THE 1966 PRINCETON TIGERS

  • October 17, 2016

BY JAY GREENBERG

Stas Maliszewski and Paul Savidge, probably the best combination of interior defensive linemen in the East, had graduated. So had Ron Landeck, who had broken the all-time single-season Ivy League yardage record; Charlie Gogolak, a kicker so good he went sixth overall to Washington in the NFL draft; and Lauson Cashdollar, who had just set a Princeton record for catches in one season.

Of six first-team All-Ivy players on the 8-1 team of 1965 only one, safety Marty Eichelberger, was returning. And still nobody knew the trouble the 1966 team would see until during its three-week training camp in Blairstown, N.J. Sophomore tailback Doug Boe collapsed during drills, got up, then buckled again and was taken to Princeton Hospital. Permanently brain damaged, he would spend five months in a coma before dying from pneumonia.

colman

Dick Colman

On top of jarring tragedy, the hits to Princeton’s title chances kept on coming. Homer Ashby, regarded as the team’s best offensive lineman, and expected starter Ron Marvin suffered camp injuries that ended their football careers while the team’s returning offensive backs — tailback Bob Weber (who also was the team’s chief passer) and Dave (Truck) Martin — were not expected to be ready for the opener against Rutgers.

Three returning members of a strong defensive backfield were most of what the Tigers had to recommend them for hopefully a seventh consecutive winning season, never mind an Ivy League championship over defending champion Dartmouth, which had ended Princeton’s 17 game winning streak at Palmer Stadium, 28-14, to close the 1965 season.

“Bad Day at Black Rock”, one of the feature films the coaches screened for the players to break up the Spartan tedium in Blairstown, may not specifically have been shown the day that Coach Dick Colman counted 29 Tigers unable to practice. But to Eichelberger, business continued at usual.

“My freshman year, we had 150 guys (including 55 high school captains) come out,” Eichelberger recalls. “As a sophomore, you took a place at your position behind at least two guys.

“Having practiced with and against these guys every day for three years, I always was impressed with our talent. Players just had to wait their turn. The coaches did a good job of holding us accountable and camaraderie was really tight. When Landeck moved to offense-only in ’65, he spent a lot of time coaching me.

“We had lost the players who got most of the publicity. But even with them we had lost to Dartmouth so what do stars guarantee? I still thought we were pretty strong all around.”

The last team in the league running a single wing offense, the Tigers figured to need any advantage they could get. They would have to play too many sophomores to run anything too sophisticated, though. Seven returning defensive starters knew they would have to hold the fort.

“I wasn’t of the opinion we could match the ’64 (9-0) team or ’65 team (8-1),” recalls cornerback Hayward Gipson, then already a two-year letterman. “But if the offense developed, I thought we had a chance to make it a race.”

Dick Bracken runs against Harvard

Dick Bracken runs against Harvard

Few outside the team agreed and, as the season began, the Tigers weren’t changing any minds, either. Against Rutgers at Palmer Stadium, sophomore tailback Dick Bracken, playing in place of Weber, debuted with 172 total yards, running for one touchdown and throwing to Steve Pierce for another. Still, Doug James’ 49-yard punt return that set up a touchdown was by far the most impressive offensive play as Princeton, which lost two fumbles, suffered nine penalties and gave up touchdowns of 88 yards (on a kickoff return) and 82 yards (on a pass) barely held on to win 16-12.

The following week against Columbia, a driving rain reduced an expected Palmer Stadium crowd of 30,000 to just 2,000 and obliterated enough yard markings to cause the officials to erroneously give the Tigers a first down on a 15-yard penalty when they had started the play needing 17.

An early Bracken TD run and a jitterbugging 83-yard touchdown punt return by James built a 14-0 lead. But Lee Hitchner’s tackle on a two-point conversion attempt ended up being the difference when Columbia, which rallied on 67 and 80–yard bombs by Lions QB Rich Ballantine, ran out of time to get its field goal team on the field at the Princeton 20.

At 2-0 (if barely) the Tigers went to Hanover, NH sick of losing to Dartmouth (only 3-7 against since the Indians since the Ivy League’s formation in 1956). That was before Colman’s team got sick period. An apparent case of food poisoning that would put 40 team members in the infirmary the following week began to set in during a 30-13 debacle.

The Tigers scored first and last and moved the ball in between, too. But Dartmouth got the red zone stops and, thanks to 313 passing yards, a tie with Harvard for the early league lead.

“After what happened the year before, we were focused,” recalls Eichelberger. “But Dartmouth had a good team and we had changed things that week, dropping a fourth [linebacker] into coverage, so that instead of coming up and rotating to the left as usual, we were going back and rotating to the right.

