Today's Tidbit... When Captains Callahan Collide
With the Kelce brothers opposing one another in Super Bowl LVII, we'll look this week at a few brother combinations that played a part in football’s history.
In early football, teams had one captain. Opposing captains met before games to "toss-up," deciding which team would kick off. By the early 1900s, referees took charge of the coin-flipping process, so W. G. Crowell, the referee of the 1920 Princeton-Yale game, met Tim and Mike Callahan at midfield. As Heywood Broun described the process the next day:
Just before the whistle blew, Captain Tim Callahan of Yale and Mike Callahan of Princeton walked out into the middle of the gridiron. The referee said: "I guess I don't have to introduce you boys," and he was quite right, because the Callahans are brothers.
To the best of anyone's recollection, the meeting at midfield was the first time in Eastern football -or perhaps anywhere- that brothers captained opposing major college football teams. Of course, their matchup as captains and centers, running into one another every play, should not have happened because John Timothy "Tim" Callahan was two years older than Harry A. "Mike" Callahan, but the events of 1917 set a path toward their 1920 meeting. After starting at center as a sophomore in 1916, Tim volunteered for the Navy shortly after America entered WWI in 1917. With the Navy, he earned first-team honors on Walter Camp's All-Service football team and his aviator wings before serving as a pilot in South America. He returned to Yale in 1919 to become the second junior class member elected by the football team as its captain. (The first was Frank Hinkey, a four-time All-American from 1891 to 1894.)
Meanwhile, Mike Callahan took a more conventional path, entering college in 1917 and, like most able-bodied male collegians that year, was a member of the Student Army Training Corps when he captained Princeton's SATC football team.
Entering the 1919 game, Princeton's last victory over Yale had come in 1911 when Sam White picked up a Yale fumble and raced the length of the field for a Tigers victory.
The 1919 game came at the Yale Bowl on a beautiful autumn day with a breeze blowing north to south. With both teams playing conservatively, the battle in the trenches became intense. Princeton’s Mike remained on the ground after a first-quarter play but revived himself and remained in the game. The same occurred in the second quarter.
As the game continued, the only scoring was two field goals per team, each assisted by the wind as they sailed over the southern crossbar. Then, in the closing minutes, Yale began moving the ball. As a Yale player was tackled near Princeton's 25-yard line, he attempted to lateral to a teammate, but the ball fell to the ground. Players from both teams dove for it, yet Princeton's Joe Scheerer got hold of it and ran 75 yards for the game-winning score, giving the Tigers their first victory inside the Yale Bowl. Tim Callahan, not Mike, left the game shortly after that.
While the media had highlighted the Callahan brothers opposing one another in 1919, Mike was not a captain that year. However, when both brothers captained their teams in 1920, the stories wrote themselves, or so it seemed by their volume. The matchup almost did not happen the second time since Tim considered skipping his senior year, taking a "war degree" that schools awarded veterans based on time served, but he returned to Yale for the fall and spent spring 1921 studying at Oxford. (England, not Ohio.) Doing so gave him a second chance to play under Tad Jones, covered in yesterday's brotherly Tidbit, who returned to Yale's sideline after several years of civilian war service
Unfortunately for the storyline, a shoulder injury forced the Yale coaches to shift Tim Callahan to right guard rather than center. Although the brothers had many opportunities to interact, they did not battle each other directly as in 1919. Yale, who entered the 1920 game having lost to Boston College earlier in the year, proved unable to move the ball consistently. Princeton managed a first-quarter field goal and aligned for a second field goal attempt with seconds left in the second quarter. Mike snapped the ball to quarterback and holder, Donald Lourie, who did not place the ball on the ground, but stood up and raced around the right end for a touchdown as time expired. The conversion gave Princeton a 10-0 halftime lead.
At halftime, Mrs. Callahan switched her seat from the Yale side to Princeton's. A Yale dean escorted her to midfield, where her sons had tossed up an hour earlier, and he handed her over to a Princeton counterpart as the crowd offered their applause.
Early in the third quarter, Yale forced Princeton to punt. Joe Scheerer, the scoop-and-score hero of the 1919 game, punted for Princeton, and as the punt sailed fifty yards in the air, Mike Callahan ran downfield in coverage. Unfortunately for Tim Callahan and Yale, the return man caught the ball and fumbled at the 20-yard line, where Mike scooped it up and took it in for another score, giving Princeton its third scoop-and-score in as many victories over Yale. A fourth-quarter field goal made it 20-0 for Princeton, then the second-largest winning margin for Princeton over Yale.
Clearly, the little brother's team got the best of the older brother's both years, but Tim was named first-team All-American at season's end and soon sailed for England. After returning, he did a little coaching, leading the Colorado School of Mines in 1922 and 1923. However, he spent most of his long career as the assistant general counsel for the Security and Exchange Commission.
Less information is available about Mike following his Princeton days. He worked for himself and lived in Queens in 1940 but soon moved to Washington, D. C., to work for the War Production Board. He appears to have remained in similar positions for the remainder of his career, retiring in Virginia.
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