by Ralph Henry Barbour
“BRIGGS, Bayard Newlyn, Hammondsport, Ill., I L, H 24.”
That’s the way the catalogue put it. Mostly, though, he was called “Bi” Briggs. He was six feet and one inch tall and weighed one hundred and ninety-four pounds, and was built by an all-wise Providence to play guard. Graduate coaches used to get together on the side line and figure out what we’d do to Yale if we had eleven men like Bi.
Then after they’d watched Bi play a while they’d want to kick him.
He got started all wrong, Bi did. He came to college from a Western university and entered the junior class. That was his first mistake. A fellow can’t butt in at the beginning of the third year and expect to trot even with fellows who have been there two years. It takes a chap one year to get shaken down and another year to get set up. By the time Bi was writing his “life” he had just about learned the rules.
His second mistake was in joining the first society that saw his name in the catalogue. It was a poor frat, and it queered Bi right away. I guess he made other mistakes, too, but those were enough.
In his junior year Bi was let alone. He was taking about every course any of us had ever heard of–and several we hadn’t–and had no time for football. We got licked for keeps that fall, and after the Crimson and the Bulletin and the Graduates’ Magazine and the newspapers had shown us just what ailed our system of coaching, we started to reorganize things. We hadn’t reorganized for two years, and it was about time. The new coach was a chap who hadn’t made the Varsity when he was in college, but who was supposed to have football down to a fine point; to hear the fellows tell about the new coach made you feel real sorry for Walter Camp. Well, he started in by kidnaping every man in college who weighed over a hundred and sixty-five. Bi didn’t escape. Bi had played one year in the freshwater college at left tackle and knew a touchdown from a nose-guard, and that was about all. Bi was for refusing to have anything to do with football at first; said he was head-over-ears in study and hadn’t the time. But they told him all about his Duty to his College and Every Man into the Breach, and he relented. Bi was terribly good-natured. That was the main trouble with him.
The fellows who did football for the papers fell in love with him on the spot. He was a good-looker, with sort of curly brown hair, nice eyes, a romantic nose, and cheeks like a pair of twenty-four-dollar American Beauties, and his pictures looked fine and dandy in the papers. “Bayard Briggs, Harvard’s new candidate for guard, of whom the coaches expect great things.” That’s the way they put it. And they weren’t far wrong. The coaches did expect great things from Bi; so did the rest of us. When they took Bi from the second and put him in at right guard on the Varsity we all approved.
But there was trouble right away. Bi didn’t seem to fit. They swapped him over to left guard, then they tried him at right tackle, then at right guard again. Then they placed him gently but firmly back on the second. And Bi was quite happy and contented and disinterested during it all. He didn’t mind when six coaches gathered about him and demanded to know what was the matter with him. He just shook his head and assured them good-naturedly that he didn’t know; and intimated by his manner that he didn’t care. When he came back to the second he seemed rather glad; I think he felt as though he had got back home after a hard trip. He stayed right with us all the rest of the season.
I think the trouble was that Bi never got it fully into his fool head that it wasn’t just fun–like puss-in-the-corner or blind-man’s-buff. If you talked to him about Retrieving Last Year’s Overwhelming Defeat he’d smile pleasantly and come back with some silly remark about Political Economy or Government or other poppycock. I fancy Bi’s father had told him that he was coming to college to study, and Bi believed him.
Of course, he didn’t go to New Haven with us, He didn’t have time. I wished afterwards that I hadn’t had time myself. Yale trimmed us 23 to 6.
The papers threshed it all out again, and all the old grads who weren’t too weak to hold pens wrote to the Bulletin and explained where the trouble lay. It looked for a while like another reorganization, but Cooper, the new captain, was different. He didn’t get hysterical. Along about Christmas time, after everyone had got tired of guessing, he announced his new coach. His name was Hecker, and he had graduated so far back that the Crimson had to look up its old files to find out who he was. He had played right half two years, it seemed, but hadn’t made any special hit, and Yale had won each year. The Herald said he was a successful lawyer in Tonawanda, New York. He didn’t show up for spring practice; couldn’t leave his work, Cooper explained. Bi didn’t come out either. He couldn’t leave his work. At the end of the year he graduated summa cum laude, or something like that, and the Crimson said he was coming back to the Law School and would be eligible for the team. Just as though it mattered.
