March 26, 2017

Richard Topp: He knows the score…and more!

Richard Topp is a score researcher whose project is to research and compile correct and accurate information on every college football game that has been played since 1882. This was the origin of when touchdowns, goals from the field and goals after touchdown were beginning to be used when computing scores; replacing goals and earlier scoring methods.

Recently, Tex Noel did a question and answer session with Topp.

 

TEX NOEL: What exactly do you want to accomplish with your project?

RICHARD TOPP: So there would be a definitive source on the (score) history of American College Football. There are so many typos and misidentification of opponents.

TN: Wouldn’t it be easier to contact a school or a governing body (the NCAA or NAIA) to find out what the score was?

RT: It would be easier…but they lack correct information to present correct and accurate findings of scores.

TN: What sources have you utilized in the development of your Scorebase?

RT: The most reliable source would be a newspaper from either the town or one nearby where the college is located. I have found out that when in doubt, a newspaper in the same state would be more reliable than one across the country. Finding dependable and accurate researchers who would be willing to assist with this project has been key. After newspaper accounts, I turn to the school’s annual yearbook. A media guide from the team would be my last choice but it has helped at times. Worth noting, an interesting story while researching scores for the now defunct school, Daniel Baker College (it was located in Brownwood, Texas)…its 1920 team was so bad that its yearbook staff deliberately left the scores out when assembling the publication.

TN: Would a school football media guide or history aid in your efforts…are they accurate with their listing of scores?

RT: In my opinion, often times a college football media guide has been slapped together and its scores have been transcribed off a written page—and not well researched. Sometimes the school would take a calendar and just list the Saturdays in October and November as the game dates.

TN: What has been the highlight or most rewarding experience in searching for scores?

RT: Finding scores where the college was unaware or that it never realized the game actually existed.

TN: How much time can you say that you spend searching for the scores?

RT: It varies. Researching a single school’s entire history has often taken up to a week. But once I have entered the scores into the database, I can find a school’s records within a couple of minutes.

TN: Are you content with just the final score or what else are you looking for?

RT: Yes, the final scores are important; but the more information that I can find—such as the date and the location where the game was played—are just as vital to this project. One other thing would be the proper name of the opponent that was played. Down through the years, schools have changed names for one reason or another. In the database, I list the name of the two teams by what they were known by at the time the game was played.

TN: What about other sources or ‘scorekeepers’ before you—weren’t they accurate in their findings?

RT: No, not really. They would type scores that they had previously handwritten on a sheet of paper and would often transpose the numbers, or mistaken a hand-written number as another number. So a 0-0 score could wind-up as 6-6 or 6-0 or 0-6.

TN: In today’s world, the Internet has so much to offer—has this aided your efforts and if so how?

RT: Digital newspapers! No longer do I have to wait for microfilm obtained through interlibrary loan—which would take weeks to receive and would often have a limit to the number you could receive at one time. While some libraries would make the reels available at no charge; others would charge up to $7 for a single reel.

TN: What methods did you use before the creation of online newspaper sites?

RT: Actual old newspapers; or others would send what they were able to find out of their local papers.

TN: Have you ever found a score that a school didn’t have listed with its all-time scores?

RT: Yes, many times. But, now that the NCAA has told schools to ignore games that were played against athletic clubs, junior varsity teams and military teams…in other words, unless the school was a four-year college, it doesn’t count (in a school’s all-time record). That’s poor record keeping.

TN: Are you attempting this project on your own, or do you have others who assist you?

RT: Back in 1993, the late Don Newton, of Cupertino, California, and I began this project. Don died in 2004 unexpectedly. Now I am aided by Don Vollmer (out of Chicago Heights, Illinois). Don has been a tremendous asset to me as he has been doing score research since 1938. All of his efforts are in 24 notebooks, and handwritten!

TN: Do you cross-check scores…by this I mean, if you find a score that “Team A” won 53-23 over “Team B”, do you then check with “Team B’s” to be sure it has the same score?

RT: Yes. Each game should have two entries as both the dates and the site of the game should match-up. In addition, the game’s decision (W-L-T) and score will be reversed. Only “one-sided” games will have one-entry. These are games against a high school for example.

TN: What type of database are you using to register your findings?

RT: I am using Microsoft Access; with the current database having over 545,000 entries.

TN: Can you point out a particular school or schools that have been the most difficult to locate historical scores for?

RT: Yes I can. One school that quickly comes to mind was in Owatonna, Minnesota; it was Pillsbury College. It started out as a military academy and closed down in 1957. It reopened in 1958 as a college funded by the flour family of Minneapolis. The editor of the town newspaper, the Owatonna People’s Press, had a conflict with the school and from 1958 to 1982 never acknowledged the school in the newspaper. I found only a paragraph about the girls volleyball team winning the state championship in the late 1970s. When the editor died, the coverage resumed.

TN: Have college football fans, colleges or the media been receptive to your findings?

RT: Yes, overall they have. Just two schools have been unreceptive. I won’t say who they are, but one uses a “gorilla” as a mascot and the other is where the Packers have their training camp.

TN: Say someone is looking for the all-time scores of their alma mater, would you have it? What if they went to a school that no longer plays college football?

RT: Yes I would. Many times I have located schools and scores that people have never heard of.

TN: Are you researching scores just for the major colleges or are you willing to seek scores for other schools?

RT: This research includes schools from every level; even the difficult HBCU (Historically Black Colleges and Universities) schools—especially one that has since dropped the sport. When this project began, we had 980 colleges; by mid-July the current tally reads 1097 schools included.

TN: Would you mind sharing a few of your most unusual findings, when researching scores?

RT: One of my most memorable events I uncovered when looking for scores could have been straight out of a John Wayne movie. The newspaper in St. Mary’s Kansas, (near Fort Riley) dated December 1, 1899, wrote: “The soldiers rode into town—about 100 strong—on horseback, to watch the college football game.”

During the 1896 season, Purdue University played and defeated Greer College located in Hoopston, Illinois—located due west of the Purdue campus on the state line. The Boilermakers were victorious 36-0. Once I was on the phone with the librarian in Hoopston seeking additional information of the school that closed in 1919. I was told that the last living alumnus of Greer College (she was 93 or 94 at the time) was in the library that day reading stories to children. I asked the librarian to ask the lady what were the school colors. The reply was…”Crimson & Cream.”

All-in-all I’ve visited about 300 colleges. I stood at the place where William & Vashti once stood at the edge of a cornfield. I saw the only building remaining of Mount Morris College while eating at “Ed’s Pretty Good Hotdogs” across the street.

I have a T-Shirt from Austin Peay, a shirt with the famous cheer…”Let’s Go Peay!”

At William Jewell, they are proud to have had the first actual daytime bank robbery in downtown Liberty; that was the first one Jesse James robbed. (During the robbery, a student from the college was killed!)

And in the words of St. Olaf…”Um Ya Ya!”

 

For anyone looking for scores, contact Richard Topp at richtopp@gmail.com and mention Leatherheads of the Gridiron in your email.

 

Tex Noel is the Executive Director of the Intercollegiate Football Researchers Association.