Football, Game 2: The Citadel vs. Princeton

Tune every heart and every voice,
Bid every care withdraw;
Let all with one accord rejoice,
In praise of Old Nassau.

In praise of Old Nassau we sing,
Hurrah! Hurrah! Hurrah!
Our hearts will give while we shall live,
Three cheers for Old Nassau.


**Quick Facts**

- The Citadel’s game against Princeton will be broadcast by Sirius/XM Radio as the “Ivy League Game of the Week”.  The game can be heard on channel 130 (the contest starts at 3 pm ET).
- FIOS1 of New Jersey will televise the game.  The telecast does not appear to be available on any other outlet.
- This will be the Tigers’ first game of the 2009 season, which will be the 141st season of Princeton football.
- The Citadel defeated Princeton at Johnson Hagood Stadium last season, 37-24.  That was not only the first time the two schools had played, it was the first time Princeton had ever faced an opponent from the Southern Conference.

Princeton, of course, played in what is considered the first college football game, losing to Rutgers 6-4 in 1869.  That game was played in New Brunswick, New Jersey.  In a return match the following week, Princeton beat Rutgers 8-0 at Princeton (the first of 33 consecutive victories for the Tigers over the Scarlet Knights), thus claiming the first of what the school’s media guide trumpets as “28 national titles”.

Princeton’s football history has a lot of historical significance, but the “28 national titles” bit is pushing it, in my opinion.  None of those titles were recognized at the time the games were played.  They are all “retro titles”, awarded by various college football historians.  Also, the game was far from “national” in the 19th century, when Princeton had most of its championship teams.

There were only two games played in 1869, so Princeton is generally considered to have shared the mythical national title with Rutgers, since the two schools split the games.  A couple of  authorities give the title to Princeton alone, probably based on point differential, and possibly the fact that Rutgers as a national title winner in football just seems instinctively wrong.

There were also only two games in 1870.  Rutgers played in both, beating Columbia but losing to Princeton.  With a 1-0 record, Princeton claimed (many years later) its second consecutive national championship.  The media guide notes this particular championship was “unanimous”.

Another 1-0 record in 1872 was enough to garner a share of the national title.  In fact, from 1869 to 1877 the Tigers would play 11 games, winning 9 (with one tie).  That 9-1-1 record over a nine-year period was enough for Princeton to retroactively claim eight national titles, either undisputed or shared, only missing out in 1871, a year in which no college football games were played.  (I am mildly surprised Princeton does not claim at least a share of the 1871 title.)

Princeton continued to have success on the gridiron in the 1880s and 1890s, as well as the early 1900s, racking up many more national titles, and actually playing more than one or two games per season.  The Tigers’ status as a “national” power began to wane when the game started to become truly national.  Princeton continued to play like-minded institutions in its home region, rarely venturing outside the east.

In fact, in 141 years of football, which includes 1197 games, Princeton has only played 82 different opponents (and that’s counting opponents like Lawrenceville Prep, Columbia Law School, and Princeton Seminary).  In contrast, The Citadel (which historically has tended to play close to home itself) has played 93 different opponents, 11 more than Princeton, despite playing 211 fewer games than the Tigers.  Princeton has never played a current member of the Big XII or Pac-10, and has played only one SEC school (Vanderbilt).

Michigan comes to mind as an example of a school that became a football power near the end of the 19th century, and maintained a national presence.  The Wolverines have played 138 different opponents in 1207 games.

So if you hear a Princeton alum boast that his team won the national title in ’89, just keep in mind that he’s talking about 1889, and that all the games took place in the east, against opponents like Stevens Tech and Wesleyan, and that the national title was not based on an 1889 poll, but rather was retroactively awarded to the Tigers in 1932 by Parke Davis.  Davis was the pre-eminent college football researcher of his day.  He was also a Princeton alum who happened to play on the 1889 team.

(Davis also determined that in 1896, Lafayette and Princeton had shared the national title.  The two teams had played a scoreless tie early in the season; each had then won the remainder of its games.  The head coach of Lafayette in 1896?  Parke Davis.)