We showed up a week before college began and had practice twice a day. At the end of that week we knew a whole lot about Hecker. He was about thirty-six, kind of thin, wore glasses, and was a terror for work. When we crawled back to showers after practice we’d call him every name we could think of. And half an hour later, if we met him crossing the Square, we’d be haughty and stuck-up for a week if he remembered our names. He was a little bit of all right, was Hecker. He was one of the quiet kind. He’d always say “please,” and if you didn’t please mighty quick you’d be sitting on the bench all nicely snuggled up in a blanket before you knew what had struck you. That’s the sort of Indian Hecker was, and we loved him.
Ten days after college opened we had one hundred and twenty men on the field. If Hecker heard of a likely chap and thought well of his looks, it was all up with Mr. Chap. He was out on the gridiron biting holes in the sod before he knew it. That’s what happened to Bi. One day Bi wasn’t there and the next day he was.
We had two or three weeding-outs, and it got along toward the middle of October, and Bi was still with us. We were shy on plunging halfs that fall and so I got my chance at last. I had to fight hard, though, for I was up against Murray, last year’s first sub. Then a provisional Varsity was formed and the Second Team began doing business with Bi at right guard again. The left guard on the Varsity was Bannen–“Slugger” Bannen. He didn’t weigh within seven pounds of Bi, but he had springs inside of him and could get the jump on a flea. He was called “Slugger” because he looked like a prizefighter, but he was a gentle, harmless chap, and one of the Earnest Workers in the Christian Association. He could stick his fist through an oak panel same as you or I would put our fingers through a sheet of paper. And he did pretty much as he pleased with Bi. I’ll bet, though, that Bi could have walked all over “Slugger” if he’d really tried. But he was like an automobile and didn’t know his own strength.
We disposed of the usual ruck of small teams, and by the first of November it was mighty plain that we had the best Eleven in years. But we didn’t talk that way, and the general impression was that we had another one of the Beaten But Not Humiliated sort.
A week before we went to Philadelphia I had a streak of good luck and squeezed Murray out for keeps. Penn had a dandy team that year and we had to work like anything to bring the ball home. It was nip and tuck to the end of the first half, neither side scoring. Then we went back and began kicking, and Cooper had the better of the other chap ten yards on a punt. Finally we got down to their twenty yards, and Saunders and I pulled in eight more of it. Then we took our tackles back and hammered out the only score. But that didn’t send our stock up much, because folks didn’t know how good Penn was. But the Eli’s coaches who saw the game weren’t fooled a little bit; only, as we hadn’t played anything but the common or garden variety of football, they didn’t get much to help them. We went back to Cambridge and began to learn the higher branches.
We were coming fast now, so fast that Hecker got scary and laid half the team off for a day at a time. And that’s how Bi got his chance again, and threw it away just as he had last year. He played hard, but–oh, I don’t know. Some fellow wrote once that unless you had football instinct you’d never make a real top-notcher. I think maybe that’s so. Maybe Bi didn’t have football instinct. Though I’ll bet if some one had hammered it into his head that it was business and not a parlor entertainment, he’d have buckled down and done something. It wasn’t that he was afraid of punishment; he’d take any amount and come back smiling. I came out of the Locker Building late that evening and Hecker and Cooper were just ahead of me.
“What’s the matter with this man”–Hecker glanced at his notebook–“this man Briggs?” he asked.
“Briggs?” answered Cooper. “He’s a dub; that’s all–just a dub.”
That described him pretty well, I thought. By dub we didn’t mean just a man who couldn’t play the game; we meant a man who knew how to play and wouldn’t; a chap who couldn’t be made to understand. Bi was a dub of the first water.
