Brown University's Coach De Ormond (Tuss) McLaughry was a fairly unpredictable fellow. As football coach at Amherst, before he came to Brown, he had effectively thumbed his nose at Princeton's famed Coach Bill Roper when the arrogant Roper decided to play his second team against Tuss's boys, since they were so obviously minor league. McLaughry countered the gesture by fielding his second team.
But not even unpredictable Tuss McLaughry could have planned the endurance contest that marked the Brown University season of 1926 (Tuss's first) when 11, count 'em, 11 Bruins defeated Yale and Dartmouth on successive Saturdays and played all but the last two minutes in a victory against Harvard two Saturdays later without a single substitution.
These were the "Iron Men," as they soon came to be known:
Even for its time, the accomplishment of these 11 men was considered heroic; taken in light of present-day platooning, it has to be evidence that they don't make football players like they used to.
Brown's men, as their playing weights indicate, were not particularly big, nor had their season up to the Yale game been more than a moderate success. McLaughry had started it with a squad of about 35, and the start was rather flat. Tuss used a mixed lineup and substituted at all positions as the season got under way against four minor opponents, but the performances were spotty and not such as to impress Brown backers.
"Except for a few positions," Tuss said, "no one was a sure regular and we were still in the experimental stage."
In the week before the Yale game McLaughry considered several positions "still wide open" and, additionally, there were problems concerning some of his Iron Men-to-be. Randall, the quarterback, had been bruised in the previous week's game, and Farber, the sophomore guard, was in uniform but had missed two weeks' practice because of injuries. Each might be unavailable at game time.
On Thursday, Paul Hodge, the right tackle, was called to the bedside of his ailing mother in Baltimore. And Orland Smith, the biggest and best lineman, was always a worry. Smith earned his way by spending seven nights a week on call as an ambulance driver at City Hospital, and a couple of busy nights in a row could leave him weak. To offset such dangers, McLaughry fed his players a pint of milk after each practice.
In his stated pregame plan McLaughry intended to start Randall, if ready, at quarterback, then replace him with Frank Eisenberg. Eisenberg would watch from the bench during the first period, then put his observations to work in the second quarter. At a pregame rally Tuss told the throng: "A team is no stronger than its reserve material."
On Saturday morning the Bruins entrained for New Haven, and the lineup began to fall in place. Farber and Randall were declared fit. Some sympathetic interns had seen to it that Smith got a night's uninterrupted sleep. And Hodge, riding an overnight sleeper from Baltimore, arrived at New Haven in time to accompany his teammates on a pregame stroll to Yale Bowl. Brown teams had a reputation for being awed by the massiveness of the Bowl and, as Hodge remembers, McLaughry took them around for a look and pointed out it was "just another hunk of concrete."
Yale was rated as the East's best team going into the game, or, as a reporter of the day put it, "high above all else in the Eastern football realm stand the Bulldogs of Eli Yale, a band of giant killers." (They don't write 'em like they used to, either.) But Tuss's men confounded the experts right off as Brown scored a touchdown in the first period, after which Dave Mishel drop-kicked the extra point. In the habit of the time McLaughry elected to "sit" on his lead, and as he did so the Iron Men came into being—quite by chance.
"It wasn't until the third quarter that I realized no substitutions had been made," Tuss says. He remembers thinking then, "No one has been injured, the team is hot, winning and apparently fresh. Why break up a winning combination?" It never occurred to him until after the game that he had caused a sensation.
Tuss still had no idea of fostering a legend as he got the team ready to play Dartmouth. "But," he recalls now, "by that time the 11 men had become an entity. Nearly every one of them had been 'threatened' by the other 10 as to what would happen if they got hurt and all of them were anxious to continue their record. Naturally, I cooperated."
So did the press.
"We were deluged by out-of-town writers," Tuss remembers, and preparations for Dartmouth were complicated by their presence. Still, the attention fostered unseen benefits. "It created a high spirit and morale on the team," Tuss said. "The boys became very cocky and talky and made themselves believe they were the best."
