Camp's legacy lives on in the Game
By Nola Breglio
Last Saturday, coach Jack Siedlecki gathered his team
around him on the hallowed field of the Yale Bowl. The Elis had just defeated
Princeton in a hard-fought, high-scoring battle. All heads were lowered in
silent prayer for a few moments. The Yalies in the crowd who had rushed the
field in jubilation stood frozen around the huddle, waiting for the silence to
end. The players gradually raised their heads to see their coach standing
before them, red-faced and grinning broadly. He had tears in his eyes as he
shouted to his team and to the gathered throng, "This program is back!"
The Yale program, the winningest in college football history, may indeed be
back. When Siedlecki made his inspiring pronouncement to his team last week, it
wasn't just a congratulatory gesture to rally the troops during what could be
the Elis' first winning season since 1991. The coach's speech resonated in a
far more meaningful way, for Yale is the place where it all began. It was here
that Walter Camp, Class of 1880, designed the game of football as we know it
Admittedly, Yale is no longer the mecca of football. Forced by dwindling
attendance in 1982 to move from Division I-A to Division
I-AA along with the rest of the Ivy League, the Bulldogs have received less and
less attention--the last time a Yale game was nationally televised was in 1981.
But running back Rashad Bartholomew, SY '01, who transferred to Yale from
Division I-A Air Force, maintained that publicity is the least of his worries.
"I just love the game," he said. "I just want to play. Forget about coverage.
If you play great, you'll earn it regardless."
Defensive end Peter Sarantos, MC '00, voiced similar sentiments. "Yale was the
best program in the nation way back when," he said. "What better way to say
it's possible to win than to draw on the past. If we've done it before, we can
do it again."
This weekend at the 115th annual Yale-Harvard contest, a chance at a share of
the Ivy title is on the line for the Elis. "Yale men always play to win," Camp
once wrote. "Play fair, but play hard and never give up. Yale is deadly
earnest." These words will echo in the Bulldogs' ears on Saturday.
A page of history
When Walter Camp played in his first Yale-Harvard contest as a freshman
in 1876, the Harvard captain scoffed at the slightly-built Camp. "You don't
mean to let that child play, do you?" he asked the Yale captain, "He is too
light. He will get hurt." The Yale captain looked at Camp and retorted, "Look
to your business. He is young, but he is all spirit and whipcord." Camp went on
to tackle the Harvard captain early in the match. He later wrote of the
incident, "To my freshman eyes his head had apparently cracked open and I ran
to our captain saying, `I don't want to play anymore. I've killed a man.'"
Luckily, the Harvard man came to consciousness moments later, stunned by the
This unlikely neophyte was to become the
architect of football. Camp invented most of the
rules that distinguish American football from English rugby, including the
scrimmage, the quarterback and center positions, the 11 men to a side rule,
tackling below the waist, downs and distance rules, the safety, interference,
numerical scoring, penalties, and the neutral zone. In addition, Camp was
instrumental in the institution of the forward pass, and he edited every
football rulebook until his death in 1925.
Camp's role in shaping football extended far beyond just writing the rules.
The New York Times once called him the "Prophet of the Age of
Athletics." He spent a total of 49 years as a player, coach, and athletic
adviser at Yale. During that period, the Elis were far and away the most
successful football program in the nation--over one span of 38 years, Yale lost
only 14 games.
Camp was even called upon by President Theodore Roosevelt for help. "I want
you to make the game not soft, but honest," Roosevelt wrote to Camp. In a
four-hour meeting, the two men devised new strategies to reduce the large
number of injuries being sustained from the game--in 1905, The Chicago
Tribune reported 73 deaths from football-related injuries. Camp was always
the man the nation called upon to shape and to remedy the game.
While Camp shaped the game, America fell in love with it. Roosevelt wrote to
Camp, "Of all the games I personally like football the best, and I would rather
see my boys play it than see them play any other."
It is this rich history that has maintained Yale's reputation as the home of
football, even as the team's national prominence has faded. "Many media members
call Yale when they have questions about football in general and its origins,"
Director of Yale Sports Publicity Steve Conn said.
The sons of Eli
Before Camp knew it, he had created an American cultural phenomenon. While at
Yale, famed American painter Frederic Remington, Class of 1880, played with
Camp and painted several works depicting Yale football. One of these hangs on
the wall in the wood-paneled office of Athletic Director Tom Beckett. "That is
the Yale football team in its early stages, and that painting is probably worth
two or three hundred thousand dollars," Beckett explained. "I don't know how
many other athletic directors would be able to say they have an original
Remington in their office."
It was this historical and cultural significance that drew Beckett to Yale.
"Yale football is something that historians of the game always look at to find
out what happened and why and where and when," he said.
To that end, Yale tries to instill a sense of history in its recruits. "We
take kids into the trophy room and out by the arches," Siedlecki explained.
Beckett added, "While you're looking at Yale you feel the tradition.... You
start to say, `My goodness, look what's all around here,' and start to be
enveloped by the notion that this is where the game started."
