African-American football captains at both Harvard and Yale will reach a historic milestone together on Saturday

By Joel Alderman

Harvard helped to open the Yale Bowl in 1914. Those present that day, the players and over 70,000 spectators, mostly from wealth, aristocracy and the white middle and upper classes, saw the Harvard captain, Charley Brickley, and Yale’s leader, Bud Talbott, meet on the 50-yard line for introductions and the coin toss. It must have been inconceivable for them to have thought it possible that one day, when the same ritual takes place 100 years later, the Harvard and Yale captains would both be African-Americans.

That one day will arrive on November 22, 2014.

Norm Hayes, the Harvard captain will shake hands with captain Deon Randall of Yale. It will be the first time the universities have been so represented in a series that started on November 13, 1875. It will symbolize a momentous milestone in the history of college football and the social progress in our country.

This will be the 131st game in the series. During that span of years, both Harvard and Yale became racially integrated, in the classrooms and on the playing fields.. It was a gradual and slow process.

Achieving the football captaincy at Harvard and Yale has always been a major hurdle. Both teams ,steeped in tradition, elect just a single man to be their captain. That reduces the odds of being elected. Arthur Daley of The New York Times wrote on a few occasions that being elected as the Harvard captain was akin to, or even more of an achievement, than becoming president of the United States. That could also have applied to Yale.

Since they began playing football, there have been four black captains at Harvard, and four at Yale. But until this year they had never coincided. Now, Hayes and Randall will be linked in the Yale-Harvard football annals. Let’s look first into their predecessors.

William_H._Lewis
William H. Lewis was Harvard’s first African-American captain.

William Henry Lewis was a fill-in captain of Harvard in 1893

William Lewis played three years at Amherst, was its captain in 1891, and the first African-American to play on any college team.  After graduating from Amherst, he enrolled at the Harvard Law School. Under the loose eligibility rules at that time, he was permitted to play two more years there as well. He was a center for Harvard and was selected as an All-American in 1893.

In November that year, Harvard’s captain was unable to play in the last game of the season due to an injury. His teammates voted Lewis as the acting captain against Princeton. Although it was just for one game, Lewis  became Harvard’s  original African-American team captain.

Fifty-six after Lewis was chosen by Harvard, Yale unanimously elected Levi Jackson to be the first black captain in Yale’s sports history. Actually, he was the first one of his race to even play the game there and one of only three in the entire student body. He was a great star at Hillhouse High School in New Haven, and his father was a steward in the Yale dining halls. Levi Jackson served in the Army as a staff sergeant.

Levi Jackson was captain of Yale in 1949

He played four years at Yale. When he wasn’t hampered by injuries, he was a spectacular halfback. Newsreel film of his 86-yard touchdown return in the rain against Columbia his freshman season was shown in movie theaters throughout the country.

Levi JacksonThe day after Jackson was elected to be the 1949 Yale captain, it was a front page story in The New York Times. A day later The Times published an editorial, which concluded with these words:

“… when the Yale squad met on Monday to pick a captain there was no other candidate. His teammates quite obviously had forgotten that his skin was a darker color than theirs. They accepted him as a man and as a leader. And in honoring Jackson they honored themselves and they honored Yale.”

Something almost similar but barely known even then was taking place in Cambridge, the same day that Jackson was made Yale’s captain. Frank S. Jones, also African-American, of Greensboro, N.C., was appointed manager of the 1949 Harvard football team, an honor then almost as prestigious as being captain. The slow wheels of progress had begun to turn.

Rudy Green was Yale’s captain in 1974

In 1974 Rudy Green, of Fort Worth, Texas, took the reigns of his Yale team which went undefeated up to the final seconds against Harvard,  before Milt (“the Pineapple”) Holt went in for a Harvard touchdown. Green had a 5.3 yards per carry average that year. He teamed with another outstanding black running back, Tyrell Hennings, who averaged 4.3 YPC. Green was an NFL draft choice, opted to study law and he became a prominent attorney in Texas.

