Three National Titles, a Heisman, and a Lot of Wins Besides
We continue our celebration of Princeton’s –and college football’s –150th anniversary with this remembrance of Tiger seasons 1930 to 1956, before the formal Ivy League began play.
Included are fun facts and firsts of an era that produced three national championships and a Heisman Trophy, taken from multiple sources but primarily “The Tigers of Princeton”,by Jay Dunn, published in 1977 and “Football, The Ivy League Origins of an American Obsession”, authored by Mark F. Bernstein, 2001.
Also being posted today is a presentation of the never-should-be-forgotten best players of 1930-55; selected by Eric Dreiband ’86 and All-America Staś Maliszewski ’66 and presented by Dreiband.
To conclude our sweep of Princeton’s pre-Ivy era, next week we will post lists of the greatest teams, upsets, and moments from 1869 through 1955, again chosen by Dreiband and Maliszewski.
Then it is back to the Ivy era. Having kicked off this series with a committee selection the best Princeton players 1956-2018–posted in three parts during July and archived on this site–we will next choose and rank the greatest Ivy era victories, heartbreaks, comebacks and performances, concluding with a ranking of the greatest Tiger teams, post-1955. To be presented in 11 categories, the first of these lists will be posted on September 18 and continue on Wednesdays through Thanksgiving week.
BY JAY GREENBERG
Rockne Reneges on Princeton: Al Wittmer, Bill Roper’s hard-nosed first lieutenant, was a routine choice to replace the legendary coach following his resignation for health reasons at the end of the 1930 season. The program’s decline continued in 1931, when the Tigers won only the opener against Amherst, suffering a 51-14 humiliation in the finale against Yale. It was Princeton’s third consecutive losing season.
With the freshmen teams remaining competitive, the belief of Tom Wilson ’13, head of the Princeton Football Association – and Roper shared the view – was that the talent level remained fine, but a coaching staff traditionally made up of all former Tigers had closed the program to outside and progressive ideas.
Wittmer resigned after just one season. Wilson thought big, going alone to Notre Dame over the football committee’s skepticism to woo Knute Rockne, the biggest name in the sport, and nearly getting him. Rockne agreed to come to Princeton only to change his mind. Soon after, he perished in a plane crash.
Wilson’s Plan B was an approach of Herbert O. “Fritz” Crisler, who, mandated by his bosses at the University of Minnesota to give up either his coaching or athletic director position, had decided to become a fulltime AD.
Wilson’s hard sell, which included the promise of a seat on the football committee, won over Crisler, who the next day drove to the train station to go home, only to be stopped by police officers who were looking for the kidnapper(s) of the son of Charles Lindbergh from his home in Hopewell the evening before. Crisler, arousing suspicions by driving a car registered to Princeton alum Hack McGraw–of McGraw-Hill Publishing-had to be identified at the police station by McGraw as the new Princeton coach.
Actually, They Had Been Playing Violins for Princeton Football: When Crisler suffered drops in practice during his time playing for the fabled Amos Alonzo Stagg at the University of Chicago, the coach mocked his receiver’s bad hands by calling him Fritz, after the virtuoso violinist of the same last name.
Crisler was on the Maroon team that was upset by Princeton in 1922 on the way to the national championship. He later became Stagg’s right-hand assistant. He had been coach at Minnesota for just two years – going 7-3 in the second – before being lured by Princeton.
The committee had wanted modern and Crisler installed it – a single wing attack based on fullback spinners, reverses, and trap blocking that added significant deception to what had been largely a straight ahead power formation as practiced by Princeton. Crisler retained only the venerable Johnny Poe ’95 from Princeton’s previous staff, brought with him from Minnesota Elton “Tad” Wieman as the top assistant, and herded all-too willing to be helpful Princeton alums into bleachers during practice. Obviously not easily intimidated, Crisler resolved to toughen future schedules, including resuming competition against Harvard (in 1934) and Pennsylvania (in 1935).
In Year One (1932) under Crisler, the Tigers went 2-3-2, including a 20-7 loss to Columbia in the first meeting between the schools in 27 seasons. However, the new coach produced a 7-7 tie in the finale with Yale, measurable progress in the eyes of the persons who hired him.
