Poe-Kazmaier Award Winners to be Honored at Yale Game
BY REBECCAH BARGER
John P. Poe set a precedence of Princeton greatness in 1892 as one of the Tigers all-time greatest halfbacks. In his honor, the Poe Award was created in 1916 for players who continued to uphold his legacy. In the mid-1990s, Heisman Trophy Winner Dick Kazmaier’s name was added to the award for his great contributions in the late 1940s and early 50s. The two now share the name of Princeton football’s most elite award: the John P. Poe – Richard W. Kazmaier, Jr. Football Trophy.
The award is given to players each year who proved to have good moral character. It reads “in addition to proving their ability on the field, they best exemplified the following traits: loyalty and devotion to Princeton’s football interests, courage, manliness, self-control and modesty, perseverance and determination under discouraging conditions, observance of the rules of the game and fairness towards opponents.”
Princeton alumni will return Nov. 14 for the well-anticipated match-up against rival Yale University and will honor Poe-Kazmaier Award winners.
“The award represented all of the hard work, dedication, and passion that I had put in to football throughout my life. It helped me realize that every sacrifice I had made for the sake of football, both on and off the field, was well worth it.” Roman Wilson ’14 said. “Also seeing the list of men who had won the award before me, I knew how much this award meant because I had met many of them and knew how incredible they were off of the field. Being categorized with the group of guys who had won the award previously meant more to me than being a good football player.”
For Wilson, he remains one of the most recent in a long list of men depicting the essence of Princeton football. To many of the players who receive this award, part of its humbling nature comes from their addition to the record of former recipients and what their time at Princeton football represented. To depict the essence of the Poe-Kazmaier award, below are seven decades of football and the stories of the extraordinary men it honors.
When Royce Flippin and his teammates talk about Princeton football, they say: “we were the class of 1956: the great class.”
Under Head Coach Charlie Caldwell, Flippin and his teammates went undefeated their freshman year. And when the NCAA announced new rules the following year – that players who left the field during any quarter would be ineligible to play for the rest of the game – it didn’t seem to slow them down.
After a two-year adjustment period into single platoon football, through which Princeton maintained a winning record, Flippin and his team were staged to win the Ivy League Championship. If they scored a win in their last two games against, they would end their season with a celebratory bonfire, which traditionally marked the winning of the Ivy League title rather than defeating Yale and Harvard.
“Before the Yale game we slept in the boathouse. The coaches wanted to get us away from our dorms. The game was that important,” Flippin said. “Yale was ranked number 10 in the country. They had just beat Army, so we shut them out and beat them 13-0, which was a very crucial win. Our final game, we had to beat Dartmouth as well to win the Championship, and we played Dartmouth in about five inches of snow and barely won 6-3. So those two games were very special.”
In Jim Blair’s senior year summer, Head Coach Charlie Caldwell took him to the Rose Bowl game. Sitting there, Caldwell assured Blair he would never play before a crowd like the one they saw in the bowl game stadium at Princeton. Instead, he offered a quote repeated by those who played for him: “Princeton Football pays you back 10:1.”
Despite the smaller crowds, Blair committed to Princeton and kept up the tradition of playing offense and defense. He and the team hit their stride in his senior year.
“Our senior year was pretty special, because we had come off a disappointing season from the prior year, and much like this year’s team, we had terrific senior leadership that felt like they were getting a chance to put Princeton Football back in the position of strength that we all take great pride in,” Blair said.
They went on to achieve it. Blair and his ’60 teammates graduated 9-1. Their only loss was against Yale, who they had beat the previous year 50-14. Facing them as seniors, Yale was ranked eighth in the country, and even with 600 yards of total offense against the Bulldogs, Princeton finished 43-22. The following week they went on to redeem themselves, beating Dartmouth 7-0 in the final 35 seconds on a long pass play – unusual for the running-heavy offense.
In Daniel Fournier’s first varsity game his sophomore year, down by six points to Rutgers University, Princeton fans rushed from their seats and tore down the wooden goal posts on Princeton’s side of the field. The Tigers went on to score a touchdown in the second half, but without uprights to kick the extra point through and a failed two-point conversion, Princeton tied 6-6 with Rutgers.
Despite the bizarre kickoff to his college career, Fournier went on to become captain-elect his senior year one of his most cherished memories.
“I do remember when my fellow teammates voted for me to be captain. I was very quiet about it, but I was totally honored,” Fournier said. “I wasn’t necessarily expecting that. It’s a responsibility I wanted to take seriously, and I thought about how I want to do that. It’s about leading by example and that’s the way I tried to do that.”
To Fournier and his ’77 teammates, it was all about team dynamics despite the string of strong starts and mid-season stumbles during their four years. From organizing preseason singing entertainment to 6 a.m. practices, Fournier remembers always hearing the phrase ‘it’s a great day to be alive’ from his teammates.
