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Original Issue

Kicking up a Rule Change at Princeton

Wallace (Butch) DeWitt once kicked a rule into the books, although he had no intention of so doing when he attempted a field goal in the 1911 Princeton-Dartmouth game. The kick was a botch, but it gave Princeton the only points scored in a 3-0 victory.

The fourth quarter of a hitherto scoreless game between unbeaten teams seldom lacks for drama. It wasn't lacking on that Saturday, Nov. 11, 54 years ago. Dropkicks, with the fatter, blunt-ended footballs, were in vogue then, and field goals of 40-50 yards were commonplace.

In retelling the game's story before he died in 1953, Paul (Red) Loudon, a Dartmouth bantam halfback then and later a Minneapolis investment banker, said that just prier to DeWitt's controversial kick, Princeton's Hoby Baker had recovered a fumble on the Dartmouth 45.

Three or four downs later (accounts do not agree) DeWitt was called upon to kick. The man who called the signal, Princeton Quarterback Talbot (Tot) Pendleton, says: "DeWitt was our punter, too, and had a powerful leg, although he wasn't too accurate. I think it was last down—I'm not sure—but I didn't see how the kick could hurt us because I was sure he'd get off a long one. The ball was midway between the sidelines and close to the 45 when we tried the kick. We didn't have anything to lose in a scoreless game like that."

The kick was hurried and low, glanced off a Dartmouth player near the line of scrimmage and after several bounces—"I think it was three," says Pendleton—it took one last erratic hop over the crossbar.

The Princeton Alumni Weekly of Nov. 15, 1911 reported that Dartmouth Quarterback Fred Llewellyn, back to catch the kick, may have touched the ball as it went over his head and given it "a slight boost."

Loudon said: "It hit one of our linemen, bounded past me in the secondary and about the five-yard line took a queer bounce over the bar."

Pendleton and DeWitt both watched what happened from their optimum position on the field, and the former said to the latter, "Mighty good kick, Dee."

"I was being sarcastic, and we were both laughing," Pendleton recalls. "'He topped it just as you do a golf shot. Neither of us thought it was good, of course, but when we saw a 3 go up on the scoreboard we couldn't have been happier."

Actually a 2 went up first, as the scoreboard boys apparently thought it was a safety; and then a 3.

A general on-field discussion followed. "Play was stopped," said Loudon, "because the officials couldn't decide what to do. The rule books were brought out, but they didn't cover the play. Almost everyone got into the argument, except our coach, Frank Cavanaugh. The Iron Major sat calmly through it all. Finally the referee ruled it good, and the game was resumed."

The referee's decision was based en the following 1909 rule: "If the ball passes directly over one of the uprights, or if after being kicked, it strikes an opponent and then passes over the crossbar or one of the uprights, it shall count as a goal."

Parke Davis, Princeton representative on the Intercollegiate Football Rules Committee at the time and a spectator that day, backed up Langford's verdict under the rules of that year. However, by 1912 Spalding's Guide carried a revision of the rule, which read: "In no case shall it count as a goal if the ball, after leaving the kicker's foot, touches the ground before passing over the crossbar and uprights." Butch DeWitt had kicked in a rule change.

Amazingly, on that same Nov. 11 afternoon the greatest prep school rivalry of the day, Andover vs. Exeter, produced the same sort of a kick. Only in this case it was ruled no good and did not appreciably affect Andover's 23-5 victory.

According to Loudon, the coincidence did touch the hearts of Princeton sportsmen. "A lot of money was bet on the game, but when Princeton students heard the same sort of kick didn't count in the Andover-Exeter game, they wouldn't accept their winnings."