ESPN Book Club: "The Real All Americans"
Editor's Note: Excerpted with permission from "The Real All Americans: The Team That Changed a Game, a People, A Nation" by Sally Jenkins. Copyright 2007 by Sally Jenkins. Reprinted by permission of Doubleday.
In 1879, a cavalry officer named Richard Henry Pratt established an experimental boarding school for American Indians in an Army barracks in Carlisle, Pa. His purpose was to "civilize" his students and make them U.S. citizens. "Kill the Indian, save the man," Pratt liked to say.
On Carlisle's athletic field, however, a different experiment took place, this one conducted by the pupils. In 1895, the students took up the American game of football, still in its formative years, and began to schedule the Ivy League teams. For the next 20 years, the dispossessed Carlisle Indians ranked among the foremost football powers in the country. Under the creative tutelage of coach Glenn Scobey "Pop" Warner, they developed an innovative array of trick plays, reverses, end-arounds and flea-flickers, and threw the first spirals through the air on a major stage. Today, every time a quarterback feigns a handoff, or rears back to throw, a debt is owed to the Indians.
The talent for deception was partly out of necessity: With a student body of just 1,000, ranging in age from 12 to 25, Carlisle was perpetually outmanned and dangerously undersized. Football was a dull, grinding and occasionally lethal sport, with deaths regularly reported on the field But the Indians began to explore a new kind of football.
-- Sally Jenkins
Chapter 6: Cheats & Swindles
As the 1896 football season began, Carlisle adopted school colors for the first time: the Indians would wear old gold and red. Not just any red either, but a splash of bold primary color, the most vivid red imaginable. Carlisle red wasn't claret, ruby, blush, crimson, or any other subtle derivation or blend. It was the kind of red that came from a bucket of paint or an artery.
The prideful new colors appeared on pennants and sweaters just in time for a season that represented the height of aspiration. In only their third season, the Indians were about to undertake the most difficult schedule anyone had yet played in college football. They would meet Princeton, Yale, Harvard, and the defending national champion, Pennsylvania, all in the space between October 14 and November 7. No school had ever played the Big Four in the same year, much less in a row. Even the Ivy swells regarded such a schedule as too difficult, if not downright physically dangerous. For Carlisle, it was an act of potential self-slaughter. But then, the Indians had more to prove than other teams.
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To make matters more difficult, the Indians were taking on the challenge with only limited help from Vance McCormick. The young industrialist couldn't devote any "steady" time to the Indians due to his business concerns. Instead, he proposed that another former Yale star take his place: William O. Hickok. "Hickey," as he was known, was from a wealthy Harrisburg manufacturing family and had been a two-time all-American at Yale, where he played guard, and also won a national championship in the shot put. He was thickset and stolid, with masses of blond hair that fell on either side of his head like petals. The Indians would bitterly regret his presence on the sideline, preferring McCormick.
The fourteen Carlisle players who traveled to Princeton on October 14, 1896, were badly outnumbered and undersized. Almost to a man, they were considerably lighter than their Ivy opponents. Left end Jacob Jamison, a gangly, open-faced twenty-one-year-old Seneca farm boy, weighed just 152 pounds. Quarterback Frank Cayou, an Omaha from Decatur, Nebraska, weighed just 150. Cayou was something of a marquee idol at the school, with a handsome angular face, pouting mouth, and waves of side-combed hair. His melodious singing voice would eventually land him onstage in New York in a vaudeville revue. But he was a fleet, skittering runner.
The closest thing the Indians had to conventional power was provided by their staunch 180-pound center, Delos Lone Wolf. Delos had graduated in the spring of 1896 but stayed on as assistant disciplinarian in the boys' dorm while he took classes at nearby Metzger College. He plowed the way for running back Jonas Metoxen, lantern-jawed and thick-legged at five foot nine and 170 pounds. Lined up next to Delos at right guard was the Indians' stalwart captain, Bemus Pierce, at six foot one, and 200 pounds. Pierce was a serious-minded twenty-three-year-old Iroquois from upstate New York with a long, solemn face projecting authority. He was the oldest of farmer Jacob and Jane Pierce's six children, and his younger brother Hawley was also on the Carlisle team.
From the opening kickoff, the Indians met the Tigers blow for blow and appalled the Princeton crowd by taking a 6-0 lead at the half. Three minutes into the game, the Indians had forced a fumble, and Metoxen returned it for a touchdown in a wild romp. Princeton's Billy Bannard, humiliated, lodged a protest. He claimed he had yelled "Down!" which should have ended the play. The referees let the score stand -- but it was the last decent call the Indians would get.
After a halftime harangue from their coaches, the Princeton eleven retook the field scowling. Shoulders met shoulders and knees met hips; players ground their shoes into whatever limb was underfoot. Princeton tied the score four minutes into the second half -- and then the referees began to call fouls on the Indians.
Time after time, a whistle blew and the Indians were penalized. Late in the game, when the whistle blew with yet another call against the Indians, their captain finally had enough. Bemus Pierce called time and stalked over to the referee. Spectators waited for an outburst or complaint. Instead, Pierce spoke one polite sentence.
