Kazmaier '52: Fifth on depth chart to Heisman winner
This is the seventh in a series of articles on the history of Princeton football in honor of its 135th anniversary.
Legendary head football coach Charlie Caldwell '25 thought he was too small to play college football.
But that didn't stop Dick Kazmaier '52 from coming to Princeton. After all, it was academics that had attracted him to the school. Besides, he was pretty sure that his doubters were wrong.
"Before entering Princeton, I had no thoughts that I wouldn't be able to play varsity athletics," he says. "No one ever convinced me that I couldn't."
Growing up in the small town of Maumee, Ohio (pop. 4,500), Kazmaier had never even thought an "Eastern" school was an option. But when two Princeton alumni took an interest in him, he and his father agreed that he should pursue the best education available. A schoolboy star in a variety of sports, he figured he would continue his athletic career in New Jersey.
But in the fall of 1948, when he sat fifth on the freshman team's depth chart, no one thought much of the 155-pounder. Even after he added 15 pounds and made the varsity squad in 1949, not much was expected.
It was in 1950 and 1951 that Kazmaier made a name for himself. The Tigers pulled off back-to-back 10-0 seasons, earning No. 6 national rankings both years. Kazmaier, the undisputed star, was twice named an All-American and won the 1951 Heisman Trophy.
He says the Heisman was just due to the publicity he received from the cover of "Time" magazine before the Yale game his senior year — the cover story espoused his valor as a true scholar-athlete. But he won the Heisman in a landslide, collecting more than four times as many points as the runner-up. Beyond Bobby Thompson, he was probably the nation's most famous athlete that year when college football, not the pro game, was king.
As the halfback in Caldwell's single-wing offense, Kazmaier was a double threat, called on take the snaps and both run and pass the ball.
"The formations were quite varied, and there were a lot options," he says, explaining the now-extinct offense. "Everything started with motion — movement to a position or throwing on the run."
He ran and threw with equal aplomb, finishing his career 172-for-289 for 2,404 yards through the air, adding another 1,950 yards on the ground. He scored 55 total touchdowns. His best single game came against a then-unbeaten Cornell squad his senior year. He completed 15 of his 17 passes for 236 yards and three touchdowns and ran for another 124 yards and two more scores.
It was the greatest single game performance in Princeton history, part of the greatest football career Old Nassau has ever seen. But Kazmaier characteristically took it all in stride.
"The magnitude of the success, perhaps, was unexpected," he says. "But I wouldn't say surprising."
It's not that Kazmaier isn't humble. He's just the kind of guy who doesn't get caught up in superlatives, preferring to let his results speak for him, saying "results and actions are the measure of success."
He immediately gave all of his trophies to his father. Even winning the Heisman barely excited him — after being told by a Dean, he nonchalantly returned to class.
In truth, his modesty about football shouldn't come as a surprise. Academics were always his number one focus. The Chicago Bears drafted him after his senior year, but he steadfastly refused George Halas' pleas to play pro football.
"I was certain that professional football was not for me," he says. "It was not a good income or career from a professional standpoint. And I had been on top of the world playing football. Why play anymore?"
Instead, he went to Harvard business school, after which he spent three years in the military. Once his stint in the Navy was up, he started a handful of successful sporting product and sports event companies.
Today, he still presides over Kazmaier Associates, Inc., the parent holding company. At 73 years old, he's downsized the company a bit but still is in the office most days and continues to travel extensively for business. He stays active, returning to Princeton for football games several times a year — and he even made the trip to San Diego in September — and traveling to New York for the annual Heisman ceremony.
In fact, he's stayed quite connected to Princeton. He spent time as a trustee and has seen three of his six daughters attend the University. He had the good fortune to pay Princeton tuition for 13 consecutive years.
"There's a definite counter to the joy of having three daughters graduate from Princeton," he jokes.
The connection continues, as granddaughter Tenley Eakin is a sophomore. And then there's his Heisman Trophy, a gift from his father to the University, that sits in the office of head coach Roger Hughes, proof that Richard W. Kazmaier, Jr. was definitely not too small.
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