You often hear coaches and media outlets talking about player’s commitment to the program and how a player would give anything for his teams or sacrifice his body to make a play. But how many players are literally willing to die for their team?
The modern game of football has made multiple provisions for player safety in terms of improved padding and rule changes. Today’s football game is a far cry from the blood sport origins of the game. Football players in the early days of the game, were as tough as they come. They played the game with nothing more than a leather cap and a cup. These players truly sacrificed their bodies for their teams.
Rudolph Munk sacrificed everything for the West Virginia Mountaineers. Munk was the captain of the 1910 Mountaineers football team. “Captain Munk,” as he was referred to, led the Mountaineers into Wheeling to play the Bethany Bison in what was being billed as the “State Championship of West Virginia.”
This being the era of “semi-pro” college athletes, some schools engaged in paying players. Some schools went as hire as using “hired guns” for big games. With Bethany seeking to avenge an earlier tie with the Mountaineers, they are alleged to have hired a player by the name of “McCoy” who may have been playing under the name “Garner.”
The Mountaineers pulled out to an early lead on the Bison, with Munk successfully converting a field goal in the game. Late in the game, with West Virginia looking to protect their lead, the Mountaineers lined up to run the ball. Munk was the lead blocker (or possibly a decoy, depending on the source), responsible for keeping McCoy off the rusher. What happened next is still somewhat a mystery.
"The decision of the coroner’s jury was based on the testimony of Halfback Rudy, sub on the Bethany team, and Umpire Young, of Pittsburg, whose statement yesterday seemed so damaging to McCoy. Rudy was not in the game at any stage, but was on the side lines. He said that he saw clearly the play in which Munk was killed. “McCoy came at Munk not from the rear, but in front off [sic] him,” he said. “McCoy struck Munk with his arms, doubled at the elbows, low in the chest. The West Virginia captain fell over, backwards, and slightly sideways. His head struck the ground and bounced. He did not get up. McCoy did not hit Munk with his fist.”"
Bethany players contend that McCoy struck Munk in the upper body with his fore arms. West Virginia players contend that McCoy struck Munk with his fists in the back of the neck. The article from wvculture.org, originally published in the New Dominion, does not provide a consensus on the actual orientation of the blow.
What is known is that McCoy, after knocking out Munk, walked off the field as he was ejected from the game. Some who witnessed the play were convinced that McCoy intentionally knocked out Munk as a means of taking out his frustration.
Rudolph Munk would never again regain consciousness, dieing later that night from brain swelling and a blood clot at the base of the cerebellum.With the tragic death of Rudolph Munk in mind, the WVU Athletic Board of Control decided to cancel the rest of the 1910 schedule.
Rudolph Munk is the first and only WVU football player to die on the field. With modern equipment and rules, hopefully no other WVU player will have to pay the ultimate price for the program.