Thursday, July 19, 2012

A Fumble Set The Table and the '64 Tigers Ran It


The 1964 Tigers not only continue as the last undefeated team in the school’s football history but, in the mind of Stanislaw Maliszewski, as unfinished business.

Asked for the most enduring image of Princeton’s 9-0 Ivy League champions, Maliszewski '66, one of the school’s best-ever linebackers and probably it’s fiercest growled,  “The Dartmouth games of the year before and the year after.”

“We should have gone undefeated three straight years.”

Forty-eight years is an undeniably long time to go without another perfect season – “Really hard to believe,” says Cosmo Iacavazzi ’65, Princeton’s two-time All-American running back -- and perhaps an even longer time to spend lamenting cracks in the bookends around a compellingly-rich and beautifully-bound volume.    

But the story of any streak – Princeton’s went to 17 games over two seasons – necessarily must begin and end with defeats. And actually those 1964 Tigers recall that it was total recall of the
Cosmo Iacavazzi '65
devastating 1963 season-ending loss to Dartmouth that fueled the fire.

It’s impossible to believe that any 1964 Tigers who went to Hanover 2-0 after mundane wins against Rutgers and Columbia were not remembering that the previous season’s opportunity to win an undisputed league title had died on Iacavazzi’s fumble at the Princeton three-yard line.  The Tigers had just made apparent game-saving defensive stops on third and fourth downs only to have their star player fumble for just the second time all season, turning over the ball for Dartmouth’s late winning touchdown.

On game day 1964, when Coach Dick Colman saw that The Dartmouth, the student newspaper, had reprinted a picture of Iacavzzi’s fumble with a gloating caption, he brought a copy to breakfast.

“He said ‘I want you guys to see this,’" recalls Iacavazzi.  “Coach Colman wasn’t a great orator, but he didn’t have to be;  we took it from there.

“My fumble was a leading factor in that loss and now I was being embarrassed by it all over again.  That was a motivator and not just for me.  We were so cohesive as a team we didn’t want to let each other down again.   

“We all felt we were better than Dartmouth, shouldn’t have lost and that it was not going to happen again.”

The Tigers won the game 33-7.  “Wished it was a hundred to-seven,” said Colman, who sent in Charlie Gogolak to kick a third field goal in the final minutes for no reason beyond setting a new Ivy League single-game record.   

The next week, Iacavazzi, the only season-long two-way starter for Princeton in what was college football’s first year of completely open substitution, helped force a fumble into the air that Maliszewski ran in from the five, the only touchdown in a 9-0 defeat of Colgate at Palmer Stadium.

Colman told Jay Dunn, in his 1978 history of the program, “The Tigers of Princeton”, that Maliszewski, aggressive sometimes to a fault, never got any better than he was as sophomore.  But that was more than good enough to lead a defense that forced 32 turnovers in the nine games.

“Stas' was strong, fast, agile for a big guy, intense,” said Bert Kerstetter ’66, “Contagious, too.”

“He made it very clear everyone on the field was going to play the game on his terms.” 

Lynn Sutcliffe ‘65 called Maliszewski “Stan” the first time they met, only to be literally picked up off the ground and firmly corrected. “My name is Stanislaw,” he said.  Sutcliffe quickly got the picture and, in the big picture, Colman got it too, living with his star linebacker’s sometimes over pursuit in situations he was supposed to read before reacting.

Whatever mistakes he made, there were 10 other Tigers gleefully running them down. The shutout against Colgate was the first of four straight by a defense that, after giving up 18 first downs against Rutgers, would surrender only 90 more in the season’s final eight contests. With ample returning athletes that had played on both sides of the ball, the first season of two-platoon football had given Colman the opportunity to stack his defense with most of his best athletes and let Cosmo carry the load, like he did the next week in a 55-0 rout at Penn, which that season had left the Tigers the only remaining single-wing team in the league.  
Being Ready for Cos Wasn't Necessarily Going to Stop Him
“I thought the single wing became worth two wins a year for us,” Cosmo recalls , “Teams weren’t used to seeing it.”

The leading receiver in 1964 was quarterback Roy Pizzarello with 17. But while opponents certainly realized Iacavazzi was coming, they never knew exactly how.  It was cloud-of-dust football for sure, but clouded for opponents by Princeton's multiple looks.

“We didn’t have one standard single wing formation,” recalls Sutcliffe.  “We would put the wingback out on the weak side or the strong side.

