The Day Kaz Roared

Ten years ago Dick Kazmaier put on one of football's most spectacular one-man shows
November 13, 1961

Ten years ago, on October 27, 1951, a record football crowd of 49,000 pushed and packed their way into Princeton's Palmer Stadium to watch undefeated Cornell play undefeated Princeton. As the huge throng settled back on that warm Indian summer afternoon, it looked forward eagerly to a tight, exciting game between two powerful defensive teams and two volatile offenses—Cornell's, geared around the superb passing and T quarterbacking of Rocco Calvo, Princeton's, around its magnificent triple-threat tailback, Dick Kazmaier. What it saw, however, was one of the most memorable one-man offensive spectacles in college football history. It was a performance that ranked with the best of Red Grange or Tommy Harmon and which eventually brought to its creator, Richard William Kazmaier Jr. just about every honor a football player can win in one season.

Too small for football

Three years earlier few people thought that Kazmaier, then a scrawny, 17-year-old Princeton freshman from Maumee, Ohio, would ever amount to much as a college football player. He was 5 feet 11 inches tall and weighed only 155 pounds when he trotted timidly onto the football field for the first day of freshman practice in the fall of 1948. His narrow shoulders and slim build made him look like a tennis player who had wandered into the wrong locker room and had been tucked into a football suit by mistake. Back home in Maumee (pop. 5,500 in 1948), Kazmaier was considered a pretty good back and an even better basketball player (he averaged 23 points a game with a deadly one-hand push shot). But at Princeton, Kazmaier seemed to be out of his league.

"I tell you I really felt like the country boy I was," Kazmaier said recently. "I'd never really been away from home before. There were almost as many guys out for freshman football as there were boys in my entire high school. They looked so much more formidable, so much more proficient than anything I'd ever encountered before. I was seriously worried that I wouldn't get to play football at all."

Kazmaier did get to play as a freshman, but he didn't impress anyone. He started the season as a defensive safety man and third-string offensive tailback. As the fall progressed, he was dropped from the defensive team, but saw action for 10 to 15 minutes on offense in each of the last three games and bobbed up with a 60-yard touchdown run against the Penn frosh. Princeton Varsity Coach Charlie Caldwell brushed him aside as simply "too small for varsity athletics."

It was Kazmaier's experience with the freshman basketball team during the winter that finally started him off on his amazing football career. A terrier for detail, he stayed late after practice every day, working alone on his moves and his shots. The combination of hard work and natural ability proved to be a profitable pairing for both Kazmaier and the basketball coach. He ended the 1948-49 basketball season as the freshman team's leading scorer with an average of more than 17 points a game but, more importantly, he had a brand-new feeling of confidence and power.

"What the basketball season told me," said Kazmaier, "was that I could still come out on top, that I could still be a good athlete in this kind of competition. I was developing more confidence in all respects and getting adjusted to the campus environment. I had no friends at all when I first came to school, but now I knew a lot of people. I was a different guy when I went out for spring football practice in 1949."

Kazmaier was an athlete who always showed a profound if slightly humorless devotion to the mastery of any technique he thought made good sense. As a high school junior, for instance, he was taught a Frank Leahy passing drill by his coach (alternately crouching on one knee and standing, he would snatch up a football from the ground and then fake a pass in one direction before flipping it quickly to a teammate running in another). The drill seemed to work so well that it became one he performed almost every day during the football season for the next six years. Now in the spring the already hard-working Kazmaier played with a confident flair that had been missing the previous autumn. He threw two touchdown passes in the varsity's climactic spring intrasquad game and became a leading candidate for the starting tailback spot.

Tigers' offensive star

Kazmaier progressed rapidly after that. He started every game of his sophomore year and led the Ivy League in total offense with 1,155 yards gained running and passing. In his junior year Kazmaier was the offensive star of the powerful Tiger squad that swept unbeaten and untied through a nine-game season and finished the year as the eighth-ranked team in the country. Oddly enough, it was not until the Cornell game that year (1950) that he really began to feel that he knew what he was doing.

"Before that game," Kazmaier recalled, "if I broke loose on a long run I'd be surprised to find nobody around me. I was relying almost entirely on speed. But now I found myself running with confidence, knowing how to use my blockers, knowing where to expect the openings downfield, how to spin away when I got hit, how to apply pressure at the most valuable moment. It was sort of a culmination of all the games I'd played and all the things I'd learned."

