29 Jul 2006

Yale’s Ironmen

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William N. Wallace, along with another 53,000 Americans, as a ten year old boy, attended an epic battle between Yale and Princeton on November 17, 1934, in which the Yale eleven, playing both offense and defense for all 60 minutes, rose up from a previously mediocre record to best an undefeated Princeton team, favored by three touchdowns, and widely believed to be headed for the Rose Bowl.

Playing both ways without substitutions won this Yale team, five seniors, three juniors, and three sophomores, the title of Ironmen. Only three other teams, post-WWI had ever played 60 minutes without substitutions (Michigan and Illinois in 1925, and Brown in 1926). Yale’s 1934 team at Princeton played the last Ironman game of college football ever played.

Stanley Woodward of The Herald Tribune declared of the upset:

Eleven Yale football players with constitutions of iron and dispositions of wild cats perpetrated the signal outrage of modern athletics in Princeton’s Palmer Stadium today.

Robert Kelley of the Times:

Yale defeated Princeton today by a score of 7-0. In that sentence is packed all the deep excitement of the most popular drama that football or any other sport knows, the rise of the man without a chance, the refusal of the underdog to play the role that has been assigned to him.

This Yale-Princeton game set the ten year old boy on his path in life. He grew up to become a professional sportswriter, and at the close of a fifty year career (including 35 years with the New York Times), has produced a book on the unforgettable 1934 game. His profiles of the members of that illustrious Yale team (and several of their Princeton rivals), offer fascinating snapshot portraits of American life in last century via his investigation of the players’ origins, and his account of Ivy League life during the Depression, the impact of WWII, and their varying ultimate fates.

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