"A Tiger's Tale"



A Tiger's Tale


By Dr. Ken 

During my adolescent years the majority of fellows that I knew well did not attend college. It was more common to graduate from high school and enter the military service or the work force. Relative to the present time, we moved out of our parents’ house, married, and had children much earlier than is now the norm. This necessitated a full time job and source of income, thus dictating that the after-school or weekend jobs that most of us had, and were scheduled around our high school sports activities, served as a launching point for our life’s work. As many of my friends were forced to assist their fathers or other family relatives in their various trades or labor type of jobs, this was the path that was often followed for a lifetime. If college attendance was a possibility few ever discussed the hallowed halls of the Ivy League schools as the academic requirements, expense, and general knowledge we held about these elite institutions placed them far above our immediate goals or realistic plans. The goal of the most talented high school football players in our area was an opportunity to play for a school in the Big Ten, Syracuse, Pitt, or Penn State though the Ivy schools played what was considered to be an excellent brand of football.

The Ivy League Championship Trophy

If one had predicted that my dear friend Richard Landsman, would become an Adjunct Professor of Finance at Columbia University, it would have brought astonishment to the group of knuckleheads I hung out with. Of course, if one had predicted that I would actually attend college under any circumstances, graduate, and even attain advanced degrees, the gales of derisive laughter would have filled the air for days. Academics weren't high on the daily “to do” list and certainly did not hold the allure of becoming muscularly larger and stronger, playing better football, attempting to locate a female from our peer group that would give consideration to a legitimate date, or working overtime on an after school and weekend job to keep gas in my 1953 Dodge that was best known for belching dark, choking exhaust fumes. The academic side of school was a necessity but in my case, not a priority. Whatever is said through successive generations about hindsight proved to be exceedingly accurate in my own case. I had opportunities to attend “good schools” due to flashes of scholastic achievement and high standardized test scores, a modicum of athletic ability, and an overabundance of deep-seated hostility that could be focused and utilized for productive purposes. As our local Congressman noted to my father, “I could get him into West Point where they could teach him to shoot Commies and get some use out of his anti-social tendencies.” To this day I’m not certain that he was granting a compliment.

I believe it is accepted by almost everyone that the Ivy League colleges offer the absolute best in education. Yes, Stanford and MIT as obvious examples have areas of specialty that are ranked higher than some of the Ivies but as a general statement, if a parent wishes to provide the very best educational opportunity for their child, an Ivy League education and the probability of graduate school admission, and professional and business connections that come with it, are difficult to top. What is largely forgotten is that the Ivy League used to play hellacious football and I am referring to the football played as recently as the early 1970’s. Since then there have been a few wonderful Ivy League squads but as a D 1AA or FCS conference, Ivy League football has lost its national luster. Fortunately, the great excitement of college football and a reminder of what most of us played the game for, most clearly exists at the Ivy level relative to the Alabamas, Oklahomas, Notre Dames, the Big Ten schools, and the mega-athletic departments that feel compelled to put 60,000 fans in the seats to pay the bills.

HB Allison Butts was one of the stars of the Ivy League Co-Champion Columbia team of 1961

In the 1960’s, the Ivies boasted a number of excellent teams and stellar players. I was partial to Princeton. Though I had done iron work on the campus of Columbia University from the age of thirteen, accompanying my father as he fabricated and installed the great iron gates that still surround the urban campus, window guards, and various structural supports on campus buildings that included the University President’s home, I had little attraction to Columbia. It was not for lack of good football because Columbia, though inconsistent, had won a share of the Ivy League Championship in 1961 behind a fantastic group of young men who later became extraordinarily successful. Among that group were renowned surgeon Russell Warren who has served the New York Giants organization for decades; Allison Butts who transformed the hotel industry with his legal wizardry; and Columbia’s captain, the tough linebacker and offensive guard Billy Campbell who became one of the most respected businessmen in Silicone Valley and head coach of the Columbia football program. Of course in retrospect I should have jumped at the opportunity to attend any Ivy school and all that attendance implies. Unfortunately, as a teenager with limited vision, I only saw a campus in the middle of New York City’s combat zone, roaming gangs and drug dealers, and an expanse of concrete that did not remotely meet my expectations of “college” which were clearly defined by the bucolic settings of “Father Knows Best.” For those that recall the 1950’s television series starring Robert Young, one might also recall that it was possible to be distracted by actress Elinor Donahue who played Young’s eldest daughter Betty “Princess” Anderson but her attendance at “State College” firmly planted the idea in my rather naïve mind that any college was supposed to have a few rolling green hills, trees, and an absence of gunfire. Thus Columbia was out.