I don’t really intend to belittle Princeton’s football history; far from it.  I just think claiming a bunch of “national titles” which are something less than national detracts from the larger point, which is that the Tigers’ football past is both long (longer than any other school save Rutgers, obviously) and fascinating.  I could write about it all day, but nobody wants that.  I will mention a few things, though:

- Princeton has been known as the “Tigers” since at least 1880, a nickname that came to be when the team played a game wearing black shirts with orange stripes.
- The Tigers’ career rushing TD record is held by Knowlton “Snake” Ames, who scored 62 times in a career that ended at the close of the 1889 season.  I’m guessing that may be the longest-held individual school football record of consequence, for any school.
- Hobey Baker, who is the namesake of college hockey’s version of the Heisman Trophy, played hockey and football at Princeton.  Baker was the captain of the 1913 gridiron squad.  He is the only person to be a member of both the College Football Hall of Fame and the Hockey Hall of Fame.
- The first non-Princeton grad to coach the football team was Fritz Crisler, who coached the Tigers from 1932-1937.  Crisler was very successful at Princeton before leaving to coach Michigan (where the basketball arena is named for him).  He is generally credited with creating the two-platoon system (different players for offense and defense), and the distinctive Michigan helmets were his design.  Crisler had originally created the “winged helmet” look at Princeton.  When he left, Princeton dropped the look, only to bring it back in 1998.
- Princeton had a great run of success from 1950-52, going 26-1 over those three years.  The coach of the Tigers during this period, Charlie Caldwell, had pitched briefly for the New York Yankees.  Caldwell would eventually be elected to the College Football Hall of Fame.
- In 1951, Dick Kazmaier would win the Heisman Trophy, the third and last player from a current Ivy League school to win that award.  His performance that year against Cornell was so good it would be the subject of a Sports Illustrated piece ten years later.  Kazmaier (who also won the Maxwell Award that season and was named the AP’s Male Athlete of the Year) was drafted by the Chicago Bears, but turned down the NFL in favor of Harvard Business School.
- Charlie Gogolak, the younger of the kicking Gogolaks (older brother Pete played for Cornell), kicked for Princeton in the mid-1960s.  The Gogolaks, born in Hungary, were the first “soccer style” placekickers to make an impact on the college and pro football scene.  Charlie Gogolak was the first placekicker ever selected in the first round of the NFL draft, by the Washington Redskins.
- Dean “Superman” Cain is both the single-season (12) and career (23) record holder for interceptions at Princeton.  Cain’s 12 interceptions in 1987 came in just 10 games, an FCS record on a per-game basis.
- For 82 years, Princeton played its home games at Palmer Stadium (which had a capacity of anywhere between 45,000 and 70,000, depending on era and what source you believe).  In 1998, the Tigers began playing at the new Princeton Stadium, which has a listed capacity of 30,000.

Princeton certainly doesn’t need more than 30,000 seats anymore.  Attendance used to be much higher in the days when Ivy League football was more prominent.  An estimated crowd of 49,000 watched the 1951 Cornell-Princeton contest referenced above, and similarly-sized or larger crowds would occasionally watch league games as recently as the 1970s.  However, with the Ivy League’s “demotion” to I-AA (now FCS) status in 1981, attendance (and the quality of players in some cases) began to decline.

Last season Princeton averaged 9,384 fans in five games at Princeton Stadium.  This wasn’t a one-season blip, either.  Average attendance in 2007 was 10,215; in 2006, 12,220; and in 2005, 9,370.  When the new stadium opened in 1998, the initial attendance figures rose to a season average of 20,475, but as the draw of the stadium wore off, attendance gradually declined to its current level.

This has happened despite inexpensive ticket prices, and when I say inexpensive, I mean it:  season tickets are just $25, with single-game tickets going for $7.  There can’t be many better deals than that in all of Division I football.

