Sunday, October 4, 2009

Nugget found in the Stagg papers

On my most recent trip to Chicago, where I continued to research Jay Berwanger for the biography I will write, I went through more documents in the Amos Alonzo Stagg Papers stored in the University of Chicago Library.

I found a nugget that certainly will find its way into the book. It is a letter dated February 19, 1933. Stagg (pictured) was on his way out as University of Chicago football coach and athletic director. After four decades in the positions, Stagg was forced out by university officials, who invoked the rule requiring faculty members to retire at age 70.

Stagg's letter was to his successor as football coach, Clark Shaughnessy, then coach of Loyola (New Orleans). Stagg offered Shaughnessy his congratulations and best wishes, and then presented his analysis of what Shaughnessy would inherit in the way of a football team.

Berwanger was a freshman year at UC; at the time, players could not join the varsity until their sophomore seasons.

"If Berwanger is eligible," Stagg wrote, "you will inherit the fastest and the best set of backs that have ever represented the University of Chicago." Stagg, who was about to begin a 14-season stint as coach at the University of the Pacific, cited Berwanger, Pete Zimmer and Ed Cullen as being big (all over 180 pounds) and "exceptionally fast." He added that Zimmer and Berwanger were "exceptionally clever."

Apparently the only question in Stagg's mind was whether Berwanger would pass his UC comprehensive exams and stay eligible. No one, including Berwanger, ever claimed he was Rhodes Scholar material. Five months later, in mid-July, when Berwanger and most of his teammates passed their exams, the achievement made the Chicago papers.