Mother Yale—"mother of men" as they like to call her around New Haven, Conn.—is a lady who likes to contemplate her brick-and-ivy skin and think about the past almost as much as she does the present and future. Even on a day like last Saturday, Mother Yale's mind is inclined to drift backward, as indeed it did for a very good reason. She and her sons were thinking about the year 1923, even while her current football players were humbling a strong Princeton 43-22. For not since 1923 had there been an unbeaten, untied Yale team or eight straight victories in a season. By the end of a delirious afternoon the 1960 Yale team had won its eighth straight game. If it gets past Harvard this weekend it will finish unbeaten and untied. Among major college teams across the land, only New Mexico State, Utah State and Missouri can still make that statement.
The victory over Princeton looked so easy at times that it hardly seemed an honest test of this very fine Yale team, probably the best one that Coach Jordan Olivar has produced in his nine years at New Haven. There was a brief Princeton threat in the scoreless first quarter that took the ball as far as the Yale 29-yard line; and halfway through the second quarter Princeton went 66 yards in 11 plays to score a touchdown. But Princeton was never in the game after that.
Yale scored three touchdowns in the second quarter with such ease that it hardly seemed possible she was playing the second-best team in the Ivy League, a team that ranked third in the country in scoring. By half time the score was 22-6, and the game had an early-season warmup look about it.
Against Princeton the ignition for Yale's attack came, as usual, from Tom Singleton, a tall 200-pounder with solemn brown eyes who is one of the most impressive T quarterbacks in the country this year. Singleton can do almost anything that needs to be done on a football field. An honors student, he directs the attack with intelligence and a quick instinct for an opponent's unguarded jugular vein. He handles the ball and himself with calm authority. He passes surely and for any distance, as his six completions, including three touch- downs, in seven attempts against Princeton, amply testify. He runs the ball with an easy loping gait that camouflages his speed and power and exceptional balance. He punts beautifully, and he can place-kick, although Yale has little need for this talent. In his three years on the Yale varsity Singleton never had a better day than he did against Princeton, but his efficiency cost him a lot of playing time. When he was running the first team, it scored so quickly that Coach Olivar decided to devote much of the second half of the game to seasoning young reserves, some of whose names and numbers weren't even in the program.
One reason Singleton is so effective is a tow-headed 205-pound fullback from Hamden, Conn. named Bob Blanchard, the fastest man on the Yale team. On every Yale play Blanchard is a threat up the middle. That leaves the defense vulnerable to Singleton's rollouts around either end. And Singleton's rollouts suck in the defensive backs and set up his passes to the halfbacks and ends.
Until they met Princeton's marvelously precise and versatile single wing, Yale's big line, averaging 206 pounds per man, had given up less than 100 yards rushing a game. Captain Mike Pyle, a 235-pounder, would certainly have been the outstanding center in the East this year if he had not agreed to move to tackle so that his roommate, Howard Will, could be used at center. Ben Balme, a handsome, blond 220-pound guard from Portland, Ore., who almost skipped football entirely this year in order to concentrate on his premed studies, is the sort of lineman one doesn't notice much, but he doesn't make mistakes. Had he played on one of the more prominent football teams, coaches will tell you, Balme would be a candidate for All-America. However, unlike most good Ivy League teams of recent memory, Yale's is not one with just two or three exceptional players and a bunch of students. The first team is good at all positions, and there is a plethora of un-Ivy League subs behind them.
"Ollie, is this the best Yale team you've ever coached?" is a question Coach Olivar has been hearing more and more as the season has progressed.
"Ask me after the Princeton game," had been Olivar's stock answer until after the Princeton game. When that game was over, Olivar sat in the Lap-ham Field House a few yards from the Yale Bowl and faced reporters with a sad and solemn look on his large face, as if his team had lost. When the same question came up again, he said in his worried way, "Ask me after the Harvard game."
Somehow Coach Olivar and all the rest of the Yale population has trouble believing the football team is as good as it appears to be. As everyone well knows, the day is long gone when the football at Yale, Harvard and Princeton can be praised without apologies for the fact that the players study a lot and that there are no athletic scholarships available. But it was not ever so.
Anyone over the age of 50 grew up with a notion of Yale football that was roughly equivalent to a ferryboat captain's attitude toward the Queen Mary. In the popular view, storybook figures like Heffelfinger and Hinkey and Mallory strode the Yale campus in turtle-neck sweaters with great Ys across their chests. Some of the biggest heroes of fiction were Yale football players like Dink Stover and Frank Merriwell. The Yale fullback was a kind of Bat Masterson of his era.