All kinds of stories began to come out about just how cocky this team was. Against Yale, it was said, Smith and Hodge had verbally badgered the All-America guard, Bubble Sturhahn, to the point that he became furious—and hence less effective.
The game at Dartmouth attracted a crowd of 13,000, which was vast for Hanover, N.H., and extra policemen were called in from all parts of the state to handle the traffic. At the start Dartmouth quickly advanced to the Brown 10-yard line. At that point Brown called time out, and Ed Kevorkian, the sophomore guard, was heard to exclaim: "That's as far as the bastards go!" And it was. In the second quarter Randall scored on a pass from Mishel, who drop-kicked the point after. In the fourth quarter Mishel kicked a 30-yard field goal, and again the Iron Men went the whole way alone and won 10-0.
Now they were football's reigning heroes, and their return to Providence was celebrated by a torchlight parade through town and a bonfire and speeches on the campus. Brown's president gave an address, in the course of which he conferred make-believe "honorary" degrees on each player.
After that the Bruins were "overwhelmed," as McLaughry put it, by photographers and writers, "but we stuck to our business" of getting ready for the next major opponent, Harvard. In between there was an unimpressive victory over a minor team, Norwich, in which Tuss did not start the Iron Men. Then it was on to Cambridge, Mass.
All 53,896 seats in Harvard Stadium were sold for the game—it was the largest crowd ever to watch a Brown team perform—and special films of the game (a rarity in the '20s) were to be made for showing in not one but four Providence theaters. Along the route from Providence to Cambridge an automobile club posted special signs to guide the motorists. The Brown Daily Herald, in an editorial, urged Brown fans to forgo any "disorganized mob tactics," such as tearing down goalposts, if Brown won.
McLaughry had pregame worries of his own. He was concerned that the Iron Men now were getting a bit overconfident. Additionally, the "Wooden Men," as the substitutes had been titled, were beginning to grumble about not playing. Tuss let a reporter from the Brown Daily Herald in on the intelligence that he did not plan to keep the Iron Men intact against Harvard, "unless such a move is the best policy."
It was a bruising game. Paul Hodge had his nose bashed in on the first play. On the second play a Harvard lineman was similarly injured. But the Iron Men never really gave Harvard a chance to get started and took a 14-0 lead into the fourth quarter.
Then, with some two minutes of play remaining, McLaughry signaled a batch of six substitutes to get ready to go in. When they rose to start warming up and the crowd saw what this meant, cries of "No! No!" came from stands on both sides of the field—from both Harvard and Brown fans. But Tuss sent the subs in. On the third play thereafter Brown scored its third touchdown. McLaughry sent in four more subs. There were two plays left, and Red Randall was the only Iron Man left on the field at the end.
There were no protests from the Iron Men, and the newspapers made much of the conclusion of the feat. The Evening Bulletin of Providence thoroughly approved of McLaughry's decision to substitute, calling it "a fitting climax to a great afternoon," Even a farm publication called The Rural New Yorker took note of Brown's Iron Man feat and, while it was at it, of their milk-drinking habit. "In the great football game of life," The Rural New Yorker concluded, "you can have no finer friend than a cow."
So the streak was done, but Brown had two more games to play to complete the season without defeat. The Bruins beat New Hampshire easily, then played to a 10-10 tie with Colgate. In this game only one substitute was used, late in the game, but by then the spell was off the Iron Men. Even McLaughry had some second thoughts about the aptness of the nickname. "They're not Iron Men," he told a reporter soon after the Harvard game. "They are just 11 college boys having a good time playing football."
Three of the Iron Men—Towle, Lawrence and Considine—have died, but the rest are a hearty and quite successful lot. Smith became a surgeon, Hodge a lawyer and Cornsweet a clinical psychologist after a term as a Rhodes scholar. Farber and Randall went into coaching and the others into business.
They remain proud of their accomplishment—and also still a bit cocky about it. An old friend met Paul Hodge after Brown had opened its 1966 season with a victory and asked him whether he thought the Iron Men could have done as well. "Hell, no," Hodge answered. "Maybe we could have for about three periods, but don't forget—most of us are now in our 60s."
Hal Broda (capt.)