“We didn’t have enough time to get ready for it and made some big mistakes.”

With the Tigers giving up big plays on defense, and looking green and uncoordinated on offense, Colman thought they were suffering more than just a bad day and bad food against a superior opponent.

After the Tigers arrived back at Caldwell Field House, Colman, a cerebral Quaker whose most profane expression was ‘fiddly-dee”, delivered the toughest, most impassioned lecture anybody who ever played for him can recall.

“He wasn’t a screamer but he could make you feel like nothing,” recalls Pierce. “He didn’t hold back, said he thought we were quitters and losers.”

Remembers Bracken, “He said we were more concerned with girlfriends and eating clubs than football. “I was a sophomore, of the mindset that if they said ‘jump’ I started to jump, and he scared the hell out of me. It made me feel like we were letting the school down.

Lee Hitchner Makes a Stop Versus Columbia

Lee Hitchner Makes a Stop Versus Columbia

“The seniors took up the challenge.”

Those seniors who weren’t taking up all the space in the training room, he means. Starting offensive tackle Bob Hausleiter was lost for the season with a neck injury suffered at practice, then Martin, who with Bracken’s emergence was being moved to fullback to give the Tigers a two-headed threat out of the backfield, returned from a two-game absence only to have his nose broken by All-American Ray Ilg on the second play of the next game, against Colgate.

“Put his foot through my facemask and my nose into my right ear,” recalls Martin, who spent the rest of the contest having his features put back in place, while the Tiger offense continued to look faceless. Colgate was just as stymied though until, thanks to a Tiger penalty, the Raiders kept possession following a punt and drove 45 yards for a touchdown. In the fourth quarter Bracken was stopped on a double reverse on fourth-and-four at the 14 and the Tigers, 7-0 losers, had dropped consecutive games for the first time in four seasons.

Captain Walt Kozumbo Closes In

Captain Walt Kozumbo Closes In

Content to defer to the more vocal Gipson and linebacker Ron Grossman, Captain Walt Kozumbo said he never considered himself an orator. “My role model had been Paul Savidge, who tried to lead by example,” Kozumbo recalls. But with the season on the brink, teammates remember the defensive end making an eloquent plea that the 2-2 Tigers not let go of the rope.

“Walt unequivocally and unhesitatingly, said, “We are going for the gold’,” recalls Grossman. “With no superstars to depend on and an injury list that never stopped growing, we resurrected our confidence and recommitted ourselves. We knew our limitations, but still thought we could win.”

Certainly the Tigers thought they could win their next two, against Penn, whom the Tigers had clobbered over the last three meetings by an aggregate score of 140-0, and Brown, which had enjoyed only one winning league season in the 10-year existence of the Ivy League At Franklin Field. Against Penn, the Tigers completed drives of 68, 70, 60 and 60 yards while defensive end Charles Baby blocked a punt out of the end zone for a safety. Martin contributed 92 yards in his first full game of the season as the

Tigers rolled 30-13.

This was by far the best the offense had looked, and despite two late Penn scores on big plays, a good defense was hunkering down.

“(Assistant) Warren Harris was an outstanding (defensive) coach,” recalls Eichelberger. “Straightforward, emotional, and always pushing you forward.

“How the hell did you get into Princeton?’ he asked me one day when I made a mistake, but you also got kudos when you did something well. The approach was professional all the way. Every Sunday, every member of the team would receive a grade on three-by-five card.

“Losing is part of life that teaches you to crank it up. We just wanted to win. I don’t have any memory of us developing a chip on our shoulder about being written off. (Linebackers Jim) Kokoskie and Grossman were tough guys. We still had good players.”
This was especially true in the secondary, where junior Bruce Wayne was joining three seniors who had played together for three years.

“James was our best overall athlete in terms of speed and agility,” recalls Wayne. “Marty was the fiery captain of the secondary, a very good athlete with good hands and football sense who kind of kept the four of us together.

“Gibby (Gipson) wasn’t the fastest guy, but he was a good hitter and a proven run defender who used his football instincts to always get the job done.”

Gipson, the first African American to play football at Princeton, had been accepted from Day One.

“In high school (Abington, Pa.) 20 per cent of the players were African-Americans so this wasn’t an anomaly to me,” recalls Eichelberger. “Gibby was forthright, fun and articulate, all you would want as a teammate and friend. He was in my wedding.

“I think everyone realized he was in a tough spot, was sensitive about it, and embraced him. Most of the guys on our team had gone to public high schools, were not elite private school guys.”

Indeed Gipson, who says he came on a whim for a campus visit convinced he would not be comfortable at an Ivy League school, was stunned by his reception.

