The First Touchdown in Michigan Football History: the Story of Irving Kane Pond

Aug. 24, 2010

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By Richard Retyi, U-M Athletic Media Relations

Michigan football earned varsity status in 1879 and that year played the first two games in program history, defeating Racine College and tying the University of Toronto.

The U-M roster featured nine players from the state of Michigan (six from Ann Arbor) and one each from Illinois, Iowa, Indiana, Minnesota, North Dakota and Texas. The team photo features 13 handsome gentlemen with team captain Dave N. DeTar standing in the back row with his mates. The team did not have a head coach until 1891. Hand written notes on the back of the team picture read:

"All except Collins H. Johnson were in Chicago for the game with Racine College on May 30, 1879. Petit was substitute and did not get into the game. Touchdown by Pond. Field goal by DeTar."

Pond referred to Irving Kane Pond, an Ann Arbor native and a halfback on the first-ever U-M football squad. Pond had the honor of scoring the first touchdown in Michigan football history, though he did not self-identify as much of a football player.

Pond recalled the milestone touchdown run in his autobiography, which involved running over bleachers and vaulting his tacklers like a superhero:

"I am not a modern footballist (sic) if indeed I were ever any kind of footballist. I played only for the fun of it! ... My touchdown was made towards the end of the first half and involved a long distance run to where the ball must be grounded directly behind and between the goal posts ... To Avoid being tackled I was forced to mount the bleachers and run eastward along them until I was opposite the goal when I stopped suddenly and -- fearing that a touchdown in the bleachers would not count-- jumped over the heads of my pursuers to the ground."

Pond's legacy stretches far outside the boundaries of the gridiron. He graduated with a degree in civil engineering and formed his own architectural firm in Chicago, Pond and Pond, in partnership with his brother Allen Bartlitt Pond (also a U-M graduate). The brothers collaborated for more than 40 years, championing the Arts and Craft style of architecture, which advocated simple forms and medieval, romantic or folk styles of decoration. The brothers completed more than 30 projects together, including the design of a number of buildings for the University of Michigan campus. Three of the Pond buildings have been declared National Historic Landmarks -- the Hull House dining hall in Chicago, the Lorado Taft Midway Studios, and the Frank R. Lillie House.

The brothers' Ann Arbor connection remains strong. They excelled in building large university student unions and used their skills to design student unions at Purdue, Michigan State, Kansas and of course at their alma mater, Michigan. The Michigan Union was actually constructed on the site of the brothers' boyhood home and the Pond brothers also designed the Michigan League, the Student Publications Building on Maynard and the old YMCA Building on Fourth Street.

Allen Bartlitt Pond passed away in 1929 and lifelong bachelor Irving married Katherine N. de Nancrede in a ceremony in Ann Arbor. Pond remained physically fit well into his golden years and performed a backflip on the occasion of his 80th birthday, a feat that was photographed for Life magazine in 1937. In fact, Pond utilized back flips and somersaults as part of his daily exercise regimen. In an article written about him in the Michigan Alumnus Magazine in 1927, Pond recalled using his acrobatic skills to confuse his opponents on the football field.

"The great satisfaction I had in that game was in learning that I had confounded the other side in turning a back somersault at the signal for its kickoff at the beginning of the second half, grabbing the ball as I alighted upon my feet and going down the field for a long run."

At the age of 82, Pond died while traveling to Washington, D.C. in 1939. Most of his buildings still stand today.

1879 University of Michigan Football Team

(Special thanks to Greg Kinney and the University of Michigan Bentley Historical Library)

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