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Oliphant, Elmer Q. (1892-1975) | Purdue University Libraries, Archives and Special Collections

Name: Oliphant, Elmer Q. (1892-1975)
Fuller Form: Elmer Quillen Oliphant


Historical Note:

Elmer Q. Oliphant was born July 9, 1892 in Bloomfield, Indiana to Marion Elsworth Oliphant and Alice Quillen Oliphant. He graduated from Linton High School in 1910.

 

He entered Purdue University, but not on a scholarship. Instead he waited tables, carried laundry, stoked furnaces, and sold shoes to earn his way. He continued to develop strength and toughness by working as a coal miner during his summer vacations. An end as a freshman, he was starting halfback for his final three seasons at the school and distinguished himself as a runner and kicker. In one game, he single-handedly beat Wisconsin by kicking a game winning field goal with a broken ankle to give the Boilermakers a 3-0 victory and then fainted in pain. Only 5' 7" and 174 pounds he belied his build with outstanding speed and power. In football, he helped turn Purdue from a traditional doormat into a winning team.

 

At Purdue he earned 7 varsity letters in football, basketball, baseball and track. He was the first Purdue man to letter in four major sports. He received a Bachelor of Science degree in Mechanical Engineering in 1914. An excellent student, he received an appointment to the United States Military Academy at West Point upon his graduation. At West Point, he earned four varsity letters in baseball, three in football, three in basketball, and one in track and field. He established a world record in the 220-yard low hurdles on grass. He was the only cadet athlete to letter in four major sports and it required a special act of the Athletic Council to design a suitable varsity letter containing a gold star and three stripes for him. Back at the turn of the last century, the criteria to receive a letter was very strict. He also monogrammed in hockey, boxing and swimming which meant that he wasn't able to participate fully in those sports but was recognized. At that, he is listed as a Champion Boxer in the Corps of Cadets.

 

He still holds records that have never been broken. He has the individual record for scoring in a single game at Purdue which was for 43 points in 1912. At West Point he is the season leader with 125 points in 1917 and an individual record 45 points in 1916. During his college career, he scored 135 points at Purdue and 289 points at West Point and is identified as one of the greatest scorers in collegiate history.

 

During his college career, he was two-time All-American in Basketball, two-time All-American in Football, two-time All-Western which is now The Big Ten, and was named to the All-Time All-American Team by legendary Notre Dame coach, Knute Rockne. Of all of his awards, that was the one which he was most proud. While at West Point he won the Army Athletic Association Trophy. 2004 was the 100th year the trophy was given. He also won the Edgerton Saber as football captain and the Athletic Association Saber as the outstanding athlete. Forty-four years after he left Indiana, the Helms Foundation asked sports writers and experts to select Indiana's Finest Amateur Athlete and Oliphant was selected.

 

He has been inducted into eight Halls of Fame. The most recent induction occurred on October 6, 2004. He was in the inaugural group of sixteen inducted into the Army Sports Hall of Fame. A color copy of the plaque is on display in the commons at Linton-Stockton High School. He was inducted into the Purdue Intercollegiate Athletics Hall of Fame, the Indiana Football Hall of Fame, the College Football Hall of Fame, Helms Athletic Foundation Hall of Fame, Kappa Sigma Hall of Fame, the National Football Foundation Hall of Fame and the National Football Hall of Fame.

 

World War I changed priorities at West Point and they reverted to purely military instruction during war time. He was in the Class of 1918. On graduation day, June 12, 1918, he married. While in military service at West Point in 1919, he invented the intramural sports system as we know it today. The idea was copied by the Naval Academy and was soon used in colleges and universities across the country. He served in the United States Cavalry for one year at Fort Sill in Oklahoma. He was appointed track instructor at West Point by Douglas MacArthur who was the Superintendent after returning from World War I.

 

Oliphant played for the Rochester Jeffersons and the Buffalo All-Americans in 1920 and 1921. They were some of the first members of what is now the NFL. After the 1921 season, Oliphant retired from active participation in sports and became an Amateur Athletic Union coach. He was instrumental in preparing American athletes for the 1924 Olympics in Paris, France.

 

In 1925, Oliphant joined Metropolitan Life Insurance Company. Through tremendous drive and ambition, he became one of the highest salaried executives and headed the group insurance division in the New York area. He retired in 1957 and passed away in 1975.

 

Although he is virtually forgotten today, he was known to every sports fan in the first quarter of the 20th century. There is a collegiate sports card with his picture, and a football themed comic book featured him. In the 100 Greatest Players of All Time (in an article that thanks the College Football Hall of Fame for their help), he is #78. From 1922 until 1980. Oliphant Field was the name of the athletic field (football and track area) at Linton-Stockton High School.

Sources: Elmer Quillen Oliphant, Sports Legend, written and compiled by Miss Dale Leslie French.





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