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80,000 UW fans played along with ‘The Times Automatic Football Player’ in the 1920s

Husky fever was ‘automatic,’ but we’re not as sure about that ‘Player.’

WITHOUT A LONGING for television, a medium they did not yet know, or a train ticket to California, the thousands of University of Washington Husky fans squeezed here within the limits of Seattle’s Times Square settled instead for The Times Automatic Football Player. Displayed to the masses from a hut attached to the Times Building, the Player was a creation of the newspaper’s sports section. It showed the vital statistics of a game on a gridiron — somehow. Variations of the Player also were used for baseball, boxing and elections.

On the far right of this Webster and Stevens Studio “Then” photograph, you can see a cross-section of the Player’s “projection booth” (we will call it), attached to the elegant terra-cotta tiles of The Times Building. The year is 1923 or 1925 (most likely 1925). Both years’ UW games against the California Bears were played on the Berkeley campus. The Seattle Times for Nov. 16, 1923, promised with a banner headline across the paper’s front page that witnessing the “big game reproduced play by play on The Times Automatic Football Player” would be “the next best thing to going to Berkeley.”

For the Nov. 14, 1925, game against the Bears, The Times wrote, “An estimated 80,000 Seattle fans crowded to listen as the key plays were shouted from an upper window of the Seattle Times Building.” With this report, the newspaper also provided a photograph of “a young woman using a megaphone to describe the game to the Seattle fans.” That doesn’t seem so “automatic.” The detail seems similar enough to our photo that we choose 1925 with something resembling confidence.

Cliff Harrison, the Sports editor, did not see the game from a newspaper window, but rather from the Bears’ stadium. When the Huskies won, Harrison was more than excited. He concluded his report, “Tears roll down my cheek, but I can’t help it.” In the next day’s Sunday Times, Harrison rejoiced, “The Golden Bear is no longer the champion of the West, the uncrowned king of football. On top of the world tonight sits a silver-tipped husky, the grandest of all dog kind, the symbol of a football leadership for the University of Washington, which today defeated California 7 to 0.”

Harrison wrote, “They are supreme in the West, great, big-hearted strong-muscled men of the Northwest, men who broke the heart of what was once the champion, men who knew no defeat, who knew no fear as a great hostile crowd booed them for deeds they never did.” The Times recommended that it would soon be time for Eastern teams — like Dartmouth and Harvard — to “BOW DOWN TO WASHINGTON.”

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