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The Untamable Tiger

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Updated: Sunday October 22, 2000 8:08 PM

On Oct. 27, 1951, undefeated Cornell, one of the best teams in the country, visited Princeton's Palmer Stadium to take on the also unbeaten but underdog Tigers. Cornell coach Lefty James had spent an entire year developing strategies to defend Princeton All-America back Dick Kazmaier. "Stop Kazmaier," James theorized, "and you stop Princeton."

But Kazmaier was too much for the coach's machinations. The triple-threat tailback threw for three touchdowns and ran in two more to lead Princeton to a 53-15 victory. He completed 15 of 17 passes (88.2%, still a Princeton record) for 236 yards. His 124 yards rushing gave him 360 overall, a Tigers record that stood for 30 years.

After the game, James sorrowfully concluded it was "the greatest one-man performance" he had ever seen. A performance that went a long way toward Kazmaier winning the 1951 Heisman Trophy as the best player in the land.

"My approach was fairly routine," Kazmaier says. "I tried to look at every game the same and prepare the same way."

Led by "Kaz," the Tigers went undefeated in 1950 and '51, winning a major- college-record 22 straight from his sophomore year to the end of his senior season. The 1950 offense averaged 38.8 points per game, still a school record. In '51, Princeton ranked sixth nationally and won the Lambert Trophy as the best in the East.

This was a far cry from Kazmaier's humble beginnings as a third-team tailback on Princeton's freshman squad. Coach Charlie Caldwell thought the 5-11 Kazmaier, then 155 pounds, "was too small for varsity athletics." Kazmaier didn't gain Caldwell's full confidence until the third game of his sophomore season, when he completed 8 of 12 passes, averaged nine yards per carry and scored both Tiger touchdowns in a 14-13 loss to Pennsylvania.

Kazmaier was a star from then on, fooling defenses with his equally effective passing, running and punting. He was accurate throwing on the run and completed 123 passes for 960 yards and 13 touchdowns his Heisman season. He was also a skilled rusher, changing pace and direction quickly. "They may stop Kazmaier from passing, they may stop him from running, but they can't do both," Caldwell said.

Kazmaier led the nation in '51 with an Ivy League-record 1,827 yards of total offense. In addition to winning Princeton's only Heisman Trophy-and the last by an Ivy Leaguer-Kazmaier was named AP Male Athlete of the Year, Ivy League Player of the Decade and Princeton's Player of the Century.

The modest Midwesterner would rather discuss team triumphs than his individual honors. The way he saw it, he was simply doing his job. "When anyone begins thinking contrary to the best interest of the team, that's when you don't win all of your games," Kazmaier says. "Obviously, we didn't have much of that thinking."

Football was not the top priority for the psychology major, who also lettered in basketball and worked part time to help pay for college. Kazmaier played sports because he enjoyed them, and as his father told him, "Dick, you're at Princeton for an education, not to play football." His devotion to the classroom over the gridiron was evident when the 1952 Chicago Bears draftee shunned the NFL for Harvard Business School.

After Harvard and three years in the Navy, Kazmaier continued in business and eventually started Kazmaier Associates, Inc. At 69, he still manages the Boston-based family investment company with the same tenets-consistency and discipline-to which he credits his athletic success. He also has served as a director of the National Football Foundation, chairman of the President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports and on the Knight Foundation Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics.

Almost 50 years after he stopped playing, Kazmaier agrees with his decision to forgo the NFL. "If you won the Heisman in those days, there wasn't much more to accomplish," he says. "After such a wonderful time and so much success as a college player, why not go out on top?"

-- Molly Moore

 
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