Remembering Wave’s match-up against Havana as Cuba, U.S. repair relations

Oliver Grigg, Print Sports Editor

Many fans have argued that last football season was an embarrassment for the Green Wave considering the hype and renewed energy that Tulane Athletics built prior to the season. In its inaugural season in the on-campus Yulman Stadium, Tulane football concluded its 2014-15 season 3-9 overall, 2-6 in American Athletic Conference play, without a bowl bid and with many questions to answer during the offseason.

The 2014 season, however, was far from a complete disappointment. Rest assured Tulane has endured more shocking moments in its history.

In 1909, the Wave, led by first year head coach Buster Brown, finished 4-3-2. In “A Review of the Football Season” in the 1910 edition of the yearbook, “Jambalaya,” Brown wrote that the Wave “displayed a strong offense but during the greater part of the season the men failed to work together in a satisfactory way, offering less offensive strength than the ability of the men warranted.” Tulane’s offense was held scoreless in three games, and the Wave tied with both Texas and Alabama.

Brown, however, was much less critical of the defense, which shut out its opponents four times. Brown wrote, “The defensive work of the team during the season … was excellent,” and credited this to the “… perfect harmony [that] existed among players and between players and coaches.”  

The Wave’s final game of the season pitted it against the Havana Athletic Club, an aggregation of Cuba’s finest football players, Jan. 1, 1910 in Havana, Cuba at La Tropical Stadium. The game was known as the Bacardi Bowl, named after the formerly Cuba-based spirits company. The game matched a North American college against a Cuban team, before the United States and Cuba became estranged. The inaugural Bacardi Bowl in 1907 featured LSU and the University of Havana. LSU dominated in a 56-0 win.

Certainly assuming it would replicate LSU’s success, Tulane entered the game confident that it would emerge victorious. On Aug. 11, 1907 the Sunday Morning edition of the Los Angeles Herald wrote that former Michigan football star and Tulane head coach Joe Curtis, whom Brown consulted prior to the game, believed Tulane would handily defeat the Cubans in a hypothetical future matchup. 

“[Brown] wrote to Curtis for advice regarding the proposed trip of next fall’s team to Havana to play the 11 of the [Havana team] and Curtis favors the proposition,” The Los Angeles Herald stated. “[The game will be] profitable to the American team to make the trip … [and Curtis] says [Tulane] will have a good team this fall to tackle the Cubans.”

Articles in The Daily Picayune, known today as The Times-Picayune, from December 1909 similarly reported that Tulane practiced little for the game because it anticipated a swift win.

The Cubans, however, outweighed and outplayed Tulane from start to finish. Havana defeated the Wave 11-0, marking the first victory in football history by a Cuban team against a North American team. 

The loss was, in fact, so devastating that the next season Tulane brought in a new coach, Appleton Mason. The Wave proceeded to go winless, finishing 0-7, and was outscored 126-6.