February 18, 2018

Offseason Knute Rockne Thoughts

For those who know me I have always told them I follow two sports, football and spring football. And for those who know me understand my love of the history of the game of football from its inception in 1869. Today’s game, obviously, is vastly different from when the legends of the gridiron took the field in the 20’s or the 30’s. The days of Knute Rockne have long passed. I guess I am trying to find the true football athlete of 2012–does he exist any more? I really do not know. To me, there are still some young men who play the sixty-minute battle on the gridiron by the rules for the love of the game and not for the commercialism that we may associate it with today.

Small college football still lives in our country and its games follow a predictable pattern and rhythm on its 100-yard field. I still enjoy Ivy League football although was very turned off by the tragedy which occurred before this past Yale-Harvard battle in 2011 when a U-Haul truck carrying beer kegs through a tailgating area outside of the Yale Bowl struck and killed a 30-year-old woman. RIP Nancy Barry!!

My thoughts turn to seasons of the past, at a time when Knute Rockne was the head coach at Notre Dame for such a brief time from 1918 to 1930. His brief life and legend was taken away from the gridiron in a tragic plane crash on March 31, 1931. I have always pondered what if he had not died at such a young age. What more could have been on the gridiron and for Notre Dame? He had a record of 105-12-5. Incredible if you think that his teams only lost 12 games in 13 years, a winning percentage of .881. His theories and coaching philosophies could be used by all coaches in today’s game–all should read and abide by his 25 Commandments for the game and life. It would do all of us good to bring back common sense to the gridiron rather than bounty hunting and the stale showboating of today’s game.

Thus, I wonder about the coming 2012 season. Can values and fair play come back to the game of football? When respect is a given between the goal posts and men play without the intent of permanent injury. Can it be a time of renewal for the game? When will the game becomes pure again rather than a stale commercialized mess of thrash talking and overweight shaking of flesh? It can be done and should be strived for by all who play and coach the game as they should remember the philosophies of Coach Rockne once again.


Bob Swick is Editor & Publisher of Gridiron Greats Magazine.


Tailgating in the Elm City

Yale’s 2011 football season was not a memorable one, but there is one element of it that will not be easily forgotten.

The team finished 5-5 overall with a 4-3 conference record, good for a four-way tie for second place in the Ivy League, behind 7-0 Harvard. An off-field incident made national news though.

Fellow Leatherheads Joe Williams, Bob Swick and Jon Daly met me at the Yale Bowl in New Haven, Conn., Nov. 19, an unseasonably warm and sunny Saturday, for the annual Harvard-Yale matchup, a.k.a., “The Game.” It was a pilgrimage of sorts. After all, a rivalry that has been contested over parts of three centuries (first played Nov. 13, 1875), is one that any real fan of the sport would consider with some degree of awe.

During the half-time intermission, the stadium’s public address announcer asked for a moment of silent prayer on behalf of a 30-year-old woman who had been struck and killed by a vehicle outside the stadium that morning.

The vehicle was a box truck. The location was a parking lot. The occasion was a tailgate party.

A U-Haul truck, driven by a Yale student (delivering the beer kegs for his fraternity’s bash), accelerated suddenly when entering the parking lot.

The vehicle plowed into a group of tailgaters striking three people. In addition to the woman who was killed, two others were hospitalized; one with serious injuries.

The driver’s attorney claimed the accident occurred as a result of vehicle malfunction. The incident remains under investigation and no charges have filed to date.

Tailgating is a part of the culture. Socializing, eating and drinking alcohol before football games takes place in hundreds of locations each and every weekend during the season. It’s one of the greatest manifestations of Americans’ obsession with football.

The thing is, at Yale, it’s not about football. It’s about the party.

For alumni, some of “tailgate” celebrations at Yale are professionally catered. They are mini reunions of sorts. For the students it’s an opportunity to party publicly, and on a large scale. The football game may be a convenient opportunity – or excuse – to party, but it is of little interest to many of those in attendance.

Many football fans are notorious for extending their tailgate parties up to and beyond the opening kickoff. IN the case of Yale-Harvard though, there were perhaps twice as many people tailgating as ultimately made it into the stadium.

