Princeton’s Greatest Teams of the Pre-Ivy Era-1869-1955

  • September 13, 2019

In our ongoing celebration of 150 years of Princeton football, we summarize our sweep of the Pre-Ivy Era with the following lists, as chosen by Eric Dreiband ’86 and Staś Maliszewski ’66.

Princeton’s Greatest Teams of the Pre-Ivy Era-1869-1955 (listed chronologically).

1878

  • National champions.
  • 6-0 including five shutouts, two of them over Harvard and Yale.
  • It was one of 11 national titles for Princeton in a 13-year period (1869-81).
  • Captain Bland Ballard ’80.
  • Future US President, Thomas Woodrow Wilson ’79, Director of Princeton Football Association.  
1885 Team

1885

  • National Champions.
  • 9-0 with six shutouts. Opponents scored only 25 points during the season
  • Still holds Princeton record for most points in a season, 637; points per game, 70.8; and touchdowns in a season, 117. Average margin of victory was 68 points.
  • Defeated powerful Yale team, 6-5, on miracle 85-yard punt return by Henry “Tillie” Lamar ’86.
  • Posted three blowout wins over Penn (76-10, 80-10, 57-0); two over Stevens Institute (94-0, 76-0), and one over Wesleyan (76-0).
  • Team led by Lamar and Hall of Famer Hector Cowan ’88.
  • Captain Charles DeCamp ’86.
1889 Princeton Football Team

1889

  • National champions.
  • 10-0, outscoring opponents 484-29.

Shut out powerful Lehigh, 16-0, blew out Penn, 72-4, and Harvard, 41-15, and beat undefeated Yale, 10-0 on two second-half punts recovered in the end zone, one of them by Princeton legend Hector Cowan, playing in his final game.  The contest, played at the Berkley Oval in East Brooklyn, is recognized by the College Football Hall of Fame as one of the greatest of all-time.

  • Five consensus All-Americas, including legends Knowlton “Snake” Ames ’90, Edgar A. Poe ’91 and Cowan.
  • Captain Edgar A. Poe. 
1893 Team

1893

  • National champions.
  • 11-0 with eight shutouts, outscoring opponents 270-14.
  • Ended Yale’s 37-game winning streak, 6-0.

Three players–Phil King ’93, Langdon Lea ’96, and Art Wheeler ’96 – were three-time consensus All- Americas.  Thomas “Doggie” Trenchard ’95 and Franklin Morse ’95 also named consensus All-Americas.

  • Captain Thomas “Doggie” Trenchard.
  • Coach J.B. Fine.
1896 Team

1896

  • National Champions.
  • 10-0-1 with nine shutouts. Outscored opponents 299-10, including Harvard and Yale by a combined 36-6 score.  
  • Scoreless at halftime at Harvard, Assistant Coach John Poe made legendary “If you won’t be beat, you can’t be beat” speech.
  • Tie was with co-national champion Lafayette, coached by Princeton grad Parke Hill Davis ’93.
  • Amidst stompings of Rutgers (44-0), Virginia (48-0), Penn State (39-0), and Cornell (37-0) was a win over Carlisle team coached by Wild Bill Hickok, 22-6.
  • William Church ’97, Robert Gailey PG, Addison Kelly ’98, John Baird ’99 were consensus All-America.
  • Edwin Crowdis ’97 was All-America. F.L. Smith ’97, and William Bannard ’98 were second-team All-America.
  • Captain Garrett Cochran ’98

Head Coach Franklin Morse. Other coaches included all-time greats Alexander Moffat ’84 and Langdon Lea ’96.

1898 Team

1898

  • National champions
  • 11-0-1 with 11 shutouts, outscoring opponents 266-5.
  • Consensus All-Americas were Lew Palmer ’98 and Art “Doc” Hillebrand ’00.

First-team All-America was Arthur Poe ’00. William “Big Bill” Edwards ’00 and W.C. Booth ’00 were second-team.

Beat Yale 6-0 after Arthur Poe forced a fumble and ran 90 yards with it for the game-winning touchdown

  • Captain Art “Doc” Hillebrand.
  • Langdon Lea, Princeton Hall of Fame player, was coach.
1903 Princeton Tigers

1903

  • National champions.
  • 11-0 with 10 shutouts, outscoring opponents 259-6.
  • Defeated Yale, 11-6, with John DeWitt ’94 scoring all the Princeton’s points.
  • Howard Henry ’04 and Dana Kafer ’04 were consensus All-America.
  • DeWitt was captain
  • Hall of Fame player Art “Doc” Hillebrand, was coach.
1906 Princeton Tigers

1906

  • National champions.
  • 9-0-1 with eight shutouts, outscoring opponents 205-9.