We didn’t have much trouble with Dartmouth that year. It was before she got sassy and rude. Then there were two weeks of hard practice before the Yale game. We had a new set of signals to learn and about half a dozen new plays. The weather got nice and cold and Hecker made the most of it. We didn’t have time to feel chilly. One week went by, and then–it was a Sunday morning, I remember–it came out that Corson, the Varsity right guard, had been protested by Yale. It seemed that Corson had won a prize of two dollars and fifty cents about five years before for throwing the hammer at a picnic back in Pennsylvania. Well, there was a big shindy and the athletic committee got busy and considered his case. But Hecker didn’t wait for the committee to get through considering. He just turned Corson out and put in Blake, the first sub. On Tuesday the committee declared Corson ineligible and Blake sprained his knee in practice! With Corson and Blake both out of it, Hecker was up against it. He tried shifting “Slugger” Bannen over to right and putting the full back at left. Jordan, the Yale left guard, was the best in the world, and we needed a man that could stand up against him. But “Slugger” was simply at sea on the right side of center and so had to be put back again. After that the only thing in sight that looked the least bit like a right guard was Bayard Newlyn Briggs.
They took Bi and put him on the Varsity, and forty-‘leven coaches stood over his defenseless form and hammered football into him for eight solid hours on Wednesday and Thursday. And Bi took it all like a little woolly lamb, without a bleat. But it just made you sick to think what was going to happen to Bi when Jordan got to work on him!
We had our last practice Thursday, and that night we went to the Union and heard speeches and listened to the new songs. Pretty poor they were too; but that’s got nothing to do with the story. Friday we mooned around until afternoon and then had a few minutes of signal practice indoors. Bi looked a little bit worried, I thought. Maybe it was just beginning to dawn on Me that it wasn’t all a lark.
What happened next morning I learned afterwards from Bi. Hecker sent for him to come to his room, put him in a nice easy-chair, and then sat down in front of him. And he talked.
“I’ve sent for you, Mr. Briggs,” began Hecker in his quiet way, “because it has occurred to me that you don’t altogether understand what we are going to do this afternoon.”
Bi looked surprised.
“Play Yale, sir?”
“Incidentally; yes. But we are going to do more than play her; we are going to beat her to a standstill; we are going to give her a drubbing that she will look back upon for several years with painful emotion. It isn’t often that we have an opportunity to beat Yale, and I propose to make the best of this one. So kindly disabuse your mind of the idea that we are merely going out to play a nice, exhilarating game of football. We are going to simply wipe up the earth with Yale!”
“Indeed?” murmured Bi politely.
“Quite so,” answered the coach dryly, “I suppose you know that your presence on the team is a sheer accident? If you don’t, allow me to tell you candidly that if there had been anyone else in the college to put in Corson’s place, we would never have called on you, Mr. Briggs.”
He let that soak in a minute. Then:
“Have you ever heard of this man Jordan who will play opposite you to-day?” he asked.
“Yes, sir; a very good player, I understand.”
“A good player! My dear fellow, he’s the best guard on a college team in twenty years. And you are going to play opposite him. Understand that?”
“Er–certainly,” answered Bi, getting a bit uneasy.
“What are you going to do about it?”
“Do? Why, I shall do the best I can, Mr. Hecker. I don’t suppose I am any match for Jordan, but I shall try—-”
“Stop that! Don’t you dare talk to me of doing the best you can!” said the coach, shaking a finger under Bi’s nose–“for all the world,” as Bi told me afterwards, “as though he was trying to make me mad!” “‘Best you can’ be hanged! You’ve got to do better than you can, a hundred per cent better than you can, ever did, or ever will again! That’s what you’ve got to do! You’ve got to fight from the first whistle to the last without a let-up! You’ve got to remember every instant that if you don’t, we are going to be beaten! You’ve got to make Jordan look like a base imitation before the first half is over! That’s what you’ve got to do, my boy!”
“But it isn’t fair!” protested Bi. “You know yourself that Jordan can outplay me, sir!”