Both Cornell and Princeton went into the 1950 game undefeated, but it turned out to be a long and gloomy afternoon for the team from Ithaca. Princeton won 27-0. Kazmaier scored two touchdowns (one a 70-yard sprint on a fake reverse off his right tackle), completed seven of nine passes and booted a punt dead on Cornell's one-yard line at a crucial point in the third quarter. That victory over highly rated Cornell was the game that made Princeton's fine season possible, and it contained some strong indications of what would occur exactly a year later.

It was not the same Princeton team, however, that faced Cornell on Oct. 27, 1951. Kazmaier was the only returnee from the starting offensive platoon that had helped earn Caldwell his Coach of the Year honors in 1950. Cornell once again was undefeated coming into the game, and so, surprisingly, this year, was Princeton. In fact, the Tigers were riding a 17-game winning streak. Caldwell, by no means sure of the outcome, hoped Princeton could score at least three times and win by a point. He vowed that if Princeton won, the team could chuck him bodily into Lake Carnegie.

Shortly after the opening kickoff, Princeton took possession of the ball on its own 28. The Tigers scored 12 plays later. Kazmaier threw three passes during the march, completing all of them for gains of 10, 27, and seven yards. But the key play was a typical Kazmaier run. Scooting to the right on a pass play from the Cornell 35, the Princeton tailback failed to spot a receiver in the clear. What he did spot were three Cornell linemen charging in from his right, intent on smashing him to the ground. Kazmaier did a full pivot away from the onrushing group, streaked back across the field, swung down the left side and went 22 yards before he was stopped on the 13. Three plays later, at 7:32 of the first quarter, Fullback Russ McNeil bucked across for the score.

Cornell came back quickly to score on a 34-yard pass by Calvo, but early in the second quarter Kazmaier threw a 33-yard scoring pass to Wingback Dick Pivirotto and Princeton led 13-6. Then, with only 90 seconds left in the first half, Kazmaier made what he still considers the best running play of his college career. It was a whirling, zigzagging touchdown play of seven yards that clinched the game for Princeton.

"It was a delayed buck," says Kazmaier. "I took the pass from center, made a half spin on a fake hand-off to the wingback and then charged straight back up the middle. There wasn't much of a hole, but I bounced off a couple of guys and wound up in the end zone still running. I felt terrific after that. Man, I knew I'd done something real fine."

Pressure passes and runs

Kazmaier kept up the pressure all during the second half, flitting through and around Cornell tacklers, tossing passes with unerring accuracy. He passed 45 yards to Pivirotto for a touchdown, four yards to End Len Lyons for another and ran 50 yards on a reverse to set up Princeton's final touchdown (which he scored himself on a fake reverse from the three). When the game was over, Kazmaier had led Princeton to an astonishing 53-15 victory over what had been considered one of the strongest teams in the country.

"The greatest one-man performance I've ever seen since I started coaching," said Cornell's Lefty James, a coach since 1930. Kazmaier's statistics tell the same story: 15 of 17 passes completed for 236 yards and three touchdowns, 18 rushes for 124 yards and two touchdowns—an offensive total of 360 yards. Coach Caldwell received his promised dip in Lake Carnegie an hour after the game, and four weeks later Princeton ended its season with its winning streak still intact at 22 straight.

Kazmaier made the major All-America teams for the second straight year and led the nation in total offense with 1,827 yards—861 yards gained rushing and 966 yards passing. Honors were heaped on him all winter long: the Heisman Trophy by a record plurality of votes, the A.P.'s Male Athlete of the Year award over such sporting heroes as Ben Hogan, Stan Musial, Bob Mathias, Joe Walcott, Otto Graham, Allie Reynolds and Sugar Ray Robinson, the Maxwell Trophy and touchdown-club awards from such cities as Washington, Los Angeles, Cleveland and Detroit.

Golf replaces football

A full decade later Kazmaier is still serious-minded and works harder than ever. He is kept hopping up and down the Atlantic Coast as president of a rapidly expanding bowling business (Major League Bowling and Recreation, Inc.) that includes among its stockholders Sam Snead, Mayo Smith, Perry Como, Fred Hutchinson and Billy Maxwell. At 195, he is some 25 pounds heavier than he was as a college football star, but he still looks as youthful. He has made golf (he carries a 15 handicap) his major sport.

"It's nice to think about my football career," said Kazmaier recently, "and it's nice to talk about it, but I'm in a different business now, where you're not measured on a football basis. Many of the people I do business with don't even know my name. I've been called everything from Kessmeyer to Cashmere, and that suits me just fine."

PHOTOKAZMAIER WAS UNANIMOUS ALL-AMERICA PHOTOKAZ PASSES ON THE RUN FOR TOUCHDOWN PHOTOKAZ BUCKS INTO LINE FOR A TOUCHDOWN

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)