In the days preceding last Saturday's Ivy League showdown with Princeton, it was quite clear that Yale football had found a more subdued, though by no means obscure, position on the campus. On Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday most people were thinking about two things: the presidential election and the mid-term hour exams. You would have searched the campus in vain for a football player with a Y on his chest or a sign that exhorted the team to BEAT PRINCE-TON. Whatever attention could be spared for the coming game was devoted largely to getting a pretty girl organized for the weekend.
This, of course, was not the case out on the practice field during the two hours in the late afternoons when the Yale team was getting ready. Quietly, almost patiently, the Yale squad in its freshly laundered practice uniforms labored through the infinitely painstaking preparation that modern football requires for each new game. Over here, the interior linemen were learning the new assignments they would have against Princeton's unbalanced line. Over there, the backs polished the timing on their old plays and worked up a few new ones, particularly off the L formation that Olivar used a few weeks earlier on Dartmouth. The ends drilled on pass patterns. Every 20 minutes or so a horn blew, and the players switched to the next assignment on the mimeographed practice schedule for the day.
There was none of the loud, forced pep favored by many coaches on the theory that the boredom of practice can lead to indifference. "We just don't have time for it," Olivar said. "And besides, I don't think you can build up a lot of enthusiasm before a game unless it is there naturally. If it's there, what's the point in flaunting it? Also, you run the danger of building your team to a peak before the game arrives."
Riding back to the campus after practice, Captain Pyle said he had no worries about the team's desire. "We want this one very badly. We still have to get even for the last time we played Princeton in the Bowl two years ago. Those 50 points they ran up against us still hurt." Halfback Kenny Wolfe agreed. "All I saw were a lot of Princeton uniforms going by," he recalled. "It ought to be different this time."
By Friday the Yale campus, a russet-brown spread of grim Gothic architecture, began to acquire the feel of a football weekend. Tweedy young ladies were arriving in droves. The standard campus uniform of baggy cotton trousers and loafers or dirty white bucks was giving way to gray slacks and tweed jackets, blazers and shoes and even neckties. The sound of singing groups drifted out across the Old Campus. Someone hung a piece of white muslin out of a Branford College window and on it were the letters: HATE PRINCETON. Visitors, looking not unlike the Yale men, were wearing orange-and-black buttons that said: BEAT YALE.
It was already dark by the time the team got back from practice on Friday evening. Coach Olivar summoned the players into a room at Ray Tompkins House for a last run-through of the movies of last year's Princeton game. He pointed out some egregious errors for the umpteenth time. "Start popping them with your shoulder when they give you the five-finger clutch," he told the ends. Pop them, and they'll stop pestering you. It's perfectly legal."
After the team's Friday night supper there was a short pep rally on the green just outside Berkeley College. The band and the cheerleaders whooped it up, and perhaps a thousand students and their dates sang and yelled and applauded as some of the senior members of the team were introduced. Captain Pyle told the gathering, "Stick with us and we'll do our best."
It was a cold night with the temperature down in the low 40s, so most people stayed inside. Through the windows of the lighted rooms you could see the cocktail parties in full progress, preceding the various fraternity and college dances. Over in the Davenport College common room a small group was giving a reading of Dylan Thomas' Under Milk Wood prior to a banjo concert. The tables down at Mory's were filling up.
Next morning, a cloudless blue sky lay over New England and the temperature rose into the 50s. On the lawn of Pierson College the Haunt Club was staging one of its pregame gin-and-juice parties with bagpipers in full regalia for background music. But otherwise the campus was strangely quiet, the fraternities and colleges nearly empty. Most people were out on the playing fields around the Bowl several miles west of the campus, watching the Rugby, soccer and freshmen football games with Princeton and starting their tailgate cocktail parties and picnics. As far as you could see, there was row on row of cars and in amongst them a countless thousand pregame parties—old grads, undergrads, nongrads. For Yale it was the big party of the year.
The Bowl was nearly full by kick-off. Fifteen minutes and 31 seconds of playing time later, when Singleton rolled out to his left for Yale's first touchdown, most of the 62,528 people who bought tickets had found their way to their seats. It was a crowd that reminded you of the days of Albie Booth. As the first score went up, three-quarters of the mob became slightly hysterical with joy. There is nothing like a touchdown to wipe away the Ivy League reserve, and that afternoon there were to be six of them by Yale and three by Princeton. Dink Stover and Frank Merriwell never heard more noise. Nor did Albie Booth nor Larry Kelly nor Clint Frank.
And when they stood at the end and sang Bright College Years, and the hats waved back and forth with the lines, "For God, for country and for Yale," even visiting Harvard men cried.