By Brad Gibson
The Haverford College bookstore carries a number of fine t-shirts representing its sports teams, but only one can claim, “Undefeated Since 1971.” That one, of course, is in reference to the football team, whose last game was a thrilling 22-21 victory in 1971. As amusing as that shirt may be, there was a time when the Haverford football team was more than just a punch line.
Although it may be difficult to believe, Haverford College was once home to an outstanding football team. In fact, just this year the undefeated 1942 squad was inducted into Haverford’s Athletic Hall of Achievement and is still regarded as one of the greatest teams in the school’s history. The program’s success extended into the 1950s, as the team compiled the best record of any Philadelphia-area college in the decade.
Unfortunately, this success didn't carry over into the 60s and the program steadily declined until the team was forced to cancel its 1972 season due to a lack of players. Although the possibility of reviving the program has been discussed, there are a number of factors that make this development very unlikely.
Haverford’s size makes recruiting a major issue for admissions, as most college football teams carry about sixty players. It was this same difficulty that led Swarthmore to terminate its football program amid great controversy in 2000. The cost of college football programs has also escalated greatly in recent years, which would most likely force Haverford to drop some of its other sports teams.
While Haverford’s football program may not have survived to see the 21st century, many of the traditions it established have endured. The most noteworthy of these is the fierce rivalry with Swarthmore College, which dates back to the dirty and thoroughly unquaker Swarthmore teams of the 1890s. This reputation was due to the “tramp” athletes that comprised much of the early Swarthmore football squads. These tramp athletes were not students of Swarthmore College, but rather exceedingly large men who mysteriously appeared on campus every Saturday in Swarthmore jerseys and left later that day with a nice paycheck. As the morally superior institution, Haverford refused to engage in this practice and declined to play Swarthmore until these tramp athletes were phased out.
By the 1940s, this custom had been discontinued and the two schools renewed their rivalry. Since Haverford and Swarthmore were still comprised mostly of Philadelphia-area students, the games were televised on local stations and attended by the large majority of both student bodies as well as many alumni and sports journalists from the area. Normal Saturday classes were also canceled on the day of the Swarthmore game and bonfires and pep rallies were held the night before. For one these pep rallies, two inspired Haverford students attended Swarthmore’s rally as journalists seeking an interview with the quarterback, only to kidnap him and bring him back to Haverford to enjoy the festivities.
Sadly, those days of bonfires and kidnappings are long gone, and the only reminder of the football team that Haverford students are left with is one, admittedly awesome, t-shirt. The demise of the football program was not a complete loss, however. Dana Swan, the coach of the 1971 football team, stayed at Haverford to serve as coach for the brand new lacrosse program. And although the football team may have been forced to hang up their cleats a little early, they did get the last laugh. In that final 22-21 victory in 1971, they beat Swat.