Nov 22, 2013
05:38 AM
The Connecticut Story

Sports World’s Eyes Were on Yale-Harvard After John F. Kennedy’s Death

Sports World’s Eyes Were on Yale-Harvard After John F. Kennedy’s Death

Courtesy of Yale University

Yale beat Harvard 20-6 in the 1963 rendition of The Game, which was delayed a week because of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination.

Carm Cozza was a mixture of adrenaline and anxiety as he prepared for his first Yale-Harvard game, scheduled for Nov. 23, 1963.

His emotions, like the rest of the nation’s, radically changed by week’s end.

Cozza became Yale’s head coach two years later, but at the time, he was a first-year assistant who was, as he puts it, low man on the staff totem pole. Transplanted to New Haven from the Midwest earlier in the year, he knew little of Yale tradition upon arrival.

The enormity of The Game soon became palpable, a feeling unlike anything he’d encountered as a player or coach at Miami of Ohio.

Adding to the pomp and circumstance for that Saturday’s game a half-century ago were swirling rumors of President John F. Kennedy’s intent to be among the 70,000 at the Yale Bowl.

A proud Harvard alum, Kennedy had been set to attend Yale-Harvard the previous season in Boston, only to cancel at the last minute when his bad back forced him to the doctor’s office.

Security arrangements were being made at the Bowl. Word had reached the football offices that it was for prominent members of the Kennedy family. JFK was campaigning in Dallas Friday afternoon, though reports of the day said his weekend plan included relaxation at Lyndon Johnson’s Texas ranch.

“We had heard that maybe the president was going to be here,” Cozza said. “We didn’t know it for a fact. But we saw Secret Service people all around the Bowl. He and his brothers always tried to attend the Yale-Harvard game.”

On Friday afternoon, Nov. 22, the Yale-Harvard freshman and JV games were underway on the playing fields across the street from the Bowl.

Gene Ziurys, Yale’s assistant director of sports publicity, finished a few tasks in his office at the Ray Tompkins House. He got into his car for the short drive to DeWitt Cuyler Field and flipped on the radio. The news hit him like a load of bricks.

“It was crash-bang,” Ziurys recalled. “I heard Kennedy had been shot. By the time I got to the field they announced he was dead.”

Ziurys conveyed reports of the tragedy in Dallas to Yale administrators at the game. It wasn’t long before the stunning news rippled through the crowd. It was so outrageous that some assumed it was the opening to some tasteless joke.

“Nobody brings a transistor radio to a freshman game,” said Bob Barton, who covered the game for the Register that afternoon. “Ziurys came up to me and said, ‘Did you hear? Kennedy’s been shot.’ I rather unfeelingly said, ‘Is he dead yet?’ I think Ziurys said yes.”

Within minutes, a large crowd had gathered around the car of legendary Yale swim coach Bob Kiphuth. Doors open, radio blaring, a broadcaster confirmed the horrific fears. Kennedy had been assassinated in Dallas.

The freshman and JV games were played to their conclusion in an eerie silence. Cozza, watching with Yale head coach John Pont, said there might be a strong possibility the next day’s game would be canceled.

Others had similar thoughts. The phone in athletic director Delaney Kiphuth’s office already was ringing off the hook. Presidents of colleges and universities from across the country were calling to see how the prestigious Ivy League schools would handle the situation.

The eyes of the athletic world were focused squarely on Yale.

Kingman Brewster, Yale’s president, discussed the matter with Harvard President Nathan Pusey and quickly reached an agreement.

The game would be postponed.

For more, visit the New Haven Register.


Sports World’s Eyes Were on Yale-Harvard After John F. Kennedy’s Death

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