Sixty-four days after pulling off his Crimson shoulder pads for the last time, Harvard quarterback Jimmy Stoeckel received what may be his highest accolade yet Saturday night, unanimously winning the Swede Nelson Award from the Boston Gridiron Club for his superlative senior season at Harvard.
By winning the award, given annually "to the player, who, by his conduct on or off the gridiron, demonstrates a high esteem for the football code and exemplifies sportsmanship to an outstanding degree," Stoeckel joins an illustrious list of former winners, including Doak Walker, Floyd Little, Otis Armstrong, and Dick Jauron.
Stoeckel, after languishing in the shadow of Eric Crone for his first two years with the Crimson varsity, blossomed into a bonafide standout this fall, completing 112 of 208 passes for 1391 yards and 11 touch-downs, while leading Harvard to a 7-2 finish and second place in the Ivy League.
Tom Lynch, chairman of the Nelson selection committee, said Saturday that Stoeckel was the clear choice for the honor. "There was no question," Lynch said. "Jim Stoeckel was Number One on every ballot."
Stoeckel had little indication that he would get the Nelson award. "Since it was a national award, I was shocked when they picked me," Stoeckel said yesterday. "I was really surprised."
Stoeckel said that the only clue he had received that he might win came two games before the end of the season, when Crimson trainer Jack Fadden told him he might be in the running for it.
In the Wings
The man who kept Stoeckel waiting in the wings for two years, Crimson coach Joe Restic, said that Stoeckel "did everything you can ask of a quarterback," and heaped praise on his departing signal-caller.
"The Swede Nelson Award has gone to some fine people over the years," Restic said, "but I don't think they've ever given it to a finer person than Jimmy Stoeckel."
Stoeckel's performance this fall moved him into first place in all the major Harvard career passing categories. In his three seasons with the Crimson varsity, he set new records for attempts (315), completions (166), yardage (2097), and passing percentage (.527).
In addition to shattering these career passing standards, Stoeckel put together the best single-game performance ever for Harvard against Penn this fall.
In the Quaker game Stoeckel hit on 27 of 48 passes for 291 yards, bringing Harvard a last-minute 34-30 win with a touchdown pass to Pat McInally.
Stoeckel also is responsible for another of Harvard's most dramatic single-game efforts. Starting on five-minute notice against Dartmouth in his sophomore year, Stoeckel completed 20 of 37 passes for 230 yards and came within an eyelash of knocking the Big Green out of the un-beaten ranks. Dartmouth ultimately pulled the game out, 16-13, on a 46-yard Ted Perry field goal with three seconds left.
Swede Nelson himself, from whom the Award takes its name, lavishly praised Harvard's quarterback. "He has the kind of greatness and kindness given only to a rare few," Nelson said Saturday, concluding that Stoeckel is "a distinguished scholar, a great American, and a distinct success as a human being."