“Of the students that I met, I enjoyed everyone,” he recalls. “Including Bill Bradley.”

Truck Martin Prepares to Go Over the Top

Truck Martin Prepares to Go Over the Top

“My high school (Scotch Plains, NJ) had an African-American population of maybe 10 per cent. I had done all the things — student body president, National Honor Society — that students need to do to get into Princeton. So I wasn’t coming from an inner city educational experience that would make it night and day for me.

“As I recall, there were maybe 10 African-American students in an undergraduate population of 3,200 at Princeton and five were in my class. But I knew what kind of education I was going to get, and the school was in New Jersey, so I could get home whenever I felt the need.

“If I had any misgivings when I made my decision, they were about snobbery, not racism. I thought a wealthy student body might present an issue more than anything else. But I believe my freshman class was [Princeton’s] first that consisted of more public school than private school students. So there were other changes going that were all positive under President (Dr. Robert) Goheem’s administration.

“My first day as a student, I ran into Bill Bradley on Nassau Street and he remembered me. That was very impactful for me.”
No member of the starting secondary missed a game in 1966, hugely impactful for turning around the season. At other positions, the Tigers continued to drop. Against Brown, tailback Weber went down, as did starting guard Lynn Brewbaker but Colman had beefy underclass line replacements in Bob Mauterstock and Dave Hantz, helping the one-two backfield combination of Martin and Bracken wear down the Bears in the fourth quarter, 24-7.

Harvard’s late come-from-behind 18-14 upset of Dartmouth two weeks earlier had opened the door for the Tigers, 3-1 in the league even if they were not believed to be in the same league with the Crimson. Harvard came to Palmer Stadium a two-touchdown favorite.

“I remember after a practice that week sitting in the empty stadium, knowing Harvard had beaten Dartmouth, thinking, ‘it just isn’t over yet.’” recalls Center Bob Ehrets, who, given the opportunity to start when incumbent Carl Behnke was moved to defense, was emerging as the Tigers’ best offensive lineman. “Everybody had written us off, but I felt confident, I really did.”

Since Harvard averaged 219 rushing yards per game with a three-headed monster of tailbacks Bobby Leo, Vic Gatto and fullback Tom Choquette, the Tigers, prepped by assistant coach Arthur Robinson’s scouting report, logically decided to load up against the run.

“Leo was good outside, Gatto good inside and their quarterback (Rick Zimmerman) was good but only on short passes,” recalls Wayne. “Having Doug James back there as the safety to take care of any long balls, we decided to jam an extra cornerback — whether it was me or Gibby depending upon which side they split their end — near the line.

Bob Weber Makes Yards Against Brown

Bob Weber Makes Yards Against Brown

Kicker Ted Garcia missed a chip shot field goal on an early drive but after Martin had led the Tigers back downfield, the Princeton kicker nailed a second opportunity for a 3-0 second quarter lead. But Harvard responded on the next possession by going 74 yards, finishing off the drive when Leo out-dove Baby to a ball lying in the end zone because Gipson had stripped it from Gatto.

Baby immediately ran off with a dislocated shoulder. The next man up in an endless chain was senior Larry Stupski, whose own availability had been limited over the first six games. He couldn’t stop Harvard from driving 63 yards with the second half kickoff to go up 14-3, but after Martin fumbled at the Princeton 19 on the next series, Stupski made consecutive tackles of Zimmerman for losses and Kokoskie yanked down an interception on third-and-long.

The Tigers had rescued themselves from disaster. Runs by Martin and John Bowers picked up first downs and completions by Bracken to ends Pete Zeitzoff and Pierce enabled Martin to leap over the top for the last two yards to make the score 14-9.
Stupski later recalled that he and Hitchner had to talk Colman into going for two. James, the full-time safety and tailback-in-a-pinch, doesn’t remember any discussion, only that, as the fastest guy on the team, the call on the conversion attempt was for him to sprint for the corner.

“I knew two offensive plays,” James recalled. “The sweep and the sweep pass, and the coach called for the sweep.
“Harvard saw me in there, wasn’t stupid. Their guys were yelling, ‘watch the sweep!’ I ran right and there were about five guys waiting.

“I looked up and saw Bowers in the back of the end zone.”

James’ pass was lobbed as perfectly as it had to be, over a defender standing two yards in front of the receiver. Bowers turned and caught the ball just inside the back line to leave the Tigers down by just a field goal. Palmer Stadium was alive again with the possibilities.