Suffered controversial 0-0 tie against Yale after apparent 33-yard touchdown run by Cap Wister ’08 was called back because of penalty.

  • Cap Wister and James Cooney ’07 named consensus All-America. 
  • Ed Dillon ’07, James McCormick ’08 named first team All-America.
  • Captain Herbert Dillon ’07.
  • Hall of Fame Coach Bill Roper ’02.  
1922 Princeton Football

1922

  • National champion for second time in three years.
  • 8-0 with five shutouts, outscoring opponents 127-34
  • Herb Treat ’23, consensus All-America.
  • Howdy Gray ’23, first team All-America.
  • Pink Baker ’22, Harold Fletcher ’23, Mel Dickinson ’23, and Jack Cleaves ’23 also received some All-America recognition
  • Dramatic wins over Chicago, 21-18, and Yale, 3-0.  Also handed Harvard its first loss, 10-3.
  • Captain Mel Dickinson.
  • Hall of Fame Coach Bill Roper.

1933

  • National champions.
  • 9-0, with seven shutouts, outscoring opponents 217-9.
  • Charles Ceppi ’34, All-America.
  • Art Lane ’34, second-team All-America. Garrett LeVan ’36, third team All-America.
  • Destroyed Yale, 27-2.
  • Captain Art Lane.
  • Hall of Fame Coach Fritz Crisler.
1935 Princeton Tigers

1935

  • National champions.
  • 9-0, outscoring opponents 256-32.
  • Blew out Yale, 38-7, and Harvard, 35-0.
  • Constable ’36 finished fourth in Heisman Trophy balloting.
  • Jac Weller ’36 consensus All-America.
  • Gil Lea ’36 and Charles Toll ’38 second-team All-Americas.
  • Class of 1936 finished 25-1.
  • Captain W. Pepper Constable.
  • Hall of Fame Coach Fritz Crisler.xjd

1950

  • National champions.
  • 9-0, outscoring opponents 349-94.
  • Defeated Yale, 47-12, and Harvard, 63-26.
  • Dick Kazmaier ’52, Hollie Donan ’51, and Reddy Finney ’51 named All-America.
  • Brad Glass ’53 selected third-team All-America.
  • Captain George Chandler ’51.
  • Hall of Fame Coach Charlie Caldwell ’25.

Most Unlikely Princeton Champion

1911 Harvard Game

1911

Despite being unbeaten in the first seven contests (5-0-2), the team closed against unbeaten Harvard and Dartmouth, plus once-beaten Yale as underdogs in all three games.

Against Harvard, Sanford White ’12 ran the length of the field with a blocked drop kick for a touchdown and then tackled a Harvard punter behind the goal-line for a safety, scoring seven of Princeton’s eight points in an 8-6 victory.

Dartmouth’s defense was said to be “impregnable” by the Daily Princetonian and sure enough late in the fourth quarter, the teams were tied 0-0.  With the ball on the 36-yard line and several yards to go on third down, DeWitt hurriedly failed to hit his field goal attempt squarely. It struck the ground twenty yards from the goal line, bounded at the five over the last Dartmouth defender-who may have touched it–and went over the cross bar

“DeWitt was our punter, too, and had a powerful leg, although he wasn’t too accurate,” later recalled Princeton’s All America back Talbot “Tal” Pendleton ’13. “But I didn’t see how the kick could hurt us in a scoreless game because I was sure he’d get off a long one.“ After much debate the officials ruled the field good and Princeton won 3-0.  College football promptly changed the rule to require the ball clear the bar on the fly.

Princeton was expected to need even more good fortune against Yale, whose All-America quarterback Art Howe had led his team to a 10-0 record and the national championship two years earlier as a sophomore. Princeton’s record against Yale in the previous 11 meetings was 1-9-1. With the field in New Haven “a mire of mud and water and sawdust,” according to the Daily Princetonian, the game turned into a defensive struggle with Yale, however, having practically four times the yardage of Princeton.