“It was always a direct snap to the tailback or fullback but we still did things they were doing in the T formation.  We had great pulling guards, great two-on-one blocking – below the waist was legal then -- and we confused the hell out of teams."
Of course, there no longer was any deception involved when Iacavazzi lowered his shoulder.

“I wasn’t the fastest guy, but I was quick and power was my thing,” he recalls. “My hero growing up (in Scranton, Pa.) was Jim Brown.

“He did a series of instructional posters and I devoured them.  He said the idea was stunning people so you can roll away from them and that’s what I was trying to do.  I didn’t want to just run over them, I wanted to punish them, the same mentality Stas' took in his tackling. 

The week after the rout of Penn, Iacavazzi ran 33 times for 178 yards in a 14-0 defeat of Brown.  The shutout string continued in a 16-0 defeat of Harvard, the only touchdown scored on a quick kick when wingback Douglas Tufts knocked one of three Crimson players tracking a quick kick inside the five-yard line into the ball.  “I just scooted around and fell on it, pretty nice” recalls Pizzarello.

The Tiger Knew Charlie Gogolak was Princeton's Foothold 
The Crimson was finished off with Gogolak’s second three-field-goal game in three weeks, practically unprecedented usage of the three-point weapon in college football at the time.

Gogolak '66, whose family had escaped on foot from communist Hungary when he was 12 years old, was the first football kicker with a full, soccer-style 45-degree approach – older brother Pete at Cornell approached at about 30 degrees.  This revolutionized special teams, but Gogolak, whose selection to the College Football Hall of Fame has long remained a missed chip shot by the selectors, had help.

“Not many coaches believed in the field goal much in those days,” said Gogolak. “I’m forever grateful to Dick Colman for recognizing it as a weapon.
“That year I made nine-of-16, which doesn’t sound like a lot but I am willing to bet there wasn’t another guy in the country that tried 16 that year.  Senior year I was 16-for-23.

“Whenever we put full pads on, Dick would take 5-7 minutes from practice, put the ball at the 20 and have me kick, then expand it out to the 30, 40, and even the 50 to have me perform under (simulated) game pressure.           
“Chris Mill, the center, delivered the perfect snap every time.  Between he and Bob Bedell, my holder all four years, the laces on the ball were facing forward nine out of ten times.  The stars were all aligned for me.”
At Yale in Week Eight, Gogolak kicked all five of his extra points into the stands to put the game ball supply in jeopardy.  And so appeared to be an undisputed Ivy League championship for Princeton.  Undefeated Yale had a running back in Iacavazzi’s class, Chuck Mercein, to add another level of intrigue to the sold-out matchup.  Princeton was scored upon first for the initial time and erased a second deficit with a touchdown just before the half. .  

It was tied 14-14 in the third quarter when Wendell Cady’s blocked punt changed the game.  Princeton scored in five plays to take the lead, then got the ball back at the Yale 39 when Paul Savidge recovered a Maliszewski-forced fumble.

“(Tackle) Rich Reinis mentioned to (tackle) Ernie Pascarella that [Yale] was calling certain signals blocking,” recalls Pizzarello.  "Ernie mentioned it to me and I observed it a couple times.

"I made up a new formation that moved the tailback [Don McKay and Tufts] both out as flankers left.  That was the freedom Dick Colman gave me.  He wanted input from his players."

Iacavazzi, taking the snap directly, went up the middle, broke a tackle at the 35, outraced two more defenders down the sideline and threw the ball into the stands.  Next possession, from the Yale 47, the Tigers flanked McKay and Tufts to the opposite side, and Cosmo went up the middle again on another direct snap and cut left.

“Two tacklers had me dead to-rights on that one,” he said.  They bounced off and Iacavazzi outraced the last defender down the sideline.  This time the official ran to him to save the ball, but Cosmo threw it in the stands again regardless.

"Do that again and it's a penalty," said the official.
Another first down for Iacavazzi
“If I can run that far for a another touchdown, I’ll take all the penalties you can give,” Iacavazzi replied, still laughing after watching the two runs again last week by a DVD in the Princeton football office.  “I wasn’t a trash talker but emotion was part of my game and I was so excited.

"I’m very fond of those two runs, they iced the championship.
"Remember, once you score a touchown, they don't take it back (on a delay-of-game penalty), only kick it off 15 yards further back.  With Charlie Gogolak, you never worried about that.'

The officials chose not to penalize Iacavazzi, even if they had to raid the Princeton ball bag to finish the game.  A hobbled Mercein had to come out after 88 yards while Iacavazzi finished with 188 on 20 carries in a 35-14 win, one of the sweetest ever for Princeton over its archrival.

