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Blast from the past: A look back at Bradley football

Former Bradley football coach Billy Stone is shown at the press conference announcing the end of Bradley’s football team. The photo is from the Scout archives.
Former Bradley football coach Billy Stone is shown at the press conference announcing the end of Bradley’s football team. The photo is from the Scout archives.
You have probably seen the slogan on Bradley apparel as you walk around Bradley’s campus: “Bradley football, undefeated since 1970.”

Don’t get too excited though, because Bradley football is also winless since 1970. As a matter of fact, Bradley football has been nonexistent since 1970.

The historical record for Bradley football is hard to find. According to the College Football Data Warehouse, the Braves had their first winning season just three years after the program’s inception.

In 1900, the team won three of its four games, scoring a total of 48 points while allowing none. The only game Bradley did not win, according to the site, was a matchup against St. Albans, which ended in a 0-0 tie.

The team tallied 308 wins in its 73 years of existence, including three seasons in the mid-1920s that saw the team go undefeated.

In 1922, the Braves rolled to a 9-0-1 record. The team started the season with a 60-point win over Lincoln College and never looked back, except for a week two tie.

Just three years later, the Braves swept through the competition again. This time, the team rolled to a pair of huge victories, a 45-point romp over the Chicago YMCA College and a 42-point victory over Eureka.

The Braves added to a 15-game win streak the next season, rolling to their second consecutive unbeaten record under head coach A.J. Robertson. Bradley’s offense put up a whopping 231 points and allowed just 16 on the season, winning a pair of games by over 40 points each.

Bradley football maintained the status quo through the end of the 1920s and the 1930s. The team went 6-1-2 in 1939, including a scoreless tie against the University of Illinois.

Robertson won 144 games in his 28 seasons as the Hilltop’s football coach before his death in 1948. In the 21 seasons that followed, Bradley football would win just 89 games.

Sixteen of those 21 seasons would be spent under the tutelage of coach Billy Stone. Stone and the Braves would struggle over the final two seasons of the program’s existence, winning just one game each in 1969 and 1970.

In December of 1970, faced with budget issues similar to those of the current Bradley athletic department, the university’s Board of Trustees decided to drop the football team, effective immediately.

At the time, Dr. Martin Abegg was acting president of the university. During a press conference announcing the decision, Abegg said the move was made to help other athletics teams.

“The discontinuance is not an effort to de-emphasize the athletic program of the university,” Dr. Abegg said. “Rather it is to provide a more solid financial basis for the other athletic programs at the university.”

Fast forward 44 years and Bradley is facing these tough decisions yet again. Cuts will be made and some, like men’s tennis, have already happened.

So, as college football season picks up across the country, remember: Bradley may not be playing football right now, but we’ll always be undefeated.

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