The Yale Bowl is a WWI era structure. It seats some 60,000 fans and is a marvelous venue for football. Because it is so old however, it has many distinctions from modern athletic fields. For one, restrooms and food concessions are in separate buildings outside the stadium. The Bowl is not on campus but on the edge of New Haven in a somewhat residential area. There are open (grass) fields that serve as parking – and tailgating – areas, but there are also a number of city streets.

So, the tailgate crowd distinct from most other football enthusiasts and the tailgating area is not conducive to such widespread and jam-packed parties. These were, arguably, contributing factors to the tragedy of that day.

This past week Yale announced sweeping changes to its tailgating regulations. No more beer kegs, and no more box trucks, unless pre-authorized and operated by professional outside vendors. Also, all parties must disperse upon commencement of the game.

These are positive developments to be sure, but regulations that uniquely tailored to Yale. Its tailgate parties, particularly at every other year’s Harvard game at the Yale Bowl, are anomalies.

One expects the Ivy League should have refined distinctions, compared to other colleges and universities. In the case of Yale, those refinements were not enough.

The Game: Harvard-Yale for the 128th Time

I will be at the Yale Bowl this Saturday along with a few of my Leatherheads of the Gridiron friends, Joe Williams and Pete Sonski, for the 128th Edition of “The Game”.

“The Game” is special to me as I went to my first Harvard-Yale matchup on November 25, 1967 when Yale beat Harvard 24-20.  My father and I were rope guards for the game and to a nine-year-old it was an incredible game and the most people I had ever seen in one place in my life.  We all know what happen the next year in 1968 when Harvard scored 16 points in the final 42 seconds as I could not believe my AM radio that Harvard came back and tied Yale 29-29.  I have been to many Harvard-Yale games over the years including the 100th meeting in 1983 as I sat in the next to last top row in the Bowl to watch Harvard spoil the anniversary for Yale, outscoring the Bulldogs 16-7.  Revenge was sweet in 1985 at another packed Bowl with Yale beating the Crimson 17-6.  At that game I was forced to sit on Harvard’s side with a group of screaming Harvard fanatics–such are the seats for “The Game”.  I take them where I can find them.

This year Yale has a chance to blemish Harvard’s perfect Ivy League record by beating them at home.  Harvard is 8-1 overall and 6-0 in the Ivy while Yale has been a disappointing 5-4 overall and 4-2 in the Ivy.  Harvard has a strong defense this season and on offense they are led by running backs Zach Boden and Treavor Scales with quarterback Collier Winters behind the center calling the plays.  Boden is explosive in my opinion while Scales can score.  Yale is led by workhorse running back Alex Thomas, a fan favorite from Ansonia , CT.  Quarterback Patrick Witt has a favorite target in wide receiver Jackson Liguori.  On paper it is a classic matchup with the edge to Harvard, but anything can happen this Saturday.

Harvard has won the last nine out of ten matches and Yale leads overall 65-54-8 going into the game.  I still have a special place in my heart for Ivy League football.  And this game will be no different as I can still remember that special November afternoon with my father back in 1967.  “THE GAME” is football at its best.

Nelson “Bud” Talbott: The First Head Coach of a College and NFL Team in the Same Season

Nelson “Bud” Talbott is a name that many people probably see in a football encyclopedia, but don’t really give too much thought to it. Most people weren’t even alive when Talbott was a notable name in football. What I find most interesting about Talbott’s football career, is that he was the first person to coach a college football and an NFL team in the same season. In 1920 and 1921, Talbott coached the now defunct Dayton Triangles of the American Professional Football Association (now known as the National Football League). He also coached the University of Dayton grid team in 1920, and in their last game of the 1921 season.

Talbott was a native of Dayton, Ohio but prepared for his college career at the Hotchkiss Prep School in Lakeville, Connecticut. Talbott left Hotchkiss for Yale and became a standout on the gridiron as a tackle in the early 1910’s. The 6’0, 189-pound Talbott, was a three-time letter winner from 1912-14; he was also a letter winner in track. Talbott was selected as a Walter Camp All-American in 1913, helping lead Yale to seven shutouts in ten games that season.