Quick Flip: The rebuild took only a year. Already in place were future All-Americans such as linemen Charlie Ceppi ’34 and Art Lane ’34, plus end Ken Fairman ’34. And a mother lode of sophomore talent– backs Garrett LeVan ’36, Pepper Constable ’36 and Kats Kadlic ’35; plus end Gil Lea ’36 and lineman Jack Weller ’36 – instantly loaded up the 1933 team.
Princeton was an underdog when Columbia came to Palmer Stadium in Week Three, but the Tigers recovered a fumble on the opening kickoff, punching it in for a touchdown by Homer Spofford ’36, and two scoring runs by LeVan produced a 20-0 stunner that announced the Tigers back from the dead. It was the first power program that Princeton had defeated in five years.
The Tigers began winning close – 6-0 over Washington and Lee thanks to a goal-line stand in the final minutes, 7-0 over Dartmouth on a Kadlic-to-Fairman third quarter TD pass, and 13-0 over Navy after four LeVan interceptions held the game scoreless into the fourth quarter.
Yale scored an early safety on a blocked punt and was looking for more when Moose Kalbaugh’s tackle saved a touchdown. Constable ended the threat with an interception. Ceppi then blocked a punt and ran 35 yards for a touchdown and thereafter the Tigers dominated, winning 27-2, to complete a 9-0 season,
When Army, one of two other undefeated teams left in the land, lost to Notre Dame and the other, Duke, was beaten by Georgia Tech, Princeton’s was the only perfect slate remaining, making the Tigers the national champions. The Big Three Agreement between Yale, Harvard and Princeton forbade intersectional championship matches like the Rose Bowl, so Princeton President Dr. Harold Dodds turned down an invite to Pasadena. Columbia, with only the one loss to Princeton, went instead, upsetting Stanford.
Arm and Arm With Our Good Buddies From Harvard: When Amherst grew tired of being a Princeton punching bag, asking out of its 1934 commitment, Princeton and Harvard resumed their series after a seven-year void two seasons earlier than first planned.
As both student papers had pushed for the truce, all at Harvard Stadium made nice. Both bands saluted their counterparts, Tiger and Crimson fans recited each other’s cheers and the players sportingly helped each other up following tackles. They then dined together in the gymnasium after the game. Princeton had the most fun, however, winning 19-0.
Curses, foiled by Yale Again: Thanks to that Harvard victory, and late catches by LeVan and Lea that set up a Constable touchdown in a 12-7 win over Washington and Lee, Princeton was 6-0 when Yale came to Palmer Stadium in 1934 as a 4-1 underdog. It was the first game between the two schools not to be played as their season finale since 1886. Yale wanted to close with Harvard, which those schools do to this day, Yale has been Princeton’s penultimate opponent ever since.
The Bulldogs, learning a new system under first year coach Ducky Pond, scored on a fake punt with tackles missed by the usually sure-handed LeVan, Constable and Kadlic. When LeVan broke away for what seemed like the tying touchdown run, Yale’s Choo Choo Train grabbed the Princeton star back’s sleeve and held on until help arrived. (To you who suspended belief on Ducky Pond and kept reading, princetontigersfootball.com swears on the Honor Code that there was somebody named Choo Choo Train.)
The next season, LeVan wore a wool shirt that would tear easily. His innovation came too late to save a second consecutive undefeated Princeton season. With students circulating petitions beseeching the administration to this time accept a Rose Bowl bid, Princeton, fumbling early and often, lost a 7-0 stunner to the Bulldogs, who played only 11 men the entire game.
The Tigers took out their frustrations on Dartmouth 38-13, to finish 7-1 with arguably a more loaded team than the one that had won the national championship the previous season.
Penn Is Back Too: Despite the Great Depression, the Tigers still were packing Palmer Stadium, a financial necessity to maintain other sports programs. Many schools required football revenue to support academic programs too, however Princeton had no such need. Nevertheless, in belt-tightening mode to match the nations sensibilities, the administration cut the football schedule to eight games.
Princeton wanted no part of the expense of trips to smaller stadiums in Ithaca and Hanover. Sharing gate receipts being standard practice in college football, Cornell and Dartmouth had to come to Palmer Stadium to get a bigger cut.
In the meantime, Penn and Princeton had not played in 40 years, ever since a fight between supporters broke out on a train following a game. But seven of the eight schools (minus Brown) that eventually would become the Ivy League already constituted an Eastern League in basketball, so there were no longer any real axes to grind between any of those schools. Making too much financial sense besides was the resumption of a football series between two drawing cards 45 miles apart.
