Yale and Harvard captains raised sportsmanship to its greatest height in Yale Bowl’s first game, 100 years ago

By Joel Alderman

Introduction

This fall Yale University has been in the midst of an ongoing celebration marking the 100th anniversary of the opening of its famous football facility, the Yale Bowl, that is on the list of national historic landmarks. Scores of articles have been published in anticipation of November 21st, the same date when Harvard and Yale played the first game in the Bowl in 1914.

The corresponding Saturday this year is November 22nd. Since the current teams will be playing in Cambridge, Mass., not New Haven, Conn., the Bowl’s anniversary cannot be observed that day with a game on the same field where it all began. Therefore, it will have to be celebrated vicariously, with “not a soul in the Bowl.”

In tribute to the occasion, let us go back in time, not only for some things about the inaugural game, but to focus on a very inspiring few minutes within that contest.

The incident may at best have been noticed by only a few, if any, of the over 70,000 who were present in 1914.. I found no mention of it in stories from the original published accounts that I have seen, probably because the details did not come forth it seems until  34 years later.

Research has enabled me to reconstruct the following events, and the  “story within a story” from that game, as another means to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Yale Bowl. This will be the tale of two captains.

Talbot2
Bud Talbot was an All-American tackle at Yale in 1913.

Bud Talbott, Yale

Nelson Strobridge (“Bud”) Talbott, II., played tackle for Yale, and was chosen by Walter Camp for his All-American team in 1913. He was then 6-feet, 189 pounds. He was born in Dayton, Ohio, and attended The Hotchkiss School, founded in 1892 and still located in Lakeville, Connecticut.

Charley Brickley, Harvard                                                                               

Charles Edward Brickley was once described in these words:

“He is a short, chunky youngster of 21 summers. His black hair is curly, and there is always a smile on his boyish face. He has a nerve of chilled steel, and is so cool that he could face the jaws of destruction without a quiver.” (The New York Times; Nov. 23, 1913)

Brickley was born in Boston and raised in Everett, Mass., where he went to Everett High School. and was captain of the football team. He also attended and played football at Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire, and then enrolled at Harvard. He was captain of both the freshman and varsity teams and was twice named a Walter Camp All-American.

Brickley was considered the greatest drop-kicker

He was fitted with a special football shoe that had a square toe for kicking. He was heralded as the greatest field goal kicker ever, a label which could still apply today. He also excelled as a runner and blocker on offense, and tackler on defense. This was well before there was such a thing as two platoon football and unlimited substitutions. Players had to go both ways, and usually did.

As a sophomore, Brickley kicked 13 field goals. The next year he had 11; but because of a medical problem he had only one as a senior in 1914. Since the posts were on the goal line, he had more opportunities to go for three points than he would have today. He took full advantage of the proximity of the posts, although he was so good, it probably would not have made much difference.

In addition to kicking 24 field goals as a sophomore and junior, he made 18 touchdowns, personally accounting for 245 points in 20 and a fraction  games on the varsity, leading up to the last one.

Harvard's Charley Brickley
Harvard’s Charley Brickley was thought of as one of the best drop-kickers in the country.

What Brickley had done against Yale in 1912 and 1913

In his sophomore year, 1912, Harvard played in New Haven for the last time on a field other than the Yale Bowl. Brickley kicked two field goals, and ran 18 yards for a touchdown. The Crimson won, 20-0, and finished with a perfect (9-0) season.

In 1913, at Harvard Stadium, he suffered scratches of his eyeball on the first running play of the game. His vision became blurred and got worse throughout. But he continued to play and still kicked five field goals against the Bulldogs. He made all of his team’s points on kicks of 26, 42, 30, 36 and 21 yards in sending Yale back to New Haven on the short end of a 15-5 score.

In the first quarter, he had missed a drop kick from the 50. Later, another kick from placement on the 45 went awry. Apparently discounting his scratched eyeballs,  The New York Times exclaimed, “How he missed it, no one knows.”

The Crimson finished with its second straight 9-0 mark, the third straight year without a loss. Its three year record was 25-0-2.

Charley was then elected captain of the 1914 team, “an honor that Cambridge folk of that era deemed much more important than being elected President of the United States.” (Arthur Daley; The New York Times, Jan. 5, 1950)

Yale program
Cover of the 1914 Yale Bowl commemorative magazine. Yale Athletics photo

Brickley’s health affected his final season

His hopes of a glorious finish to a great career were dealt a severe blow in October 1914. While Harvard was playing Washington and Jefferson College, Brickley took sick. He was rushed to a hospital with appendicitis and underwent surgery that night.

His days as a Harvard player appeared to be about over. The Associated Press reported on Oct. 11th, with the Yale game six weeks away, “there is a bare chance that Brickley will get into the game at New Haven. If so, however, it will be only for a few moments. . . .”

November 21, 1914

When the historic game in the Bowl began, Brickley was, as expected, in uniform but on the sidelines. In that era, and for a long time afterwards, a Harvard player had to take part in the Yale game for at least one play in order to earn his highly coveted letter “H.” Bricks, as he was often called, might be allowed to make a token appearance for that purpose, if he would stay out of harm’s way. He was ordered by his doctor to avoid any physical contact. (The Boston Globe)

He was far from the Charley Brickley football fans had known. He had lost weight and was pale and unsteady. He was not in condition required to withstand the punishment of a sport which was much rougher 100 years ago than it is today.

It was “no contest”

The Bulldogs entered with a 7-1 record, and Harvard was 6-0-2. Yale’s loss was to Washington and Jefferson, 13-7. Its greatest win that year was at old Yale field, 28-0 over Notre Dame, ending its unbeaten streak at 27.

