Exclusive Deleted Scene: Steve Sheinkin’s Undefeated
This past Sunday you might have seen a review in the New York Times for Steve Sheinkin’s latest book Undefeated: Jim Thorpe and the Carlisle Indian School Football Team. In the event that it piqued your interest, you were familiar with the Radiolab episode on the same subject, or you simply like Steve Sheinkin (or all of the above), it is with the greatest of pleasure that I present to you today a cut scene from the book, on sale today.
The description of the book puts it this way:
Jim Thorpe was an incredible Native American athlete and Olympic gold medalist, and Pop Warner was an indomitable coach and football mastermind with an Ivy League background. Before these men became legends, they met in 1907 at the Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Pennsylvania, where they forged one of the greatest teams in American football history. Called “the team that invented football,” they took on the best opponents of their day, defeating much more privileged schools such as Harvard and the Army in a series of breathtakingly close calls, genius plays, and bone-crushing hard work. UNDEFEATED is an astonishing underdog sports story—and more. It’s an unflinching look at the U.S. government’s violent persecution of Native Americans and the school that was designed to erase Indian cultures.
As for today’s cut selection, Steve describes it here:
In this deleted scene, the Carlisle football team travels to Chicago to play Wisconsin in the first-ever indoor football game. I hated cutting this stuff; it was just a matter of structure and flow.
Now that I’m Chicago-based, it seems an appropriate scene to display. Enjoy.
Early on the morning of December 19, a train rolled into Chicago’s Union Depot. Twenty young men in suits, representing seventeen Indian nations, stepped onto the crowded platform.
After finishing the 1896 season with a record of 4-5, the Carlisle Indians had accepted a last-minute invite to travel to Chicago to play one more game. They’d be taking on the powerful University of Wisconsin in the first football game ever to be played indoors.
As the men walked through the train station, reporters and a curious crowd of locals looked on. The Carlisle Indians were a big story now, especially since that hotly-debated Yale game. But they didn’t seem like football players, Chicago reporters remarked. They were too polite.
The team piled into a large coach, and six horses pulled them through the chaotic streets of downtown Chicago. While most of the players came from reservations and rural areas, they’d already been to Boston, Philadelphia, New York—tall buildings and crowded sidewalks didn’t faze them. On the other hand, Chicago residents had never seen a Native American football team, and they gawked like spectators at a circus. The players felt the stares as they walked into the dining room of the opulent Palmer House Hotel. It was extremely uncomfortable; people seemed to be expecting them to do something.
So they played along—they sang a round of “My Country, ‘Tis of Thee.” Then they sat down to breakfast.
Next was a tour of the city. At the famous Chicago Board of Trade, the Carlisle men stood on the balcony above the trading floor. Down below, men in suits were trading commodities, frantically waving their arms, roaring orders, shoving each other. One trader was smacked in the face with a flying hand and fell to his knees. At Carlisle, Pratt and the teachers hammered endlessly at the need to become “civilized”—was this supposed to be civilization?
Carlisle’s Delos Lone Wolf shook his head and said, “Savages.”
A trader named Joseph Townsend, a brawny ex-boxer, spotted Bemus Pierce. He’d heard of Pierce’s prowess on the field, and thought it would be fun to tackle him. Townsend charged at Pierce, driving his shoulder into the big man’s legs. Pierce twisted free, sending Townsend to the floor with a thud.
Traders, who’d stopped to watch, roared with laughter. Someone yelled “Try Metoxen!”
Jonas Metoxen, Carlisle’s stout fullback, stood beside Pierce.
Townsend did not try Metoxen.
The next night, more than 15,000 people packed the Chicago Coliseum, where bright electric lights and tobacco smoke turned the winter air warm and hazy. The highlight of the world’s first indoor football game was a play no one had ever seen.
“This was in the first half,” the Chicago Tribune described, “when a high punt landed the ball on top of one of the arched iron girders that support the roof of the building. The oval literally walked down-stairs on the slanting girder until it rested against an upright, and there it remained.”
The game stopped. Fans and players looked up. This, apparently, was the only football.
A young boy leaped from his seat and started shimmying up one of the building’s steel rafters. Balancing high above the field, he reached the ball, dislodged it, and let it fall. The kid got a huge ovation, and play resumed.
After a convincing 18–8 victory, the Carlisle team rode back to the Palmer House surrounded, the Chicago Tribune reported, by an “admiring group of young women.” At the hotel, the players collapsed onto couches and lit up cigars.
“They said they’re going out of training for the season,” noted the Tribune, “and would play no more games.”
Thanks to Steve and Amanda Mustafic for passing this along.
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About Betsy Bird
Betsy Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.
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