Colman stopped the bus in Greenwich on the way home for a celebration at Manero’s Steak House.  “Best meal I ever had under the age of 20,” recalls Gogolak. “An alum must have paid for it.”

Nevertheless, with an undefeated season still on the line, no member of the already-champion ’64 Tigers remembers feeling any less invested in a win the following week against 3-4-1 Cornell.  A Iacavazzi plunge and a 8-yard pass from McKay to Tufts put the Tigers up 14-0 but the improving Big Red, coming off a dominating win over Dartmouth, fought back.  

Cornell went 57 yards for one score, then, after trying to pass for a two-point conversion and failing, drove 80 yards for a fourth-quarter touchdown. This time Cornell had to go for two and Don Roth’s clutch tackle of Pete Larson preserved a 14-12 lead.   

The Tigers didn’t panic, Iacavazzi pounding the ball to the visitor's 12 and Gogolak building the lead back to 17-12.  Cornell still had time for one drive as Palmer Stadium squirmed, but Sutcliffe’s interception near midfield essentially put the game away.

“I had gotten pulled the week before, even while having my greatest game,” Sutcliffe said.  “In our defense, Ron Landeck was the guy who was supposed to make the interceptions, I was the deep guy behind to make sure nobody scored and Yale had.”   

“So I was in my usual ambivalent position when the (receiver] came out of the backfield.  The coverage said I was supposed to let him go but they threw the ball right to me. Very fortunate.”

Iacavazzi had killed the clock all the way to the Cornell six when time ran out.  The Tigers, of legal age and otherwise, celebrated a win for the ages with locker room champagne, then hit Prospect Street like the Big Men on Campus that they were. 

The Tiger’s first unbeaten season since 1951, Dick Kazmaier's  Heisman Trophy year, did not win the Lambert Trophy, however.  An astonishing 27-0 upset by a 6-4 Penn State team at No. 2 Ohio State subsequently swayed voters the Nittany Lions way.

“I was from the Midwest, didn’t know or care anything about a Lambert Trophy,” said Maliszewski.  “You win the NCAA wrestling championship you have to be named All American, too?

Well, yeah, thought some of the Tigers.

“It was disappointing,” recalls Gogolak. “Even without athletic scholarships, in those days the Ivy League still considered itself major-college football.

“The New York Times was at our games every week and sometimes during the week, too.  Princeton football was big.”

But, in the minds of the voters, not as big as the huge independents of the East.

All five of Gogolak's extra points at cavernous Yale Bowl reached the stands
“We got the job done, so again it goes back to our mindset that we thought we were as good anyone,” said Iacavazzi.  “But the reality of it was that if one of our key guys got hurt, the guy coming in might be a step behind whereas the Penn State guy coming in probably was just as good, only a year too young. 

“I don’t think we had that kind of depth.”

Likewise, the Associated Press poll, which in that era listed only the top 10 vote getters did not go deep enough to honor the Tigers with a ranking.  United Press International placed Princeton 13th, one behind Syracuse and one ahead of Penn State. That placement tied with Dartmouth’s No. 13 in 1970 as the highest-ever achieved by an Ivy between 1956, when the members of the new formal league did away with athletic scholarships, and 1978, when Princeton was reclassified in the new Division I-AA.  

Iacavazzi, named along with Maliszewski named an All-American, graduated to a short trial with the New York Jets.  Landeck took over as the team horse and the 1965 Tigers rolled to eight wins in the first eight games before Savidge suffered a fractured neck vertebrae against the Dartmouth nemeses.  The quest for back-to-back undefeated seasons died, 28-14, at Palmer Stadium, and put Maliszewski into the bad mood he retains today. 

“I wanted to win every game,” he said. “It stays with you."

So, to many diehards, does 1995, when Steve Tosches’ Tigers were 8-0 going into the final two games and 2006, when a bad day at Cornell in Week Seven kept Roger Hughes’ team from running the table.  There have been six Princeton Ivy League titles since 1964, but not a single undefeated season.

“Hard to believe and sad to believe,” said Sutcliffe.  Also, said Iacavazzi, “frustrating to the entire alumni body.”

“It’s not really that we ever took being undefeated for granted,” he said, “But Princeton had a great football history prior to WWII and then was great in the Kazmaier years.

“It took us 13 years after ‘51 to have another undefeated season, so you would figure that somewhere every 13 there is going to be one and we haven’t had one since."