“I just really believe in Ivy League sports in general and Ivy League football,” Fournier said. “Whatever sport you did, if you have the athletic ability, Princeton wasn’t going to slow you down, but you’re at the school for all the right reasons,” Fournier said. “And how is it that all those years later, your friends are all people from that time? It’s all interesting people doing interesting things that also happen to love having played football, so, for me, I was so happy with that choice. It was just an incredible experience.”
In 1981, the Tigers faced Yale in what is known as one of the greatest wins in Princeton football history. Yale arrived at Palmer Stadium with an undefeated record. The Tigers, with a 3-4-1 record, hardly seemed posed to end the Bulldogs’ streak.
Kevin Guthrie, after having surgery earlier in the year, wasn’t expected to be back in time to face the Bulldogs. But, by a miraculous recovery, he suited up as Princeton’s wide receiver to face one of the Big Three. He connected with quarterback Bob Holly for a touchdown at the end of the second quarter.
Yet, the Tigers continued to trail 31-29 until the last two minutes of the game, where a pass interference call put them on the one-yard line. Princeton scored for the win.
“So I am very glad to have had that experience [at Yale],” Guthrie said. “We played in exciting, high scoring games. We passed the ball a lot and scored lots of points. We were one of the first teams to use some of the dynamic read-on-the-run passing philosophies that are standard now. We were in every game, but I wish our records had turned out better.”
Princeton saw the resurgence of an Ivy League title in the 1991 season, one year before Dave Patterson ’96 entered as a freshman. Princeton had managed to grab a share of it, but hadn’t been the sole holders of the title since 1964.
But as Patterson entered his senior year, he knew the tide would change.
“We were focused on going 10-0 and winning the Ivy League Championship from day 1 of camp. There was no exception and anything less than a Championship would be a disappointment. We were a ‘team’ in every sense of the word,” Patterson said. “I’m usually not one for quoting scripture but Proverbs 27:17 is very fitting: As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another. Every senior contributed greatly to our success.”
Penn and Dartmouth were the only challenges the Tigers faced on their way to gold rings. Penn was predicted to go undefeated for its third-straight year and snatch up another title. While, Dartmouth became a must-win in the hunt for the Ivy League title after the ’95 Tigers only loss to Yale the week before.
Penn fell to Princeton 22-9, and the Tigers tied against Dartmouth for an outright Ivy League title.
“The atmosphere was great, especially within our team, which had sacrificed so much that season and for the seniors who had sacrificed over the previous four years,” Patterson said. “We took great pride in winning the first outright Ivy Title in 31 years (and now is the only outright Ivy Title in the last 50+ years).”
Cameron Atkinson, in January of his senior year of high school, was on his official recruiting visit with defensive lineman Dennis Norman’01 when the crowd at the basketball game they were attending began to shout ‘let’s get naked!’ It was the first snowfall of the year, which signaled Princeton’s Nude Olympics. Atkinson, fellow recruits, and their hosts gathered in Holder Courtyard to witness the tradition of sophomores running naked in Holder Courtyard, one of Princeton’s most unsanctioned traditions before banning it the year following Atkinson’s trip.
“I, and all of my classmates that were on that recruiting trip, were there for the last running of the Nude Olympics,” Atkinson said. “I am the youngest Princetonian to have been there for the Nude Olympics. I wasn’t even a student, that’s why I can say I was the youngest. And, as far as we know, every single guy who was on that trip committed to Princeton – that’s the best part.”
Atkinson entered during a rebuilding period of Princeton football after a coaching change in 2001 that ushered in new Head Coach Roger Hughes.
“Coach Hughes had a great run and had some fantastic teams with unbelievable players on it. I’d like to think as a Poe-Kazmaier recipient that I was a great player of that time – one of the first ones,” Atkinson said. “The class that went before me and my class were the classes that helped Coach Hughes create that culture that led to all his success. So, I don’t want to take credit for what he and his coaching staff did, but I’d like to think that the class of ’02 and class of ’03 helped him with that.”
Roman Wilson began the first two seasons of his Princeton football career with 1-9 scores. But it was their reaction to these two disappointing seasons that helps define their era of Princeton football history.
In 2012, they faced Harvard as the underdogs. Trailing by 24 points, the Tigers came back in the last 15 seconds of the game to win. It was this turning point that showed the team they had what it took to win the Ivy League title. They went on to win the Big Three Championship their junior year, celebrating with a massive bonfire behind Nassau Hall. In their senior year, Wilson and his teammates went 8-2 to win the Ivy League title.
“The adversity that we faced our first two years, and the way we persevered and fought through that to win the Ivy League our senior year was really special. It isn’t often that you see that type of turnaround in a team, and it is a testament to our players and coaches for sticking together and continuing to get better every day. We were a team that always worked hard and loved to play football, I think that’s why we were successful.”
The Poe-Kazmaier Award winners will be honored during half-time at the Yale game this Saturday. Join the Tigers at Princeton Stadium for the 1 p.m. kick-off.