When the Longhorns take on Notre Dame to kick off the football season Saturday night, some students who can’t make the trip to South Bend, Ind., will watch the game from the Forty Acres — just as students did in 1934 when the Longhorns beat Notre Dame, 7-6.
This year, students will watch the game in high definition at a party in the on-campus Etter-Harbin Alumni Center. But in 1934, students gathered in Gregory Gym to see the game replicated on an “interesting gadget” with a “complicated switchboard, a large screen and a tie-in with wire service.”
Using a small spotlight and a translucent screen on which the field was marked, the “ingenious device,” called a grid-graph, let fans see the position of the ball on the large board.
Or, as a September 1934 article in The Daily Texan describes the grid-graph:
“It is an electrical device which duplicates on a miniature field all the movements made on the gridiron on which the actual contest is being played. Passes, runs, fumbles, and kicks, all plays are graphically reproduced on the Grid-Graph.”
Held during away games in the pre-television era, the grid-graph parties attracted lots of Longhorns. More than 1,000 students got tickets ahead of the Oct. 6, 1934, grid-graph party for the game against Notre Dame, The Daily Texan reported.
“This is the only school in country which offers this service free,” Charles Zivley, who was then manager of the Texas Union, told the newspaper in 1934. “The grid-graph is an expensive, highly complex mechanism which takes six men to operate, and the one in Gregory Gymnasium will be connected by direct wire to the field in South Bend.”
Students were able to get free tickets to all of the season’s grid-graph parties, which took place during each away game. Without a ticket, fans could pay 25 cents to watch the game on the grid-graph.
But even before students watched the grid-graph machine in Gregory Gym, fans gathered on the Forty Acres to experience away games together. As the 1927 Cactus says, “The folks back home received play-by-play reports from the Co-op.”
Jim Nicar who runs the UT History Corner website, says fans would gather in front of the Co-op on the Drag to hear reports of the game as early as 1911 when UT played Texas A&M in Houston on Thanksgiving.
“I suppose,” Nicar says, “It was the 1911 version of a live blog.”