Bill Guedel '64, Dick Colman h37 and Cosmo Iacavazzi '65
The single wing was shelved when top assistant Jake McCandless took over for Colman in 1969, when he left to become athletic director at Middlebury (Vt.) College.

During a final year he had decided upon in advance, Colman endured accusations from black players that he favored whites for starting positions, an ironic charge against a coach who had campaigned for liberal Senator Eugene McCarthy and travelled to Togo, Africa on a relief effort.

“Dick Colman was a Quaker and very active in outreach for missionaries in Africa, a great humanitarian,” recalls Kerstetter. “Imagine a football coach marching against (Vietnam’s) Madam Nhu in a 1965 (anti-war) campus protest but he did.  He was about as far away from Bear Bryant, Woody Hayes, and Ara Parseghian as you could imagine.

"The strongest language he used was ‘fiddle-faddle.’  I remember when he came to see my parents in Beaver Falls, Pa. to recruit me, my mother said right way ‘this is the guy I want my son to play for.'

“(Assistants) McCandless and Warren Harris were both kick-ass guys so Colman could sub-contract that stuff.  He was focused on details.

“He used the engineering department to chart down and distance, the location of the hash marks, and put it all on key punch cards for the computers of those days.  He would know the “399 wedge” had a 75 per cent chance of gaining how many yards on a play run between 50 and the 20-yard lines.

“He was far ahead of the Moneyball guys, quite scientific, but he couldn’t make those judgments during game days.  He scripted the plays we would rely on, McCandless would send them down from the booth, and the quarterback would call about 75 per cent of them.”

Colman, who died in 1982, was 75-33 at Princeton with at least a share of four Ivy League titles, a record that did all the shouting for him when he was elected to the College Football Hall of Fame in 1990.  Words about his greatest team, the 1964 Tigers, had been left to the players, Cosmo speaking most of them.  But Sutcliffe earns the last one here, perfectly summarizing the last perfect Princeton team.

“We had some good players, of course,” he said. “And Cos was a helluva leader.

“But why would a group of people who weren’t the biggest or the most physical go undefeated in a time the league was pretty balanced?

"The answer to that was our expectations. Our team just didn’t expect to lose that season.”


Thursday, July 5, 2012

Monday, July 2, 2012

The Atwaters Won't Bring Down Their Priorities


Steve Atwater, who after 1180 tackles on the way to eight Pro Bowls should know what makes a running back fall, says his son Di Andre stays up for more than just one reason.

“He can lower a shoulder but also can get to full speed very quickly, has the ability to make people miss,” said Steve.  

In other words, Di Andre Atwater is the kind of back who can slip through a crack, which in a sense he almost had until his highlight video arrived, unsolicited, in the Princeton football office in the middle of his senior year.  In the recruiting process, that’s even later than some of the NFL’s finest got to their feet after being laid out by Dear Old Dad. 

“Given our national recruiting base, academic standards and football players maturing later than some other sports, it does happen, but not very often,” said Coach Bob Surace.  

Despite 13,000 prospects in Princeton’s database, once in a great while a straight A transcript by a talented son of a possible Hall of Famer does come out of nowhere.  In this case Di Andre’s arrived because Princeton is not just anywhere.

“You look at every ranking, it’s one of the top two schools in the country,” said Steve Atwater. 

“Andre is a very intelligent child and we think the sky is the limit for him, not that it isn’t for Stephen (a junior safety at Georgetown).  But back then, we didn’t know that sending a tape out was something we should do.

“When I got recruited a couple of coaches came to my (St. Louis) school and one guy from Arkansas came to my house and that was the choice that I made.  Now, with all the recruiting services, the videos, it’s a much more complicated process.

“For Stephen, my wife and I didn’t know it was as intense as it was, didn’t know we needed to do so many things to give our son the opportunity to go to the best school possible. We learned a lot.  Sending the highlight tape to Coach Surace was one of the best moves we could have made.”

Opening the envelope was one of the best moves Surace could have made.  He cued up the DVD and about “three seconds" after he had put his eyeballs back into his head, the coach emailed Di Andre back.  Special teams coach Jim Salgado, the recruiting coordinator for the Atlanta area, picked up the phone with the invite for an official visit in December, one that went so well Di Andre immediately cancelled his trips to Penn and Cornell. 

“When I got [to Princeton], it was like all the players and coaches were a family,” he said.  “I knew there was no other place I could visit where I would have the same feeling and I know there is no other place I can get an education like Princeton.”

