Football Players

On November 30th, 1899, at Sixteenth and Folsom Streets in San Francisco, Berkeley defeated Stanford 30-0 in the Big Game. The most famous trophy of the game was the Axe, which had been introduced in the baseball Big Game that spring. But with this victory, the second in a row for Cal football, Mayor James Phelan of San Francisco also awarded Berkeley a finer and more substantial trophy, a lifesize bronze statue called “The Football Players”, which stands today in a grove toward the west side of campus, on the way up into the university from downtown Berkeley.

Douglas Tilden was born in 1860, and attended the California School for the Deaf in Berkeley. He went to New York and then to Paris for further studies. He finished “The Football Players” at the end of seven years in Paris — note that, apart from being French, the players are dressed for rugby rather than American football. He did several other public sculptures in the Bay Area, including the “Baseball Player” in Golden Gate Park, the Mechanics’ Monument on Market Street downtown, and the California Volunteers’ Memorial at Market and Dolores. The monuments are bombastic in the style of the day, and hard to look at seriously now. (My daughter likes the Volunteers’ Memorial, not because she’s passionate about the Philippines War but because the horse has wings.) But the “Football Players” does something quite different than any of these, turning the conservative academic style to recognizably human ends — the composition, angles of the limbs, etc, harmonize with the gazes and the points of contact between the bodies, making a vivid if prettified image of male friendship and physical intimacy.

Photo by Flickr user marymactavish used under a Creative Commons license.