Tackles were then eligible to receive passes, and the combination of senior quarterback John Cutler, who later married Fish's sister, Rosalind, and Fish became a vital part of the Harvard attack. "No man who has been developed since the introduction of the forward pass could equal him at receiving the ball," Camp wrote of the 6'4", 190-pound Fish. "And the stretch of his arms up into the air, as can be readily appreciated, is considerable. Furthermore, he had a way of so planting himself upon his feet that the men whose province was to knock over the man receiving the pass invariably found Fish immovable." Overall, Camp pronounced that Fish was "the best rounded-out of all the tackles that have played that position."
Early in the 1908 season, Harvard captain Francis Burr, an All-America guard and a senior, suffered an injury that ended his football career. Haughton named Fish, a junior, as acting captain. Fish, in turn, named his classmate, John Reed, as the cheerleader, because, he says, "I knew him very well, and I liked him." The arch-conservative Fish liked Reed's politics less as time went on. After graduating, Reed was reputed to have taught striking workers songs with proletarian lyrics that he had set to the tunes of Harvard fight songs, and he wrote Ten Days That Shook the World, an account of the Russian revolution. When Reed died in Moscow of typhus in 1920, an appreciative Lenin honored him by having his body buried at the Kremlin wall.
In its first five games of the 1908 season, Harvard ran up 93 points and held its opponents scoreless. Then came a 6-6 tie with the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis. Despite the tie, Harvard was still in contention for the Ivy League championship, which at that time was tantamount to being national champion. The Crimson beat Brown 6-2 and then faced its biggest test: undefeated, untied Carlisle with a sensational new back, Jim Thorpe.
" Pop Warner was the Carlisle coach," Fish says, "and they believed they were going to win the national championship. Before they played us, they beat Syracuse, a very strong team that year. Pop Warner had sewn the covers from old footballs onto the jerseys of his three backs and two ends so that Syracuse would have a difficult time distinguishing who really had the ball, and they beat Syracuse 12-0. Syracuse was furious. They rang me up, and I called my squad to a meeting. I said. "You are Harvard men. you're supposed to be intelligent. I want you to take the rule book and see if there is anything against putting the cover of a football on the backs and ends." They came back in the morning, and said. 'We can't find anything against it in the rules." But we had a very line, intelligent coach in Percy Haughton, and he outsmarted Pop Warner. The home team provided the football, and Percy Haughton had the football colored crimson, the same as our jerseys, and Pop Warner had to send his three backs and two ends back to change their jerseys. We beat Pop Warner's team, and Jim Thorpe, 17-0.
" Thorpe was the best player I ever saw," Fish continues. "I le was recognized at the time as the best man, he really was. He could do anything. He had the speed, he had the strength, he had the know-how, he could go through the line, he could run the ends, he had all the tricks. When we beat them. I believe it was the first time he didn't score. I tackled him more than anyone else."
Harvard went on to defeat Dartmouth and Yale—neither opponent scored a point—and was declared Ivy League champion. In 1909. the Crimson looked like a good bet to repeat. There was a close call against Williams, which led 6-0 at the half because Haughton started second-stringers, but then he sent in the regulars, including Fish, who had been sidelined by ptomaine poisoning, and Harvard won 8-6.
After an 11-0 win over Brown,
The Boston Globe
reported, "Captain Fish was prominent in one of the most spectacular plays of the game." It occurred when Ted Frothingham, the Harvard halfback, picked up the ball on the Harvard eight-yard line and headed downfield with Adrien Regnier, Brown's captain, in pursuit, closely followed by Fish. "The two captains raced along yards behind Frothingham," The Globe reported, "and when they reached the middle of the field Fish threw himself at Regnier and knocked him down. Fish fell on the Brown leader and whenever the latter would strive to rise Fish would stiffen out his arms and legs, taking care not to hold his rival. Regnier tried half a dozen methods to free himself, but could not do so. while the 16,000 spectators laughed, finally when frothingham had crossed the goal line Fish rolled off Regnier and the latter somewhat sheepishly regained his feet." Fish's clever heroics were to no avail; it turned out that the referee had called the ball dead before Frothingham had broken loose.
Undefeated Harvard next played Army. At the time, the rules prohibited a player from returning to the game once he was taken out. Eugene Alexis Byrne, the Army captain, played opposite Fish and proved no match for him. "I could see that he was pretty well in at the end of the half." Fish says," and I said to my coach. 'You ought to send word to the West Point coach that the captain is all in and might get hurt.' I suggested that Byrne be taken out for a substitute, but he wanted to play. Shortly after, in the second half, we had the ball. We gave the ball to our 200-pound fullback. Dono Minot, a rugged' fellow. Strangely enough, on this particular play. I was shifted over to the other side of the line, and the West Point captain came through the line fast, smashed into our fullback and fell to the ground. He couldn't move and became unconscious. We had to stop the game—we were way ahead—and he died the next day from a broken neck. That's when football changed the rule so that you could take a man out and put him back in again, and that's a very good rule."
Harvard followed with an 18-0 victory over Cornell and a 12-3 defeat of Dartmouth to set up a dream game—Harvard vs. Yale. These two unbeaten teams, arch-rivals at that, were meeting to decide the national championship on the final day of the season. Harvard, 8-0, had outscored its opponents 103-9. Yale had gone 9-0, but the Elis were unscored upon and boasted six All-America players, including Ted Coy, the fullback and captain whom Camp would name his alltime All-America fullback. In profiling COY. (amp wrote: "It was almost impossible to stop him in front when he had acquired full headway."
Anchored by Fish, who was playing with badly damaged ribs suffered in the Dartmouth game. Harvard held Coy and Yale to only 100 yards and two first downs, but Yale won the game and the championship 8-0 on a safety and two drop-kick field goals by Coy. "I never played a better game." Fish says. "I'd rested up. my tackling was perfect, but I couldn't attempt to catch a pass because I couldn't lift my left arm [because of his injured ribs]. We would have beaten them though if I'd been able to lift my arm."