This was not the way the day was supposed to end for Princeton running back Keith Elias. His eyes were surrounded by angry red circles that said he had been crying. His white uniform jersey still seemed clean and crisp after 60 minutes of football. His hair—quarterback Joel Foote had shaved the sides of Elias's head last Friday, leaving the hair on top long, creating a punk-rocker effect. The hair was supposed to make a statement about ferocity and commitment. No distractions. No prisoners. The hair mostly seemed stupid now.
"I never had lost in my life wearing a Mohawk," Elias said sadly late last Saturday afternoon.
"How many times had you worn your hair that way?" a sportswriter asked.
"About seven," Elias said.
November 15, 1993
Pennsylvania 30, Princeton 14. The electrical engineering majors and future Big Six accountants and ancient history scholars from Penn were doing a fine Top 25 imitation, tearing down the goalposts at the west end of old Franklin Field, and the Ivy League title was going, going, pretty much gone in Perm's direction with two games to play in the season. The "oxymoronic fighting Quakers," as the Penn kids call themselves, were unbeaten, 8-0. Princeton was 7-1, pretty much dead, and the best runner in school history had been a bust on his one special day.
Elias's final statistics were 59 yards on 15 carries. No touchdowns. The rushing star was 5'10", 156-pound Penn junior Terrance Stokes, who carried 42 times for a school-record 272 yards. The Penn defense, geared to stop Elias, the nation's leading Division I-AA rusher at 183.7 yards per game, did the job. The Penn offense, top-heavy in Division I-AA passing statistics, used draw play after draw play to free Stokes for big gains. The pregame expectations were turned upside down.
"We didn't plan to run the ball that much," Penn coach Al Bagnoli said. "We were looking for 150 yards, maybe 175, but we started running I and Princeton had trouble against the run, and we just kept going. On defense, we were out to stop Elias, always to be conscious of him, to stop their toss-sweep and let the quarterback and fullback beat us if they could."
It was billed on T-shirts as THE GAME OF THE CENTURY, and even if an impartial observer might ask, "What century, the 19th?" it did match unbeaten Ivy teams for the first time this late in the season since Yale and Harvard played to a 29-29 tie in 1968, and it also matched unbeaten Penn and Princeton teams for the first time in 99 years. It was a time-warp attraction, bringing memories of Bednarik and Kazmaier and of Charlie Caldwell's single wing and even of John Heisman, himself, to form a hazy one-day glow of importance around a league that has fallen from the headlines. So what if players in Division I-A were "two inches taller and two tenths of a second faster" in the words of Penn quarterback Jimmy McGeehan? So what if there was no national TV, not even same-day local TV? The stadium was the oldest in the country still used for football. The ghosts were joined by 35,810 warm bodies in the cold and wet. Two teams without athletic scholarships were equal and untarnished.
"This is our bowl game," Elias had said often during the week. "This is the one game we have wanted to play all our lives."
He was the obvious showcase star. Weren't the pros looking at him? Wasn't it about time the Ivies had some attention? Wasn't it time he had some attention? This was his stage, and he did everything possible to up the ante. A confident, talkative kid from Lacey Township, N.J., 5'11", 200 pounds, owner of 15 Princeton rushing records, Elias offered opinions on all subjects. The words that drew the most interest in Philadelphia were about Penn's academic standards. Elias said it was a shame that Penn could admit players who could not be admitted to Princeton. He said there was an unfairness in the equation. He said he wasn't trying to demean anyone, but facts are facts. Half the Penn team couldn't get into Princeton.
"It didn't bother me," Bagnoli said, "but it sure got the attention of our alumni. I must have received 500 faxes of an article in a New York paper."
Reaction was not subtle. The sports editor of Penn's The Daily Pennsylvania called Elias "a joke" and "a loudmouth" in print. The Penn marching band prepared a halftime routine about telephone Princeton admissions: "Press 1 if your father went to Princeton. Press 2 if your grandfather went to Princeton. Press 3 if you were a bad child actress. Press 4 if you're a white Anglo-Saxon Protestant. (Beep.) You're admitted." The Penn defense simply prepared to stop Elias.
On every play he was the No. 1 target. On every option sweep, he was the option covered first. Princeton added to its troubles with eight fumbles (four lost). Four of the fumbles came on simple center-quarterback exchanges. By halftime the Quakers had a 21-7 lead and Elias had only 27 yards, 13 on one carry. Princeton made it 24-14 late in the third quarter, but a fumble early in the fourth on its own nine-yard line set up a Penn field goal. After that, Princeton had to throw. Elias wasn't even an option. His final carry, with 3:48 left, came on fourth-and-two on Penn's 34. He was stopped a yard short.
"I don't think I ever got started," he said from behind his red eyes. "Never. I wasn't even close to being in the groove. That's never happened before."
At the other end of the interview area, a women's track locker room underneath the stands at Franklin Field, Stokes discussed his own big day. He is from Trenton, N.J., and is one of the kids who presumably wouldn't have been admitted to Princeton. Stokes was saying that some of his teachers at Trenton Central High School had predicted that he wouldn't survive at Penn, but here he was, with a 2.8 grade point average "that's still climbing." He seemed as proud of his 2.8 as he did of his record 272 yards. More proud.
"How about Keith Elias?" a reporter asked. "Do you feel sympathy for him? This was supposed to be his big day, and here you are. Everyone was talking about him, and now they're talking about you."
"I don't feel any sympathy for Keith Elias," Stokes said quietly. "He flapped his mouth and he didn't back it up. I don't have any sympathy at all."
Add passion as part of the one-day, yet also eternal, Ivy glow.