Declining interest in Princeton football, and Ivy League football in general, can be traced to the aforementioned transition to I-AA in 1981.  An article in The New York Times (from 2006) details the decision by Ivy administrators to go along with the move down the gridiron ladder, which still angers a number of former players, coaches, and alumni.

The supporters argue (I believe with some merit) that the Ivies could have continued to play non-conference games against the service academies and other upper-tier private schools (like Duke or Northwestern), maintaining I-A (now FBS) status.  After more than 25 years at the lower level, however, I think the window of opportunity for the Ivy League to move back up to I-A has passed.  As it is, Princeton’s last game against Rutgers came in 1980, which is perhaps symbolic of the Ivy League’s move down the football pyramid.

Another issue that rankles some is the Ivy League’s continued refusal to participate in the FCS playoffs.  From the linked article, former Harvard president Derek Bok was quoted as saying:

“Once you start worrying about a national football championship, then you begin to worry about getting the quality of athlete, and the numbers needed, to win a national championship…that worry leads to pressure to compromise academic standards to admit those athletes. That’s how even responsible institutions end up doing things they don’t like doing.”

Sorry, but I’m not buying that.  First, the Ivies compete in championships in other sports, including basketball, lacrosse, soccer, and baseball.  Are academic standards being compromised to admit athletes in those sports?  Bok’s comment also implies that other schools that do compete in the playoffs compromise their standards.  It’s essentially an insult to leagues (and their member institutions) that do participate.  He’s looking down his nose at schools like The Citadel, or Colgate, or William & Mary.

There can be a fine line between being elite and being elitist.

Of course, I can’t write a preview of the game without at least briefly discussing the events surrounding the appearance by the Princeton band at last year’s football contest in Charleston.  From an article in The Star-Ledger of New Jersey:

In a clash of cultures that threatened to spiral into bloodshed, the Princeton University band received a harsh welcome from offended cadets at the Charleston, S.C., military college when the two schools’ football teams squared off for the first time over the weekend.

The band’s president, Princeton senior Alex Barnard, said some 80 over-aggressive cadets roughed up two people, broke a clarinet, stole members’ hats and cursed the band when it inadvertently marched along the “Avenue of Remembrance,” a campus street that honors The Citadel’s war dead.

Later, as the band performed its unusual routine during the halftime show, the crowd of 13,000 booed relentlessly, chanting “Go home, Princeton” and shouting profanities and anti-homosexual slurs. Several videos of the display have made it onto YouTube.

After the show, a group of cadets again gathered around the band members, reducing some to tears before police intervened, Barnard said.

Of course, that was one viewpoint.  There were others, like this one.

Princeton’s band is what is known as a “scramble band”.  The point of having a scramble band, from what I can tell, is…well, I’m not sure there is a point.  Princeton’s version has been banned from appearing at West Point (at least two other Ivy League schools have also suffered the same fate; the folks running the U.S.M.A. do not suffer fools gladly), and was also not allowed to play at Lafayette for many years.

Probably the most well-known example of a scramble band inadvertently hurting its own school’s cause occurred in 1982, when Stanford’s band helped archrival California win the annual “Big Game” during what is arguably the most famous play in college football history.  Another such band, the University of Virginia’s “pep band”, is no longer allowed to play at its own school’s varsity events, a ban in place since 2003.

It’s possible that such bands tend to attract students who are naturally go-against-the-grain types.  For example, last year’s Princeton bandleader was a fellow named Alex Barnard.  When not leading the band, Barnard led protests against Ugg boots (one of several animal rights protests in which he participated) and enjoyed the benefits of dumpster-diving.  (Of course, protesting Ugg boots may not be out of the mainstream.)

That’s fine and all — life would be rather boring without some different viewpoints — but there is something to be said for being respectful of others, especially when in their “home”.  Princeton’s band chose not to show such respect last year when it made its brief tour of The Citadel’s campus, and the cadets responded in emphatic fashion.  Maybe they were a bit too emphatic (and some of the, uh, “rhetoric” was not needed), but speaking as someone who is probably more mild-mannered than the average alumnus of The Citadel, I don’t have much of a problem with the overall response.  I am sorry that a wind instrument lost its life in the fracas, however.