For the first time in four decades the Quakers and Tigers went at it for the opener of the 1935 season. Princeton pulled out a 7-6 victory on a 72-yard march keyed by the running of Jack White ’38, who had replaced the hobbled, and ineffective, LeVan.
Rutgers, for years the Tigers’ punching bag, had them down 6-2 into the fourth quarter until a blocked punt opened the gates, Princeton pulled away to 29-6 victory. LeVan scored twice in just 12 minutes of playing time during a 35-0 rout of Harvard. Princeton was 7-0 as Dartmouth, also undefeated, came to town.
Who Was That Guy? As a blinding snow, swirling in high winds, produced one of the most remembered bad weather days in Princeton football history, Dartmouth took an early 6-0 edge. The Tigers fought back to take a 13-6 lead into the fourth quarter, driving the ball to 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, Weller 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. A Princeton- hating short order cook from a diner in Rahway named Mike Mesco waited until mid-week to belatedly claim to have been the guy. He was invited by the hilarity-seeking Yale Club of New York to be wined and dined at the Princeton-Yale game the following week in New Haven. Of course, he graciously accepted.
Soon, George Larsen, a 26-year old architect from Cranford, was revealed by his companion at the game to have been the real 12th man. There was no malice towards the Tigers, just sympathy for the underdogs. Mesco’s memory grew suspiciously vague and news outlet photographs taken through the blizzard proved inconclusive.
Yale Could Have Used 13: The following week at the Yale Bowl, Ken Sandbach’s field goal and a touchdown by Constable off an elaborate series of fakes staked Princeton a 10-0 halftime lead on the way to a 38-7 rout. The 1935 Tigers finished their second 9-0 season in three years with another national championship, vengeance over Yale for Princeton’s only loss in the three-year period, plus lasting acclaim as the most talented team in Nassau football history. Seven members of it have made Eric Dreiband’s and Staś Maliszewski’s lists of greatest Tigers of the Pre-Ivy era, which accompanies this piece on princetontigersfootball.com.
Dominance Runs Dry:
An 11-game winning streak – and a 27-1 run-ended in frustrating defeat at
Franklin Field in Week Three of the 1936 season. Penn made five stops inside
its 15 yard-line, including one from the two, to win 7-0. The Tigers settled for 14-14 tie with a middling
Harvard team that came to Palmer with two losses. They blew a 16-0 lead to Yale
into a 23-20 loss, a classic stop by Yale at its 12 in the waning minutes ending
one of the most exciting games in the series – still no consolation for
Princeton’s 4-2-2 season.
Tiger fans had to leave Palmer to drown their sorrows. Or, hide a flask in their topcoats. To curb unruly behavior, President Dodds had banned alcohol in the facility.
On the Fritz: The 1937 disaster included a 34-6 loss to Harvard, a 33-9 defeat by Dartmouth and a 26-0 shutout at Yale. The Tigers rallied to beat Navy in the finale, long memories of the juggernauts of 1933-5 appeared to keep the posse from Crisler’s tail. He, and his wife especially, craved faculty status Princeton wasn’t granting him, so when Michigan offered Crisler both the Coach and Athletic Director’s positions, he left.
Protégé Wieman, the line coach, was promoted to the head job at Princeton, which abolished the position of Graduate Master of Athletics. Ken Fairman ’34, who also was a basketball captain at Princeton in addition to being a mainstay of Crisler’s first two teams, was named Princeton’s first Athletic Director and would remain in the post for 25 years.
Radio Silence: The Eastern Intercollegiate Association, of which Princeton, Harvard and Yale were members, banned radio broadcasts of games out of concern they were hurting attendance. This brainstorm lasted four years, until Yale signed a $20,000 deal for the next four years. Princeton, eschewing such blatant commercialism while nevertheless counting its game receipts, put games on the air for free.
Tragedy: Wieman’s first choice of quarterback, Bill Lynch, suffered a fatal heart attack after practice on a hot and humid day. The replacement, a sophomore by the name of Dave Allerdice ’41, gained notice in passing Princeton to a 13-0 upset of Penn, then sparked two come from behind touchdowns in a 13-13 tie against Navy at Baltimore.
Princeton’s first-ever loss to Rutgers – albeit without an injured Allerdice – put Wieman’s job security almost instantly into question, but Allerdice returned to throw two touchdown passes in a 20-7 win over Yale. Army beat the Tigers 19-7 in the finale, however. They finished Wieman’s first season 3-4-1, but fruitful seeds were being planted on the field and off.
