David Adam

Forward Thinking: Quincy quarterback one of first to throw forward pass

University of Illinois football players Forest Van Hook, left, and Pomeroy Sinnock stand for photo which was used on a postcard. Van Hook was an offensive guard and Sinnock was a quarterback, and both were named to the All-American football team in 1908. Sinnock played football at Quincy High School before going to Illinois. | Photo courtesy of University of Illinois archives
By Herald-Whig
Posted: Jul. 24, 2017 10:35 am Updated: Jul. 24, 2017 11:03 am

A change in the rules in 1906 was the first step to making the game of American football as popular as it is today, and a Quincy man was one of the first to take advantage of the change.

The Chicago Tribune reported in 1905 that 18 football players had been killed and 159 seriously injured that season. Some people called for the game to be outlawed, but President Theodore Roosevelt demanded that the rules be reformed.

Representatives from more than 60 schools met in late 1905 and made a commitment to make the game safer. That meeting was the first step toward the establishment of what would become the National Collegiate Athletic Association.

Illegal and experimental forward passes had been attempted as early as 1876, but the forward pass officially became a legal play at the final meeting of the rules committee that was held April 6, 1906.

"The main efforts of the football reformers have been to ‘open up the game' -- that is to provide for the natural elimination of the so-called mass plays and bring about a game in which speed and real skill shall supersede so far as possible mere brute strength and force of weight," The New York Times reported in September 1906.

The skeptical newspaper also noted, "There has been no team that has proved that the forward pass is anything but a doubtful, dangerous play to be used only in the last extremity."

The first legal pass is believed to have been thrown by Bradbury Robinson from Saint Louis University. His first attempt fell incomplete in a Sept. 5, 1906 game against Carroll College, and under the rules of the game at that time, it resulted in a turnover. However, Robinson threw a 20-yard touchdown pass later in the game.

Many football historians believe that Robinson was the first to throw a pass because most college teams didn't typically start playing games until October.

The Saint Louis team, coached by Eddie Cochems, was undefeated and outscored its opponents 407-11 that season.

"E.B. Cochems is to forward passing what the Wright brothers are to aviation and Thomas Edison is to the electric light," wrote David M. Nelson, a member of the College Football Hall of Fame.

Nelson, however, believed the first forward pass was thrown on Christmas Day in 1905 between Fairmount College and Washburn College in Kansas.

Football coaching legend Amos Alonzo Stagg said decades later that no particular coach should be credited with being the innovator of the forward pass. He told Allison Danzig of the New York Times in 1952 that Walter Eckersall, his quarterback at the University of Chicago, worked on pass plays in 1906, as did Pomeroy Sinnock of the University of Illinois.

"I have seen statements giving credit to certain people originating the forward pass," Stagg said. "The fact is that all coaches were working on it. The first season, 1906, I personally had sixty-four different forward pass patterns."

Sinnock was born in Quincy on Sept. 20, 1886, and lived at 1415 Hampshire. His father, J.W. Sinnock, owned and operated J.W. Sinnock and Sons, a wholesale furniture store.

Sinnock graduated from Quincy High School in 1905 and enrolled at the Champaign-Urbana campus on Sept. 9, 1905.

He was the quarterback for the Fighting Illini for the 1906, 1907 and 1908 seasons. No statistics are available from those seasons.

Illinois went 1-3-1 in 1906 with Justa Lindgren as coach, then followed with a 3-2 record for Arthur Hall in 1907 and a 5-1-1 record in 1908. Hall coached the Illini for six years before being replaced by legendary coach Robert Zuppke.

Sinnock was a third-team selection in 1908 to the All-American team determined by Dr. Lacy Lockert.

The Quincy newspapers didn't note much about Sinnock's football success.

The Daily Herald ran a photo of the 1903 football team at QHS on which Sinnock was listed as the quarterback and "substitute halfback." He also was listed a member of the 1904 football team which went 6-0-1, playing Gem City Business College to a 0-0 tie. In fact, QHS didn't allow a point the entire season.

One column in The Quincy Daily Whig noted that his parents went to a game in Champaign in November 1906 in which their son "was a star." Another short story said Sinnock won the university golf cup, defeating his opponent 1 up over 36 holes in the summer of 1907. The Quincy Daily Herald reported that The Chicago Herald-Record had a photo of Sinnock, the "star quarterback at the University of Illinois," in its Oct. 20, 1907 edition.

Finally, in the Nov. 24, 1908 edition of the Daily Herald, a story noted that Sinnock was coming home for Thanksgiving. A headline called him "the holy terror of the gridiron."

"'Pom' is truly a hero -- a hero of the football field, and as a gridiron battler ranks with the best in the entire west," the Daily Herald said. "(Walter) Steffen is touted in Chicago as the greatest of the university quarterbacks, but Sinnock is a close second -- a very close second, and there are many who think the Quincy lad is even better than the Maroon star."

The Daily Herald reported in its Dec. 26, 1908 edition that Sinnock was invited by Cochems to be the quarterback for an all-western team against an all-Chicago team, to be coached by Eckersall, in St. Louis in January 1909. However, Sinnock elected not to play.

Sinnock graduated from Illinois with a degree in civil engineering on June 16, 1909. He married Francis Obear on June 22, 1910 in St. Louis and later divorced after eight years of marriage. She died in 1920 in Los Angeles after complications following surgery for perionitis.

Sinnock went on to work in Portland, Ore., first as a purchasing agent for a shipbuilding company and later vice president of a saw mill machinery. He later married Marie Stahl of Quincy in 1924.

The University of Illinois biographical file on Sinnock shows he died on Oct. 17, 1962 in Stockton, Calif. His occupation was listed as "retired contractor." He was survived by two sons -- George Sinnock of Stockton and Pomeroy Sinnock, Jr., of Indiana. Both children are now deceased.

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