Harvard Football Fumbles; Other Sports Step Up
Harvard squash dynasty, crew champions emerge from ashes of losing football team
"Football fever soars to its mysterious heights with every first autumn chill and the advent of an opening game," raved a Crimson editorial in 1947. Every fall between 1947 and 1950 saw hundreds of students trooping out to the stadium to cheer on the varsity squad. And for the class of 1951, every fall of those four years saw the same disappointment.
Around the mid-century mark, Crimson football frustration typically overwhelmed football fever. The 1949 and 1950 teams, which went 1-8 and 1-7 respectively, set a new standard for Crimson futility that has not been surpassed to this day.
The 1950 team overcame Brown University in a bitterly-fought battle for its lone win of the season, but Harvard's 63-26 defeat at the hands of Princeton that year set a new Crimson record for points allowed in a single game, with the Tigers scoring just 11 fewer points than Harvard would total for the entire season.
But for a class that was characterized by its losses, the football team also had its share of memorable moments.
On October 11, 1947, offensive tackle Chester Pierce '48 became the first black player to compete against a white college in the South, when the Crimson took on the University of Virginia at Charlottesville.
A month later, Ken O'Donnell '49, caught his eighth interception against Yale, setting a record that stands to this day. O'Donnell would go on to serve as special assistant to President John F. Kennedy '40.
In 1948, Hall Moffie '49 electrified Harvard Stadium with a school record 89-yard punt return in a victory over Holy Cross.
In the same year, Harvard took its sole victory against the Yale Bulldogs. But the trend was clearly in the Elis' favor. In the class' two trips to the Yale Bowl, Harvard lost 31-21 in 1947 and was crushed 29-6 in 1949.
The disgrace of the Crimson's '49 season forced Coach Art Volpey to pick up stakes and head out, leaving the spot open for Lloyd Jordan who would fail to eclipse his predecessor's win total of one from the previous season.
The Crimson fans released their collective frustration before Harvard's season, closing 14-6 defeat to Yale, when 3,500 students rioted in Harvard Square. Students attacked passing cars and trolleys, while setting off flares and firecrackers.
Cambridge Police termed the melee the biggest square disturbance since World War II.
The Best of the Rest
Football held the spotlight, even during its worst days, but its failures were not representative of Harvard athletics as a whole during the '51 years.
In the fall months, soccer (or "international football," as it was called back then) drew crowds at tryouts. Hundreds of students would compete for spots on the roster in the beginning of year and would play for their House intramural teams as a last resort.
In 1948, Coach J. Bruce Munro took the helm of the soccer program and over the next 26 years became Harvard's all-time winningest coach in addition to one of its longest serving mentors.
The Class of '51 soccer team went 27-14-2 over their four years and was one of the most successful teams on campus. The team was not fazed by an experimental 1951 NCAA soccer rule change, which eliminated throw-ins and instead rewarded free kicks from the sidelines. Needless to say, the rule did not survive to the modern day.
Hockey and basketball dominated the headlines in the winter, while crew took the spotlight in the spring. Despite the success of these sports, fan support was not as strong as it was in the fall. As one Crimson article noted, "It's a contradictory--if not unusual--fact in this year's athletic picture that as spectator interest declines, the sports prospects take a general turn for the
Over the Class of 51's tenure on the basketball courts of the Indoor Athletic Center, the Crimson quintet struggled only to a 25-73 record. But as is typical of Harvard teams to this day, a single victory over one of the Killer P's--perennial Ivy powers Penn and Princeton--made Harvard's season.
When the Crimson took on the Tigers on Feb. 27, 1951, an outstanding individual effort from Harvard captain Ed Smith `51 propelled the Crimson to victory. Smith's drives drew three fouls from the Princeton center in the game's opening nine minutes.
Smith, the Ivies second leading scorer that season, went on to score 31 points on the night, including a game-clinching dunk after sneaking behind the Princeton press in the final minutes to seal a 64-59 victory.
The Harvard men's hockey team had a mixed bag of success during the same stretch. The Crimson split the 1948-`49 Pentagonal League regular season title with five-time defending champion Dartmouth, but fell to the Big Green in a playoff.
Dartmouth went on to lose in the NCAA championship game that season, while Harvard slipped to fourth in '50 and then last in the league the year after.
The bitterest pill to swallow during the 1950-51 season was a 10-9 loss to future Beanpot rival Boston College. To this day, the defeat marks the only occasion that a Harvard hockey team has lost a game after scoring nine goals.
The crew teams were Harvard's most successful among the spectator sports. Under Coach Thomas H. Bolles, the Crimson won EARC titles in 1947, 1948, and 1949. The most spectacular victory of the Bolles era came during that 1947 season, when the
Crimson traveled to Lake Washington to face off against California and Washington in a National Sprint Regatta-a rare event in the history of collegiate heavyweight crew. The Harvard boat blew away the competition and the world that year, crushing the course record by a full 48 seconds.
Talent on the margins
It was in the lesser-followed sports that the class of 1951 achieved its greatest successes.
Members of the class brought the Crimson its first-ever squash title in 1951 under National Intercollegiate Squash and Racquets Association Hall of Fame Coach Jack Barnaby.
That season, the Crimson-led by national champion and team captain Henry Foster `51-defeated the previously dominant Yale, 7-2. Before 1951, Yale had beaten Harvard for each of the past 10 years.
That 1951 season began the Crimson squash dynasty. Harvard won 31 titles in the latter half the century to become far and away the College's most successful athletic program.
The Crimson's most visible athlete at the international level did not compete for Harvard in his premiere sport. Figure-skater
Dick Button `52 had already won an Olympic gold medal when he came to Harvard in 1948. He went on to win a second
Olympic gold medal in men's singles during his senior year.
More Than Football
The class of 1951 was the last to serve under Athletic Director William J. Bingham `16. Bingham, who was the first to hold the position at the College, was forced out in the winter of '51--a consequence of a growing departmental debt and a losing football team.
Scandal ensued when Bingham--who had no plans for immediate retirement--was handed a press release announcing his resignation by a Boston Globe reporter. Three months later, Bolles, the crew coach, was named as his replacement.
Bingham left Harvard with the disrespect of his administration, but his opinion that a college athletic department should provide educational opportunities, not football revenues, resonated with the student body.
On the day following his resignation, the Crimson editorial staff turned from its typical criticism of Harvard football to laud Bingham's commitment to amateur ideals.
"Students, columnists, and colleges choosing the path of professionalism all were blinded by football won and lost records and football gate receipts," the Crimson wrote. "Mr. Bingham's insights went deeper, and he struggled, often almost alone, to preserve college athletics for the college student."
Bingham's vision that Harvard should provide "athletics for all" remains in the mission statement of the Department of Athletics to this day.