Tightening Standards: In 1939, Harvard, Yale, and Princeton agreed that financial assistance not be awarded on the basis of athletic potential. This evened the aid process for jocks and students-at-large. Participation in bowl games was prohibited and schools agreed to schedule teams with corresponding views espoused by the Big Three: Athletics should take a back seat in the university classroom.
Participation in bowl games wasprohibited
and schools agreed to schedule teams with corresponding views espoused by the Big Three: Athletics should take a back seat in the university classroom.
Allerdice As In All-Ivy: Cornell beat The Tigers 20-7, in week two of the 1939 season. Wieman moved Bob Peters, who had been alternating with Allerdice at quarterback, to halfback, and Princeton’s ground game sprung to life to compliment Allerdice’s passing, which was proving unprecedented at Princeton.
He only had to throw seven times at Columbia, completing four and scoring on a four-yard run during the second quarter as Princeton won 14-7. The Tigers then squeaked past Harvard for the first time in four years, 9-6, the game turning on Captain Bob Tierney ’40’s punt block resulting in a safety.
Another punt block, this one by Jim Aubrey ’41, set up game’s only touchdown in another squeaker, 9-7 over Dartmouth. Against Yale, Allerdice’s passing and a Peters touchdown run brought the Tigers back form a 7-0 deficit, then an interception by Les Rice ’41 set up a 13-yard TD run by Dick Wells ’40 in a 13-7 victory. The Tigers celebrated their first Big Three championship in five seasons, then shutout Navy 28-0, to finish an unexpected 7-1.
In 1940, Allerdice had his greatest-ever day – 24-for-36 for 350 yards – astonishing numbers in an era of conservative aerial play calling. The Tigers losing that game, 46-28, at Penn, then slogged through the mud in Boston to a scoreless tie versus Harvard. But when the Tigers were down 9-7 to Dartmouth, Allerdice, who had been rocked by a second-quarter tackle and was removed, successfully beseeched Wieman to be allowed back into the game. He drove Princeton 66 yards to the winning touchdown, which was scored on a 34-yard Allerdice pass to Larry Naylor. Princeton then beat Yale, 10-7, on a 26-yard fourth quarter field goal by Bob Sandbach and got past Army, 26-19, to recover from two early losses and finish 5-2-1.
Only His Arm Was Charmed: When Allerdice returned to his Indianapolis home for senior year Christmas vacation, a house fire claimed the life of both his parents – Dave Allerdice Sr. had been head coach at Texas from 1911-15 – and a younger brother. Allerdice escaped, but suffered smoke poisoning and was scarred for life by burns.
Commissioned by the Air Force upon graduation, he became an airline pilot, operating his own public relations firm but was called back to the military for the Korean War, He suffered a severe back injury in a crash into a rice paddy. Allerdice became a career officer until his death from a heart attack at age 44 in 1963.
Maybe the Oddest Season Ever: The Tigers were run over by Columbia, Penn and Vanderbilt in winning only one of their first four games in 194,1 but still nearly captured the Big Three. Dick Schmon’s punt deflection set up Princeton, which trailed 6-4, at the Harvard four in the waning minutes, but the opportunity was fumbled away.
Peters came off the bench with an injured shoulder to score three touchdowns in a 20-6 romp that was Princeton’s fourth straight Yale win, but a 23-0 loss to Navy ended a 2-6 season three weeks before the attack on Pearl Harbor.
Something More Important Was Happening: While 350 schools dropped football during World War II, the Ivies tried to keep going by making freshmen eligible for the first time since 1906. Wieman coached just one more season, going 3-5-1 mostly with students rejected by the military.
As most able-bodied men were fighting, substitution rules were relaxed throughout college football, a trend towards two platoons that survived into the fifties. This was to the disadvantage of the thinner talent at the Ivy schools as opposed to the rosters of the national powerhouses. With players shuttling in and out, coaching from the sidelines was permitted for the first time.
Columbia was the Tigers’ only victory in a 7-game 1943 season. But while Yale maintained a full schedule in 1944, Princeton gathered volunteers for just three games–against Muhlenberg, Swarthmore and the Atlantic City Naval Air Station.
