"I always like the schools of learning more than the football schools," declared Tom Thorp, foremost grid umpire, in an interview yesterday. "My pet game," he said, "was last year's Harvard-Yale. Harvard was the greatest coached team I ever saw. Yale must have missed a hundred tackles by half an inch."
Sinco Thorp officiated last Saturday When Princeton tied Navy, he was asked to do some prognosticating about tomorrow's score. "Well," he hazarded, "Princeton's inexperienced, but they're fighters. Their Mountain is a great back, and center Casey is tough on defense. Remember, though, when your Harlow gets your team into the form it was in last year's Yale game, it will murder anybody, yes sir, even Pittsburg."
A great tackle at Columbia in the early years of 1900, Thorp took up newspaper work and umpiring football, as well as some coaching, upon his gradution. A heavy, forceful man, his quality of saying the right thing at the right time has made him the top in the umpire world. He is always sent where the going is toughest. "I got to do Colgate-Holy Cross the day after tomorrow," he said. "I think they have had a little trouble there in the past."
"Greatest Exhibition of Grit"
"You know," Thorp said, "that the greatest exhibition of grit I ever saw on a football field concerns a man you know. It was in 1910, and Penn State beat Pittsburgh 3-0. State had a tackle, one of the best there ever was, and he had water on the knee, had to be carried to the field. They put ice and stuff on his knee. The other team were confident that he couldn't play more than a few minutes. Well, he played an all-American game for 60 minutes. Name was Dick Harlow."
Thorp has been refereeing or umpiring for more than thirty years, but his proudest record is that of having umpired 12 Harvard-Yale games in a row. Practically all his superlatives are connected with this ivy tradition. He ranks halfback Eddle Mahan as his greatest of greats but his real favorite, the "most gentlemanly" and "nicest fellow ever," is none other than quarterback Barry Wood.
Carlisle Indians vs. Harvard
One of the first games he ever umpired was a clash between the Carlisle Indians and Harvard in 1908. Boasting such stars as Big Bear, Little Bear, and Rain-in-the-Face, the Indians under Pop Warner came up to Cambridge with their usual love of skullduggery. They had painted footballs on their jerseys for deceptive purposes.
Harvard coach Percy Haughton complained to Thorp, but the umpire was forced to tell him the old story of "nothing in the rules." So Haughton did some thinking. He contacted Warner and referred to the treachery. Before Warner could smile, Haughton said that after all it wouldn't make much difference, since he had decided to play with a distinctly red-painted football, which would show up nicely over jersey. He juggled the not yet dry pigskin menacingly. Now it was Warner's turn to beef. "Nothing in the rules," repeated Thorp. The Indians finally saw the light, turned their jerseys inside out, and a regular football was use. Thorp admitted, though, that you always had to keep a weather eye on the Indians.
Piece de resistance of this umpire, however, is his ability to nip trouble in the bud. Upon being asked what was the toughest time he ever had, he mentioned the Duke-Wake Forest game over a decade ago as being "the nearest to trouble."
"You see," he said, "the committee got a hold of me and told me they had a stiff assignment down in Raleigh, N. C. I told 'em that was too far to go, but when they said they had chosen me because they figured I could complete the game, I showed interest. They told me that the clash between these schools (the small Wake Forest and the big Duke, only 20 miles apart) had broken up in free-for-alls for the last couple of years.
"Down I went. They had a band to meet me at the station, but I ducked it. Before the game I told the coaches that fighting would mean no 15 yards, but out of the game for the players. We started, and after a couple of minutes, two fackles squared off. My assistants moved toward the exit--they were used to the game--and the crowd milled from the stands.
"I hollered loud enough for everyone to hear that I was going to take the fighters out back and referee the bout. They looked sort of worried and one admittede he didn't want to fight out back. The other thought he saw his chance to stay in the game, and he said he didn't want to fight either.
"I just told 'em we didn't want anybody without any fight on the field and for 'om to get out. The boys all laughed, and the game went along O. K. A little rough, though."