White, however, was not out of heroics. With the Bulldogs leading 3-0 and at the Princeton’s 35 yard line, a Yale player fumbled the ball, and White scooped up his third recovery of the day and ran 65 yards to put Princeton ahead 6-3, the way the game ended. 

Some suggested that “Long Run Sammy” should run for president but he settled for being chosen Player of the Year and a consensus All-America. Tackle Ed Hart ’12 and guard Joe Duff ’12 joined White on that list while consensus center Arthur “Bluie” Bluethenthal ’13 and DeWitt were selected first-team All-Americas by some selectors and Pendleton was a third-team selection.

Princeton’s Greatest Upset of the Era

Princeton 17, Penn 14, November 3, 1946

After suffering losing seasons each year from 1941-4, Princeton hired future Hall of Fame coach Charlie Caldwell ’25 in 1945 to restore winning ways.  The Tigers improved that season to 2-3-2, one of the losses being 28-0 to nationally-ranked (eighth) Penn, which came into the 1946 contest 4-0, with blowouts of Lehigh, Virginia, and Dartmouth by a combined score of 145-6 and ranked third in the nation.

The Quakers had a prodigious backfield with passing threats Skippy Miniai and Bobby Evans, speedsters in Don Schneider and Bab Deuber, a power fullback in Eddie Allen, with holes made for them by All-America candidates Chuck Bednarik, George Savitsky. Bernie Gallagher and Frank Jenkins on a line that, averaging 215 pounds, outweighed Princeton by 25 per man. Coach Charlie Caldwell’s Tigers, captained by Frank Perantoni ’48, were 2-2, and listed as a four-touchdown underdog.

Trailing quickly as expected, 7-0, Princeton’s Ernie Ransome ’47 caught a touchdown pass from Dick West ’45 before suffering a season-ending injury. But the Tigers fought back from another seven-point deficit for 14-14 halftime tie and thereafter controlled the ball, the Quakers able to penetrate no farther than the Princeton 47 during the entire second half. Ken Keuffel ’46 kicked the game-winning field goal late in the fourth quarter, and Princeton, selling out the middle to stop Penn’s vaunted outside game, held on for the victory. The Tigers did not win any of their final three games.

Most Disappointing Loss of the Pre-Ivy Era

Yale 7, Princeton 0, November 17 1934.

Princeton had most of its key players returning from its national championship team of 1933, including All-America center Elwood “Mose” Kalbaugh ’35, a backfield loaded with four All America candidates–Ken Sandbach ’37, John “Kats” Kadlic ’35, Pepper Constable, and Gary LeVan–­plus several other candidates, including tackle John “Jac” Weller ’36 and end Gil Lea ’36.

The Tigers entered the game 6-0 and with a defense so dominant that it would set a school record for allowing the fewest first downs in a season. During the 17-game unbeaten streak Princeton took into the game, it posted 12 shutouts and held opponents to fewer than two points per game. 

Yale, which had been blown out by Princeton 27-2 the previous season, was 3-3 and coming off a 14-7 loss to Georgia. Before a sold-out Palmer Stadium crowd of 52,000, Princeton’s offense turned over the ball on fumbles five times, threw two interceptions, and netted just seven first downs-none in the fourth quarter-during a 7-0 loss to just 11 Yale players who did not leave the field the entre game.

The following week, the Tiger crushed Dartmouth, 38-13, to end the season 7-1 and begin another winning streak that Princeton would continue in 1935 by clobbering Yale 35-7 on the way to a 9-0 season and another national championship.

Greatest Game-Winning Plays of the Pre-Ivy Era

1. Arthur Poe’s miracle kick beats Yale, 1899.

The Tigers trailed 10-6 but a Roper fumble recovery at the 25 with 30 seconds remaining gave them a last chance, unlikely as it was. A field goal counted five points in the day but, on a field with no hashmarks, the ball was near the sideline and, besides, only three of 11 Tigers who had started the game remained in the brutal affair. Poe, ordered out, refused to leave.

The great nephew of his namesake poet approached captain Big Bill Edwards with a plea to kick, even though he never had before under game conditions. “Go ahead,” said Edwards, “You were born under the sign of the horseshoe.”

Yale expected a fake and didn’t rush. ”The (dropkick) seemed to hang in the air for 20 minutes,” Edwards later recalled, before it blew inside the far goal post by only a foot. One accounts had the ball hitting the crossbar and toppling over.

