Web Exclusives: Under the Ivy
a column by Jane Martin paw@princeton.edu

October 22, 2003:

A winning team, in more than score
Sometimes it's not the coach, it's the trainer

By Jane Chapman Martin '89

In this season of baseball playoffs (go Sox) and football kickoffs, we're reminded that games rarely go entirely as expected. Stars get hurt, backups suddenly perform beyond their previously known abilities, balls take funny bounces, refs make bad calls—and that's just on the field. As ESPN announcer Chris Berman likes to say, "That's why they play the games."

From 1933 to 1968, Princeton sports teams had working for them one of those factors that don't show up in season previews or pregame analyses. His name was Eddie Zanfrini. Hired as a trainer in 1933 by then athletic director Asa Bushnell '21 and team physician Harry McPhee, Zanfrini became head trainer in 1938. After a brief detour to Dartmouth from 1944 — when Princeton suspended athletics "for the duration" — to 1947, he served, as one friend noted, as "one part administrator, one part physician, and three parts practicing psychologist," until 1968. He was also selected as a trainer for five Olympics, with a variety of sports, in the 1950s and 1960s.

Though Zanfrini had an unquantifiable effect on hundreds of Princeton athletes and teams over the years, according to a PAW article of October 8, 1968, his most dramatic impact on an individual game may well have come in the fall of 1955. It was Dartmouth against Princeton for the Ivy League Championship. It was cold. Snowing. And shortly before the game Zanfrini had been rushed to the hospital for an emergency appendectomy.

By halftime the snow was six inches deep, and Princeton was in deeper, trailing 3-0 on the messy field. The Tigers trudged inside, fearing the game might be over. But as team captain Royce Flippin '56 remembered, "We entered the locker room to find a chalk-faced E.Z. waiting for us. He had demanded that the radio be left on while they prepared him for surgery, and he was well aware of the seriousness of our situation. In the middle of the second quarter when he was to be wheeled to the operating room he refused to go until after the game, insisting instead that they freeze his appendix and return him to the stadium."

Flippin went on, "Awaiting us, he spoke briefly and his words had an incredible effect. They lifted our spirits. We returned to the field, dominated the second half and just before breaking from the huddle for the winning touchdown of a 6-3 victory shouted in unison that this was 'E.Z.'s' touchdown. And it always will be."

In less powerful ways over the years, Zanfrini worked his way into several trainers' Hall of Fames and the hearts of many Princeton players. (According to PAW, he was the godfather of children of five different football players, including Pepper Constable '36 and Dick Kazmaier '52.) "He is not a Princeton man but he has become a Princeton Institution," wrote Len Elliott, sports editor of the Newark Evening News, according to PAW. "For hundreds and hundreds of Princeton athletes he is the embodiment of friendship, of personal kindness to a degree rarely approached."

People like Eddie Zanfrini are not why they play the games. Instead, they make the games worth playing.



Jane Martin ’89 is PAW's former editor-in-chief. You can reach her at paw@princeton.edu