On Oct. 28, 1922, three undersized defenders from Princeton made a play that would define one of the Tigers’ most storied football teams. And when Charlie Caldwell ’25, Harland “Pink” Baker ’22, and Oliver Alford ’22 stopped Chicago fullback John Thomas at the goal line on fourth down, preserving an improbable 21–18 Princeton win, the feat echoed far beyond the bleachers at Stagg Field, thanks to the first long-distance radio broadcast in the history of collegiate sports.
Telephone lines carried the play-by-play from Chicago to New York, and hundreds of students gathered around radios at University Field, Palmer Laboratory, and the Western Union office to listen to the action. “Each place was crowded with eager students,” The New York Times reported, “cheering madly one minute, groaning hoarsely the next.” After the game’s final play, students paraded down Nassau Street, lit a bonfire, and rang the Nassau Hall bell (a celebration that, until then, was reserved for wins over Harvard or Yale).
Eighty-five years later, it seems hard to imagine a Princeton-Chicago game inspiring such passion. The Uni-versity of Chicago dropped its football team from 1940 to 1968 before returning to play in Division III, and the Tigers, who play in the Division I Football Championship Subdivision, have not contended for a national title in the last half-century.
But in 1922, coach Amos Alonzo Stagg’s Maroons were a Big Ten powerhouse, and Princeton ranked among the finest teams in the east. The rare east-west showdown provided a perfect opportunity to expand radio broadcasting, which had been used locally since 1920.
Princeton led the game early, but Thomas, the Maroons’ bruising runner, wore down the defense, scoring three touchdowns to build an 18–7 Chicago lead. The Tigers’ luck turned early in the fourth quarter, when Howdy Gray ’23 returned a fumble 42 yards to the end zone. Minutes later, Harry Crum ’24 completed a Princeton drive with his second touchdown of the day, putting the Tigers ahead 21–18.
Chicago still had time to respond. Making use of its passing attack, Stagg’s team reached the Princeton 7-yard line. Three runs pushed the ball within a foot of the goal, setting up the Tigers’ famous fourth-down stand.
After the game, legendary columnist Grantland Rice dubbed Princeton a “team of destiny.” The Tigers would live up to their billing, beating Harvard and Yale to win the Big Three championship and complete an 8–0 season.
One player, Don Griffin ’23, would later credit “the twin authorities of fact and fiction” for the 1922 team’s legendary status. But technology also played a role. As Donald Herring 1907 wrote in PAW, “The wonders of wireless telephony were never better exemplified.”