“Princeton rose screaming, shrieking, yelling (while) the masses of Yale men sat dumb and stunned, ” wrote Hugh Fullerton, in the Pittsburgh Press in 1914, when he recognized the kick as the greatest moment in the history of college football. “For an hour, Princeton men stood upon the field of battle screaming, ‘Poe did it.”

The kick gave Princeton the national championship.

1898 Yale Game

2. Arthur Poe Strips and Slips Away to beat Yale, 1898.

Scoreless in the second half on a wet field, Princeton’s Doc Hillebrand shed blocks to stand up a ball carrier, Poe cleanly swiped the ball away and, before the Bulldogs realized he had it, was gone on a 95-yard touchdown run that gave the Tigers a 6-0 victory. It gave them the national title.

3. Tillie Lamar’s Dash Beats Yale, 1885.

Trailing 5-0 to Yale in the final minutes, Henry “Tillie” Lamar dodged and weaved 85 yards with a punt return to tie the game before Dick Hodge ’86 kicked the conversion.  Fans celebrated Princeton’s first win over Yale in seven years by tearing Lamar’s uniform to shreds. For several decades, Lamar’s run was widely considered the greatest play in college football history.

4. Sam White’s Recover and Run Foils Yale, 1911

Sanford “Sam” White picked up a fumble and made an 80-game-winning touchdown run against Yale to win the game, 6-3, and the national title.

5.  Sam White’s Recovery and Run Foils Harvard, 1911.

Two games previously White had picked up a blocked drop kick and run the length of the field for a touchdown in an 8-6 win, with the margin of victory proving to be a safety he recorded later in the game

6. DeWitt’s Bouncer Bounces Dartmouth, 1911.

Between those Yale and Harvard wins during that unlikeliest of title seasons, Wallace “Butch” DeWitt kicked his field goal that bounced over the crossbar for a 3-0 win.

Greatest Individual Performance

DeWitt Buries Yale, 1903

DeWitt, selected as a Consensus All-America in 1902 and widely regarded as one of the greatest players in college football history, scored all eleven of Princeton’s points on an 80-yard touchdown run with a blocked kick, an extra point, and a field goal to propel Princeton to an 11-6 victory over Yale and the national championship.

Greatest Wins (listed chronologically)

1878 – Henry Brotherlin ’80’s touchdown and Theodore McNair ’79’s booted conversion produced the only scores of the game as Princeton defeated Yale to complete a perfect 6-0 season and win the national championship.

1885 – Henry “Tillie” Lamar’s legendary touchdown run brought Princeton from behind to a 6-5 victory over Yale and, with the following week’s victory over Penn, a perfect 9-0 record and the national title. 

1889 – Legendary Knowlton “Snake” Ames, Edgar Alan Poe, Hector Cowan and teammates broke a 37-game winning streak of a Yale team that contained All-Americas Amos Alonzo Stagg, William “Pudge” Heffelfinger, and Charles Gill in a 10-0 win that gave Princeton the national championship.

1893 –Three-time Consensus All Americas Phil King, Langdon Lea, and Art Wheeler led Princeton over Yale, 6-0, avenging a humiliating 12-0 loss to Yale in 1892 and securing a national title.

1898 – Arthur Poe ran 95 yards with a fumble to give Princeton a 6-0 victory over Yale, a 10-0-1 season, and the national championship.

1899 – Arthur Poe’s field goal, in the dying seconds, after he had refused to leave the game with an injury and begged for the opportunity to try his only kick of the year brought Princeton an 11-10 win over Yale, a 12-1 season, and the national championship.

1903-John DeWitt scored on an 80-yard touchdown run after a blocked kick, booted the extra point, plus a field goal to propel 11-0 Princeton to an 11-6 victory over four-time running champion Yale and the national championship.

1922 Chicago Game

1922  — Trailing 18-7 at heavily-favored Chicago and backed up to its one-yard line with 12 minutes remaining, the Tigers roared back for a 21-18 victory. Johnny Gorman ’23 and Jack Cleaves ’23 privately conspired together a fake punt-and-throw for 22 yards that got the Tigers out of the deep hole, Howdy Gray ran 40 yards for a touchdown with a recovered fumble, and Harry Crum ’24’s one-yard plunge gave Princeton its most celebrated intersectional victory ever. The Team of Destiny, as named by renowned sportswriter Grantland Rice, went on to an 8-0 season and the national championship.

