by Mike Moffett
Weirs Times Columnist
Boston College has the closest truly big-time (NCAA FBS Division 1-A) college football program, but many Granite State college football fans have bonded with the University of New Hampshire football Wildcats over recent years, as Coach Sean McDonnell’s team regularly ranks nationally in Division 1-AA.
But New Hampshire has another Division 1 team in little Hanover. Don’t forget Dartmouth College.
Dartmouth’s Big Green was undefeated before dropping last Friday evening’s showdown at unbeaten Harvard, which won its 21st straight game as the Crimson seek a fourth Ivy League title in five years.
The recent success enjoyed by coach Buddy Teevens’ Big Green gridsters rekindled some football energy in New Hampshire’s North Country, and yes, I’ll jump on Dartmouth’s bandwagon. Everyone likes to hang with winners!
As a football town, Hanover will never be confused with Lincoln, Nebraska, or Norman Oklahoma, or Tuscaloosa, Alabama. But Dartmouth football has a rich tradition, going back almost 140 years.
I did some internet surfing and confirmed my recollections of Big Green gridiron glory.
The undefeated 1925 Dartmouth gridsters, then called the “Indians,” were National Champions, as the Ivy League was the top conference in the land. (In 1920 Harvard defeated Oregon to win the Rose Bowl. Take THAT, Notre Dame and USC!)
And then there was the famous “fifth down” game of 1940. Cornell University came to Hanover’s Memorial Field on Nov. 16 ranked #1 in the nation, looking for its 19th straight victory. A fourth quarter Dartmouth field goal gave the home team a 3-0 lead. In the final minute of play, the officials mistakenly gave Cornell an extra down, which the Big Red used to score a touchdown for a 7-3 win.
When game films confirmed the error, Cornell players and coaches agreed with their University President that the Big Red should forfeit what was seen as a tainted victory. Dartmouth accepted the forfeit, ending the Cornell win streak.
(Can you imagine Nick Saban offering to forfeit an Alabama win over Auburn?)
I recall going to Hanover as a kid to watch the 1970 Indians beat Brown University 42-14. That was one of Dartmouth’s closest games in an undefeated season that saw the team win the Lambert Cup, emblematic of the east’s top college football team.
Penn State Coach Joe Paterno’s Nittany Lions were only 7-3, and Paterno challenged Dartmouth to settle eastern supremacy on the field that December, but of course the game could not be scheduled.
Dartmouth finished the season ranked #14 nationally, ahead of Penn State, USC, Oklahoma and other traditional football powers.
The next season, ABC-TV televised a Memorial Field showdown with Cornell, led by Ed Marinaro, who was Heisman Trophy runner-up that year. (He went on to play in the NFL and then became a Hollywood actor.) Dartmouth won 24-14 to lay claim to another Ivy League title, in a game that was interrupted several times when a dog ran out on Memorial Field—something peculiar to Hanover, as opposed to South Bend.
(An aside: Cornell had a defensive back on those days named John Paxton, who became a Marine Corps infantry officer in 1974. He later served as my first company commander when I was on active duty. Over 40 years later General Paxton still serves on active duty and wears four stars as the Assistant Commandant of the Marine Corps.)
Cornell will visit Memorial Field again tomorrow evening (Nov. 6). I’ll be there as well for the big game as the Big Green hosts the Big Red. This game may not have national title implications, as in the days of yore, but perhaps Dartmouth’s grid ghosts may conspire to create a measure of Memorial Magic to remind us of times when our country’s top college football players played for the sheer joy of the game.
Who is the only individual to win Sports Illustrated’s “Sportsman-of-the-Year” award twice? (Answer follows)
Born Today …
That is to say, sports standouts born on Nov. 5 include basketball legend Bill Walton (1952) and MLB outfielder Johnny Damon (1973).
“The same boys who got detention in school for beating up other kids are now rewarded for knocking people around. It’s called football.” – Laurie Halse Anderson
Tiger Woods was SI’s “Sportsman-of-the-Year” in 1996 and in 2000.
Michael Moffett is a Professor of Sports Management for Plymouth State University and for NHTI-Concord. He recently co-authored the critically-acclaimed and award-winning “FAHIM SPEAKS: A Warrior-Actor’s Odyssey from Afghanistan to Hollywood and Back” (with the Marines)—which is available through Amazon.com. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.