This grand era of Cornell football ended with the penultimate game of 1940; it is a game that remains famous after all these years, though few fans recall that it broke a long winning streak. The Big Red, having ripped off six straight victories in '39, including a 21-7 triumph over Ohio State, had outscored its rivals 181-13. The game was played at Dartmouth on a drizzly afternoon in mid-November. Cornell was a heavy favorite over 3-4 Dartmouth, but the field was so slippery that neither team made much headway until Dartmouth returned a punt 50 yards early in the fourth quarter and kicked a field goal. With 2� minutes remaining and the Big Red still behind 3-0, Cornell got the ball on its own 42 for what clearly would be its final chance.
I wasn't sitting by the woodpile for this one. I was in my grandfather's huge dark living room, my ear to a radio that stood about as high as a bureau. After a couple of completions as well as a pass interference call, Cornell was at the Dartmouth six. Three plays later the Big Red was on the one, but before the deciding play could take place, an official was walking the ball back to the six. Too many time-outs. A field goal seemed prudent, but Cornell went for the TD. Unfortunately, a pass was batted down in the end zone. Referee Red Friesell started to give the ball to Dartmouth, then ruled that Cornell had one more down. Dartmouth Captain Lou Young protested in vain to Friesell and with only three seconds left, a Big Red halfback named Bill Murphy made a leaping catch in the end zone of a pass from Scholl. In New Jersey, I leaped as high as Murphy.
The next morning the Times ran the headline: DISPUTED CORNELL PLAY TOPS DARTMOUTH, 7-3, AT FINISH. But unbeknown to me, a calm and gentlemanly investigation was taking place. No threats, no name-calling. Cornell President Edmund E. Day announced that "if the officials in charge of today's Dartmouth-Cornell game rule after investigation that there were five downs in the final series of plays, and that the winning touchdown was made on an illegal fifth down, the score of the game between Dartmouth and Cornell would be recorded as Dartmouth 3, Cornell 0." Dartmouth's Earl (Red) Blaik, soon to coach Doc Blanchard and Glenn Davis at Army, called Friesell "a great referee."
The possibility existed that the head linesman had ruled both teams offside on fourth down. But Head Linesman Joe McKenney hadn't made any such ruling, and Friesell admitted that, upon reviewing the press charts and film of the game, it was clear he alone had been in error.
Asa Bushnell, head of the Eastern Intercollegiate Football Association, said he was powerless to intercede. "Our association has no authority in the matter," he said, and Friesell said his own "jurisdiction ceased at the close of the game." Thus Cornell could have let the 7-3 result stand. But Cornell Athletic Director James Lynah issued a statement that "Cornell relinquishes claim to the victory and extends congratulations to Dartmouth." Dartmouth in turn praised Cornell for its sportsmanship and its winning streak.
Cornell lost a thriller to Penn the next week and the season was over. I suppose my father and I listened to the '41 games out by the log pile, but I don't remember, perhaps because the Big Red was only 5-3 that season. After that came the war, and when it was over, my grandparents were dead, we had moved from the house, and I had better things to do on Saturday afternoons in the fall. Just what they were I don't recall.