.

Oscar Meade Stull (1874-1964), a senior majoring in applied chemistry and serving as cadet first lieutenant and adjutant, put his imagination to work in composing a cheer that used fun, invented words and incorporated the schools new name:

Hoki, Hoki, Hoki, Hy!
Techs, Techs, VPI!
Sola-Rex, Sola-Rah.
Polytechs Vir-gin-i-a!
Rae, Ri, VPI!

Oscar Meade Stull, '96, the first person to ever hear the What is a Hokie? question.
Oscar Meade Stull, ’96, the first person to ever hear
the What is a Hokie? question.

Stulls submission became the winning entry and is said to have made its debut when the cadets traveled to Richmond and participated in the laying of the cornerstone for the citys Jefferson Davis monument on July 2, 1896. As Stull recalled some 60 years later, I was surprised when my yell was accepted, but I needed the five spot. In addition to the fiver, Stull earned a lasting place in Virginia Tech history. The legacy was an unexpected one. In a 1956 letter to Virginia Tech library director Seymour Robb, Stull wrote, I am more surprised in recent years that [the Hokie yell] has endured for 60 years!

According to various histories, 1896 also marked the year in which Floyd Hard Times Meade (1882-1941) came to be associated with the football team. Just 14 years old at the time, Meade worked part-time in the campus mess hall and was adopted as an unofficial mascot by the team. As mascot, Meade frequently performed at games dressed as a clown in orange and maroon, his antics probably not so dissimilar to mascots of later years. Meade would later figure prominently in the evolution of the teams mascot and traditions. But his is a story for a future blog post.

Floyd Hard Times Meade, from the 1899 Bugle.
Floyd Hard Times Meade, from the 1899 Bugle.

The traditions begun in 1896 served the team well. The VPI gridders won that first orange-and-maroon game over Roanoke College 12-0, and the team eventually went 5-2-1, ending the season with a 24-0 rout of then-archrival VMI. The eight-game season was the longest played since the teams founding, and though it would be nearly a decade before VPI regularly played that many games a year, the success of that season proved the feasibility of scheduling more games.

It would take some time for an e to be added to Stulls hoki, and though his cheer incorporated the names Techs and Polytechs, the school seems to have made little effort in promoting the use of these names. The Cohee, an 1897-1898 publication of the Athletic Association, makes no mention of the names; the press most often referred to the team simply as V.P.I. or by generic terms such as the Blacksburg eleven. It would be several years before VPI teams came to be known more commonly as Techs, Polytechs, or Techmen; more than a decade to be known as The Gobblers; and still longer to be called The Hokies, but the seeds for all that has followed were sown in 1896.