“I know it? I know nothing of the sort. Look at yourself! Look at your weight and your build! Look at those arms and legs of yours! Look at those muscles! And you dare to sit there, like a squeaking kid, and tell me that Jordan can outplay you! What have you got your strength for? What have we pounded football into you for?”
Over went his chair and he was shaking his finger within an inch of Bi’s face, his eyes blazing behind his glasses.
“Shall I tell you what’s the matter with you, Briggs? Shall I tell you why we wouldn’t have chosen you if there had been anyone else? Because you’re a coward–a rank, measly coward, sir!”
Bi’s face went white and he got up slowly out of his chair.
“That will do, sir,” he said softly, like a tiger-puss purring. “You’ve done what no one else has ever done, Mr. Hecker. You’ve called me a coward. You’re in authority and I have no redress–now. But after to-day–” He stopped and laughed unpleasantly. “I’ll see you again, sir.”
“Heroics!” sneered the coach. “They don’t impress me, sir. I’ve said you’re a coward, and I stand by it. I repeat it. You are a coward, Briggs, an arrant coward.”
Bi gripped his hands and tried to keep the tears back.
“Coward, am I? What are you, I’d like to know? What are you when you take advantage of your position to throw insults at me? If you weren’t the head coach, I’d–I’d—-”
“What would you do?” sneered Hecker.
“I’d kill you!” blazed Bi. “And I’ll do it yet, you–you—-”
“Tut, tut! That’s enough, Briggs. You can’t impose on me that way. I haven’t watched you play football all the fall to be taken in now by your melodrama. But after to-day you will find me quite at your service, Mr.–Coward. And meanwhile we’ll call this interview off, if you please. The door, Mr. Briggs!”
Bi seized his hat from the table and faced Hecker. He was smiling now, smiling with a white, set, ugly face.
“Perhaps I am wrong,” he said softly with a little laugh. “I think I am. Either that or you are lying. For if you are really willing to meet me after to-day’s game you are no coward, sir.”
Then he went out.
We lined up at two o’clock.
There was a huge crowd and a band. I didn’t mind the crowd, but that band got me worried so, that I couldn’t do a thing the first ten minutes. It’s funny how a little thing like that will queer your game. One fellow I knew once was off his game the whole first half because some idiot was flying a kite over the field advertising some one’s pills.
We had the ball and began hammering at the Yale line and kept it up until we had reached her fifteen yards. Then she got together and stopped us; held us for downs in spite of all we could do. Then she kicked and we started it all over again. It wasn’t exciting football to watch, maybe, but it was the real thing with us. We had to work–Lord, how we had to work! And how we did work, too! We made good the next time, but it took us fifteen minutes to get back down the field. Cooper himself went over for that first touchdown. Maybe the crowd didn’t shout! Talk about noise! I’d never heard any before! It was so unexpected, you see, for almost everyone had thought Yale was going to do her usual stunt and rip us to pieces. But in that first half she was on the defensive every moment. Seven times she had the ball in that first thirty-five minutes, but she could no more keep it than she could fly. Altogether she gained eighteen yards in that half.
It was one-sided, if you like, but it was no picnic. It was hammer and tongs from first to last–man’s work and lots of it.
We didn’t rely on tricks, but went at her center and guards and just wore them down. And when that first half was over–11-0 was the score–the glory of one Jordan was as a last season’s straw hat. A new star blazed in the football firmament; and it was in the constellation of Harvard and its name was Bi Briggs. What I’m telling you is history, and you needn’t take my word alone for it. I never really saw a man play guard before that day–and I’d watched lots of fellows try. Bi was a cyclone. To see him charge into Jordan–and get the jump on him every time–was alone worth the price of admission. And as for blocking, he was a stone wall, and that’s all there is to it. Never once did the Elis get through him. He held the line on his side as stiff as a poker until quarter had got the ball away, and then he mixed things up with the redoubtable Jordan, and you could almost see the fur fly! Play? O my! He was simply great! And the rest of us, watching when we had a chance, just felt our eyes popping out. And all the time he smiled; smiled when he went charging through the blue line, smiled when he took Toppan on his shoulder and hurled him over the mix-up for six yards, smiled when we pulled him out of a pile-up looking like a badly butchered beef, and still smiled when we trotted of the field in a chaos of sound. But that smile wasn’t pretty. I guess he was thinking most of the time of Hecker; and maybe sometimes he got Hecker and Jordan mixed up.