Most of the players, however, said that Camp's legacy and Yale's rich history
were not pivotal factors in their decisions to attend Yale; rather, they became
aware of it bit by bit once they arrived on campus. "I really didn't know too
much about the tradition until I got here," captain Corwynne Carruthers, MC
'99, admitted, "But we've won more games than any other school in the history
of football. It's a prestigious tradition to be a part of--it's like a family.
Now that we've started winning again, it means a lot more."
As wide receiver Jake Fuller, BR '00, explained, "Back when Walter Camp played
and coached, there weren't a lot of football teams, and there was a lot of
national publicity for Yale. Now college football is such a big thing. When you
come here you understand that you're going to play for a program with a lot of
history and a lot of tradition that plays good football. But we're not going to
go to a Bowl game, and we're not going to be on television all the time."
National fame is not a realistic goal for a Yale football player in 1998, and
this affects the type of recruits who decide to attend Yale. In many cases, the
Yale name alone is not a strong enough pull to offset the University's decline
in athletic visibility.
Star quarterback and Heisman trophy finalist Brian Dowling, BK '69,
acknowledged that he probably would not have come to Yale if he had been
deciding today." The competition is not what it was," he said, " Today I would
take a good long look at Stanford and maybe Notre Dame or Michigan, places
where I could still get an education and play at an upper competitive level of
football." Yale's all-time leading receiver, John Spagnola, TD '79, agreed.
"Would I still come today? I'm not so sure. Over the last decade the program
has stumbled," he said.
Carm Cozza, Yale coach from 1965 to 1996, coached Dowling and Spagnola. "The
glamour isn't here that we once had," Cozza said. "In 1981, we had over 70,000
people in the Bowl when we played Air Force and Navy, and we beat them. I think
a lot of that has left. The players see so few people in the Bowl, and that's
hurtful," he said. Dowling agreed. "When Coach Cozza recruited me, he asked,
`Wouldn't it be great to play in front of a full house at the Yale Bowl?' But
these days it's 15,000 on a good day, and, in the Bowl, that looks pitiful."
For God, for Country...
For some Elis, however, Yale's illustrious history is meaningful enough to
compensate for thousands of empty seats.
Quarterback Joe Walland, TD '00, admitted that the legacy of Walter Camp
influenced him in his decision to come to Yale. "I wanted to go somewhere with
a good tradition," he said. "It makes me feel good that so many football
legends through the years, like Brian Dowling and Calvin Hill, PC '69, have
received this honor. Even if I wasn't playing and didn't have a role on this
team, it would still be a great honor just to be a part of the Yale football
Kicker Mike Murawczyk, MC '01, who broke the Eli single-season record for
field goals with his 11th of the season on Sat., Nov. 14, reflected, "Yale
football, you can't even really describe it. Everyone's heard of it, it's a big
deal. Even now, though we're not getting 60 to 70,000 people at our games, when
you say you play Yale football people think about it. It's something very
Spagnola reflected on how Camp's tradition fired him up in game situations.
"Camp is often credited with bringing the forward pass to football, and he
certainly inspired me to go to my coach and tell him to throw me the damn
ball," he said.
Gateway to the future
The Elis have had an inspiring season this year, and are reminded of Yale's
history every time they pass through the Walter Camp Gateway and march into the
Yale Bowl. The huge monument looms as a dramatic and imposing entrance to the
stadium, the place where the game began.
"We didn't talk about it much, but every time the players went to practice,
they knew that football started here as we know it today," Cozza said, "They
knew that the feeling they had when they walked through the portals and went
out into the Bowl was something special that every player that ever put on a
Yale uniform had to feel."
"Whenever I walk through the Gateway it's a spectacular sight. I think,
`Football started here,'" Carruthers said. Fuller added, "You see those huge
pillars and you see the name walking through the gate.... Every time I step
into the Bowl I get an unbelievable feeling." Tight end Brian Scharf, DC '99,
explained, "When people say `Walter Camp,' or you walk under the Gateway, you
think, `Wow, he was here.' You think, `I get to play in The Game.'"
Camp once proclaimed, "There are two kinds of men in the world today. One kind
when they want anything, sit down and hope for it. The other kind pull up their
belts a hole tighter and go out after it. Any victory in life is worth
everything it costs if it comes through determination and the use of brains."
These were the words of a man who commanded some of the most dominant teams in
the history of football, a man who invented the game for the school he loved
most, and a man who imagined that his Bulldogs would remain atop the football
hierarchy as long as the game was played. This weekend, when the Crimson and
the Blue clash, Camp's words will resound just as powerfully as they did 100
On Saturday, when Yale and Harvard renew their age-old rivalry, divisions,
television contracts, and Heisman trophies will seem insignificant against the
backdrop of the history that frames The Game and its creation.The Elis have a
chance--with help--to claim a share of the Ivy League title, a feat they have
not accomplished since 1989. This Saturday, the school that was home to the
father of American football can reassert itself as a force in the Ivy League.
Siedlecki's squad can channel its rich history and a thrilling 1998 season into
one climactic performance and inform the nation that Yale football, indeed, is
Center graphic of Walter Camp courtesy of Yale Manuscripts and Archives.
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