Two Princeton sprint football players tackle a member of the Chestnut Hill College team. Photo | Chestnut Hill College
Back in 2010, Stephen Bednar, a former Princeton sprint football player (class of 1960), ignited a firestorm by penning a letter to the editor of the Princeton Alumni Weekly after Penn’s sprint team beat the Tigers by a score of 91 to 13. “Ninety-one is a basketball score,” Bednar noted. “Because of its dismal performance over the years, it appears that Princeton cannot compete effectively in the sprint-football league against the likes of Army, Navy, etc.” He went on to suggest that the sprint program be discontinued — a mercy killing, if you will.
Among those who sprang to defend the sport was Joe Salerno, also a former player (class of ’84), who countered with a stirring paean to the program: “Sprint is for those who were told their whole lives that they were too small to play football but still strapped on the pads for the love of the game. … Instead of glory, sprint footballers get a few moments of on-field exhilaration and lessons about discipline, dedication, and teamwork that last a lifetime. … ” Last week, Princeton finally, belatedly acquiesced to the now-deceased Bednar’s proposal and announced the end of its sprint football team.
Joe Salerno is still worked up about that. He’s worked up even though in all the years since Bednar wrote his letter, Princeton’s sprint football team hasn’t won a game. It hasn’t won a game, in fact, since long before that, in an amazing losing streak that dates back to 1999. (Or thereabouts; nobody’s really sure.) A 2005 article in the Daily Princetonian cited 35 straight losses over the prior five years — “A men’s Division 1 record — for any sport — of dubious distinction.” Sports Illustrated and SB Nation have written about the streak. The annual joke edition of the Daily Princetonian regularly skewers the team.
But where some see relentless humiliation, Joe Salerno sees only the promise of vindication. “I look at this as the biggest opportunity in the world!” he says, just about hyperventilating in his outrage. “No one’s ever lost that much! I can’t believe this is the university’s decision!” Read more »