Enter Caldwell: Charlie Caldwell ’25, a tailback on the 1922 Team of Destiny and also a Tiger baseball standout, had pitched in three games for the 1925 New York Yankees. He returned to campus to coach and scout in part-time positions under Roper before going home to earn a living on the family’s Georgia peach farm.
In manner, the cerebral Caldwell was the antithesis of the firebrand Roper. But the mentor recognized Caldwell’s mind for the game and recommended him for the head job at Williams, where he was hired at age 26. Caldwell went 76-30-3 there in 15 seasons, seven of his defeats to Princeton, but was recognized for maximizing the talent at a small school. After V.J. Day in August 1945, Caldwell eagerly accepted the task of reviving an almost dormant Princeton program.
When the War Department changed its mind about a previously-announced October dismantlement of a Marine unit at Princeton, two players–back Al Bush and enter-linebacker Neil Zundel–gave Caldwell a start, albeit a late one, as only two pre-season scrimmages could be hastily arranged.
Whatever players Caldwell had – and some came and went throughout the season –had more experience with the increasingly popular T formation. So with limited time to prepare Princeton’s usual single wing, Colman used the T. Helped by a wet field, the Tigers stunned Cornell and then took exams the next morning in Ithaca before returning to campus for a torchlight parade organized by students wanting to re-kindle the passions of the old days.
Exams forced another 10-day break in practice but the Tigers managed to beat Rutgers before a semester change returned pre-war players Dan Williams and Dixie Walker to the roster. The only success thereafter was a 13-13 tie with Dartmouth that ended disappointingly when a late chance to win was fumbled away. Yale had continued its program through the war but a blocked punt and a fumble recovery helped staked Princeton to a fast 14-0 lead. Then reality set in. Princeton gained only first down thereafter in a 20-14 Yale victory.
Not Quite a League Yet, But at Least a Group: In 1945 Brown, Columbia, Cornell, Dartmouth and Pennsylvania joined Princeton, Harvard and Yale in the Big Three’s six-year-old pledge to make its athletes students first. They all banned athletic scholarships, postseason participation, extended absences from school for games, and agreed to schedule no more than two years in advance while pledging that all information about recruits be made available to an inter-university committee.
Army and Navy, originally informally agreeable to the 1939 agreement between Harvard, Yale and Princeton to de-emphasize football, had grown into powers again as the academies’ admissions soared during World War II. They no longer were interested in joining this “Ivy Group,” still not a formal league with round robin scheduling.
We’ll Win Regardless: Princeton’s administration was willing to give up national championships for peace of mind. Caldwell, however, bought into both learning and winning. Having more talent at his disposal in 1946 than on the thrown-together previous team, he went back to the single wing.
It was a jazzed up version, however. Rather than use the staple fullback spinner, Caldwell went to the increasingly popular buck lateral of the T, installing option opportunities off a direct snap to the fullback, who could then pitch to the quarterback. A few years later, the earliest computers at the University were fed input to help Caldwell form his game plans, apparently before other coaches thought to put artificial intelligence to work. But just a year after taking over the program, his greatest challenge was just putting together a competitive team.
Nobody Gave Them a Chance: Results were mixed in the 1946 early going, when wins over Brown and Rutgers were offset by losses to Harvard and Cornell. The Tigers went to Penn 2-2 and not considered worthy of the same Franklin Field as the Quakers, who had blown away Lafayette, Dartmouth, Virginia and gotten past Navy 32-19, to rank third nationally behind Army and Notre Dame. With the Princeton line outweighed by an average 25 pounds per man, the Tigers were 28-point underdogs.
Caldwell had a plan. He stacked the outside against Penn’s vaunted perimeter running game, prepared to sacrifice the middle. Princeton trailed early 7-0 but when Penn twice kicked off out of bounds – by rule, putting the ball at the Quaker 40 – the Tigers had an immediate opportunity to counter. Ernie Ransome ’47 took the ball away from a defender in the end zone to complete a 27-yard pass from Dick West ’45 and the game was even.
Penn took the kickoff and marched 80 yards to go back ahead, 14-7. Ransome was lost for the season with a hip dislocation. Penn, set back on its next attempt drive by a clipping penalty, decided to quick kick and Princeton’s Tom Cleveland got a hand on it. Tiger Ed Mead ’49 leaped to catch the deflection at the 30-yard line and ran it in. When the PAT was blocked, West picked up the ball and hit Mead in the end zone. It was 14-14 at the half.
