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Post-war Princeton football newsreels (1947-1956)

Today’s blog is written by Mark F. Bernstein ’83, author of Football: the Ivy League Origins of an American Obsession (2001).

The decade after World War II was a Golden Age of Princeton football. Under the leadership of coach Charlie Caldwell ’25, the Tigers were often nationally ranked and it was not unusual for newsreel cameras to film Princeton games. These Paramount newsreels give highlights from across that era, although the clips are not in chronological order.

The first game shown here, a 13-7 victory over Penn in 1951, was almost certainly broadcast on national television, as the Quakers had a lucrative contract with ABC to broadcast all their home games. Dick Kazmaier ’52, a triple-threat tailback in Princeton’s distinctive single wing offense, won the Heisman Trophy that year, graced the cover of Time magazine, and was named the AP’s athlete of the year, beating out such luminaries as Otto Graham and Stan Musial. Kazmaier showed off his passing skills here with a bomb to Frank McPhee ’53. (0:48)
The second clip shows a 42-20 loss to Yale in 1956, the first year of Ivy League competition. Although it is not known if this game was broadcast, one concession to television in those years was a recommendation that the road team wear white uniforms, which made the teams easier to distinguish on black-and-white TV sets. For generations before that, Princeton always wore black and orange, whether playing at home or on the road. Nineteen fifty-six was also Caldwell’s last full season as coach. He died of cancer the following year and was succeeded by his assistant, Dick Colman.
Caldwell was just beginning to build his dynasty in 1947, when the third clip was filmed showing a 26-7 loss to the Quakers. Dick West ’48 provided the lone highlight, connecting with George Sella ’50 for a touchdown. (3:40) West played for the Tigers in 1942 but interrupted his education to join the military. Sella, like Dick Kazmaier, was later drafted by the Chicago Bears but decided to pass up the NFL for Harvard Business School.
The final clip shows a hard-fought 24-20 victory over Navy during the undefeated 1951 season.   The win was Princeton’s fifteenth in a row. Their streak would eventually extend to 24 games before Penn snapped it the following year.

This Telenews newsreel jumped the gun a bit, as the Ivy League did not formally come into existence until the 1956 season. Nevertheless, the Princeton-Yale rivalry dates back to the 1870s and is one of the most storied in the history of college football. Even today, the game is usually the most anticipated one on Princeton’s schedule.
Yale entered the 1955 game with a 6-1 record, coming off an upset of 19thranked Army. Princeton, however, was nearly their equal, entering the game at 5-2 under coach Charlie Caldwell ’25 despite a disappointing loss to Harvard the previous week.

Princeton’s star tailback, Royce Flippen ’56, had missed most of the season after injuring his knee when Syracuse great Jim Brown tackled him in a preseason scrimmage. But Flippen, who later served as Princeton’s athletic director, had a reputation for playing his best against the Elis. Although he was in for only 13 plays in this game, he made them count. A pass to Bill Agnew ’56 (2:12) set up a four-yard Flippen touchdown run. (2:24)   With time running out, Joe DiRenzo ’56, who had already recovered a fumble (2:01), grabbed a one-armed interception and carried it in for a touchdown to seal a 13-0 Princeton victory. (2:56)

The film also captures a slice of campus life in the mid-’50s and illustrates how big an event the Yale game was. In addition to the tailgaters behind the Prospect Avenue eating clubs, Margaret Truman (wearing a traditional Princeton chrysanthemum) and New Jersey Gov. Robert Meyner (0:36) were among the capacity crowd of 46,000. A blimp can even be seen circling overhead.  (0:28)  Note, however, that Jadwin Gymnasium and the Weaver Track and Field Stadium had yet to be built beyond the open end of Palmer Stadium. That area was still woodland.

–Mark F. Bernstein ’83
The newsreels, found on a KSP60 U-matic video and a 16mm film, are part of the University Archives’ Historical Audiovisual Collection (item nos. 1341 and 0057)




One response to “Post-war Princeton football newsreels (1947-1956)”

  1. Wow! A jam packed Palmer Stadium for a Yale game, Coach Ed Donovan on the football sideline, Royce Flippen having a big day…. now I see why the Class of ’55 football alumni return to campus so much…the best damned place of all!

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