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Curtis Eriksmoen, Published May 18 2013

‘Father of forward pass’ coached football in Fargo

‘The father of the forward pass,” who is also credited with being the first person to put numbers on the jerseys of his football players, coached college football in Fargo.

Eddie Cochems had been a star halfback at the University of Wisconsin directly prior to taking his first coaching job at the North Dakota Agricultural College (now NDSU) in 1902. In his two years at NDAC, Cochems’ win-loss record was 9-1, and NDAC outscored their opponents 479 to 49.

Edward Bulwer Cochems and his twin brother, Carl, were born Feb. 4, 1877, in Sturgeon Bay, Wis., to Mathias and Marie Johanna (Wagener) Cochems. With eight older siblings, five of them brothers, the twins had many role models at an early age. All of the Cochems had notable voices, and Carl put his focus into music, becoming a well-known opera singer. Eddie, like his older brother Henry, became a champion college debater. In fact, Eddie attempted to emulate Henry in almost every aspect.

Henry was a gifted athlete in many sports. In 1893, he enrolled at the University of Wisconsin, in Madison, and was the star of the football team, breaking several school records. He also established school records in the shot put and hammer throw events. He was chosen as the “closer” for joint debate competitions, and his team almost always came out on top. Henry was also the school leader of the young Republicans.

Eddie enrolled at the same institution in 1898, joining the powerful football teams and earning accolades for his strong showing in the shot put, discus and broad jump competitions. He also played baseball, was on the debate team and was president of the university Republican Club.

After graduating in 1902, Eddie Cochems was hired as athletic director at NDAC, which meant he would be the football coach.

On Aug. 20, Cochems married Mary Louise Mullen, his sweetheart from Madison, and together they set up their home in Fargo.

When he arrived at NDAC on Sept. 23, many of the college’s fans were well aware of his athletic accomplishments in Wisconsin. Much of Cochems’ fame was for large gains on “end runs,” including scoring four touchdowns against Notre Dame in 1900. He was also the first player for the University of Wisconsin to run back a kick-off the full length of the field for a touchdown in a Big Ten game. That “kickoff return against (the University of) Chicago in 1901 brought him undying fame as a gridder.”

Excitement and high expectations were prevalent at NDAC when Cochems arrived as the new coach. The Spectrum, the student newspaper, reported, “Never before in the history of our college was there a brighter outlook for winning athletics than there now is.”

In early October, at the first game of the season against Hamline, the cheer went up: “What’s the matter with Cochems?/He’s all right!/Who’s all right?/Cochems!/Who says so?/Everybody!/Who’s everybody?/The A.C.” Cochems did not disappoint – his team won 34-0.

The AC then defeated Carleton 52-0 and the college in Mitchell, S.D., (now Dakota Wesleyan) 35-0. The AC’s final game of the season was against the University of North Dakota, and Cochems’ team won 47-0. For the season, Cochems’ team outscored their opponents 168-0. The Spectrum reported, “According to most of the fans, the team of ’02, coached by Eddie Cochems, is easily the best team ever gotten together by the A.C.”

The 1903 season was almost as good, as NDAC finished 5-1. Besides a loss, the major disappointment of the season was that UND canceled their planned Oct. 31 game with AC shortly before it was to be played. The reason given to the press was that the two teams played under different rules – one team was “playing under the rules of the state association and the other under those of the Northwestern conference.” There was suspicion in Fargo that UND did not want to be humiliated.

Only one team in the six games was able to score against the NDAC Farmers (the mascot name later became the Flickertails before becoming the Bison). On Nov. 6, they played against the University of Minnesota’s second team. The Minnesota players “outweighed NDAC by an average of 20 pounds,” and the Farmers lost 11-0.

Cochems returned to Wisconsin in 1904 to take the position of assistant football coach, and in 1905, he became head coach at Clemson. After one season at Clemson, Cochems accepted an offer to become the coach at St. Louis University, a school much better known for academics than for athletics. His three years at the school became legendary as the national press reported, “Cochems put St. Louis on the football map.” We will conclude our story about Eddie Cochems next week.

(Concerning last week’s article, I want to thank Patrick Schmiedt for alerting me to the quotation marks in the third sentence of paragraph seven, which should have been expanded. To more accurately reflect the information obtained from a Boston Globe article, the quoted material should have read “brute strength was required to move the ball. Players locked their arms in mass formations and used their helmetless heads as battering rams.”)

“Did You Know That” is written by Curt Eriksmoen and edited by Jan Eriksmoen of Fargo. Send your suggestions for columns, comments or corrections to the Eriksmoens at cjeriksmoen@cableone.net.