Recalled by Dick Colman, Princeton’s then line coach, to Jay Dunn in “The Tigers of Princeton”. “The locker room was wild. They suddenly realized ‘My God, we’re in the game’ Charlie had trouble quieting them down so he could be heard.”
Caldwell was not out of tricks. He spread his defense even farther, daring the Quakers to run inside, but they did not adjust and more importantly, had limited opportunities to do so. Princeton made first downs, keeping the ball for an amazing 44 out of the 61 second-half plays.
When Princeton drove to the Penn six in the third quarter, Caldwell, having suffered a miss by kicker Ken Keuffel ’46 earlier in the half and skeptical a three-point lead could hold up against such a high-powered offense, went for the touchdown on fourth down. Princeton got stuffed. But in the turnover-fearing manner of the era, Penn punted out on first down, and an 11-yard return set up the Tigers again at the 29.
Charlie Ulrichs took the ball away from a defender for a first down at the four and this time Caldwell wanted to kick, telling sub quarterback John Eastham ’49 to run a play to set up the best possible angle. Keuffel nailed this attempt from 20 yards and the Tigers held on to win, a breathless 17-14 upset classic.
Princeton students who had successfully bathed the Benjamin Franklin statue in the Penn quadrangle in orange paint during the week leading up to the contest, charged the goalposts at the gun. Mounted police, on high alert, came in to help patrolmen and soon a bottle-throwing, stick-swinging, riot began. The goal posts came down and four persons, including two Princeton students, spent the night in jail.
“Old Nausea,” wrote the famed sportswriter Stanley Woodward after watching the ugly scene. The Tigers then lost the last three games, including a 30-2 blowout at Yale, making all the more remarkable Princeton’s 1946 upset at Franklin Field, probably the most unlikely in school history.
Back in Power: In Year Three, Caldwell produced his first winning season – and Big Three championship – clubbing Harvard, 37-7, and shutting out Yale, 17-0.
The program clearly was on the upswing. George Sella was a sophomore sensation with 24 receptions and two more big-time talents-tackle Hollie Donan ’51 and quarterback George Chandler ’51 – joined the varsity. The coach cautioned, however, about the inexperience. “By 1950 we may have a real football team,” said Caldwell.
Sure enough the Tigers started 1948 with consecutive losses to Brown, Penn and Rutgers. But preseason pick Columbia was beaten on a Frank Reichel ’51 field goal with 1:11 remaining and Harvard and Yale both were vanquished again before the 4-4 season of 1948 ended on a down note, a 33-13 loss to Dartmouth.
The Coming: The Princeton admissions officer was impressed with everything about Dick Kazmaier ’52 of Maumee, Ohio, but his 5-11, 171-pound frame for football. Caldwell at first agreed. Kazmaier started as a defensive back on the freshman team, and then after three games was moved to offense, where he showed enough to Caldwell for him to put Kazmaier in the mix for varsity playing time in his sophomore year, 1949.
But no one anticipated the impact he would make to help the team bounce back from a severe 28-7 week two beating by Navy in Baltimore. The following Saturday Kazmaier, used carefully by Caldwell for fear of breakage, nevertheless scored both touchdowns on runs of 44 and 55 yards in a 14-13 loss at Penn, where he also completed eight of 12 passes for 198 yards. Kazmaier, still being protected by his coach, was in the Brown game enough to throw only seven passes in a 27-14 upset, the only game the Bears would lose that season.
Following a loss to a good Cornell team, Kazmaier took the best licks of Rutgers and still threw for three touchdowns in 34-14 rout. “Rutgers ganged him and knocked him all over the place and he came up asking for more,” recalled Colman later. “That’s what convinced Charlie that [Kazmaier] could stand the gaff.”
Kazmaier had to come out of the Harvard game with an ankle injury – Davison rode to the rescue with four touchdowns in a 33-13 victory – but had the injury wrapped to beat Yale, 21-13. By the time the season closed on Kazmaier-to-Sella with 1:34 remaining to defeat Dartmouth, Princeton had its head fully wrapped around having one of the greatest stars in college football.
Kazmaier was equally talented with his legs and arm, and most adept at all at knowing when to use each on the option. “I’ve seen men faster than Dick and better passers,” Caldwell would say, “but I’ve never seen anyone who can do so many things so well.”
