THE FITZGERALD SYSTEM
Gerald Holland's article on Fritz Crisler, the "inventor" of the two-platoon system (The Man Who Changed Football, Feb. 3), sent me scurrying back to the biography of one of Princeton's most distinguished students. Sure enough, on page 237 of Scott Fitzgerald by Andrew Turnbull we find the documentation that establishes the author of The Great Gatsby, etc. as the true pioneer of the system.
One night in 1933, insomniac Fitzgerald spent the long evening hours making several calls to Asa Bushnell, then Princeton's graduate athletic manager. At 3 a.m. Bushnell heard a lively voice say: "Get a pencil and paper, I have some suggestions for Fritz Crisler. Yale will be laying for us.... Crisler's got to cross them up. Here's how he does it. Princeton must have two teams. One will be big—all men over two hundred. This team will be used to batter them down and wear them out. Then the little team, the pony team, will go in and make the touchdowns.... The big team will be coached on defense.... Little team will be coached on offense, great variety of plays. Substitutions to be made as a unit."
Bushnell passed this along to Crisler, then Princeton's coach. Crisler wrote Fitzgerald that he saw value in his plan, but would adopt it only if he could label it "the Fitzgerald system" and that the inventor take full responsibility for its success or failure.
Did Crisler remember this wild brainstorm of a football-crazy novelist 12 years later when, as chairman of the NCAA Football Rules Committee, he was instrumental in gaining acceptance of a form of "the Fitzgerald system"?
February 24, 1964
•SPORTS ILLUSTRATED sent copies of Reader Mangel's comments to both Crisler and Asa Bushnell, now commissioner of the Eastern College Athletic Conference. Following are their replies.—ED.
I well remember the frequent telephone calls from Scott Fitzgerald that came any time during the night before big games, advising me what strategy should be used the following day.
Before a Harvard game he proposed the use of two teams, one composed of big black ants, the other of the small red variety. As noted by Bert Mangel, Fitzgerald proposed the use of a brawn team and a pony team to humble Yale. His idea was to adopt the Rockne practice of using shock troops to exhaust the energies of Harvard and Yale in preparation for the coup de grace, to be administered by the red ants and the ponies.
I do not recall any suggestion that units be employed offensively and defensively. I never associated the so-called "Fitzgerald system" with platoon football.
H. O. (FRITZ) CRISLER
Ann Arbor, Mich.
My good friend Scott Fitzgerald made numberless nocturnal telephone calls, not a few of them to me. The purport of many of them I have forgotten; but not of those mentioned by Fitzgerald's acute biographer, Andrew Turnbull. Those calls came to me at my home in Princeton, three of them, all during the small hours of a single night in October 1933. Scott had evolved a plan to assure a Tiger win over Yale a fortnight later. There were three calls instead of one because the scheme gained new features as its author continued to cogitate upon it.
Came the morning, with no fourth call ensuing. At the Princeton athletic office, where we were both based, I related the Fitzgerald design for victory to Fritz Crisler, then in the second of six years of highly proficient coaching at Old Nassau. He and I colored Scott orange and black for loyal interest, but Crisler proceeded to achieve victory over the Elis (27-2) by placing greater reliance upon players Fairman, Ceppi, Lane, Kadlic, Constable and LeVan than upon strategist Fitzgerald.
If memory isn't tricking me, Scott's plan didn't actually entail use of two full teams as the prototypes of football's later double platoons. What he advocated was frequent interchange of two separate backfields, one swift, the other devastatingly powerful. The real secret of success was to be some unorthodox maneuvers by the swifties. Scott didn't explain how the essentially frequent and hence illegal substitutions of the interchangeable backfields could be manipulated, even by a future chairman of the Football Rules Committee.
Scott Fitzgerald had indelible influence upon his time, and upon the literature of those and subsequent years. But even as a staunch fan of his I can find no evidence that he made his mark also upon the game of football. He doesn't look to me like the grandfather of the two-platoon system.
ASA S. BUSHNELL
New York City
I protest. The Michigan Stadium is not a monument to Fritz Crisler, and I mean to take nothing from that fine gentleman. It was conceived by another great Michigan athletic director and former coach, Fielding H. Yost.
Yost found the location for it, and when the bankers wanted to charge what he thought was too much interest on the bonds he offered them to the alumni at only 3% interest. Everyone said that he was crazy, but if you owned a bond for a few years you were privileged to buy, at the regular price, two seats within the 35-yard lines. The bonds sold like hot cakes.
Furthermore, it is only a football stadium. There is no running track to require the end seats to be pushed way back from the end zones—another Yost idea. They ran into springs while digging it out. Yost piped the water across the road to water the fairways on the university golf course.
The stadium is only one of many monuments in Ann Arbor to Fielding Yost. And because of revenue that it provided, the Yost idea of "athletics for all" became a reality. Oddly enough, neither Yost nor Crisler, who have epitomized Michigan athletics for over 60 years, were University of Michigan graduates.