Zimmerman scrambled for a first down at midfield, but on third-and-five, Gatto got thrown for a loss. When Eichelberger unsuccessfully gave five yards trying to break a punt return, the Tigers began the fourth quarter at their seven-yard line.
Quarterback Chuck Peters — the lead blocker in the single wing scheme, had – what else? — been hurt earlier in the game. His replacement was little used senior Tad Howard.

“Tad was measurably below Peters, my roommate, in strength and blocking skills, but he was a great head and a team player,” recalls Martin. “He got in the huddle and said, ‘We are going down and going to score. Anyone who doesn’t believe this, go to the sideline. ‘“

Bracken remembers the veins standing out in Howard’s face as he forcefully called the plays. “The way our defense played we always felt two or three touchdowns would be enough,” recalls Howard. “Now we needed just one.

“It wasn’t that complicated. We went on the same snap count every play for four years. Colman apparently didn’t want to confuse us, must have thought we were idiots.”

On the first play, Martin broke two tackles to gain 16 yards of precious operating space. Bracken completed passes of 19 and 11 yards to Pierce. On fourth down and one, Martin went wide for two, then plunged inside three times to the Harvard 32. Bracken went left for 18 more, then bulled to the three. On Martin’s third try, he leaped and stretched the ball over the top of the goal line. Princeton had chewed up eight-and-a half-minutes of the fourth quarter clock to go ahead 18-14 with 6:18 to go.

The euphoria was short lived. Leo’s kickoff return to the 33, compounded by a personal foul penalty, set Harvard up at the 48. Leo then reached back to make a remarkable one-handed catch on fourth down to keep the drive alive.

A third-down pass made it fourth-and-two at the 20.

“They hadn’t run at me all day, but I thought ‘maybe this time they will, so I thought I had to be moving forward,” recalls Kozumbo.

Indeed Choquette ran off right tackle but Kozumbo shed a block and grabbed the fullback low, just before Kokoskie arrived and James grabbed the ball carrier to keep him from falling forward. The side judge quickly made an accurate spot. As Wayne went to all fours, the chains were stretched beyond the ball, but not as far as the Tigers’ belief in themselves. Harvard was short by two inches with 1:35 remaining.

It's the Tigers' Ball -- And Game

It’s the Tigers’ Ball — And Game

While most of the Tigers leaped with joy, Stupski picked up the ball and threw it into the stands. After Bracken picked up a first down and Martin ran around with the ball to kill the clock, the Tigers celebrated what Colman called Princeton’s biggest and most thrilling upset since beating Penn 20 years earlier. That time, Princeton had played only the spoiler. On this occasion, it had moved into a 3-way tie for the league lead with games remaining at Yale and at home against Cornell.

Both of the Bulldogs sensational sophomores, Brian Dowling and Calvin Hill, were too injured to play, but the Tigers recognized a dangerous wounded animal, having become being one themselves.
“There is nothing that hasn’t happened to us,” said Gipson as Brewbaker had to come out of the lineup again and Bohdan Stefkiwsky, another lineman who had had become a starter, went down. Then, so did Bracken on the first play from scrimmage but now bad things were happening to the other guys, too. Eighty-six yards of Yale penalties resulted in one touchdown being called back on a hold – the field goal then was missed – and stalled two other long drives.
Nevertheless the Bulldogs had converted a 70-yard drive in the second quarter for a 7-0 lead that threatened to hold up until James’ late third-quarter interception — off a hurry by Grossman — set up a 42-yard drive capped by Martin’s one-yard dive. But a successful Garcia PAT was killed on a procedure penalty and when he missed the retry, Princeton was still down a point and running out of time.

In the descending darkness – the game had started at 2 p.m. for television, Yale used 13 plays to pick up three first downs and reach a second-and three at the Princeton 28.

Stupski (left) and Kokoskie Apply Pressure

Stupski (left) and Kokoskie Apply Pressure

“With three minutes left, we thought we were doomed,” recalls Kozumbo. But after being penalized for delay of game as a result of substitution confusion, the Bulldogs made up only two of the yards on a third-down run. From the 31, Coach Carm Cozza ordered a punt.

“Somebody in our huddle said ‘James is going to run this back.’” recalls Grossman. “ I said ‘hell no, we’re blocking it. I had just missed one in the end zone earlier.”

Grossman led the charge up the middle. “The snap wasn’t dead-on, [punter Bob Kenney] had to juggle it for a spilt second and that made the difference,” recalls Kozumbo, the second guy in. “He kicked it into my right arm.”

“Larry (Stupski) said later that when he knew he couldn’t get there he started looking for the ball.”