The Streak: In 1949 W. Thacher Longstreth, a junior advertising executive for Life Magazine, an honorable mention All-Ivy player under Wieman, and later a longtime Philadelphia city councilman, began a stretch of 461 consecutive Princeton games attended, both home and away, all of them in argyle socks.
When Princeton Stadium was built in 1998, Longstreth would donate the visitors’ locker room, although his suggested inscription at the door: “Abandon hope, all ye who enter here” was found inappropriate by University officials.
Loaded for Delivery: With 12 returning starters—the NCAA had opened up substitution again in 1949–greatness was expected of Princeton in 1950.
The Tigers took care of their only two real challenges in the season early. A Rutgers comeback was thwarted by a Davison interception and Princeton survived, 34-28. Down at the half to Navy, Donan fired up the troops with oratory and Davison ran for 64 yards in a winning drive of 81 yards producing a 20-14 victory. Kazmaier scored two touchdowns for an easier-than-expected 27-0 win over Cornell and threw for 249 yards in a 63-16 tout of Harvard. Yale fell easily too, 47-12.
On probably the most debilitating day in Princeton football history—torrential rain, resultant mud and worst of all, 80 mile-per-hour winds–Kazmaier shook loose for a 37-yard touchdown run to cut Dartmouth’s lead to 7-6, then ran for 23 more to the five to set up a Davison plunge. Kazmaier ran in the conversion to boost the lead to 13-7 and there was no late comeback possible for Dartmouth under such impossible conditions.
Princeton finished 9-0 but the Lambert Trophy Committee still voted Army the best team in the East until a loss to Navy forced a second ballot. Both the Poling and Boand Systems, mathematical formulas used to calculate the national champion, configured Princeton as the titlist, even though both wire services, AP and UPI, picked Oklahoma. Donan, center Reddy Finney and Kazmaier were named All-America.
The Heisman: Kazmaier was the only member of the offensive unit returning in 1951, when Cornell and Penn were the pre-season picks in the Ivy Group. But the Tigers stepped up. Frank McPhee ’53, moved from defensive back to end for the season, blocked a punt and recovered a fumble before Kazmaier willed a final drive in the heat and humidity at Annapolis for a 24-20 victory over Navy, even though he had to be carried off the field afterwards.
McPhee’s memorable one-handed catch on a 32-yard touchdown throw from Kazmaier enabled the Tigers to get past tough-as always Penn, 13-7. Cornell came to Palmer undefeated and was stunningly routed, 53-15, as Kazmaier put on his greatest show yet–15-for-17 passing for 206 yards, plus another 154 running in barely more than a half. Wrote Jerry Nason, Sports Editor of the Boston Globe, “Probably never in the history of intercollegiate football had one player so conclusively imposed his well upon an outstanding opponent as did Kaz that afternoon.”
A fifth-straight Big Three championship was won with perfunctory routs of Harvard, 54-13 and Yale, 27-0. Kazmaier was knocked out early of the 13-0 finale over Dartmouth with a broken nose and concussion; the Indians were denigrated for head hunting. But there had never been any statistical second-half padding by Colman in either undefeated season and yet Kazmaier still became Princeton’s only ever Heisman Trophy winner in the award’s 17th year.
An undefeated season even more dominating that the preceding one did not, however, bring Princeton a second consecutive national championship, either in the Poling or Boand system or the wire service polls, both of which selected Tennessee.
Kazmaier was drafted by the Chicago Bears but chose instead to enroll at Harvard Business School. “I didn’t think I wanted another experience in athletics when I’d just had the best you could find,” he recalled to Dunn in The Tigers of Princeton.
No Spring Ball: In a move initiated by Yale, the Ivy Group eliminated spring football in 1951. Princeton and Cornell dissented on behalf of their continued success but Penn, shunned by Harvard and Yale for too long, went along to get on their schedules. Presented as a move to encourage participation in spring sports, Princeton saw the ban of spring workouts as an attempt to level the playing field and argued that the 20 permitted spring practice sessions hardly were an abuse.
Nothing Lasts Forever: Kazmaier was graduated before the 1952 season but the cupboard hardly emptied. McPhee already was an All-America, destined for further honors and linebackers Homer Smith ’54 and Dave Hickok ’52 were proving among the best pair in school history.
Initially, Caldwell stacked his best players on defense. But after his team produced only 14 points in the opening shutout of Columbia, Smith was moved to the offensive backfield.
