One hundred years ago today Jim Thorpe was the star of one of collegiate football's most spectacular games: Carlisle Indian Industrial School v. Harvard. For the full story read my NATIVE AMERICAN SON: THE LIFE AND SPORTING LEGEND OF JIM THORPE (paperback due out in March 2012).
The stage was now set, public interest “smoking hot,” for “the battle of the year," Carlisle versus Harvard. Harvard's coach, the tall, patrician, snobbish and belligerent Percy Haughton, wrote to Pop Warner [Carlisle's coach] before the game warning him that if Carlisle used a Warner trick -- sewing half-football patches on the front of the jerseys of the backs -- Harvard would cancel the game. Haughton told his second-string to suit up to start the game, conserving his varsity's strength for their next games against Dartmouth and Yale, and left for New Haven to scout the Yale-Brown game. As one Carlisle player said, “We pointed to this game because it meant more prestige than any other. On the other hand Harvard didn’t consider us much.”
At game time “Crippled Jimmy Thorpe,” as The Boston Sunday Globe described him, had his still-injured right leg heavily wrapped with “a basketweave of strapping adhesive plaster running almost from his toe to his knee.” The game would set him up as the enduring, punishing model of the iron man who plays on regardless of physical handicap. Injuries -- Jim suffered few of them -- only made him more focused. Revealing a superstitious side to his character, he pointed out that this was the eleventh day of the eleventh month of the eleventh year of the new century and eleven was his lucky number.
The game was epic. “Probably,” claimed the Kansas Star, “the most spectacular playing ever witnessed.”