A Very Brief History of Cincinnati Baehr-Cats Football
The University of Cincinnati “Bearcats” were born on October 31, 1914 during a football game with Kentucky.
Kentucky was the fifth game of a nine-game schedule in 1914. No one had scored against Cincinnati in the first four games. Kentucky was the first quality team the Red and Black would face that season.
Cincinnati had no nickname.
Cheerleader Norman “Pat” Lyon used the efforts of fullback Leonard K. “Teddy” Baehr to come up with a new chant: “They may be Wildcats, but we have a Baehr-cat on our side.”
“Come on, Baehr-cat!”
Cincinnati won, 14-7.
The weekly University News showed a cartoon depicting a scraggly Kentucky Wildcat being chased by a creature labeled “Cincinnati Bear Cats.” The editor of the paper was none other than Pat Lyon, the cheerleader.
The name stuck eventually, but not immediately. ”Teddy” Baehr graduated in 1916, and the Bearcat nickname dropped out of print use for a while.
On November 15, 1919, UC met Tennessee in Knoxville. The Cincinnati Enquirer’s post-game story about the 33-12 loss to the Vols was the first time the major media called UC’s team the “Bear Cats.”
There were only 33 winning seasons to follow. UC has been known as a basketball school, but there have been seasons to remember on the gridiron.
Most notably, the great Sid Gilman – who became one of the supreme innovators of the gridiron game, especially as HC of the Los Angeles/San Diego Chargers of the old AFL – coached the Bearcats from 1949 through 1954 and led them to a six year record of 50-13-1, including the 1951 team that went 10-1-0 during the same year that General Neyland led the Vols to the National Championship. That Cincinnati team became known for Gilman’s passing attack that he further nurtured in the pros.
But it wasn’t until Brian Kelly took over for Mark Dantonio in 2006 that Cincinnati football reached the upper stratosphere of college football. In the three seasons of 2007, 2008, and 2009, the Bearcats went 10-3, 11-3, and 12-0 before Kelly bolted for South Bend right before the Sugar Bowl against Florida. Kelly’s last game at the helm, a 45-44 win over Pitt, was one of the most exciting college games I can remember. Current HC Butch Jones inherited the ashes, going 4-8 last season.
I can’t leave a history post without mentioning Nippert Stadium.
It has been the site of UC football since 1901, making it the fourth oldest playing site still being used. It wasn’t until 1924 that it became a full-fledged stadium, but that is long enough to make Nippert the fifth oldest stadium still in use in the college game. During the last game of the previous season, UC player James (“Jimmy”) Gamble Nippert sustained a spike wound and died a month later. Blood poisoning, supposedly due to having been infected by droppings left after a pre-game chicken race, was the cause. His grandfather, James N. Gamble (Procter & Gamble), donated the money to complete the stadium for 1924, and the completed edifice was dedicated as James Gamble Nippert Memorial Stadium.
In 1968 and 1969, the new Cincinnati AFL team had to use Nippert Stadium while waiting for Riverfront Stadium to be built. The capacity was less than 30,000. The old stadium was completely renovated in 1992, bringing it to the current capacity of 35,100, now the smallest in the Big East. The largest crowd to see a UC game at Nippert Stadium was the 35,106 who witnessed a 49-36 win over Illinois in 2009.
SOURCES: University of Cincinnati website, and various college football history sites.