Stupski found it at the Yale 40. Gipson leveled Kenney with a memorable block and Stupski had a five-blocker escort though the darkening mist, running like he had materialized out of the Tigers’ dreams. After falling into the end zone, Stupski held the ball to the turf as if to make sure the officials believed it.

There was 2:02 to go. After Princeton got one stop, James, playing tailback in Bracken’s absence, couldn’t make a first down, but Yale’s last prayer in Princeton’s 13-7 victory was gobbled up by Eichelberger at the gun.

“They are all guts,” glowed Colman, “I don’t know how they do it,” Frankly, this time, neither did his Tigers, still in a 3-way tie for the lead after having been outgained from scrimmage, 311 yards to 161.

“We were really elated after Harvard, mostly thankful after that one,” recalls Kozumbo.

Dartmouth was finishing with Penn and Harvard with Yale. Cornell, coming to Palmer Stadium at 4-2 and with huge offensive and defensive lines (averaged 238 pounds), represented giant unfinished business.

Bending, not breaking, Princeton held the game scoreless despite 112 yards by Pete Larson, the league’s leading ground gainer, and dodged a bullet early in the fourth quarter when Gipson recovered a fumble at the Tiger 20. The Tigers countered with enough yardage before having to punt to allow a second Gipson recovery, off a hit by Hitchner, to set them up 51 yards away.

On fourth-and-six Bracken threw to Howard to keep the drive alive. Bill Berkley gained a first down at the nine, and on third down Bracken swept left for five yards, going in untouched for a 7-0 lead.

Princeton forced two three-and-outs, James sealed the deal with an interception, and the Tigers celebrated their three-way share – the hardest share — of the Ivy League title with locker room champagne and cigars. Long into the morning on The

Street, the Tigers, most of them members of Tiger Inn, partied. Kozumbo, a Cannon Club guy himself, overdid the scotch so badly that he developed an aversion to it that exists to this day.

One more ongoing life lesson taught by Princeton’s Ivy League champions of 1966.

“Like the Cinderella stories, it has all the classic ingredients — background, plot, conflict, action, crisis, resolution,” says Grossman. “Good qualities were underestimated, ignored or unrecognized but we expected more of ourselves.
“We emerged from obscurity, triumphed over hardship and, to everyone’s surprise, had success.”

Princeton had been outgained by 220 yards for the season, scoring just three more touchdowns than it gave up. The Tigers threw only two touchdown passes all year. But clutch fourth-quarter plays made them one of just five teams in the school’s history to ever combine Ivy and Big Three titles. The whole of the ’66 team vastly exceeded the sum of its parts.

“All for one and one for all,” says Martin. “Trite, but true.

“When they moved me to fullback I beat out Bill Berkley. He was so down about it, but right from camp his attitude was ‘how can we work together?’ When I wasn’t effective in the Cornell game for reasons I can never explain, Bill came in and played outstanding on our touchdown drive, one of the key reasons we scored at all. Howard came in for Peters and in a clean uniform led the team 93 yards. We don’t score without him.

“We had one story after another like that. There is tangible power that comes from feeling the power of the team. We were on the brink of a very non-Princeton season — .500 being impossible to swallow after the prior two years — and we won five straight. Our best players were not as good as the best players from 1964 and 1965. We were so outmanned by Harvard that to win was an incredible accomplishment and the way we did it was storybook.

“Most special of all, 48 years later the camaraderie and teamwork has mushroomed in value.”

Of the 19 football members of the Class of ’67, 16 survive. Jim Kokoskie died in 1969, on a Princeton visit, when a truck crossed the centerline of Route 206, hit his car and killed him instantly. Peters — Rhodes Scholar, Harvard Medical School, surgeon — battled depression before taking his own life in 1989. Stupski passed away from an unusually deadly strain of prostate cancer in 2013.

“Larry Stupski was my best friend,” said Martin. “We both got married in college, he moved back to California when I did, and we stayed in touch.

“Last year, before he passed away, Joyce, his wife, asked me to put together some Princeton support so I put out an email and he heard from 16 of us in his hour of need. That’s a damn good expression of the importance of team and friendship and the epitome of it was the memorial service. Ten of us (seniors on the ’66 team) plus two earlier team members from our class and [22] other Tigers came.

“We decided to wear our class blazers to the memorial service at AT&T Park (Stupski, once-CEO of Charles Schwab, was a minority owner of the San Francisco Giants). Looking out at a sea of orange and black, I gave one of the eulogies before we all came up on the podium and in front of 700 people did the Tiger locomotive cheer in Larry’s name.

‘The vividness when you are playing is so phenomenal that, years later, you can remember plays and team events. But in many respects the more time that goes by, the more caring there is amongst the team, and that’s even more powerful.”