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Remembering Football in the 1920s

Homer Hayhurst Hogue, who turned 98 on December 28, is West Virginia University's oldest living football letterman. He lettered during the 1927 and 1928 seasons as a 5-foot-10, 175-pound guard. He also lettered for three years in track and field, where he threw the hammer, discus, and shot put.

Hogue played football at WVU for the legendary Ira Errett Rodgers in the early years of old Mountaineer Field. AstroTurf, lights, face masks, and any extra padding on one's body were unheard-of commodities.

"If you didn't get your nose bloodied on the first play or two, you weren't playing right," said Hogue, his lips curling into a grin as he raises his right forearm. Hogue is an extraordinary man with an endless supply of football memories he willingly shares with visitors who are warmly welcomed into his home.

His college football career almost came to an abrupt halt his first year. The freshmen challenged the varsity in a scrimmage, and the newcomers were trounced royally. Hogue wanted to quit.

As fate would have it, when Hogue got back to Morgantown he encountered an old friend from Pennsboro, Burl Cox, who encouraged Hogue to stick around. Cox invited Hogue to live at his fraternity house.

Hogue consented. He received $25 a month from WVU. He spent $15 of that for his room rent and worked at the fraternity house to earn more money. "I waited tables and washed dishes for my education," he said.

Playing for Rodgers, a WVU first-team all-American in 1916 and 1917, was an education in itself. Rodgers wasn't big on rah-rah speeches. His mere presence commanded the respect of his players. "He was a powerfully built man," Hogue said. "The only thing he ever said to me was, 'You missed a couple of tackles.' I told myself I better not miss any the next game, and I didn't."

Football was, in many ways, much tougher then, when there was limited equipment and no such thing as a specialist. "You played when you had the ball and when the other team had the ball," Hogue said. "You played the whole damn game."

The highlight of Hogue's WVU career came during his senior season on October 13, 1928, against the rival Pitt Panthers in Pittsburgh. The Panthers had embarrassed WVU, 40-0, during the Mountaineers' 2-4-3 season in 1927. WVU wasn't expected to have much better luck with Pitt in 1928, but the Mountaineers pulled off a stunning 9-6 upset that propelled them to an 8-2 season.

"That was the damnedest game I ever saw," Hogue said, shaking his head. The contest turned on a special teams play, as Pitt attempted to punt from its own end zone. Hogue remembers talking with fellow lineman Louis Meisel before the Panthers' kick. "I'm going to give you an alley back there," Hogue said. "You have a chance to block this damn punt."

Hogue will never forget what happened next.

"The center threw it clear over the punter's head," he said. "He goes back and picks it up and tries to punt it. He saw Meisel bearing down on him, and he stepped out of bounds. Safety. We got two points and won."

Hogue played the final game of his Mountaineer career on November 29, 1928, as WVU wrapped up the season with a 14-0 whitewashing of Washington and Jefferson.

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