"You must remember that you are umpiring for both sides," he said.
The physical play and the whistles of the referees wore the Indians out, and their line turned to sand. They lost 22-6. To the Philadelphia Press correspondent, the outcome was a case of ancestral superiority asserting itself. "The race with a civilization and a history won the day. It was a clear victory of mind over physical force."
In fact, Carlisle had given Princeton one of the stiffest tests it would face all season. The Tigers would go on to a 10-0-1 record and be declared national champions. Only one other team would score on them all season: Yale. The Carlisle boys had just a few days to regroup, put balm on their injuries, and practice for their next game, against Yale. It would be their most important, visible game yet, against the traditional powerhouse. Heightening the tension was the fact that they would be playing on famous old Manhattan Field at the Polo Grounds, and this time the audience promised to be far larger than the curiosity-seeking throng that had come to see them play the YMCA a year earlier. "While we hope to win the game there is of course a good deal of doubt," Pratt wrote to a friend, "but our boys are putting up a strong game, and I am glad to know, so far are gentlemanly about it." On October 24, the steep, peaked-roof grandstands were packed with eight thousand spectators, making the field seem like a green carpet at the bottom of a crater. Countless more covered the slope of Deadhead Hill and lined the railings of the viaducts. The open side of the field was lined with buggies and carriages.
Seated in a prime box in the covered grandstand was Pratt, along with his youngest daughter, Nana. Pratt was a growing football fan, despite the fact that he still confused an inning with a half. He had come to the game as the invited guest of a wealthy New York benefactor, Russell Sage, a railroad magnate, philanthropist, and onetime congressman, and his wife, heiress to an old Yankee seafaring family. The Sages were such Carlisle enthusiasts that before the game, they delivered gold chrysanthemums and red roses to the team hotel, the Ashland House on Fourth Avenue at Twenty-fourth Street. Mrs. Sage wore a corsage of the same flaming flowers, as did young Nana. Also sharing their box was the president of Hamilton College, Dr. W. M. Stryker.
Correspondents for all of the major New York papers, warring for circulation, were on hand: Joseph Pulitzer's World, Horace Greeley's Tribune, Hearst's Journal, James Gordon Bennett's Herald, Charles A. Dana's Sun. They anticipated a sensational story: Indians against the cream of civilized society. In the highest-circulation paper of them all, the World, the game dueled for space with Ada Parker, a cigarette-smoking four-year-old -- "Loves a Pipe or a Cigar Better than Her Dolly" -- and the amazing A. J. Salisbury, who claimed his eyes had X-ray powers and could "pierce clothes and flesh."
"On one side were the undergraduates of an old and great university," wrote the World correspondent. "They represent, physically, the perfection of modern athletics and intellectually the culture and refinement of the best modern American life. On the other side was the aborigine, the real son of the forest and plain, the redskin of history, of story, of war, developed, or veneered, as the case may be, by education."
As the Indians took the field, their flaming red sweaters made their hair seem more intensely black. The blue of Yale's sweaters seemed almost dull by comparison. In the stands, the small party of Carlisle fans gave the school's cheer: "Hello! Hello! Hellee! Hellee! Who are we? Carlisle!"
As the Indians warmed up, the roisterers on the viaducts clapped their hands over their mouths and uttered imitation war whoops. From the box seats came a more courteous but almost disinterested applause, as the crowd settled down for what surely would be an overwhelming Yale victory. Dr. John Hartwell, the referee, strolled over to the Carlisle coach, Hickok.
"Say Hickey, it's 3 o'clock. Get your men out on the field."
Hickock turned to his players, who were so nervous they were all but silent.
"Come on fellows, get out there."
As the Indians lined up for the kickoff, Hickok also took the field, to serve as a game official. There was not yet a formal officiating system in college football, and referees were drawn from a small pool of representatives from various schools. Often the coach of one team also held a whistle in his hand. In this case, Hartwell and Hickok, both former Yalies, would officiate Yale's game, which wouldn't strike anyone as outrageous -- until later.
As Pierce kicked off for Carlisle, the crowd gave another languid cheer. The ball fluttered down into the hands of Yale's Paul Mills, who started back with it. Lone Wolf met him and instantly dropped him.
As the two teams lined up, the Yale men seemed like tall stalks compared to the smaller Indians. But when the ball was snapped the Indians surged forward -- it looked as though they had picked up the entire Yale team and thrown it backward.
Three minutes into the game, in the midst of a pileup, Yale's Leonard Van Every fumbled. A hole opened between blue jerseys. A single red-clad figure burst through the space. It was Frank Cayou, running freely with the ball. A cadre of Indians surrounded him and began bowling over Yale pursuers.
A last figure in blue dove at Cayou's hip, but he shook him off. After a sixty-yard run, Cayou scurried across the Yale goal line, and planted the ball on the ground for a touchdown.
The crowd came alive. "The 'bleachers,' the 'bridges' and 'deadheaders' were drunk with excitement," the World reported. "People in the covered grandstand even awoke to fine enthusiasm." On the sidelines, while the Indians leaped around in a frenzy of celebration, the Yale players stood stock-still. In seven previous games, they had held their opponents scoreless. Once again, the Indians had shocked an Ivy superior.
