Slippery Rock University has a long, rich football history. The relative success of the team over long stretches of time, coupled with the unique name of the school has given the team the popularity of big name schools, despite the small size of the school itself.
Football formally recognizes an 1869 game between Princeton University and Rutgers University as the first college football game, although it did not resemble today’s game until 1880. Slippery Rock State Normal School students formed a team in 1898 and won their only game of the year.
Students continued to form a team and play other schools informally until 1906, when John B. Price was named the first coach for Slippery Rock football. This was an important time for both Slippery Rock and other college football teams. At this time Slippery Rock Normal just completed the football team's first field. Yale University's Walter Camp, an innovator for the sport, had also instated new safety guidelines. Safety guidelines were needed because early football was very physical, so much so that in the 1905 season, 149 serious injuries and 8 deaths occurred. In 1907, Price led the Slippery Rock team to their first championship game, which they won.
The next coach to take Slippery Rock to new heights was N. Kerr Thompson (1920-45). Thompson led the team to an overall record of 126-58-1. He also coached four of Slippery Rock’s undefeated teams (1924, 1933, 1939, 1945) and won 12 divisional and eight state crowns. This kind of success merited the reward of a new ‘modern’ stadium, which was finished in 1936.
Both Slippery Rock and the sport of football were growing in popularity at this time. Slippery Rock became a fan favorite, for their unique name, and was invited to open the 1937 season at Fenway Park against Boston University. The popularity of the sport was also important for the upcoming world war (WWII), as Americans believed that athletics taught young men how to come together as a team and come into manhood through physical movement, as well as it shaped the body into one of a strong man.
After the departure of Thompson, Slippery Rock football went through a slump of mediocrity, but still managed to garner national attention. In 1959, University of Michigan stadium announcer Steve Filipiak, reviewing scores of games around the country as they came across the wire, spotted the unusual name and added it to his announcements. Thus began a decades-long tradition, with Filipiak often saving the Slippery Rock score for last. The tradition spread to other stadiums as well - during a 1970 game at the University of Texas, the announcer failed to read Slippery Rock’s score, which resulted in the crowd demanding to know said score. In 1979, Slippery Rock played Pennsylvania Conference rival Shippensburg in front of 64,000 at the University of Michigan. In 1981, the Rockets drew 35,000 to Ann Arbor for a game against Wayne State.
The Rock returned to their winning ways with Coach DiSpirtio (1967-80) and later Coach Mihalik (1988-2015), both of which have part of today’s stadium named after them.
Today Slippery Rock continues to remain popular throughout the nation, whether it be for the interesting name or the success of the program. This popularity has helped the team play in storied stadiums such as the Rose Bowl and Michigan Stadium. With this combination of success and popularity, Rock football does not seem to be slowing any time soon.