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May 10, 2017 Rest in Peace Ernest Sprague!

Posted on May 10, 2017 by Barry Gallagher

Today’s post celebrates the memory of Ernest Sprague who went to rest in peace on this day in 1938. He was seventy-two when he died. Ernest Marshall Sprague was born on October 20, 1865 in Farmington, Michigan. Yes, the story of this Wolverine “Pigskin Pioneer” goes way back to the Civil War!

Ernest Sprague left the family farm in 1886 to study engineering at The University of Michigan. Sprague must have had some time on his hands, or maybe he was the kind of guy who needed a “physical” break from his studies. Anyway, he signed up to play the new game of “football” for a Michigan captain named Horace G. Prettyman. Mr. Prettyman was in the final year of his three-year tenure as Michigan’s football captain. The two most important things to know about Prettyman were that he loved Michigan football and he loved winning.

Sprague is listed as a “rusher” on the 1886 Michigan Football Roster which means that he was probably a pretty tough guy. The entire 1886 season was played during a two-week span in October. Captain Prettyman set up a two-game season against the same team. In this case, Albion College agreed to play “home-and-home” games with the Wolverines.

Ernest Sprague 1887 | bigbluefootballhistory.com

Ernest Sprague played on teams # 7 & 8. He earned two varsity letters and never lost a game! (5-0-0) Photo courtesy of the Bentley Historical Library.

The first game of the 1886 season was played in Albion and Michigan won by a score of 50-0. The Wolverines played the role of “gracious” hosts and eased up on their guests in game number two in Ann Arbor. Final score: Michigan 24 Albion 0. This would be the first time that a Michigan football “season” was played against the same team. It was also the first time that the entire season took place in the month of October (October 16 and 30).

Ernest Sprague must have enjoyed his time on the Michigan football team in 1886 because he came back for more in 1887. Although Horace Prettyman was still on the team in 1887, he was not the captain. John L. Duffy became the new leader of the Michigan Football team in 1887. He arranged a three-game schedule that was played in November. Michigan opened the season against Albion on November 12th and won 32-0. They journeyed to Notre Dame on November 23rd to “teach” the Irish how to play and won 8-0 in South Bend. The 1887 season ended on a high note with a 26-0 victory over a Harvard Club team on November 24, 1887.
So, Ernest Sprague played on two Michigan football teams and earned two varsity letters. His teams had a perfect record of 5 wins, 0 losses and 90 ties. You can’t do much better than that! In addition to playing on some winning teams, Sprague is connected to some interesting Michigan football “firsts.” Here they are:

• Ernest Sprague played in the first and only two-game season in Michigan Football history that was played against the same team (Albion) in 1886.
• Sprague played in the first games ever played against Harvard Club (only game) and Notre Dame in 1887.

So, on the eightieth anniversary of his passing, let us remember Ernest Sprague. He was truly a Maize and Blue “Pigskin Pioneer” who helped establish a winning football tradition in Ann Arbor. May Ernest Sprague always rest in peace. Go Blue!


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