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Answer man: EOU helped introduce Queen Elizabeth II to football

Sep. 18—A red letter date in the history of the Eastern Oregon University football program is Oct. 20, 1951.

Eastern played hard but lost a close game that day against the University of British Columbia, 13-8, in Vancouver, Canada. The Mountaineers' loss that day has been long forgotten. What may never be forgotten is what happened immediately after the game.

The Mountaineers played a five-minute exhibition scrimmage against the University of British Columbia Thunderbirds for Princess Elizabeth, the future queen of the United Kingdom, and her husband, Philip Mountbatten, the Duke of Edinburgh.

This is believed to be the first time Princess Elizabeth had ever watched an American football contest.

She and the Duke of Edinburgh were scheduled to attend the game, attended by 5,000 fans, but arrived shortly after it concluded. The royal couple wanted to see how American football was played, so the two teams agreed to play an exhibition for them, which ended in a scoreless tie. The royal couple watched the exhibition from a platform near the 50-yard line in front of the main bleachers.

Princess Elizabeth was driven around the football field before taking her place with her husband on the platform, and she came within 15 feet of the Mountaineers' bench, according to a story in the Oct. 22, 1951, Observer.

Unfortunately the royal couple had a hard time seeing the game though, since the scrimmage was played in semi-darkness.

"The Duke remarked that he couldn't see the game," the Observer reported at the time, referring to the Duke of Edinburgh.

EOU, then named Eastern Oregon College of Education, had a squad of about 30 players at the game and was accompanied by its 40-member band and 13 drum majorettes and cheerleaders. A total of four bands performed at the game, including the Canadian Air Force Band.

None of Eastern's players apparently got to meet the royal couple, but some were prepared to. According to a story in the Oct. 18, 1951, edition of the Eastern Oregon Review, some team members had been studying the proper etiquette to use when introduced to British royalty.

Later on in her tour, on Nov. 1, 1951, Princess Elizabeth visited President Harry Truman in Washington, D.C.

The 1951 EOU-University of British Columbia exhibition may have piqued Princess Elizabeth's interest in football. In 1957, during her first trip to the United States as a monarch, she took in another football contest. Elizabeth watched the University of Maryland defeat the University of North Carolina, 21-7, in College Park, Maryland.

Queen Elizabeth, who died Sept. 8 at age 96 after a 70-year reign, visited the University of British Columbia's Vancouver campus four times. The visits were among 22 she made to Canada, according to the city of Toronto's website.

Dick Mason is a reporter with The Observer. Contact him at 541-624-6016 or dmason@lagrandeobserver.com.