I don’t know if The Citadel is sending its band to Princeton for Saturday’s game.  I doubt it, both for financial reasons and because administrators at both schools are undoubtedly going to strive to avoid any repeat of last year’s confrontation.

Last year Princeton led The Citadel 17-7 at halftime.  The Tigers were efficient on offense and kept the Bulldog offense at bay for much of the half.  Princeton did not look like a team playing its first game of the season.

Momentum changed early in the third quarter when Mel Capers blocked a Princeton punt that was subsequently returned for a TD.  The Citadel would score 30 unanswered points to first take the lead, then put away the game, as Princeton was unable to sustain a drive until late in the fourth quarter.  Once Princeton lost control of the game, it was simply unable to get it back.

This year Princeton returns four starters along its offensive line (although there are several changes in position along that line).  Also returning for the Tigers is running back Jordan Culbreath, who impressed many observers during the game at Johnson Hagood.  Culbreath gained 74 yards rushing that day, much of them hard-earned.  He’s a good, tough runner (who can also catch passes out of the backfield).  Culbreath was a unanimous All-Ivy selection last season.

The Tigers need to find new starters at both receiver positions, tight end, and quarterback.  The returning QBs for Princeton have a combined two career pass completions between them.  Figuring out who will start at quarterback is likely to be the Tigers’ biggest challenge.

On defense, Princeton must replace several starters along the line.  The Tigers do have an interesting candidate to play nosetackle in 6’5″, 285 lb. Matt Boyer.  Princeton (which runs a base 3-4) has solid returning starters at inside linebacker, and experience on the outside (although two of the potential regulars there have significant injury histories).

The Tigers have three regulars back in the secondary, including three-year starting cornerback Carl Kelly, who will probably draw the assignment of covering Andre Roberts (who only caught four passes in last year’s game, although he did have a 54-yard punt return).  Kelly will get plenty of help defending Roberts.  The other corner spot appears to be open, with several candidates vying for the starting role.

Princeton has an experienced placekicker but needs to find a new punter.  The Tigers’ return game last season was rather mediocre and needs to improve.

While Princeton has not played a game yet, it did scrimmage Rowan University (a Division III school with a solid football program) in an effort to be prepared for “live” game action.

It’s hard to draw many conclusions from The Citadel’s game against North Carolina.  I am going to assume (hope?) that the offensive line won’t be overmatched quite like that again this season.  In fact, it’s possible the o-line will be a team strength.

The Bulldogs need Bart Blanchard’s ankle to be fully healed.  It appears that Terrell Dallas and Van Dyke Jones may be ready to play against Princeton, which is good, although I worry a little about Dallas coming back relatively quickly from an ACL injury.

I thought the defense acquitted itself well against UNC.  Forcing turnovers should continue to be a major priority for that unit.  It will be interesting to see how the defensive front fares against Princeton’s experienced offensive line.  Mel Capers, whose play in the game against the Tigers last season was so critical to changing the game’s momentum, may not play football again, which is a shame (although a final decision has apparently not been made yet).

The Citadel’s special teams were mostly good against the Tar Heels.  Sam Keeler’s performance, in particular, was encouraging.  The kicking game will need to be just as solid against Princeton.

I like the idea of this series, which was conceived by current Princeton AD Gary Walters and Les Robinson, former director of athletics at The Citadel.  I think it would be neat if The Citadel played other schools from the Ivy League or Patriot League in home-and-home series from time to time.  However, my guess is that this will be the last such home-and-home for a while, particularly with an additional SoCon game (due to Samford joining the SoCon) and the resumption of the series with VMI in 2010.

I should note that Princeton has scheduled some other schools out of its normal “comfort zone” in recent years.  Besides The Citadel, the Tigers have played two games against the University of San Diego, and have also faced Hampton.

I look forward to seeing Old Nassau.  I just hope that the hospitality includes a Bulldog victory.  I’m not counting on it, though.

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