The score awoke the Yale men, who went bruisingly to work and scored twice before halftime, for a 12-6 margin. But they couldn't increase the lead, hamstrung by the speed of the Indian defenders. Half a dozen times a Yale runner threatened to break away only to be met or yanked down by an Indian tackler, usually Pierce or Lone Wolf.
With just a few minutes remaining, play was an impasse of heaving, shoving men. Yale captain Fred Murphy swung at Carlisle's Pierce. In response, the Indian "only smiled a trifle grimly," the World reported. Carlisle's halfback Isaac Seneca charged the center of the line -- and ran straight into a pileup. But in the stalemate, Seneca slipped the ball to Jamison, who wiggled free of the pack. Jamison found an open field around the left end. Instantly, three blockers appeared at his side.
Jamison raced toward the opposite goal, with the entire Yale team chasing him. He dodged a last blue jersey and hurled himself across the goal line. Joyously, he planted the ball on the ground for the touchdown. The Indians prepared to kick the extra point -- the point that would give them a tie with mighty Yale.
A whistle sounded.
The Carlisle players stared in disbelief. It was Hickok.
He was calling the play back.
A burst of catcalls and boos came from the crowd. Players from both sides congregated around Hickok for an explanation. Hickok explained that he believed Metoxen had gone down before he gave the ball to Jamison. He declared the play dead.
The Carlisle players erupted in furious protests -- none of them had heard a whistle during Jamison's run, and neither had their team disciplinarian, W. G. Thompson, standing on the sideline. Jamison had scored fairly. "For about a minute everyone thought the Redmen would whip out their tomahawks and simply scalp the sons of Eli in their tracks," the Journal reported. As the catcalls grew louder, a Carlisle faculty member on the sideline threatened to pull the team off the field if Jamison's touchdown didn't stand.
Hickok consulted with the referee, Hartwell, and then jogged over to the Yale captain, Murphy.
"Look here Murphy if we don't allow that TD the Indians will quit," Hickok said.
"Let 'em," answered Yale's captain. "I heard the whistle and the touchdown don't go."
"Say Hick," said Hartwell, "when you make a decision stick to it."
"I know it," answered Hickok testily.
Hickok ran back to the spot of the original play and stamped his foot in the sod.
"The ball down right here," he said.
With that, the stadium exploded in jeers and hisses. The uproar continued for five minutes, unabated. In the covered grandstand, Pratt was beside himself, and so were his hosts, the Sages. Angriest of all was Dr. Stryker, who kept shouting with all his force, "Carlisle! Carlisle!"
As Pratt watched the ugly scene, he realized his players were about to walk off the field. Pratt bolted from the box and ran across the field to the Carlisle sideline, where he gathered the players around him.
"You must fight the battle out," Pratt insisted. "If you leave you will be called quitters and probably lose us future opportunities. Listen, can't you hear that the crowd is with you? Now go back, and play the game out and don't quit for any reason whatever."
Jamison was still indignant.
"Captain that was as fair a touchdown as was ever made," he said, "and it belongs to us."
"Jakey, it is ours," Pratt said. "The umpire's decision will not take it from us. Go back and do your best, and wait for tomorrow morning's papers, and you will find that you are a bigger man because the touchdown was denied you than would be if it had been allowed. Now go and help the boys keep Carlisle at the top."
"All right Captain," Jamison said.
The Indians returned to the field and played on determinedly -- but uselessly. "You could see them standing calm, perfectly motionless, and at the word springing forward with tremendous intensity and fighting with everything in them," the Journal reported. But after just a few more minutes, another whistle sounded. Time had run out. The game was over, and they had lost.
As the Indians left the field, a huge ovation swept through the crowd. Spectators from the grandstands emptied onto the field and began to lift the Indian players off their feet. The crowd carried them out of the stadium and all the way to the train station. Back at the Ashland House hotel, a moved Mrs. Sage took off her corsage and pinned it on Cayou for his touchdown. Nana Pratt stripped hers off and presented it to the downhearted hero, Jamison.
The following day, as Pratt predicted, the newspapers were full of outrage at how the Indians had been treated by Hickok and Hartwell. The New York Sun commented acidly that the botched call was "characteristic ... of nearly all the crimes committed against the Indians by the whites, for it was accomplished by the man of all men who should have looked out for their interests and their rights." Hickok was no different from a crooked Indian agent back home. "Just as many an agent has proved false to his trust so this referee was to his."
The World called it "as fair a play as could have been." Even Harry Beecher, the former Yale star, seemed unsure of how to feel in a sidebar he wrote for the World. Of the disputed call, Beecher said, "This decision was at least questionable to an outsider." In conclusion, he wrote, "The Indians deserve the credit of a practical victory."
Since it was a Sunday morning, Pratt took the team to church, no doubt in part to try to cure their bitterness. They attended the Plymouth Congregational service in Brooklyn, where preacher Lyman Abbott had succeeded Henry Ward Beecher as pastor. Abbott waggled his long white beard as he singled out the Carlisle boys. Their performance on the field, he said, proved they were capable of rising above "degradation and ignorance."