New Haven native Doug Bigelow sees writing about football as a hobby. He doesn’t write previews for upcoming games or features on specific players.
He digs deeper than that.
Over the past handful of decades, Bigelow has shown interest in writing about the history of football and certain teams that are part of that timeline.
In fact, he created one story that talked about the 1918 Fort Ontario Army squad, which is discussed in Bigelow’s book called “Gridiron on the Great Lake.”
Before the publishing of his book was all said and done, Bigelow had a different project at hand.
Rewinding to 25 years ago, he began the process of researching about the 1915 Oswego Shakespeares football team, which won the city championship that year.
Bigelow shelved his findings on the Shakespeares for about two decades then picked it up again recently. He ended up writing an article on the Shakespeares, and he submitted it to the Pro Football Researchers Association and the company went on to publish his story.
Bigelow even won the Bob Carroll Memorial Writing Award in 2015 for his efforts on the story.
He had that accomplishment under his belt, but while he was researching the Shakespeares, he stumbled upon something even bigger.
The Shakespeares played their games back in the time from 1914-1916 at a football field in Fort Ontario. This led Bigelow to talk to Paul Lear, site manager of the Fort Ontario Historic Site.
While talking about the Shakespeares, Lear gave Bigelow an interesting nugget of information on the local Fort Ontario Army football team — a team that went 5-0 and did not allow a single point.
This positioned Bigelow to go on another pursuit for a local football story.
“Lear told me there was a pretty good team here in 1918,” Bigelow said. “I said ‘Oh, OK!’ and from there I started digging and doing research, and boom, that’s how this story came to be.”
Bigelow began researching and writing the book in 2014, finished writing in January of this year and officially published it himself on Jan. 26.
The Fort Ontario Army football squad, the group of guys nicknamed soldiers, boys in the kayak and sometimes the maroon, fit well with Bigelow’s idea for the name of the book, “Gridiron on the Great Lake.”
“It was literally the first name I came up with,” he said. “I thought to myself, ‘that really sounds catchy.’”
The year 1918 was a special year for Fort Ontario football, after going 3-2 in 1917. They had a variety of teams on their schedule, which was a mix of semi-professional and high school/college preparatory programs.
“At the time, it wasn’t unusual for semi-pro teams to play against high school teams,” Bigelow said. “There was also time where it wasn’t unusual for college teams to play military-based teams.”
The average age for the players was the early 20s, with somewhere between a total of 20-25 competing. Bigelow mentioned that it was hard to compile a complete roster of the team.
“The team switched players out a lot because someone would get transferred or new guys would be brought in,” he said.
Fort Ontario had some big names like Jimmy Murphy, who played in the Rose Bowl for Brown University, and Arthur Buffalohead, a Native American from Oklahoma, play for the illustrious 1918 team.
“The team brought in some really good talent,” Bigelow said.
The 1918 season was the only solid success for the team. They played in 1919, but the following year began to filter out, said Bigelow.
“The staff and power wasn’t there,” he added. “I found a game in 1926, but that was about it.”
Bigelow is selling his book on his website, www.gridirononthegreatlake.com. He also sells his books at The River’s End Bookstore and a handful of bookstores across western and central New York.
The main purpose of selling the book is for Bigelow to take $5 from every book he sells and put it toward a military-influenced charity.
This year, Bigelow is donating the money to Clear Path for Veterans in Chittenango. His workplace, Exelon, matches the fund for every book he sells.
“It’s basically $10 of every book I sell that is going to the veterans,” he said.
Doug’s son Matt Bigelow, a captain in the Army, also influences the impact of the donations.
“This book is especially important because my son is in the military now,” he said. “A lot of my family members and some of the people I work with are veterans.”
Aside from the football, “Gridiron on the Great Lake” brings in a long list of other topics, including the magnitude of World War I, the influenza epidemic, personal profiles on people in Fort Ontario, and some romance.
Bigelow is dreaming something big for his book, which includes some convincing to put it on the silver screen.
“I want to see it be made into a movie,” he said. “It has such a wide variety of topics where I think could be molded into a film. There’s a lot of stuff to talk about.”