“The greatest lacrosse game ever played?”
That’s how retired U.S. Air Force Lt. Gen. Robert E. Kelley describes the 1955 Princeton-Rutgers men’s game, played 60 years ago this month. Kelley, a Rutgers alumnus, knows from personal experience. He scored four of the Scarlet Knights’ 14 goals in the contest.
But Kelley does not recall the game fondly because his team came out on top. In fact, it was a rare epic that left both sides somewhere between satisfaction and disappointment: After two overtime periods, the game ended in a 14-14 tie.
R.W. Apple ’57, who later made his mark as a reporter for The New York Times, covered the game for The Daily Princetonian. “It was a game that had everything: superlative shooting, blocking, playmaking, passing and goal-keeping,” Apple wrote. “The spectators were left limp by the two and one half hour fight.”
Rutgers led 3-0 early, but Princeton quickly tied the score, 3-3. The lead seesawed in a high-scoring second quarter, and at halftime, the Tigers were ahead, 9-8. By the end of the third, Rutgers was back on top, 11-10.
The lead exchanged hands two more times in the fourth quarter, and Rutgers held a 14-13 edge entering the final minutes. But Tiger attacker Bob Stinson ’55 responded with two minutes remaining, bouncing a shot past Rutgers goalie Don Gucker for what would be the game’s final goal.
The waning seconds included a controversial call — Rutgers co-captain Tom Moffett fired a shot past the outstretched stick of Princeton goalie Bill Campbell ’56 as the whistle sounded, and the goal was disallowed. But what Kelley remembered most clearly from the experience had nothing to do with that potential game-winner or the final score. As he wrote to PAW this spring:
“When the Rutgers team was settling down for the bus ride back to New Brunswick, Princeton Coach Ferris Thomsen entered their bus. Coach Al Twitchell called for quiet. Coach Thomsen spoke quietly and respectfully to the Rutgers team. ‘That was one of the greatest lacrosse games of all time! I’m proud, very proud of my team and I know Coach Twitchell is equally proud of you. Congratulations on a well played game!’ Amazing, a coach taking the time to congratulate the other team! Coach Twitchell, choking up, said, ‘I’m really proud of all of you.’”
What would get your vote for the greatest game in Princeton lacrosse history? The men’s team’s 1992 double-overtime win over Syracuse in the NCAA championship game? The women’s team’s 2003 overtime victory over Virginia to secure back-to-back NCAA titles? Share your picks in the comments below.