In a week where the sports headlines were dominated by sordid tales of a racial slur uttered by Riley Cooper of the Philadelphia Eagles, Alex Rodriguez’s impending suspension from baseball due to the continued use of performance enhancing drugs, and Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel’s off-field misadventures, it stood as a mere footnote.
But the passing of Princeton University football legend and 1951 Heisman recipient Dick Kazmaier on August 1 shines a light on a simpler time where such virtues as humility, intelligence, and loyalty coexisted with incredible athletic success.
Kazmaier, who was 82 at the time of his death from heart and lung disease, surely produced a sporting career for the ages.
The native of Maumee, Ohio rose from a 155-pounder buried on the depth chart as a freshman in 1948 to the top of the college football world by the fall of 1951.
Featured on the cover of Time Magazine that year, Kazmaier went on to win the Heisman Trophy in a landslide as he led Princeton to a second straight 9-0 campaign. He earned 1,777 points in the Heisman 1951 vote, which at the time was a record by more than 460 points. He also won the Maxwell Award that season.
The quintessential tailback in the single wing, Kazmaier led the nation in both total offense and passing accuracy that season; rushing for 861 yards and completing 123 passes for 960 yards and 13 touchdowns. By his graduation, he was Princeton’s all-time leader in rushing (1,950 career yards) and ranked second in passing (2,404 career yards). His 59.5 career completion percentage still ranks third all-time at Princeton.
While Kazmaier’s football accomplishments were staggering, they were matched by his character and rectitude off the field.
The 1952 Princeton graduate eschewed the NFL to attend Harvard Business School. He eventually founded Kazmaier Associates, Inc., a Concord, Massachusetts firm that has invested in, managed and consulted for sports marketing and sports product manufacturing and marketing businesses since its founding in 1975.
Kazmaier served his country as an ensign in the United States Navy. He also served as chairman of the President’s Council on Physical Fitness under Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush.
He was also a devoted family man. He and wife Patricia had six daughters: Kathy L. Donnelly, Kristen Kazmaier Fisher, Michele S. Kazmaier, Patricia J. Kazmaier-Sandt ’86, Susan M. Kazmaier ’81 and Kimberly Picard ’77. Three daughters were Princeton graduates, including former women’s ice hockey standout Patricia (Patty) Kazmaier, a four-year varsity ice hockey letterwinner who anchored the Princeton defense and led the Tigers to the Ivy League championship in three consecutive seasons (1981-82 through 1983-84), while earning multiple league honors.
Patty Kazmaier died of a rare blood disease in 1990; in her honor, her father, in association with the USA Hockey Foundation, created the Patty Kazmaier Award. First given in 1998, the Patty Kazmaier Memorial Award is presented annually to the top player in NCAA Division I women’s ice hockey. Other selection criteria include outstanding individual and team skills, sportsmanship, performance in the clutch, personal character, competitiveness and a love of hockey.
It is Kazmaier’s personal qualities as much as his athletic achievements that were cited as he was remembered by members of the Princeton family.
“Today Princeton University, the Tiger Athletic Program and Tiger Nation are mourning the loss of Dick Kazmaier ’52, one of our most accomplished student-athlete icons of the 20th Century,” said Director of Athletics Gary Walters ’67 as quoted on the Princeton Athletics website.
“In addition to having won the Heisman, #42’s most enduring trait for me was that he also was a dignified ‘Wise Man.’ Notwithstanding all of the achievements in his athletic, business and philanthropic endeavors, Dick remained one of the most self-effacing individuals I have ever met. He never sought the spotlight and always led in a thoughtful and ethical manner.”
A friend to both the University and the football program over the years, Kazmaier served as a Princeton trustee, as well as a member of the Princeton Varsity Club Board of Directors. He had visited with the team as recently as prior to the 2011 Harvard game, as well as following the 2010 victory over Lafayette, the first victory for current head coach Bob Surace.
“My admiration for Dick Kazmaier goes well beyond the respect earned by his being the greatest football player in the unmatched history of our Princeton program,” said Surace ’90 in remarks on the Princeton website.
“Whenever I talk to our team about Dick Kazmaier, it is not about the Heisman, the undefeated seasons, statues or awards. It is about the traits that Dick shared with me in every communication we had, the qualities that make up the ideal Princeton man — character, dignity, strength, intelligence, humility, unselfishness, commitment and passion to be exceptional in every area of life. “
His legacy was cemented in Princeton lore in 2008 when the school permanently retired the number ‘42’ from ever being used again by any Tiger athlete; that number was shared by two of its most historic alumni, Kazmaier and Basketball Hall of Famer Bill Bradley ’65.
In an October 22, 2008 Town Topics story on the retirement of the ’42,’ Kazmaier acknowledged that he was moved by the honor.
“I have respected 42 for a long time,” said Kazmaier. “This is very nice; it is valuable for football and Princeton athletics in general. It is a reminder that good things can happen and significant accomplishments can happen. It is something I am pleased to be identified with, the number is a symbol that achievement is worth working for and success can happen.”
True to character, Kazmaier emphasized the joint effort with his teammates, not his individual feats.
“In some sports, the individual can dominate but in football, you can’t do anything unless everybody is doing the right thing at the right time,” said Kazmaier. “I happened to have the ball the most and I did some things with it and that’s what people see.”
In putting together that story, this reporter got a first-hand exposure to Kazmaier’s gentlemanly nature. He responded quickly to an e-mail request for an interview, noting that he was taking his car in for service at 8:00 a.m. later that week and would have plenty of time to talk then if that wasn’t too early.
The interview was confirmed and Kazmaier spent 40 minutes graciously answering all of of my questions, although he was uncomfortable dwelling on his honors and awards. At the end, he thanked me for my interest and giving him the chance to relive some of those memories.
But as I told him that morning, no, thank you, Mr. Kazmaier.