University of Denver Football memories fade with time 

Photo: Photo courtesy of the University of Denver. On October 2nd, 1926 DU’s officially opened a new stadium, Hilltop Stadium, with a new name, the Pioneers.  

Fall is in the air and homecoming is fast approaching this weekend – it must be time for…hockey.

However, for many years, University of Denver homecoming activities centered on football – the most popular sport at the university. DU’s very first football game was played in 1885 against Colorado College. That game was believed by sports historians to be the first intercollegiate football game played west of the Mississippi River.

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In the past, homecoming was all about Pioneer Football.

Overall, Denver’s football accomplishments were modest at best. However, football head coach John P. Koehler led his then-Fighting Parsons to their first conference titles in 1908 and 1909 and the 1917 team won its league title and went undefeated at 9-0.  The DU Pioneers (renamed in a 1925 student contest) won the 1933 Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference co-championship and DU’s later football highlights include appearances in the 1946 Sun Bowl, 1947 Alamo Bowl, and the 1951 Pineapple Bowl – all ended in losses.

Between 1938 and 1960, DU was a member of the Mountain States/Skyline Conference, winning titles in 1945, 1946 and its fifth and final conference title in 1954 when the Pioneers were #18 in the country. The football team played in a 30,000 seat on-campus stadium which stood from 1926 to 1971 where the current soccer field stands. Many older alumni can still remember remnants from the west stands which remained into the  70’s until they were finally demolished.

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DU’s Hilltop Stadium was the place to be on a fall afternoon.

The final season for DU football was in 1960. The program was discontinued in January 1961 for financial reasons. While the Pioneers were 3–7 in that final season, they won their last game, 21–12, over Colorado State at home on Thanksgiving Day in front of nearly 7,000 fans. DU’s Chancellor, Chester Alter thought the $100,000 annual expenses for football were taking away from academic endeavors and intramural sports – and the trustees agreed. In a 2004 interview with Denver Magazine, the 98-year-old Alter replied, “DU’s still there isn’t it? It has survived just fine.”

The cessation of football marked the beginning of an overall University athletic malaise until Denver re-entered Division I and Chancellor Dan Ritchie (1989-2005) brought new facilities and energy back to Denver athletics.

Denver recently lost a Pioneer hero from that last football game – receiver Jimmy Cobb. Cobb scored Denver’s last touchdown ever in that win against Colorado State. Jimmy Cobb was 78 when he passed away. 9News did a lengthy feature on Cobb who caught the 21-yard pass to seal that final 21-12 victory and become an important footnote in DU sports history.

The University of Denver has plenty to celebrate with success in numerous fall sports. And Pioneer hockey has become the centerpiece of DU homecoming.

Today, few people argue the need to resume football with the associated cost and facility requirements while facing an uphill battle for attention in the already saturated Denver sports market.

Pioneer Jimmy Cobb’s memorial service will be held this Saturday, October 21st at 11:00 AM at the Arapahoe Road Baptist Church. Coincidentally, the service will take place during DU’s homecoming weekend.

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