It is a happy happenstance that Di Andre’s good friend and ninth-grade teammate in suburban Atlanta, Dre Nelson, also is coming to Princeton as a member of the class of 2016.  “I knew when I committed Dre was leaning towards it,” said Di Andre. 

But this is no package deal.

“Even if Di Andre had been offered by Alabama or LSU, I would have encouraged him to go to Princeton anyway,” said Steve. “When he said it was Princeton I said ‘Yes, that’s what I have been trying to tell you.’”

Hey, the Denver Broncos’ “Smiling Assassin” may have been one of the more ferocious hitters the NFL has ever seen, but nobody ever accused him of twisting any arms, either in pile-ups or during family meetings.  Stephen turned down a full ride at his old man’s alma mater, Arkansas, to go to Georgetown and DiAndre, who had a scholarship offer by Georgia State, didn’t need any tough love from Dad to fall in love with Princeton at first sight.

“My parents said ‘you can still go to the NFL from a small school.  You might as well have that Princeton degree.’  They always have put education first.  All through elementary school and junior high they said if you want to hang out with your friends and play high school football you have to have straight A's. 

“I made the A’s not only because I could do it but out of the fear of what would happened if I didn’t.  I know for a fact they would have taken my phone, my link to the outside world.”

For the record, Steve says it has been his wife Letha who threatened he clotheslines should Stephen, Di Andre, Paris, 16, and Malaysia, 11, ever get caught venturing over the middle without their heads down in their books.  

Letha, who met Steve at Arkansas, was in med school when the babies started coming.  NFL-sized savings afforded Stephen, Di Andre and Paris a private education at Greater Atlantic Christian School when the family moved to Georgia at the end of Steve’s career.

There was nothing to keep the Atwaters in New York, were Steve played his last season with the Jets. Though everybody knew him in Denver, he thought that might not be such a good thing.

“I wanted a change of scenery and we had tons of friends who live in Atlanta,” said Steve.  “’We loved the weather of course, the cost of living was very reasonable, and we vacationed once a year in the Bahamas.

“But I didn’t want my kids growing up in Denver with it over their heads that, if they played ball, they would have to play at a certain level.  To hear ‘your Dad hit like this, we expect you to hit like that too’ would be really unfair.  They would have seen me in NFL as a grown man, not in high school or Little League.  

“I wanted my kids to grow up without expectation of following in my footsteps.  But all of the boys have wanted to play football even though we have told them they don’t have to.”

Those priorities haven’t changed, even if finances suddenly did.              

“In 2005-06 we were [victimized by] a hedge fund fraud, a guy stole a ton of money from us,” said Steve. “With three kids at GAC and another daughter in a Montessori school, it just wasn’t practical, we had to make a change.”

Di Andre transferred to Peachtree Ridge High School, where unlike the other Atwater chips off the old block he went over to the dark, side of the ball – offense. Primarily, that was because he was good at it.

“He has outstanding finish to his runs, with very good vision, balance and toughness,” said Surace.  “He is more of an inside runner but he has enough speed to be solid on the outside runs, too.

“We like to roll three or four backs because of our tempo, so he will compete for carries this season.  He has physical maturity and strength, and is more well-rounded than most young backs because he can block and catch.  Obviously, he has a to improve technique and learn the system.”

Remember, that’s what brings Atwater to Princeton, to learn. 

“I told him DiAndre go up there and work your butt off, don’t worry about starting,” said Steve. “Contribute where you can and things will work out.”

Dad has a big dilemma about what side to sit on Sept. 21 when Georgetown visits Princeton, but those things tend to work out.  Having recently sold their property management company, the Atwaters are considering a move north, perhaps to the Maryland area, so that they are not on a plane every weekend in the fall.  They also would like to increase their proximity to more good schools in the Northeast for Paris and Malaysia.  

In the meantime, Princeton could use some help in the defensive backfield, but unfortunately, Steve ran out of eligibility 23 years ago.  “Oh no, you wouldn’t want to see that,” he laughed.  “Different guy than the one you remember.”

Having been only five when Dad retired, Di Andre remembers little more than a legends game in which Steve later played.  But of course he has seen the videos, one of the favorites being where Atwater forces a fumble, jams the heavily-favored Packers all day at the line of scrimmage, and with a vicious hit on third down on Green Bay’s last possession, ensures one of the bigger upsets in Super Bowl history.

“That was a bad man right there,” laughed Di Andre.  

With good priorities, though.