FINLEY B. RlGGS
Santa Ana, Calif.
Congratulations to Morton Sharnik for his fine article, The Four Who Baffled Liston (Feb. 10). The current myth that Sonny Liston is unbeatable is obviously based upon Sonny's last three fights, which, if put together, wouldn't be longer than a few rounds. I was even beginning to accept the myth as fact until I read your article. Mr. Sharnik has given us a refreshing change of viewpoint.
I'd especially like to see Marshall or McCarter get a shot at the crown. Maybe soon we will see a "total eclipse of the Sonny!"
MARK B. BITTMAN
New York City
I disagree with the implications in Morton Sharnik's article. In his attempt to pinpoint Liston's weaknesses, he has forgotten one important fact: Liston has been beaten only once professionally. The first Liston-Marshall fight was no fluke, neither were the second and third of these encounters.
As I see it, Liston beat Marshall twice while losing only once. Mr. Whitehurst lost both times and, as I remember, the bell saved him once as he was knocked through the ropes. Eddie Machen was so busy dodging Liston's punches that he never had a chance at winning. Jim McCarter was able to spar with the champion without getting knocked down.
Sharnik admitted that Liston fought diferently then than he would have in a championship fight. But he has forgotten that a fighter tries to win. Liston has such a reputation that people feel that anything less than a knockout is a defeat. The fact remains that, though Liston has been baffled often, he has been beaten only once.
Put Marty Marshall, Burt Whitchurst, Eddie Machen and Jim McCarter all in the same ring against Champion Sonny Liston, and the winner at the end would be, of course, Sonny Liston! Don't knock the champ!
DENNIS R. HENDLEY
Congratulations for John Underwood's excellent article on Wally Jones and Villanova (Wally's Cue: "Sidney! Sidney!" Feb. 10).
Villanova should surely be ranked higher than sixth in the nation. Davidson, which is ahead of Villanova and has the same record, is a disgrace to the top 10. They play schools that a small college team should play. Villanova plays big-time teams. Kentucky also shouldn't be up there. Their only player is Cotton Nash who scores all his points by just getting under the basket and getting all the missed shots. He never scores from outside. Kentucky makes sure that every team on their schedule is a small team. If they ever played a tall team they'd get killed. Why don't they schedule a game with Villanova? They're a short team. If they did, they'd get routed.
Elkins Park, Pa.
All you hear these days are reports on how tough UCLA's Walt Hazzard and Gail Goodrich are—mainly because UCLA is ranked No. 1 in the nation. And now comes Wally Jones of Villanova. Well, we at Utah feel that our fine team deserves more recognition and especially our two scrappy guards, Doug (Moon Shot) Moon and Skip (Bad-ball Barney) Kroeger. Moon and Kroeger have consistently got the job done when needed. They handled a little guard from Villanova, completely dominated two fine guards from Cincinnati and have met some of the finest players in the country so far this season and come out on top.
If Utah's Runnin' Redskins are fortunate enough to win the Western Athletic Conference (which by comparing records on outside competition is one of the toughest, if not the toughest conference in the nation), perhaps the two teams will meet in the NCAA regional playoffs in Oregon early next month. Then perhaps we will see which team deserves the praise, and which back-court combination is tougher. If the game is played, you can be sure that Moon Shot and Bad-ball Barney will hold their own, and then some!
Salt Lake City
Before the Olympics it was fashionable to talk of the Tough Americans: those well-trained, capable, well-coached amateur athletes we were sending to the IX Winter Games at Innsbruck.
The week the games began it was suddenly equally fashionable to cry out against those same Tough Americans: those poorly performing, carousing, poorly trained or overly trained, incorrectly clothed or too warmly clad, too well-fed or hungry amateurs who couldn't, apparently, make the pro ranks.
Local TV viewers, sports-page readers, sports columnists and even TV commentators were suddenly searching high and low for a gold medal, and when only one was forthcoming the commentators' faces grew grimmer, the sportswriters wrote page upon page of copy about our unsubsidized competitors and the local listeners raged. Everyone counts up Russian medals, notes our lack and acts like democracy, the American way of life, liberty, justice and American motherhood have all suffered a crashing defeat—at the hands of Russia, Avery Brundage and goodness knows what else.
Well, I'm tired of it! Have we come to feel that all competitions must be won—or we have nothing?
Have we gone so far down the primrose path of material creature comfort that we are unable to recognize and give credit to those who have not, those who are dedicating themselves to doing their best?
I especially felt deep pride when I watched our hockey team: men who have been willing to put aside their private lives for the months they have trained. I know it takes-years of playing together to make a team. So do they. They undoubtedly knew they had little chance by beginning in the late fall to play together as a team. But even with little chance they were willing to get out of a comfortable home or pleasant fraternity house to forgo nightly TV, soft gooey desserts and all the other things we think so vital to a "good life," to present themselves, instead, to a grinding schedule so they could represent their country.
Tough Americans? You bet they are!
Rock Island, Ill.