Tiger Football Legend Iacavazzi Thrilled As He Strides Into History This Weekend
By Bill Alden
Cosmo Iacavazzi is pumped. The star running back of Princeton University's legendary 1964 squad that went 9-0 is playing in a football game this Saturday afternoon.
Iacavazzi's teammates this Saturday, however, won't be Tigers. Instead, he'll be joined on a field in South Bend, Indiana by such football greats as Dan Marino, Ronnie Lott, Reggie White, Kellen Winslow, and Napoleon McCallum, playing together in a flag football game before they all get enshrined in the College Football Hall of Fame later that evening.
For Iacavazzi, the enshrinement is doubly gratifying because the accolade culminates his football career and it comes after he had nearly given up hope that his day in the sun would ever come after having been nominated for the last dozen years but never voted in.
"Obviously, it's an outstanding honor, I'm absolutely thrilled that I've been elected to the Hall of Fame," said Iacavazzi in a recent interview at the Princeton football office in Jadwin.
"My class includes outstanding people that are heroes of mine. To be considered in a light with them as peers is quite a thrill for me. I was starting to get the sense that my time had passed after being on the ballot so long. It just magnifies the thrill."
Showing the determination that set him apart on the football field, Iacavazzi is relishing the prospect of playing on the same field with his fellow enshrinees even if it is a friendly exhibition.
"Our competitive juices are going to flow," said Iacavazzi with a chuckle. "I'll tell you, I'm working out to get in shape. I don't want to get embarrassed out there. Of course, my fantasy is to catch a pass from Dan Marino with Ronnie Lott covering me."
Iacavazzi's football career reads almost like a fantasy. As a high school football star coming out of blue-collar Scranton, Pa. Iacavazzi was recruited by such traditional football powers as Notre Dame and Penn State but decided instead to go to Princeton.
Struggling in the classroom as he adjusted to the demands of college football, Iacavazzi hit his stride in his junior season, making first-team All-Ivy as Princeton went 7-2 and tied for the league crown.
As a senior and captain of the 1964 squad, Iacavazzi had one of the great campaigns in Princeton history, utilizing his straight-ahead, hard-driving style to rush for a then-school record of 909 yards and score 14 touchdowns as the Tigers went 9-0. The team's perfect season was highlighted by a showdown at 7-0 Yale in the next-to-last week of the season.
Playing before a hostile throng of more than 60,000 packing the Yale Bowl, Princeton fell behind for the first time all season as Yale jumped out to a 14-0 lead. By halftime the Tigers had fought back to a 14-14 deadlock.
After Iacavazzi and his classmates emotionally exhorted each other in the locker room at the break, the Tigers came out and rolled to a 35-14 win over the Bulldogs. Iacavazzi scored on second half runs of 39 and 47 yards to ignite the rout, ending the day with 185 yards rushing. No Princeton team has gone undefeated since that magical fall.
Iacavazzi led the league in rushing, was named a first-team All-American, and the co-MVP of the Eastern Athletic Conference. He ended his Princeton career with 1,895 yards rushing and 186 points scored, then a school-record. In the classroom, he became a national scholar-athlete as a senior and graduated with a degree in aeronautical engineering.
As Iacavazzi reflects on his storybook career, the great victories or touchdowns aren't the first thing that come to his mind. "It's the relationship experiences that come from all of this and just tell me what I've always loved and respected about football," said Iacavazzi with a smile as hard to wipe off his face as he was to tackle.
"You share such a range of intense emotions, sadness, gladness, pain, and suffering with your teammates and your coaches. You know your opponents did the same thing so you respect that in them."
Bob Casciola, the Princeton coach that recruited Iacavazzi, will tell you that the future Hall-of-Famer certainly had the respect of his teammates and coaches. "He had a great cast of players with him but he was the leader," said Casciola, Princeton's head coach from 1973-77 who is currently the president of the National Football Foundation.
"Cosmo was driven and committed in everything he did. It was contagious, his presence added to everything we did. In practice he would sprint 40 yards on every play, not to be a show-off but because he thought that was the right way to do things. A player like Cosmo comes across once in a coach's career, maybe twice if you're lucky."
Iacavazzi, who played one season as a back-up with the New York Jets, has applied his drive and charisma to a variety of pursuits since college, including engineering, working in finance on Wall Street, starting a cable television company, serving as the mayor of Hillsborough, and running a property management company.
Recalling that he worked from 7 a.m. straight through to 2 a.m. the next day at times during his Princeton career to master his coursework, Iacavazzi believes that football paved the way for his later success.
"I learned some indelible lessons from football, they were imprinted on me early," said Iacavazzi, who lives in Montgomery and is currently the Director of Corporate Development for the National Football Foundation.
"My high school coach Sam Donato had the greatest influence on me other than non-family members. Sam taught me that you give your best effort all the time no matter what you are doing so that's what I did. I've never been that big or fast so I thought I'll just give it my best effort, that was my edge. I was taught a framework to create success through football that has stayed with me."
This weekend, the fruits of that labor will pay off for Iacavazzi as he gets to savor the ultimate success a college football player can experience.