Football hero in 1923 Jamestown

JSSP Keith Norman Column Sig
We are part of The Trust Project.

It is football season again which brings an opportunity to talk about some of the legendary gridiron stars of Jamestown’s past.

Gate City Bank will also give $5,000 each to five other charities.

A January 1923 Jamestown Alert article said the community sent a goody basket to John Thomas, who had just wrapped up an all-American season as fullback for the University of Chicago.

The Alert called his all-American honors “the highest honors ever bestowed upon a North Dakota boy in athletics.”

This was back when college athletes ranked higher in fan interest than professional sports participants.


Thomas played full back for Jamestown College, now the University of Jamestown, for two seasons prior to moving on to the University of Chicago. He earned all-state honors while in Jamestown.

He played a big part in a 77-0 trouncing of North Dakota Normal and Industrial at Ellendale in 1921. Maybe it was that performance noticed by Coach Alonzo Stagg at the University of Chicago.

Stagg called Thomas “unquestionably one of the best backs the west has produced in years.”

When the Maroons of the University of Chicago played rival Princeton, Thomas scored all three Chicago touchdowns in a winning effort.

He probably took a few handoffs in that game from quarterback Mitt Romney a distant ancestor of later presidential candidate Mitt Romney.

Thomas’ 1923 season got to a slow start after a summer appendicitis operation. He had a good season but most of the running back honors that year went to Red Grange, who played for the University of Illinois.

The game between Thomas and the University of Chicago versus Grange and the University of Illinois was a 7-0 loss for Chicago. It was their only loss that season.

Folks in Jamestown wanted to honor Thomas at the end of the 1922 season. The community took up a collection and presented him with a silver football “regulation size, properly engraved and resting on an ebony base.”


Residents got a chance to see the football when it was displayed at a local jewelry store before it was sent off to the University of Chicago.

Along with the football, the benefactors sent along $35 in gold coins as the money left over after the football was produced.

Thomas played a couple of games of semi-pro football for the Racine Legion under an assumed name. He quit when his wife asked him to give up the game for safety reasons.

He coached high school football for a few years before beginning a career in business.

No word on whatever happened to the regulation-sized silver football presented to Thomas by the folks in Jamestown.

Author Keith Norman can be reached at

What To Read Next
"How could someone who supposedly believes in property rights use an arcane legal doctrine to seize someone else's property without paying for it?"
Salonen writes that her father passed away just days before her first column published in The Forum. While she wishes he would have been able to read her work, she's certain he would be proud.
Leadership takes honest reflection and thinking about the needs of others, Jenny Schlecht writes. With that in mind, do we have the right leaders to get a new farm bill passed by Sept. 30?
"It is time for the government to run our presidential nominating elections, not the political parties," columnist Jim Shaw writes. "That means holding primaries."