George H. Brooke (circa 1893) with autograph below
George Haydock Brooke was born in Brookeville, MD on July 9, 1874; the son of Walter Henry and Caroline Leggett Brooke. Brookeville, MD is a small rural village comprised of 60 acres, 18 miles north of the District of Columbia. The village was established in 1794 by Richard Thomas Jr and his wife Deborah Brooke Thomas. Both were members of long-standing and well-respected Quaker families. Deborah inherited the land from her grandfather, James Brooke, George’s great-grandfather.
1892 Swarthmore Football Team
Brooke attended preparatory school at Brookeville Academy, which moved from Brookeville to Merrywood, MD in 1868. After attending prep school, he starred at Swarthmore College in baseball, captained the football team in 1892, and received a B.S. degree in 1893. Upon graduation, Harry Mackey – captain of the University of Pennsylvania football team – persuaded George to enter the Wharton School at UPenn and continue playing football. University of Pennsylvania would frequently recruit players into their graduate programs to develop outstanding football teams, where the eligibility requirements were lax.
The five-foot-nine-inch, 175 pound Brooke fit well into Coach George Woodruff’s “guards back” offensive attack. Running from the halfback or fullback position, he first attracted attention in 1893 with his skill in the open field, rushes up center, kick returns and defensive play at safety. But he gained the most recognition for his kicking and is credited with coining the phrase “coffin-corner” to describe the long punts he placed out of bounds deep in his opponent’s territory.
1893 University of Pennsylvania Football Team
By the fall of 1894, Brooke was regarded as one of the best collegiate fullbacks and a prolific scorer, Pennsylvania finished 12-0 that year, outscoring their opponents 366-20, and posting impressive victories against Princeton and Harvard. Three Pennsylvania stars (Charles Gelbert, Charles Wharton and George Brooke) made the 1894 Walter Camp All-American team. Against Harvard in 1894 Brooke stood on his 20-yard line for a free kick after a touchdown. The Harvard squad stood and marveled as they watched the dropkick sail across the Harvard goal post, traveling at least 90 yards!
Pennsylvania returned most of its veteran players in 1895, again finished undefeated, 14-0, outscoring their opponents 480-24. The 1895 team is regarded by many as national champions that year. Brooke suffered from various injuries that season, but his strong kicking and running again earned him All-American honors. All-American selector, Caspar Whitney, called Brooke a “very hard man to stop. He strikes the line with almost irresistible force.” Billy Ohl, famous Cornell fullback who played against Brooke, said "Brooke will always remain the greatest punter of all time. I speak as one who traded kicks with Brooke in the Penn-Cornell games in 1893 and 1894. His punts averaged sixty yards from the scrimmage line, and he could place the ball at will...So perfect was his form, so thorough his grasp of the mechanics which govern kicking, he never got off a bad punt".
1894 University of Pennsylvania Football Team
By the end of the 1895 season, Brooke had played seven years of intercollegiate athletics. Speculation abounded that he might return and captain the 1896 Pennsylvania team. However, Brooke was barred from playing after the 1895 season because of an agreement between Harvard and UPenn that limited players to four seasons of eligibility. While attending UPenn law school, Brooke attempted to play football for Tulane University against LSU. LSU protested to the game’s referee after the first play from scrimmage. Tulane claimed that Brooke planned on enrolling there as a graduate student. During the debate between team captains, Brooke refused to sign an affidavit stating his intention to enroll at Tulane. The referee ruled him ineligible and Tulane refused to continue playing the game without Brooke, resulting in a forfeit to LSU.
George Brooke about to punt the ball - 1895 UPenn vs Cornell game
In 1897 Brooke compiled a 4-1 record as football coach for Stanford University. He enlisted the following spring as a Corporal in the Battery A, Philadelphia Light Artillery United States Volunteer unit assembled for the Spanish-American War. After a brief service in the Puerto Rican campaign, he was discharged later that year. He served as football coach at Swarthmore from 1898-1911, compiling a 72-32-6 record. One day, when he was coaching Swarthmore, then years after he had stopped playing, he was showing his players how to kickoff. Placing the ball on the 55-yard line he stepped back and, in street shoes, sent it high over the cross-bar of the goal posts nearly 70 yards away.
In 1900 he played professional football for the Homestead Library & Athletic Club, near Pittsburgh. The team went 10-0 and won the professional championship that year. He coached three years at the University of Pennsylvania from 1913-15, with an unsuccessful 13-12-4 record. William Crowell, a great drop-kicker who played for Brooke, said " To me Brooke was one of the outstanding coaches in football history. He taught me everything I knew about kicking, and he was a great team coach too." Although Brooke graduated with a law degree from University of Pennsylvania in 1898 and admitted to the Philadelphia Bar in 1899 he never practiced law; working at Creth & Sullivan and later Walton & Williams as an insurance broker.
George Brooke, circa 1920
Brooke, an outstanding squash racquets player, won the national singles championship in 1904 and doubles championship in 1917. That same year, he also captured the Pennsylvania lawn tennis doubles championship. He was well known in various athletic clubs in the Philadelphia area and helped establish The Racquet Club of Philadelphia off 16th Street. He suffered from a serious heart ailment and spent his final years on the West Coast. George Brooke passed away on November 16, 1938 in Tucson AZ, leaving behind a wife, Marie Gregg Robb Brooke (whom he married on February 6, 1908), and step-son, Thomas Gregg Robb III. He was posthumously inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1969.
1. Daniel R. Gilbert. Biographical Dictionary of American Sports. Greenwood Publishing Group, 1995.
2. Recollections and engaging stories of Henry Sawyer Stone, George Brooke’s nephew.
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