Penn struck for two quick second-quarter touchdowns and held on for a 13-7 victory that ended Princeton’s 24-game unbeaten streak. Kazmaier’s replacement, lefty Bob Unger ’54, carried 14 times consecutively to run out the clock on a Yale comeback attempt, securing with a 27-21 victory Princeton’s sixth consecutive Big Three title. A 33-0 smashing of Dartmouth completed an 8-1 season, bringing the Tigers record over three years to 26-1.
Rolling with Royce: The NCAA rule makers returned one-platoon football, arguably a help to the Ivies had it not been for the group’s spring practice ban. Another seeming blow to Princeton was Unger’s academic ineligibility in 1953, but that was a blessing for sophomore Royce Flippin ’56, a Montclair, New Jersey kid who had decided on Princeton for the express purpose of following in Kazmaier’s footsteps.
Flippin debuted by completing 12-of-15 passes or 165 yards in a 20-14 victory over Lafayette, one of three cliffhangers won by Princeton in the first three weeks. But then the Tigers crashed in a 65-7 mauling by Sugar Bowl-bound Navy.
Smith ran 54 yards with a lateral in the final two minutes to spoil Harvard’s bid for a first victory over Princeton in 12 meetings. And a seventh consecutive Big Three title was in the air when the Tigers took a 17-0 halftime lead over Yale. But a Bulldog touchdown drive with the next kickoff, and fumbled kicks by Smith and Art Pitts enabled Yale to run all 42 scrimmage plays in the third quarter and take a 20-17 lead.
Flippin ran 68 yards to put Princeton back in front and Yale had a drive thwarted at the six by a penalty. But the Bulldogs got the ball back at the Tiger 45 with 42 seconds left and, two passes later, were in the end zone, ending a six-year head-to-head domination by Princeton with a 26-24 victory. When the letdown Tigers were bombed by Dartmouth, 34-12, they finished 5-4.
It Made Sense for Everybody Finally: By 1954 every member of the Ivy Group but Penn was playing each other at least five games a year. Tightening of admission standards, and the spring practice ban had resulted in only eight victories by the group in its previous 27 games against outside competition. It was time for the Ivies to get real.
“Despite the Big Three’s historical coolness to the idea, a league with a round-robin schedule passed without much disagreement,” wrote Bernstein in “Football, The Ivy League Origins of an American Obsession”. Seven of nine games being within the league, ambitious scheduling, long a Penn staple, became curbed.
When grandfathered scheduling commitments would run out at the end of the 1955 season, a formal Ivy League that had been a half-century object of speculation and rejection through changing administrations and sentiments would, at long last, commence in 1956. Six home games a year were decreed a new maximum.
Flippin It for Bragging Rights: In 1954, the Tigers beat Penn, 13-7, for the first time at Palmer Stadium since 1938. Flippin, who was within 50 yards of Kazmaier’s single-season total offense Tiger record after just seven games, suffered a broken wrist in practice but suited up for Yale with a cast and, mandated by the rules to play defense too, even helped cause one of six Yale fumbles that enabled underdog Princeton to maintain a 7-0 lead. The score was 14-14 in the closing minutes when Flippin found Don MacElwee ’57 at the three and then took in the winner himself. The Tigers clobbered Dartmouth, 39-7, to finish 5-3-1.
Eddie Was the Best Medicine of All: Flippin suffered a knee cartilage tear in a preseason scrimmage hit by Syracuse All-American Jim Brown, but the Tigers persevered to a 5-1 record going into the game with Harvard. Dr. Harry McPhee and equipment manager Eddie Zanfrini, trainer and father figure to Princeton football players for 34 years from 1933 until 1967, came up with a wrap that would give the star support. But Caldwell didn’t risk using Flippin during a rainy 7-6 loss at Harvard.
With perfect weather for heavily-favored Yale the following week at Palmer, Caldwell waited for a break – Princeton set up on a fumble at the Yale 33–to insert Flippin. He scored on his second try at the goalline. An interception by Joe DiRenzo assured a 14-0 victory,
When the Tigers – trailing 3-0 at the half to 3-5 Dartmouth – trudged to the locker room, they were surprised to pass Zanfrini sitting up in an ambulance, having put off an emergency appendectomy until after the game. “Maybe Eddie cares more about this game than we do,” was Flippin’s message at halftime. Zanfrini was back at the hospital when Frank Agnew scored the game’s only touchdown in a 6-3 win that ended the pre-Ivy era.