The son of a Harvard graduate who was practicing medicine in Milton, he entered the College in 1929 as the nation plunged into the Great Depression. In four years, he performed amazing athletic and scholastic feats, winning All-America and Phi Beta Kappa honors. When he graduated in 1932, he had 10 letters and the preeminent position in the pantheon of Harvard sports heroes.
W. Barry Wood Jr. '32 played quarterback in football, center forward in hockey and shortstop in baseball. Michigan's immortal coach Fielding Yost called him the best passer he had even seen after Wood mesmerized the Wolverlines in his fourth varsity appearance. In hockey, Wood had several hat tricks and in his senior year, singlehandedly tromped Yale in one game and produced a crucial tying goal in another.
As a baseball player, Wood--a line drive slugger--was a consistent .300 hitter. As a senior, he went through more than 20 games with only two errors.
Contemporaries rated Wood a tennis player of great promise, but he didn't have time to earn more than one letter. Legend has him playing tennis against Yale between innings of baseball games.
Somehow in the press of nine varsity and three freshman seasons, Wood found time to complete a summa cum laude program in biology. In its cover story, November 23, 1931 Time recognized him as a sports figure of national prominence. "Although a mediocre runner and at times an uninspired field general," Time said, Wood has managed to win the hearts of the most ardent South Boston Harvard-haters. Even "the Boston and Cambridge policemen root for him," the Yale-biased magazine said.
In his best Horatio-Alger style, Wood broke on the national scene in the first game of the 1929 season. An untried sophomore, he spent the early stages of the game sitting on the bench. But with Army ahead by seven points, he got his chance, and Harvard's most unbelievable sports saga commenced. Wood quickly moved the team downfield, getting a clutch touchdown on a 40-yard pass. He then tied the game with a pressure-filled dropkick for the extra point.
As a latter day chronicler has said, "The story of that game has been told hundreds of times and will be told hundreds more. It was a debut which left nothing to be desired from young Mr. Wood's standpoint, and it was only a taste of what was to follow."
Three weeks later, the amazing Barry ("his friends," Time reported, "call him Bill.") thrilled the aforementioned Mr. Yost, and completed the year by providing the margin of victory--with a field goal and a point after touchdown--in a 10-6 conquest of Yale.
This was his second personal victory over the Yale immortal of the same era--pint-sized scatback Albie Booth. Much like the Kennedy-Johnson struggles of the present day, the annual Harvard-Yale football clashes were billed as head-to-head individual confrontations rather than as the quarrels between the two divergent philosophical approaches they so obviously were. Booth and Wood generally went both ways--offense and defense. They did the place-kicking for their respective teams and dominated the ground-gaining operations.
In the freshman year, Wood--who was elected president of that class too-kicked the extra point which assured an undefeated season and beat Booth and Yale, 7-6. In the junior year, Wood threw two touchdown passes--30 and 25 yards to Art Hugeley--and chipped in some bruising defense as Harvard won again 13-0. Booth was understandably chagrined.
Actually, the junior year, 1930, was Wood's least successful from a team standpoint (the team finished 4-4-1). Despite the quarterback's continuing heroics, Harvard lost by a touchdown to Army, by three points to Michigan and by five to Dartmouth. But 1931 was different.
With Wood earning All-America honors, Harvard steamrollered its first seven opponents by a composite score of 149-26. Only the Yale game stood between Wood and an eastern championship. Only Yale and Albie Booth. For the Cambridge flash the script was wrong. Harvard got only one scoring opportunity, blew it and then had to watch in anguish as Booth clicked on a late field goal to snap Wood's string, 3-0.
Perhaps Wood's greatest game came against Army in that 1931 season. Trailing by two touchdowns, he rallied Harvard to a 13-13 tie, and then performed a predictable feat of heroism. The pass from center for the extra point was low so he scooped up the ball and danced untouched into the endzone for the winning point. Then, as the clock ticked away the final seconds, Army's fleet half-back Paul Johnson broke loose toward the Harvard goal. "He had at least a ten-yard start on Barry, with no one between him and the goal line. How he caught him no one will ever know, but Wood just seemed to have that extra something on which to call when it was needed."
Barry Wood could do no wrong. In late 1931, one of America's foremost sports broadcasters covered Wood and company against Dartmouth. Disappointed with Wood's performance, Ted Husing called the hero's play "putrid." Immediately thereupon, the director of athletics wrote a blistering letter to William Paley, the president of CBS, saying that Husing would never again be allowed to broadcast from Soldiers Field.
Barry Wood was a god, and gods must be protected.
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