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.

Recommended Articles