THE FITZGERALD SYSTEM
Gerald Holland's article on Fritz Crisler, the "inventor" of the two-platoon system (The Man Who Changed Football, Feb. 3), sent me scurrying back to the biography of one of Princeton's most distinguished students. Sure enough, on page 237 of Scott Fitzgerald by Andrew Turnbull we find the documentation that establishes the author of The Great Gatsby, etc. as the true pioneer of the system.
One night in 1933, insomniac Fitzgerald spent the long evening hours making several calls to Asa Bushnell, then Princeton's graduate athletic manager. At 3 a.m. Bushnell heard a lively voice say: "Get a pencil and paper, I have some suggestions for Fritz Crisler. Yale will be laying for us.... Crisler's got to cross them up. Here's how he does it. Princeton must have two teams. One will be big—all men over two hundred. This team will be used to batter them down and wear them out. Then the little team, the pony team, will go in and make the touchdowns.... The big team will be coached on defense.... Little team will be coached on offense, great variety of plays. Substitutions to be made as a unit."
Bushnell passed this along to Crisler, then Princeton's coach. Crisler wrote Fitzgerald that he saw value in his plan, but would adopt it only if he could label it "the Fitzgerald system" and that the inventor take full responsibility for its success or failure.
Did Crisler remember this wild brainstorm of a football-crazy novelist 12 years later when, as chairman of the NCAA Football Rules Committee, he was instrumental in gaining acceptance of a form of "the Fitzgerald system"?
? SPORTS ILLUSTRATED sent copies of Reader Mangel's comments to both Crisler and Asa Bushnell, now commissioner of the Eastern College Athletic Conference. Following are their replies.—ED.
I well remember the frequent telephone calls from Scott Fitzgerald that came any time during the night before big games, advising me what strategy should be used the following day.
Before a Harvard game he proposed the use of two teams, one composed of big black ants, the other of the small red variety. As noted by Bert Mangel, Fitzgerald proposed the use of a brawn team and a pony team to humble Yale. His idea was to adopt the Rockne practice of using shock troops to exhaust the energies of Harvard and Yale in preparation for the coup de grace, to be administered by the red ants and the ponies.
I do not recall any suggestion that units be employed offensively and defensively. I never associated the so-called " Fitzgerald system" with platoon football.
H. O. (FRITZ) CRISLER
Ann Arbor, Mich.
My good friend Scott Fitzgerald made numberless nocturnal telephone calls, not a few of them to me. The purport of many of them I have forgotten; but not of those mentioned by Fitzgerald's acute biographer, Andrew Turnbull. Those calls came to me at my home in Princeton, three of them, all during the small hours of a single night in October 1933. Scott had evolved a plan to assure a Tiger win over Yale a fortnight later. There were three calls instead of one because the scheme gained new features as its author continued to cogitate upon it.
Came the morning, with no fourth call ensuing. At the Princeton athletic office, where we were both based, I related the Fitzgerald design for victory to Fritz Crisler, then in the second of six years of highly proficient coaching at Old Nassau. He and I colored Scott orange and black for loyal interest, but Crisler proceeded to achieve victory over the Elis (27-2) by placing greater reliance upon players Fairman, Ceppi, Lane, Kadlic, Constable and LeVan than upon strategist Fitzgerald.