My favorite Ivy League football squad of the period was easily Princeton and allow me please to note that to this day, what was true in the 1950’s remains true today: with the vast majority of resources directed to the undergraduate courses of study, Princeton in my opinion and that of many experts, exceeds the education provided by Harvard, Yale or any other undergraduate institution in the nation. Let the debate begin but as my friend Mike Senft, former Princeton football letter winner and of course, Princeton graduate from the late 1970’s has often noted, “Having the quantity of former Secretarys from the President’s cabinet and a number of Ambassadors as my academic advisors and professors wasn’t going to happen at any other university.” As could be expected, while I knew that Princeton was a school for “really smart kids” and I wasn’t ever going to attend, Tiger football remained a major attraction. Fullback Cosmo Iacavazzi was the stud fullback in Coach Dick Colman’s Single Wing attack and he was an attraction for any fan. While the Single Wing was by this time, an almost defunct formation, we did have a series in our high school arsenal and the University Of Tennessee and UCLA still displayed what had become a unique approach to offense. It wasn’t until much later that I learned that it was this very formation that scared Iacavazzi into an initial commitment to Cornell. When he gave his decision more thought, however, he accepted the opportunity to play for Princeton.

Interestingly, most of the young men and women whom I observed at Columbia seemed “normal.” Most were one to four years older than me but there were all types walking around the campus when I was present to cut, weld, and carry while helping my father with his iron working activities. My friend Joe Tuths the Class Valedictorian who graduated ahead of me, was even a member of their football team [ see Helmet News/Reflections, August 2007,  http://www.helmethut.com/Features/Dr.Ken46.html ]. However, when I thought of the Big Three of the Ivies, Harvard, Princeton, and Yale, I thought “snobs,” “country club kids,” and girls who would never stoop to talk to a young man in my position. I knew nothing about country clubs but I knew iron working, blacksmithing, and their history thanks to my father and grandfather. Because of this knowledge, I also knew that the Scranton, Pennsylvania area was teeming with coal mining, steel forge, and mill kids who could play great football and Iacavazzi was one of those West Scranton tough guys who could have gone anywhere in the nation to play football or attend classes. My impression of Princeton at least, changed immediately and his style of play certainly reflected a hardscrabble, tough-as-they-come attitude. With what I thought was a very classic yet “cool” tiger striped jersey, I had another “favorite” team to keep tabs on.

In 1963 and ’64, Navy’s Roger Staubach and Princeton’s Cosmo Iacavazzi were the talk of the East Coast collegiate football scene. The 5’11”, 195 Tiger fullback was All Ivy in his junior season of ’63, leading Princeton to a fine 7-2 record and a tie for the Ivy League title. In 1964, the senior was named team captain, set a Princeton rushing record with 909 yards, scored fourteen TD’s which led the nation in scoring, earned All American notice, and powered them to an undefeated season including a great showdown against an undefeated Yale team to capture the Ivy crown. Adding school career records for yards gained (1,895) and points scored (186) which were huge numbers in that era, he also defeated the image any observer may have had of the unintelligent jock as he earned National Scholar Athlete acclaim and put his long time interest of building model airplanes to good use by earning his degree in aeronautical engineering.  The culmination of Iacavazzi’s football career I’m sure, was his induction to the College Football Hall Of Fame.

Having “done it all” and carried his Princeton degree to success in business, the one quality that stands out more than any other in hearing teammates talk about their leader, was his non-stop, white hot level of intensity in everything he did. His coaches and teammates marveled at the way he carried out each fake at practice as if he actually had the ball and ran each ball he did carry a full forty yards at full speed.

Bob Casciola who later became the head coach at Princeton from 1973 through ’77, stated that Cosmo had the respect of his teammates and coaches. "He had a great cast of players with him but he was the leader."

"Cosmo was driven and committed in everything he did. It was contagious, his presence added to everything we did. In practice he would sprint 40 yards on every play, not to be a show-off but because he thought that was the right way to do things. A player like Cosmo comes across once in a coach's career, maybe twice if you're lucky."

Iacavassi carried that work ethic to the N.Y. Jets. Though even stronger at 209 pounds, he lasted only through the 1965 season, in part because his best talents were not utilized by the staff. He focused his intelligence and intensity to achieve success in business and even in politics, serving as the Mayor of Hillsborough, N.J. Former Princeton tackle Senft, typically staunch in his advocacy for the Tigers leadership role in everything, noted that “Princeton more than the other Ivy schools offers the finest combination of educational opportunity, a tradition of excellence in every aspect of campus life, and the chance to meet people you would actually enjoy spending time with twenty years following graduation.” The classic appearance of the Princeton uniform in the form of Tiger stripes has been maintained in some form, through the years.

Dean Cain, Hollywood’s version of Superman, at times pulled out a super effort for the Princeton Tigers


For those who have an affinity for college football tradition, the Tiger stripes on the helmet or jersey and the return of the helmet to the original “wing” design that originated at Princeton under Coach Fritz Crisler, is perhaps the finishing touch to a university program that represents those “right things” in college football. As current head football coach Bob Surace works towards fashioning a team that will soon be successful in the tradition of the great teams of the “Cosmo Era,” the timeless Princeton uniform will be one more thing exciting alumni and fans.