Gus Dorais: Football Pioneer, Creator of the Forward Pass

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CHIPPEWA FALLS, Wis. (WEAU) -- It’s second nature to see a football rocketing from the arm of your favorite high school or NFL quarterback to his receivers, but believe it or not, there was a time when passing was illegal in the game of football. A Chippewa Falls man, Gus Dorais, was a pioneer to bringing the forward pass to life. His grandson and a local author came together to tell his story. SportScene 13’s Neil Hebert has more.

1906.

“Prior to that, the game was all running,” Bob Dorais, the grandson of Gus Dorais, explained of pre-forward pass football.

Gus Dorais brought one of the most integral parts of modern football to the forefront. Bob and Chippewa Falls author, Joe Niese, jointly wrote Gus Dorais: Gridiron Innovater, All-American and Hall of Fame Coach.

“It finally gets the story out about Gus Dorais,” Bob said. “Not too many people outside of Chippewa Falls know the name anymore, but he really was an important figure in sports for the first half of the century.”

The forward pass started small and evolved quickly: it started with cradling the ball in your arm and throwing it with a forward sidearm swing with an end-over-end rotation of the football.

“The next improvement in the pass was the spiral. They would hold it almost the same way, but instead of throwing it sidearm, they would throw it more underhand,” Bob explained. “The final step in the evolution of the pass was to take the ball and take it behind your ear and throw it (overhand). This is a technique that Gus was the first to develop and use in an actual football game.”

Dorais Field in Chippewa Falls got its name from Gus. The plaque you see right when you walk inside the gates depicts the story of how Gus helped transform the most popular sport in America to where it is now.

“I played at (Eau Claire) Regis, so we played against McDonell there,” Niese said. “I never really knew much more than ‘It’s Dorais Field.’ I don’t even know if I read the plaque at the field there.”

But why write a story over 100 years old? Niese, an author of two other sports novels, says the decision was simple.

“I was a receiver in high school, so the pass is something I enjoyed, but to dig deeper into the story and see how integral he was to popularizing it,” Niese said. “The first half of the 20th century, he was a huge name in football. And to bring his story out and to show how involved he was is cool to do.”

Gus didn’t stay in Wisconsin his whole life, but his favorite memory didn’t leave the Chippewa Valley.

“He said my greatest memory was the day we beat Marinette for the state championship of Wisconsin,” Bob said. “When we came back to Chippewa Falls, we were met at the train station by all the town. We marched up Main St. There was a parade, people cheering. That’s the fondest memory I have in my life.”