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Pay It Forward: Door County

Thank you, Door County, for Eddie Cochems, whose innovations moved the game of football forward for players and fans alike.

August 04, 2017
Eddie Cochems, old-timey football player
Photo courtesy of the UW Madison Archives, S13136

The next time you’re cheering when your favorite quarterback makes a stunning forward pass, take a moment to celebrate Door County native Edward “Eddie” Cochems 1900.

Born in Sturgeon Bay in 1877, Cochems competed in baseball, football, and track for the University of Wisconsin–Madison. During his four seasons as a player, the football Badgers compiled a 35–4–1 record. A classmate described him as “one of the most spectacular men of my time … wonderfully built, handsome, and affable” — and one not prone to injury on the field.

But it was Cochem’s time as a football coach at St. Louis University that assured his place in the sport’s history books. During his first season as head coach in 1906, Cochems, an enthusiast of the newly allowed forward pass, used the play as a key part of his offensive strategy. His team finished the season undefeated; in time, the title “father of the forward pass” was frequently paired with his name. While some debated that description, no one disputed that he coached the team that successfully completed football’s first legal forward pass. He called the play “the air attack.”

Without Eddie Cochems, there would be no Aaron Rodgers, Brett Favre, or Bart Starr.

Cochems contributed other innovations to the game: in 1907, he added numbers to his players’ uniforms to help fans identify them from the stands, and he advocated for the design of a more aerodynamic football.

After completing his football career, Cochems became active in political campaigns. He returned to Madison in the early 1930s and died in 1953. In 1999, Sports Illustrated included him among the 50 greatest sports figures in Wisconsin history.

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