He is now the chief compliance officer at the University of Miami. His duties are to see that it complies with all federal and state laws, and those of private organizations such as the NCAA that affect athletics, the School of Medicine and virtually all other areas that require compliance.

Dan Jiggetts was the 1975 Harvard captain

Dan Jiggetts, who was born in Brooklyn, N.Y., was captain of Harvard’s 1975 Ivy League champions. An offensive tackle, he was drafted by the Chicago Bears and played with them from 1976 to 1982.

After football, he has had a varied career in television broadcasting, including stints with ESPN and CBS. Jiggetts currently appears on several Bears related programs for Comcast Sportsnet Chicago.

Jordan Haynes the Yale 2011 captain

So far in this 21st century Yale had two African-American captains. Jordan Haynes of Folsam, Calif., was the first. Just before his final game in the Bowl in 2011, his feelings were published by The Yale Daily News.

“. . . we walk away from the Bowl through the Walter Camp Arches to eventually take off our shoulder pads and cleats for the last time. We won’t take them with us in a hope to put them on again, but as seniors we will take away from Yale something just as special: the relationships we created in our four years here and the memories and lessons that come with each victory and defeat. Even when our days of football are long behind us, that passion we have for the game will remain with us for the rest of our lives. That passion will drive us to succeed in many different walks of life. That passion will drive us to be influential figures in our communities. And that same passion will bring us together again to witness the next group of men carry on the historic tradition of Yale football.”

Harvard
Linebacker Josh Boyd was Harvard’s captain in 2013. (Photo: GoCrimson.com)

Josh Boyd was Harvard captain in 2013

Until this year, Harvard has only had one other black captain since Lewis. He was Josh Boyd, of Hyde Park, Mass., who never played team sports until high school. He was more interested in writing poems, and one that he composed while in elementary school was published in a literary magazine.

As for sports, a high school coach told his father that young Josh was “too nice to play football.”

A later coach’s evaluation of Boyd was made by Harvard’s Tim Murphy when he said that Josh was arguably one of the two or three toughest and most physical players in the Ivy League.

Although Boyd was recruited by others, he once admitted that he was not too sure about the Ivy League, including Harvard. “Growing up around here, you have a perception of what type of student goes there. I didn’t know if I’d fit in,” he told the Boston Globe.

Not only did he fit in, but he fit in so well that he was elected to be Harvard’s 2013 captain.

AP Photo
Yale’s Deon Randall in not only the team captain, but he’s also the Bulldogs’ all-time receptions leader. (AP Photo)

The current captains are both African-Americans

Center stage this Saturday will be occupied by Norm Hayes, the Harvard captain, and Deon Randall of Yale. Each is a starter, Hayes on defense and Randall on offense.. Each is the captain of a team having an outstanding season. Harvard is 9-0 and Yale 8-1. Hayes and Randall can take pride in the accomplishments of their teams as well as their own.

Norm Hayes comes from Tucker, Ga., in the Atlanta area, and has been carrying the burden of having lost his sister, Olivia, with whom he was very close.  She died of injuries as a sixth grader when she was hit by a truck while walking to a bus stop.  When he isn’t playing football, Hayes still wears a butterfly shaped “happiness ring” tied to a gold crucifix, in memory of Olivia.

Deon Randall is a record breaker.  After the first six games this season he had already become the all-time receiving leader in Yale history, passing Ralph Plumb who made 195 receptions from 2001 to 2004.

“He has toughness, along with his speed and athleticism,” according to his coach, Tony Reno. “He’s the toughest kid I have ever coached.”

Coming together on Saturday  

Shortly Hayes and Randall will walk to  the 50-yard line from opposite sides of the field before a sold out Harvard Stadium and a national television audience.  Those watching will see an historic meeting of opposing captains that may never be duplicated for impact and significance. It will be the first time African-American captains, representing two of America’s most storied football programs, as well as its greatest educational institutions, will be sharing this pre-game ritual.

The legacies left by William Henry Lewis  of Harvard  in 1893 and Levi Jackson of Yale in 1949 will have come full cycle.

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