Worst Weather Games

1. Snowmen and 12th Men. Princeton 26, Dartmouth 6, November 23, 1935

In a game of undefeated squads, played under abominable snowy, windy and cold conditions during a freak late November storm, a couple of mysterious men appeared to join Dartmouth goal line stands. Leading 13-6, the Tigers had the ball at the Indians’ six-yard line when a spy–in uniform, or close to it–penetrated the Princeton huddle and then, at the line of scrimmage, lined up with the defense.  LeVan scored regardless, Princeton led 19-6, and the 12th man never was identified.

Princeton was back at the six when another intruder jumped out of the stands, shed his hat and coat, and actually plugged a hole in the line, helping to bring down White at the one.  As constables hustled that interloper away, the Tigers’ All-America lineman Jac Weller ’36 kicked the man in the rear end. White scored on the next play regardless and the Tigers won 26-6.

The police released the trespasser without confirming his identity. Both a Princeton-hating short order cook from a diner in Rahway named Mike Mesco and George Larsen, an architect from Cranford, claimed credit but news outlet photographs taken through the blizzard proved inconclusive.

Princeton won the following week against Yale, 38-7, finished with a perfect 9-0-0, and won the national title. 

1950 Dartmouth Game

2. Kazmaier in the Mire, Princeton 13, Dartmouth 7, 1950.

A huge storm hit Princeton overnight and, by game time, there were gusts of 108 miles per hour. “The wind roared through the open end of [Palmer] Stadium ceaselessly; sheets of rain later mixed with swirling snow as the temperature dropped on this most unbelievable of days,” wrote Town Topics.

Princeton, 8-0 and leading the nation in total offense, rushing offense, and scoring with 42 points a game, was going to have to find a way to persevere, just like the 5,000 who braved the storm to see the Tigers try to wrap up a national championship against 3-4-1 Dartmouth.

According to the Daily Princetonian, “Neither team was able to warm prior to the kickoff and the most physical exercise before the opening whistle was forced upon those unfortunates who didn’t tie down their headgear. The happiest group in Princeton by far was the raincoat vendors who, sensing the pleasant implications of the law of supply and demand, jacked up their fair weather prices to the point where it was cheaper to wear the money.

“For once the long-suffering gatemen had no crashers to contend with and even the imported ushers and guards ignored seat reservations and let all comers huddle anywhere in the vast and empty stadium. Halftime saw no ceremonies to speak of as both teams waded off the field to change into drier uniforms and plot further amphibious assaults against the opponent’s goalposts. The yellow-coated Princeton band attempted to instill a little life in the chilled spectators by playing a few numbers from the south end of the quagmire that served as a field. But most of their tunes were swept away by the howling wind. “

Bob Tyler ’50 scored on a sweep down the sideline to give Dartmouth a 7-0 lead. This was no day suited to play catch-up and though Dick Kazmaier scored on a 37-yard touchdown run, the Tigers missed the extra point in the conditions, which meant everything as Dartmouth took that one point lead into the fourth quarter.

Finally Kazmaier ran 24 yards to the Dartmouth five and three plays later, Jack Davison ’51 plunged for the season-saving score. By the time of the final gun of a national championship season, only a handful of rooters remained.

The Greatest Moment in Princeton Football History

In 1896, Princeton was 8-0-1 coming into the Harvard game, locked in a scoreless tie at the half, but worse, minus two top players – All-America halfback Addison Kelly ’98 and end Sport Anderson ’90, both lost during the first half. “The men were desperate and near the breaking point,” Captain Garry Cochran would say later. “Johnny Poe was behind the (locker room door when fear went by. With his true Princeton spirit, he sent this message to each man on the team:

“If you won’t be beat, you can’t be beat.”

The Tigers won the game, 12-0, and then shocked Yale, 24-6 two weeks later to win the national championship.  

Bill Roper who later coached Princeton to four national titles often used John Poe’s phrase to inspire his teams. After Poe’s death in 1915, one of his former players, Big Bill Edwards, wrote, “This message brought about a miracle. It put iron in each man’s soul, and never from that moment did Harvard gain a yard. For succeeding years, ”If you won’t be beat, you can’t be beat,” was Princeton’s battle cry.”