Two weeks later
the Indians were in Cambridge for the game that was annually the emotional high
point of their season: Harvard. In 10 previous meetings Carlisle had never
beaten the Crimson. But this time the Indians were convinced they had the
superior team. The game wasn't seven minutes old when Mount Pleasant struck
Exendine with a 45-yard pass that the end gathered in at Harvard's three to set
up a Carlisle touchdown. From then on the Crimson didn't know where to look.
"Only when a redskin shot out of the hopeless maze ... could it be told
with any degree of certainty just where the attack was directed," the
Boston Herald reported.
The Indians scored
three more times that afternoon. Payne started around end as if to run--but
pulled up short and heaved a scoring pass all the way across the field. Then
Hauser caught a 31-yard pass from Mount Pleasant. Last but not least, Mount
Pleasant wove through the entire Harvard defense on an 80-yard punt return.
The final score
was 23--15. From Boston to New York City, Carlisle's victory was front-page
news. CRIMSON HOPELESSLY BAFFLED BY BRILLIANT TACTICS OF REDSKINS, one headline
announced. But the real story wasn't that a team of Indians had beaten Harvard.
It was that they were the masters of a new sport. Carlisle football, mixing the
run, pass and kick with elements of surprise, was the game of the future.
By the fall of
1911 Thorpe was a superbly proportioned 180 pounds. He could run 100 yards in
10 seconds, throw a 16-pound shot 48 feet and clear 6'1" in the high jump.
In addition to his brilliance in football, baseball and track, he led Carlisle
in basketball, lacrosse, hockey, handball and tennis.
But Thorpe was
perplexing. His practice habits bespoke laziness. Warner lost his patience but
could not intimidate him. Thorpe was mule-headed, proud and fearless. He
believed he could overcome anything, which made him careless about his ability.
"Nothing bothered Jim," Warner told sportswriter Grantland Rice.
"When he was 'right,' the sheer joy of playing carried him through. When he
wasn't, he showed it."
Thorpe agreed with Warner's estimation. "I played with the heart of an
amateur--for the pure hell of it," he told Rice. For Thorpe, games were an
escape; he was more comfortable on the field than in society. He was
fundamentally a loner.
But beneath the
seeming indifference something burned. He enjoyed making opponents look silly.
"He'd come straight up to a man, then fake him one way ever so slightly,
then go the other," Exendine said. "He'd hit him a kind of glancing
blow which knocked him more off balance than flat as a pancake." Sometimes
Thorpe would seek out a defender just for the sport of it. "When he'd get
loose and head for the goal," Exendine recalled, "he took a devilish
delight in upsetting the safety man. He'd run at him instead of away from him.
When he'd get a few yards in front of him ... he'd begin to feint with his
shoulders, eyes and legs, until the anxious fellow was in a fearful state of
indecision. Then he'd charge right for the man, with his head and shoulders
down and his legs far out of reach. When they met, Thorpe would ... deal him an
awful blow with his hip. I've seen him spin them almost completely around in
The Indians went
11--1 in 1911, and when the season was over Warner and Thorpe moved inside to
the gymnasium, to train for the 1912 Summer Olympics in Stockholm. They sailed
for Sweden with a U.S. team that included a West Point pentathlete named George
Patton. Contrary to stories told over the years, Thorpe trained hard during the
10-day trip on the liner, pounding around a cork track laid on the deck. He was
in peak condition, as his performances showed in Stockholm. He won four of the
five events in the pentathlon and pocketed his first gold medal in a rout. Then
he set a record in the decathlon, 8,412.96 points, that would stand for 16
ended on the final day of the Games, and Thorpe had his famous exchange with
King Gustav of Sweden. The king presented him with a gold medal, a wreath and a
jeweled chalice of gold and silver in the shape of a Viking ship, offered by
the Czar of Russia. As the two men shook hands, the Swedish monarch said,
"Sir, you are the greatest athlete in the world."
King," Thorpe replied.