Posts Tagged ‘James Sweeney’

Hang Time for a Watermelon

May 6, 2010

Today’s mail brought a new article by Jim Sweeney entitled, “Hang Time for a Watermelon: Did Thorpe Really Do It?” Jim first read about Thorpe’s celebrated feat in Bill Crawford’s 2005 biography, All American: the rise and fall of Jim Thorpe. Later, he read Steckbeck’s matter-of-fact recounting that implied superhuman feats were routine for the world’s greatest athlete.

The day was October 21, 1911; the place was Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; and the opponent was the University of Pittsburgh. In the middle of Carlisle’s greatest season, Thorpe put on an exhibition that is still being talked about 99 years later. The Carlisle Arrow carried several accounts of the game from Pittsburgh newspapers, but the Dispatch told the story in the most detail:

“So fast were the Carlisle players that only twice during the many punting duels engaged in were Pittsburg players able to bring out the ball after it had been booted into their territory. Indeed, on two occasions, Thorpe, who kicked wonderfully well for Car lisle, got down the field under his own bootings, capturing the ball each time. Once he kicked a beautiful long spiral almost into the midst of five Pitt players and got down the field in time to grab the Pigskin, shake off three or four would-be tacklers and dart 20 yards across the line for a touchdown.”

Sweeney doubted that it was humanly possible to do what the reporter said Thorpe did. No one today could punt the ball from deep behind his line, recover from the awkward position a punter is in after kicking the ball, race downfield through his teammates and the opposition, position himself under the ball, and outjump others for it. Jim analyzed each aspect of the alleged feat to determine if it was even possible. When his article is published, I’ll inform you as to where it can be found so you can learn of his conclusions.

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Carlisle’s Most Important Game

October 30, 2009

The following question was posed to me this week:

I have to do a college speech on an event in the 20th century. I decided to do it on a Carlisle Indian School football game and how that particular game brought attention to the school, the players, and the whole story behind it. If you had to pick ONE game that, in your opinion, put the Carlisle Indian School and their football team on the map what game would you pick.

This is a very difficult question to answer because there are several possibilities:

1. In just their third full season of football, the Indians played The Big Four (Princeton, Yale, Harvard and Penn) in successive weeks and were competitive in all four games. A bad call cost them the Yale game and they held Harvard to just four points. National Champions 10-0-1 Princeton beat all of their opponents except Lehigh, Army and Harvard worse than they beat the 5-5 Indians. The Tigers were held to a scoreless tie by Lafayette. Carlisle smashed Penn State 48-5 and beat the previously unbeaten Champions of the West Wisconsin 18-8.

2. In Pop Warner’s first year at Carlisle, the Indians notched their first win over a BIG FOUR team, Penn, 16-5. They also beat California 2-0 in a game played on Christmas Day in San Francisco. Halfback Isaac Seneca was named to Walter Camp’s All America First Team, the first Carlisle player to be so honored.

3. The 10-1 1907 Indians beat a BIG THREE team for the first time when they took Harvard 23-15. They also beat Penn 26-6, Minnesota and Chicago. Their only loss was to Princeton. Warner considered the set of players on this team to be Carlisle’s best and Jim Thorpe was on the bench! The win over Amos Alonzo Stagg gave him much personal satisfaction.

4. The 11-1 1911 team also beat both Harvard and Penn. Warner considered this team to be Carlisle’s best but it lost to Syracuse by one point due to overconfidence and listless play. Clark Shaugnessy ranked the 1911 Carlisle-Harvard game as one of the twelve best games of all time. Jim Thorpe described it as his most favorite game of his long career.

5. The importance of the 1912 Carlisle-Army was debunked in “Jude and the Prince,” an article written by James G. Sweeney and published in the May 2009 journal of the College Football Historical Society.

I’d appreciate reading your opinions regarding Carlisle’s most important game.

The Single-Wing May Be Off life Support

December 5, 2008

Jim Sweeney, the life-long Army fan who told me about the Sports Illustrated article, shared with me that on Thanksgiving Day he was able to watch, on ESPN2 no less, two Jesuit high schools from New York City play each other in an 85-year long Thanksgiving tradition. Xavier High played Fordham Prep at Fordham Field in the Bronx. Sweeney’s (also JoePa’s) alma mater, Brooklyn Prep, was, until it closed in 1973, the third Jesuit high school in the City. You probably already know that Joe Paterno played tailback in Brooklyn Prep’s double-wing and that his brother, George, was fullback. Something few of us know is that both Xavier and Fordham Prep are NOW running the single-wing. What a treat it must have been for Jim to watch these teams in the comfort of his living room.

Another result of the Sports Illustrated article or the fact that NFL teams are dabbling with the single-wing is that I was interviewed yesterday by the local NBC affiliate about the connection between the Wildcat formation and Carlisle Indian School. After interviewing me, reporter George Lettis visited Carlisle Barracks and shot part of his piece on Indian Field. WGAL’s website has an article on its website that can be found at http://www.wgal.com/sports/18199527/detail.html. The broadcast video can be found at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iP9FogxDRII. In addition to footage of Lettis and me, portions of the documentary Tom McCue and I made to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the single-wing are included. Narrator Lynn Myers’ voice comes through loud and clear.

It will be interesting to see how long NFL coaches run the Wildcat or other versions of the single-wing before they admit that the fundamental formation was developed a century ago by Pop Warner for the Carlisle Indians. Some think that NFL coaches will continue to obfuscate this point so as not to appear to be behind the times by 100 years.

The Plain, The Plain

May 17, 2008

I just received a copy of Michie by James G. Sweeney. Michie is of course West Point’s venerable Michie Stadium, site of many historic football contests. Sweeney’s description is enough to make one want to spend an October Saturday along the Hudson taking in fall foliage, tradition, spectacle and even a football game all at once. Having served in the Air Force rather than wait for greetings from my friends and neighbors to don an army uniform, I know nothing about West Point. It seems that Army’s football tradition and history is as important to their alumni and supporters as is The Big House to my wife. However, it is not Michie Stadium that caught my attention, it was its predecessor, The Plain.

Before Michie Stadium was inaugurated in 1924, the cadets battled their opponents on The Plain, a large drill field that figures prominently on campus. The Plain was also the site of some historic football games, more historic in my estimation than those played at Michie, but then I’m not a West Pointer. It was on The Plain that the soldiers first met the Indians in hand-to-hand combat in 1905 and the Indians emerged victorious. The Indians of which I speak are the Carlisle Indians who wrestled with future officers for the pigskin three times in their glorious history. The Indians won the first two games, 1905 and 1912, but were routed in 1917, the last year Carlisle fielded a team. After athletics were deemphasized in 1914, Carlisle was no longer competitive and many of the athletes who would have been present in 1917 were in France fighting a shooting war. So, that game doesn’t count for much.

The 1905 and 1912 games were truly historic. Jim Sweeney tells me he is writing something about them. Hearing things from the other side’s perspective will be interesting. Another historic game was played on The Plain in 1913 when a team from a little-known Jesuit college in Indiana was booked to fill an open spot in Army’s schedule.