Talbott was elected team captain for the 1914 season. Back then the Yale team captain was responsible for selecting the team’s head coach. Howard H. Jones, the future coaching legend at USC, led Yale to a 5-2-3 record in 1913, in what would be his second one-year stint at Yale. Talbott chose Frank Hinkey, not Jones for the job of Yale head coach in 1914.

As team captain, Talbott helped lead Yale to a 7-2 record in 1914. Yale’s most notable victory of the year was a 28-0 shutout over Notre Dame in New Haven. Notre Dame entered the game with a 27-game unbeaten streak, and had beaten Rose Polytechnic (now known as Rose-Hulman) 103-0 the previous week. The most notable loss of the year was to Harvard. The game was notable, because it was the first ever game played at the Yale Bowl; Harvard defeated Yale 36-0.

In 1915, Talbott served as an assistant coach under Hinkey, during a disappointing 4-5 season, which led to the dismissal of Hinkey as Yale’s coach. Talbott’s time at Yale had a great influence on the rest of his career in football. In 1921, when Talbott was the head coach of the APFA’s (NFL’s) Dayton Triangles, the Chicago Staleys’ George Halas was quoted in the October 19, 1921 edition of the Chicago Tribune, saying that Talbott was using “Yale’s style of offense and defense” with the Triangles.

In 1916 the Dayton Cadets became the Dayton Triangles, and Talbott was named the head coach of the professional team. Talbott helped lead the Triangles to a 9-1 record in that season.

After serving two years in the armed forces during WWI, Talbott returned to the Triangles as their head coach in 1919. That season Talbott led the Triangles to a 5-2-1 record. In 1920, Talbott became one of the NFL’s original head coaches, as the Triangles joined the APFA (NFL). That same season, Talbott also became the head coach of the University of Dayton grid team.

In 1920, the Dayton Triangles went 5-2-2 under Talbott’s direction. The Triangles started the season 4-0-2, and were in the hunt for the NFL’s first championship; however they faded at the end of the season, losing twice to the eventual first NFL champion, the Akron Pros.

That same season, Talbott led the University of Dayton to a disappointing 2-4 record. But in the last game of the season, Dayton defeated Georgetown College of Kentucky, 6-5. It was Dayton’s first ever victory over Georgetown in four tries. On at least four weekends, Talbott coached the University of Dayton on a Saturday and the professional Triangles on a Sunday. On the weekend of November 13-14, 1920, Talbott coached two games for Dayton on Saturday, and one game for the Triangles on Sunday; winning one game with the University of Dayton, and the one with the Triangles.

It seems that coaching college football on Saturdays helped Talbott coach the Triangles on Sundays. The Triangles late season collapse occurred when Talbott’s season with the University of Dayton was over.

At least initially in 1921, Talbott didn’t continue his dual role as a head coach in college and the pros. Talbott remained the head coach of the Triangles, but didn’t return to his position of head coach at the University Dayton until the last game of the season. Talbott led the Triangles to a 4-4-1 record. In his only game coaching the University of Dayton in 1921, Talbott led the school to their first and only victory of the season; a 13-6 victory over John Carroll University.

After the 1921 season, Talbott left both the Dayton Triangles and the University of Dayton. After football, Talbott would go on to have a successful business career, as well as a successful military career. He clearly never shied away from dual roles in his life. Talbott eventually took over his family’s business, becoming the president of the Talbott Corporation. Talbott also rose to the rank of Brigadier General in the Air Force by the time he retired from the armed forces. In 1947, Talbott founded the Nelson Talbott Foundation to support conservation programs, the arts, education, and human services.

Talbott led an extraordinary life, fitting for a man who completed an extraordinary feat in football; becoming the first head coach of a college football team, and an NFL team in the same season.


Note: Originally this article was entitled Nelson “Bud” Talbott: The First Head Coach of a College and NFL Team in the Same Season. A special thanks to Ralph Hickok for pointing out that Aldo Donelli was also a head coach for a pro and college football team in the same season. Donelli coached Duquesne and the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1941. Thank you for the correction.

Andrew McKillop runs the sports research blog SportsDelve.com.