Jamestown Evening Journal

Parke H. Davis Tells Of Association In Football With Two Presidents

It has been my privilege to be associated with two different men in football both of whom became presidents of the United States. In these autumn days when politics and football command the interest of the public, perhaps, a few reminiscences of these two presidents as football men may be pertinent.

In the fall of 1890 I went out at Princeton to try for the football team. I immediately came under the supervision of a young man, about 32 years of age. He was clad in a blue suit, wore a pair of tan shoes, then a novelty, and was crowned with a soft black hat. Like many a coach in that primitive period he invariably carried a cane while on the field. His most striking personal feature was his hair, long, thick and of the jettest black. This young man asked me my name, weight and previous experience. In turn I asked him for his name. "My name," said he, "is Woodrow Wilson. I graduated here in 1879 and have recently come back here as a professor."

It is one of the overlooked chapters in his varied book of life that in his younger years he was an active football man. Again and again, upon the records at Princeton in the '70s appears the name of "Thomas W. Wilson, '79, secretary of the Board of Football directors." In those days these men would have been called “coaches," but the latter is an English word borrowed from the English universities about 1880. As a "director" in football in 1877, Woodrow Wilson aided in turning out the championship "fifteen" of that year which defeated both Harvard and Yale.

In 1889 Woodrow Wilson was a professor at Wesleyan, but his love for football prompted him to aid in the actual field work of coaching the Wesleyan eleven. Among his rewards was seeing his team score upon Yale, the first event of that kind in history. Twenty-four years later Woodrow Wilson again entered the city of New Haven, this time as a candidate for president. As a curious coincidence, as he alighted from his train, another Wesleyan eleven at that moment playing Yale, celebrated his return by again scoring against Yale, an event which stands out in football history because these two scores represent the only scores ever achieved by Wesleyan against Yale.

Autumn of 1890 was a trying one at Princeton. Edgar Allan Poe, recently attorney general of Maryland, was captain of the team in that year. Those were days when we depended upon volunteer alumni to coach the eleven, each one giving a day now and then to the task. Of those who returned for this labor of love for their alma mater were Alexander Moffatt, Tracey Harris, and Duncan Edwards. But upon the field, day after day throughout a rainy and stormy autumn Woodrow Wilson returned. Always carrying his cane, he took his place behind the team and followed it up and down the field, pointing out one fault after another to Captain Poe or the other coaches and continually making ingenious suggestions for innovations in tactics and strategy. Space here will not permit the relating of the many details in Woodrow Wilson's career that fall as an active field football coach, but let it be said by one who for ten weeks came daily under his instruction, that Woodrow Wilson was a first class football coach, thoroughly versed in the technique of play, resourceful in new ideas, a martinet in field discipline, and always a good fellow in the social minutes of the season.

Five years after the memorable autumn of 1890, I joined the football forces at Amherst as their head coach. The captain that fall was Herbert Pratt, '95, and the manager was Walter Stone, '95. One of the star half backs was John Deering, ‘95. Deering's roommate was a tall, slender young man, distinguished, as Woodrow Wilson was by an exceptional crown of hair, but tawny instead of black. This young man was deeply studious but withal intensely fond of football and deeply interested in the many discussions of policy which occasionally were had in his presence and now and then on account of John Deering in his room. This tall, slender student of books and football was Calvin Coolidge ’95.

Memory distinctly recalls him in the football picture at Amherst in ’94. Seated at a desk in his room with his book open before him, while off to the side his football roommate, John Deering, and the rest fiercely debated some point of tactics or strategy, Calvin Coolidge endeavored and I am sure successfully endeavored, to master his lesson and still not miss a point in the discussion over the problems of Amherst football. Although young Coolidge never participated in these debates he later proved to have been a keen listener and a fertile thinker for now and then meeting me upon the campus or the streets of the town of Amherst, he would stop and contribute some original and always sound suggestion towards the solution of the various situations.

That, indeed, was a remarkable group of football men at Amherst in 1894. Herbert L. Pratt, the captain of the team is now president of the Standard Oil company. Walter Stone, the manager, has arisen to be mayor of the city of Syracuse. John Deering is close to becoming governor of Maine, and Calvin Coolidge is president of the United States.

President Coolidge today possesses a profound and keen knowledge of the technical intricacies of football. Two years ago, he was my guest at the Harvard-Princeton game in Cambridge, and together with Mrs. Coolidge was accorded seats with our "coaching committee." As a loyal son of Massachusetts, but as a guest of Princeton, Mr. Coolidge remained strictly neutral and enjoyed the game, apparently, as a strict spectator. It will be remembered that Princeton defeated Harvard in that battle. Afterwards, Mr. Coolidge discussed with me many of the fine and crucial points of tactics and strategy of the game. His knowledge of the modern rules and practices of play was amazing. With all of the distractions of a life of statesmanship, he had kept pace with the ever changing rules and tactics of football, and today is competent to take his place in any council of coaches in the country and hold his own as a football man.


The additional financial assistance of the community is critical to the success of the Chautauqua Sports Hall of Fame. We gratefully acknowledge these individuals and organizations for their generous support.

Font Resize
Contrast