Although the teams appeared to be evenly matched, Harvard dominated from the beginning. It led 6-0 after the first quarter, 22-0 at the half, and 29-0 going into the final 15 minutes.

Yale had virtually conceded defeat in the third quarter when its students and alumni went into a rendition of the alma mater, “Bright College Years.” It was a sure sign they felt the outcome had already been determined. As it turned out, they were right.

200px-Charles_E._Brickley_full_shot_(American_Football_book)Enter Mr. Brickley

The clock wound down to a precious few minutes. No one is sure exactly how many were left, since there was no visible timer in the Bowl in 1914. What happened next was described this way:

“Then a great shout went up from the Harvard crowds. Brickley, the Harvard captain, stripped off his red blanket and trotted out onto the field. Brickley fell back as if to try for a field goal, but the play was a fake and Mahan jammed his way through to Yale’s five-yard line. Brickley stayed back and Bradlee went through to the one-yard line. Harvard was caught holding in the line and was penalized 15 yards.

“Again Brickley dropped back as if to make a kick and Mahan spun a pretty forward pass to Cooledge, who was downed on Yale’s five-yard line.

“Still with Brickley in the background, Harvard’s other ten men faced the Yale team. Watson fell back toward his captain and tossed a forward pass to Mahan, who was over the line for a touchdown as he caught it.” (The Boston Globe, Nov. 23, 1914)

Obviously, Brickley was being used as a decoy and was not to be given the ball. This is not surprising, considering that he was just six weeks post surgery. As The Globe reported, Harvard was essentially playing 10 against 11.

Brickley wanted the final kick

While going through the motions and eating up time, and using Brickley as a decoy, Harvard had made another, though meaningless, touchdown. It made the score 35-0.

The extra point attempt, if successful, could become a final dagger in Yale’s heart. Coach Percy Haughton had never let Brickley kick extra points, believing it would interfere with his skill as a field goal master. This time there was also the concern for Brick’s safety, made more risky because he was not wearing any protective equipment under his uniform.

But the coach relented and Brickley lined up in a kicking formation.

The point was made in New Haven and reverberated to Cambridge

“It was the only occasion when he was nervous or unsure of himself.  He juggled the pass from center and booted a wobbly drop-kick that barely cleared the crosspiece and barely stayed inside the uprights. The extra point was unimportant, but Charley’s heart was in his mouth until it sailed across. A great career had formally come to a close.” (The New York Times; April 6, 1968)

What Brickley later learned about the role the Yale captain played

Brickley could not have known it at the time, but somehow he later found out and offered this reminiscence:

“Yale could have crucified me because I didn’t wear pads and was very vulnerable from my operation. But as soon as I reported (into the game), Bud Talbott, the Yale captain, gathered his players around him and ordered them not to lay a hand on me. It was a sporting gesture that I’ll appreciate to my dying day.” (The New York Times; April 6, 1948)

In reality, Talbott had chosen to let Brickley rub salt into the wounds of his demoralized and embarrassed teammates, rather than have his physically down Harvard counterpart expose himself to injury.

The significance of the 36th point

The final score, after Brickley made the kick, was Harvard 36 Yale 0. However, the 36th point was one of a kind. It was probably the only time a score, even an insignificant one point, was or would ever, be conceded in a Harvard-Yale game.

The opportunity for an uncontested kick was a rare gift from Captain Talbott to Captain Brickley, from a Yale man to a Harvard man, from one sportsman to another.

Both captains had made their “points.” Brickley literally kicked his. Talbott’s point was a figure of speech.

Those points remain a symbol of the mutual respect, admiration, and the highest level of sportsmanship Yale and Harvard athletes have always shared with each other.

It was what Harvard-Yale was all about up to  1914, what it is all about now, and I expect what it will be all about long into the future.

“The inherent decency of intercollegiate sport was beautifully exemplified in that game,” Brickley also told the noted New York Times writer.

The captains in 1914 demonstrated respect and honor and the highest ideals of fair play. This interaction involving Captain Bud Talbott and Captain Charley Brickley is their legacy, to be observed and honored as long as the game of football is played between Yale and Harvard.

Postscript

On November 14, 1918, Brickley took part in a well publicized stunt before several thousand who had gathered to see it in New York City’s financial district. The purpose was to raise money for the United War Work Fund.

Standing in front of a statue of George Washington, Bricks kicked a football across Wall and Broad Streets that was caught by Jack Cates, a former Yale player. Cates was positioned on a balcony in front of the Stock exchange, awaiting the kick.

Brickley again sent a kicked ball across Wall Street, where it was caught by another ex-Yale player, Tim Cochran, on the steps of J. P. Morgan & Co. Cochran made a $50.00 donation to purchase the ball. A spectator had bought the one that was caught by Cates for a similar donation.

“The wind currents which twisted around the skyscrapers were far more treacherous than they even were in the Harvard Stadium, and Brickley’s target was much smaller than goal posts.” (The New York Times; Nov. 15, 1918)

He briefly was the head coach at Johns Hopkins and Boston College.

Charley Brickley went on to have a rougher time in the game of life than he did in football. His business dealings as a securities broker got him into legal troubles, for which he paid a hard price. In 1928 he was found guilty of larceny stemming from stock transactions. He served seven months of a one-year prison sentence.

But he was able to live down that misfortune and resumed his business career successfully.

As for Bud Talbott, he became the head coach at Dayton University and for a while of the Dayton Triangles, a charter member of the National Football League. He was the first person to coach a college and an NFL team in the same season.

He later served in the first and second World Wars and the Korean War, rising to the rank of Brigadier General.

Charley Brickley died in December 1950 at the age of 58. Bud Talbott died in July 1952. He was 60.

Their lives were relatively short.

However, their impact on college football lives on.

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