From Walter Camp to George Allen

J.J.'s Journal In the Treasure Chest

Sports Quiz--True or False: Both George Allen (head coach of the Washington Redskins and L.A. Rams) and Hank Stram (New Orleans Saints and K.C. Chiefs) once actively sought the position of head football coach at Harvard College.

The question, in and of itself, is mind boggling to the Harvard sports fan, and so is the answer (true!), for both applied for the Crimson coaching slot in 1957 vacated by seven-year veteran Lloyd P. Jordan.

The Journal came across this information and other fascinating tidbits of Harvard football memorabilia in a sports treasure chest unearthed at the Sports Service Bureau in the Athletic Department Building.

Rare Pigskin

A 101-year old football used in Harvard's 3-0 victory over Tufts in 1877 is among the artifacts discovered in a filing cabinet at 60 Boylston Street that had been locked up and unclaimed for several years. Curiosity as to the cabinet's contents led to the tracking down of its key by Promotion Director Robert B. Donovan. The results of its opening are enough to make an ardent archivist drool with sheer delight.

Although Stram was not seriously considered for the post eventually given to John Yovicsin (then head coach of Gettysburg College), all information indicates that Allen was among the finalists under consideration by Harvard athletic Director Thomas D. Bolles. His resume boasted impeccable credentials as both a football textbook author and head coach at Whittier College in California. Indeed, his folder (the contents of which cannot be divulged) is one of the thickest among the scores of applicants for the prestigious job.

Camp-Harvard Letters

But the cabinet's contents go much further back into Harvard gridiron lore. Correspondence between Yale's legendary coach Walter Camp and Harvard's 1898 national championship mentor W. Cameron Forbes reveals the tandem's activism in re-writing the rules for the rapidly growing sport.

We find in this writing the very evolution of modern day football in which Forbes and Camp trade notes on a revolutionary new offensive strategy. Hand scrawled diagrams by Forbes depicting what are today the most elementary of plays smack of genius for that early era.

Mounds of correspondence concerning the origins of Harvard's intense rivalry with Yale can also be found, including a letter praising Forbes for succeeding in making the Yale game the last contest of the season. Said the alumnus correspondent, writing prophetically in 1898: "It not only insures our eleven being at its very best but also makes the Yale-Harvard game THE GAME of the season, a position the Yale-Princeton game has heretofore held." And it's been that way ever since.

The Harvard Library Archives should also enjoy putting together a display featuring rare tickets to the 1898 Harvard-Yale contest and valuable sets from other years. Equally scarce collector-item game programs (including the 1914 Harvard-Yale scorecard, produced in the shape of a football) also are abundant.

Ah, yes. The golden days of Harvard football, when Cantabridgians prepared for the "supreme ruffle" with Yale, when the Crimson won national titles and their coach choked bulldogs, and Rose Bowl victories were not just outlandish fantasies. At least the memories live on.