In a 1974 game at Palmer, Rutgers fans were so excited by their team's 6-0 lead late in the fourth quarter that many of them—shades of the Twelfth Man Game—descended on the field and tore down the goalposts. It was a premature celebration, however, since Princeton soon scored the tying touchdown. Deprived of goalposts, the Tigers tried to run for the conversion. They failed, and the game ended in a tie.
Perhaps the most thrilling game ever played in Palmer was in 1981 against Yale, won in the last four seconds when Tigers quarterback Bob Holly, who had already passed for an Ivy League-record 501 yards, scored on a keeper from the one-yard line. The final score was 35-31. It was a season of prolific scoring at Palmer. The week before, the Tigers had lost 55-14 to Maine. A Maine assistant coach that day was Steve Tosches, the current Princeton coach.
The balcony down the hall from Tosches's office in Jadwin Gym looks out on the open end of Palmer Stadium. From that vantage point the old warhorse seems to rise majestically into the clouds, and it appears, for all of its blemishes, as impressive as on the day it was built. "It has lived its life, and it's been a good life," said Tosches one day on the balcony. "And its time has come. But there are ghosts there."
W. Thacher Longstreth, Princeton class of '41, hasn't missed a game at Palmer in 47 years. "Palmer Stadium to me will always be more Princeton than any other single building," he told Jerry Price of the university's athletic communications department. "To lose it is a sign of my own mortality."
But undergraduates seem to have less of a romantic attachment to the stadium. "I don't think there is really a student following for football, as opposed to other sports, such as lacrosse and basketball," says Mike Clementi, class of 1999. Indeed, the loudest cheer from the Princeton rooting section during the 24-0 Charter Weekend loss to Harvard was for the halftime appearance of three male streakers on the field.
Palmer is now second only to Harvard Stadium, built in 1903 and extensively renovated in 1982, as the oldest college football stadium in the country. Demolition will begin soon after the last game of the season, on Nov. 23 against Dartmouth, and construction of the $45 million replacement will start in the spring of 1997.
Palmer, however, will be remembered as the site of more inspiring runs and the setting for some of the game's most memorable contests. Its replacement should have as distinguished a life.