Eastern Washington University began fielding a football team in 1901, when the school was known at the time as the State Normal School and the team mascot was the Savages. Eastern's first national affiliation came with joining the NAIA.
Eastern competed in the NAIA until 1977, along the way advancing to the NAIA Football National Championship finals in 1967, losing to Fairmont State 28-21. This marked Eastern Washington's first appearance in a national championship game at any level of competition.
During this time period, the school would undergo numerous changes to its identity. The school name would change in 1937 to the Eastern Washington College of Education, then again shortly after World War II to the Eastern Washington State College. The final change to the school name came in 1977 when the school was renamed Eastern Washington University.
In 1973, the student body voted to make Eastern’s mascot the Eagles. Shortly before that, the Eastern Board of Trustees declared "Savages," its mascot through its first 92 years, no longer acceptable. Eagles are native to eastern Washington and thus a logical choice for a replacement.
Eastern joined the NCAA in 1978, participating at the NCAA Division II level as an independent. The Eagles stayed at the Division II level until 1983, when the Eagles moved up to Division I-AA (now known as the FCS) as an Independent.
In 1987, Eastern was extended an invitation to and joined the Big Sky Conference. Eastern continues to participate in the Big Sky to this day and is now the sixth-most tenured member of the conference.
The 2010 season would mark a number of firsts for Eastern Washington's football program. The offseason would see a highly publicized move to install a red turf playing surface, the first of its kind in the country. Eastern would utilize the excitement and energy surrounding the program to complete its finest season of competition in the program's history.
The EWU football team plays at Roos Field, opened in 1967 and recently expanded and renovated in 2004 and 2010 to seat 11,702. The stadium was originally named Woodward Field in honor of former Eagles head football and basketball coach Arthur C. Woodward. It replaced the original Woodward Field, which was located near the present JFK Library.
On February 26, 2010, ESPN reported that Eastern Washington planned to remove the natural grass surface at Woodward Field and replace it with red SprinTurf, the first of its kind at any level of American football. A funding drive was initiated in late January 2010, with EWU alumnus Michael Roos donating $500,000 toward the installation costs, and fellow alumnus and ESPN personality Colin Cowherd also making a donation.
On May 20, 2010 the Eastern Washington Board of Trustees approved a name change to Roos Field, scheduled for the 2010 season, upon the successful completion of the project. Installation of the red synthetic turf was completed in September 2010, in time for the first home game of the 2010 season against Montana.
Eastern Washington's red playing surface is known as The Inferno. The nickname was chosen through a vote conducted by Eastern on its athletic website, goeags.com. Voting began on August 4, 2010 and allowed fans to choose from seven proposed names: red sea, red zone, inferno, big red, red carpet, ring of fire and lava pit. Inferno finished as the top choice and the nickname was revealed at the first home game with the new field on September 18, 2010.
The Eagles also have a new rivalry with the Portland State Vikings in all sports, starting in 2010 called The Dam Cup. Eastern football won the first rivalry match between the two schools in 2010 with a score of 55-17. The purpose of the Dam Cup is to create a rivalry between Portland State University and Eastern Washington University and provide a sense of pride between alumni in the Portland and Spokane areas. Other goals include increasing attendance at events between both schools and building school spirit among each institutions' student body.
Eastern Washington has participated eight times in the I-AA/FCS playoffs since 1978. Their first appearance occurred during the 1985 season, when they advanced to the quarterfinals. The Eagles' best finish came during the 2010 season, when they won the national championship.