Under the Ivy
by Gregg Lange '70
November 22, 2006:
fight with a vim'
Over the generations, sports have made their mark on
By Gregg Lange '70
It would be intriguing to know how many of the Poe brothers would
have matriculated at Princeton if it meant passing muster with Dean
of Admission Janet Rapelye. John Prentiss Poe Jr. 1895, after whom
Poe Field is named, got bounced out twice academically, but conveniently
fit a full football season in between. Athletic talent long predates
the Admission Office as a valuable commodity at Princeton, and as
muscular legacies (their dad was Class of 1854), the six Poe brothers
swarmed the football fields of the East in orange and black from
1882 to 1901, an era when the Tigers’ record was 191-19-7.
Really, that’s not a typo: They won 89.6 percent of the time.
When in 1896 the College of New Jersey went big time and upped
the ante to “Princeton in the nation’s service”
and “Dei Sub Numine Viget” and “University”
and Grover Cleveland, there was a momentous choice to be made. What
“official” colors of the new University would adorn
the newly streamlined shield (suitable for framing and cocktail
glasses)? Professor Alan Marquand 1874, the great art collector
and expert on all things visual, noted that the colors of the house
of Orange-Nassau were most proper: orange and blue. Meanwhile, the
Poes were running over Harvard on the gridiron attired in Orange
and Black, the black being a completely accidental embellishment
that had become traditional among the athletic teams.
So? Orange and black it was.
We successfully begin the 2006-07 academic year with football
tied with Yale atop the Ivy standings and with Ivy championships
from the field hockey and both cross country teams. There are now
38 varsity sports at Princeton, one for every 130 students, and
it remains endlessly fascinating how many highly capable and wildly
diverse people have spent quality time on the organizational aspects
of athletics in what is, after all, supposedly an educational enterprise.
President emeritus Bill Bowen *58 (Denison tennis ’55) has
published significant statistical information to point up the impact,
unhealthy in his mind, of this big-time sports influence on elite
institutions. President emeritus Bob Goheen ’40 *48 (Princeton
soccer ’40 and subsequent freshman coach) says that his close
friend Bowen is overstating things.
The funniest story I ever heard from President emeritus Harold
Shapiro *64 deals with entering Nassau Hall on his first day. In
eight prior years as president of the University of Michigan he
had never heard from an alumnus about the football team (unkind
observers might suggest that this indicates the Michigan president’s
potential influence on the program). But when he arrived in his
new Princeton office, there was a waiting pile of notes from alums
about football, basketball – you name the sport. Shapiro also
has said publicly that the 1990s wrestling fiasco was one of his
biggest mistakes as president.
Today every one of the 38 teams has a formal “academic-athletic
fellow” (note the sequence) from the faculty who hangs with
the coaches and athletes on behalf of the greater community. And
these aren’t your grad student gym rats: They include Jim
Doig, Maitland Jones, Sean Wilentz, Vice Provost Katherine Rohrer:
mature people who presumably have real lives.
So imagine what happens when the only gym burns down? University
Gymnasium, which sat where Dillon is now and looked almost the same
– but clearly included more combustible stuff – burnt
to the ground in 1944. Aside from the trauma to the fitness and
competitive folks (extra points if you knew the basketball team
played three seasons in Baker Rink; talk about your home-court advantage
…) hundreds of trophies, memorabilia and records from the
first 80 years of Princeton sports were incinerated.
In the ultimate need to draw inspiration from melted memories,
the University turned to the marvelous Joe Brown, its boxing coach/sculpture
professor – think about that one for a minute. The resulting
sculpture not only does that, it cements the community and intellectual
nature of the athletic enterprise all at once. Made of the melted
trophies and medals of the past, it comprises two relay runners
just beginning the baton pass, a symbolic handoff from one era to
another. There are two details that raise it from symbolism to art.
The first is that the receiving runner is (accurately) looking forward,
not back at his teammate; he trusts that the pass will be true.
The second, against all temptation, is that the figures are completely
separate, with no common base; indeed they are mounted at Dillon
in separate cases. They could be separated by miles or decades,
and they would still be united. Is that art, sports, or philosophy?
Yep, sure is. Perhaps we should go easy on the Poes.
In its annual glossy review of the Princeton varsity sports year,
the Department of Athletics this fall has included some great photos
(check out Bill Bradley ’65’s Mary Janes) and recollections
of many highlights from long ago, some of which even predate the
University Gym fire. There’s everything from the 1864 baseball
team to Princeton’s first NCAA champs – the 1964 fencing
team – to the legendary Betty Constable. Plus, you get a good
look at last year’s 13 Ivy champion teams. If you don’t
have a copy, you can get one gratis from Athletic Communications
until they run out. That’s 609-258-3658 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Lange ’'70 is a member of the Princetoniana Committee and
the Alumni Council Committee on Reunions, an Alumni Schools Committee
volunteer, and a trustee of WPRB radio.