When we came back for the second half we weren’t yet out of the woods, and we knew it. We knew that Yale would forget that she was bruised and battered and tired and would play harder than ever. And she did. And for just about ten minutes I wouldn’t have bet a copper on the game. Yale had us on the run and plugged away until we were digging our toes into our twelve-yard line. Then we held her. After that, although she still played the game as though she didn’t know she was beaten, she was never dangerous. We scored twice more in that half. When there was still ten minutes of play the whistle blew, and Jordan, white, groggy, and weepy about the eyes, was dragged off the field. Bi had sure used him rough, but I’m not pretending Jordan hadn’t come back at him. Bi’s face was something fierce. The blood had dried in flakes under his nose, one eye was out of commission, and his lip was bleeding where his tooth had gone through it. But he still smiled. When we trotted off for the last time the score board said: “Harvard, 22; Opponents, 0.” And those blurry white figures up there paid for all the hard work of the year.
It was past seven when we assembled for dinner. About all the old players for twenty years back were there and it sounded like a sewing circle. Bi was one of the last to come in. He pushed his way through the crowd about the door, shaking off the fellows’ hands, and strode across to where Hecker was standing. Hecker saw him coming, but he only watched calmly. Bi stopped in front of him, that same sort of ugly smile on his face.
“We’ve broken training, sir?” he asked quietly.
“Yes,” answered the coach.
Then Bi’s hand swung around and that slap was heard all over the room. There was a moment of dead silence; then half a dozen of us grabbed Bi. We thought he’d gone crazy, but he didn’t try to shake us off. He just stood there and looked at Hecker. The coach never raised a hand and never changed his expression–only one cheek was as red as the big flag at the end of the room. He held up his hand and we quieted down.
“Gentlemen,” he said, “Mr. Briggs was quite within his rights. Please do not interfere with him.”
We let Bi go.
“The incident demands explanation,” continued the coach. “As you all know, we were left in a hole by the loss of Corson and Blake, and the only man who seemed at all possible was Mr. Briggs. But Mr. Briggs, playing as he had been playing all year, would have been no match for Jordan of Yale. We tried every means we could think of to wake Mr. Briggs up. He had, I felt certain, the ability to play football–winning football–but we couldn’t get it out of him. As a last resort I tried questionable means. I asked Mr. Briggs to call on me this morning. I told him we must win to-day, and that in order to do so he would have to play better than he’d been doing. He told me that he would do his best, but that he knew himself no match for Jordan. That spirit wouldn’t have done, gentlemen, and I tried to change it. I told Mr. Briggs that he was a coward, something I knew to be false. I insulted him over and again until only my authority as head coach kept him from trying to kill me. He told me he would do so when we had broken training and I promised to give him satisfaction. What I did is, I am well aware, open to criticism. But our necessity was great and I stand ready to accept any consequences. At least the result of today’s contest in a measure vindicates my method. You who saw Mr. Briggs play will, I am sure, find excuses for me. As for the gentleman himself, it remains with him to say whether he will accept my apology for what passed this morning, taking into consideration the strait in which we were placed and the results as shown, or whether he will demand other satisfaction.”
Half a hundred surprised, curious faces turned toward Bi, who, during Hecker’s statement, had looked at first contemptuous, then bewildered, and finally comprehending. For about ten seconds the room was as still as a graveyard. Then Bi stepped up with outstretched hand like a little man, and for the second time that day we went crazy!
Bi was hailed as the greatest guard of the year, and they put him on the All-American team, but I don’t think Bi cared a button. Anyhow, when they tried to get him to come out for the eleven the next fall he absolutely refused, and nothing anyone could say would budge him. He said he was too busy.