Here’s to Six of Princeton’s All Time Winners

  • July 10, 2018

BY JAY GREENBERG

Six All Ivy football players proceeded out of FitzRandolph Gate in the spring of 1994 and if not all these warhorses could walk the course at Springdale Golf Club on Monday, it is proof that time flies even faster than Keith Elias could fly. Still, it has been a long time—25 years—since so many members of one Princeton football class won as much as these guys did.

In fact, three consecutive winning seasons—that produced 24 wins out of 30 tries by the 1991-93 clubs—have been recorded only once since the Class of ’66 went 24-3. The Class of ’94 was 8-2 three times, which is why Elias, Reggie Harris, Brian Kazan, Scott Miller, Brian Mangene and Jim Renna earned a toast or three at the Princeton Football Association’s annual golf outing and fundraiser.

The Class of 2019 would be working on three straight titles this season except that… well, someday these guys will get over that nullified obvious winning touchdown in the final seconds at Penn. Or maybe they won’t. We don’t bring it up here for any reason other than to show that graduations, injuries and officiating mistakes being a fact of life, Bob Surace’s massive infusion of talent and work ethic into the program still has not produced consecutive winning seasons, despite its two Ivy championships.

Even this celebrated Class of ’94 won only the one title in 1992, thanks to the wizardry of Dartmouth’s Jay Fiedler—probably the best quarterback in Ivy history—and also no thanks to a miserable eight-turnover day at Penn their senior year that these guys will take to their graves.

But even with another year of Elias, the ’93 team wasn’t as talented as the one in ’92. Overcoming the absence of Kazan, who missed his middle year with a blown-out knee, that ’92 club was even further loaded by nine more class of ’93 All-Ivy selections—receiver Michael Lerch, offensive tackle Chris Theiss, linebacker Aaron Harris, tight end Chris Beiswenger, center Ian Lombard, guard J.C. Stilley, linebacker Gene DeMorat and defensive backs Brad Reed and Keith Ducker. That ’92 squad might have been the most talented one the school has ever had; the 2018 club having a glorious opportunity to win nine or ten games and get itself into the discussion.

So the Class of ’94 sends its best wishes and greatest advice to get the utmost from this chance. “We left a little on the table,” said Kazan. “But collectively, we did a lot of good things.

“I am a pretty intense guy. I took football very, very, seriously. I don’t think that made me an outlier with these guys but, quite frankly, I don’t think as a whole the classes before us took football as seriously as ours or were as talented.

“We brought a great work ethic into the weight room and a lot of intensity onto the field. We came in just after the ’89 championship that broke a long drought and we made sure it wasn’t just one good year. Over time, when you produce that kind of record, people notice.”

Elias, second team All-Ivy as a sophomore, first team as a junior and senior, the school’s all-time rushing leader by a lot with 4208 yards, was impossible to ignore. “He had a way of taking his body away from the defense, a change of direction on a dime, and had great strength, along with his balance, that enabled him to break tackles,” says Steve Verbit, who’s served 33 years at Princeton as an assistant. “I can’t tell you how many times you would go from ‘Oh no! To ‘Oh my god!’  He looked stopped after two and then was 70 yards downfield.”

Defensive lineman Harris, honorable mention as a sophomore, first team All-Ivy as a junior and senior, was, according to Verbit “unblockable.”  His inside partner, Renna, first team All-Ivy as a senior, was a junkyard dog, whose bite grew more ferocious the more threatening became an opposition drive. As Elias remembered Monday, Renna used the star running back’s triumphant finish to a dedicated day’s work in the weight room as just a warmup.

Safety Mangene, first team All-Ivy as a senior, was fast, aggressive, the brains of all the brainy Princeton men in the secondary, and according to Elias, “the most confident guy I ever have been around.” Miller, first team All-Ivy as a senior, was an athletic pulling guard who gave Elias time to read, cut and flash away.

Kazan was second team All-Ivy as a sophomore and on his way into the top handful of defensive linemen in Princeton history when his knee was ripped up during a pre-season scrimmage. “ACL, MCL and cartilage,” he recalls. “The unhappy triad.”

The Tigers cobbled together a pass rush to complement all their other considerable assets, and, going into the finale against Dartmouth had a chance for the school’s first undefeated championship since 1964. But Fiedler constructed a late putaway drive for the ages and Princeton settled for a share of the title with the Big Green.

Kazan returned for his senior year with his explosion gone, but stopped the run so well he still made second team All-Ivy. “ACL repairs were fairly routine but throw in the MCL and the cartilage and it becomes more complex,” he said. “But I really think not having the medical redshirt they have now was a bigger factor. It really takes two years to come back from a surgery like that.

“The ligament repair has held up very well over time. But after surgery to remove cartilage, at some point it’s going to be bone on bone and that’s where I am now. I need a knee replacement in a few years.

“Everybody has their bumps in the road. My senior year was in doubt so I was just happy to be cleared to play.”

The ’93 Tigers were 7-0 going to also-undefeated Penn and suffered a nightmare, fumbling eight times in a ghastly 30-14 defeat. In the season finale, a 22-8 lead against Dartmouth evaporated, Fiedler running and passing for fourth quarter touchdowns 90 seconds apart in a 28-22 defeat. And all those individual honors voted these guys the following week didn’t mean as much to these Tigers then as they do 25 years later.

“Yep, would have traded All Ivy for three more wins, no doubt,” said Mangene. “But you come back now and realize all the more that between the school work and the work on the field it is not easy to become an All-Ivy player.”

“When you have been voted by the other league coaches, that means they thought about you going into the Princeton game, a really nice thing.”

Nicer still was being back with teammates. “You have 100 friends immediately when you start here,” said Mangene.  “I wasn’t a 1600 SAT kid but like all the athletes at this place we worked hard and that creates a bond that still is felt.

Or, as Elias said, “Its not the six guys who are on these (congratulatory) screens (around the dining room) it’s all of us here.  We know all you guys not just as players, but as friends.”

TIGER TAILS

Master of Ceremonies and PFA President Steve Simcox ’83 announced that the dinner portion of the annual golf outing is being renamed after John Clevenger ’90, who died in his sleep just days after returning to his home in Wichita, Kansas from last year’s dinner. The program also mourns the recent sudden loss of Nick Donatiello ’82 President and CEO of Odyssey, once-campaign manager for Bill Bradley’s successful Senate re-election bid, a former football manager plus Sports Information Director at Princeton, who has been a tireless advocate and advisor for the program.

Auction items that included golf days on dream courses like Baltusrol and Galloway National, tickets and hosted arena and stadium tours by Jason Garrett’s Dallas Cowboys, the Houston Rockets, the New York Yankees and New England Patriots raised $13,800 for the program.