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Dana Kafer

Sport: Football

Born: March 23, 1880

Died: March 22, 1937

Town: Trenton

Joseph Dana Kafer was born March 23, 1880 in Trenton to Adeline and Peter Kafer. During the Civil War, Peter served as an engineer on the USS Donelson, an iron-hulled blockade runner captured in 1864. During the 1890s, his son, who went by Dana, made a name for himself as a student-athlete at the Lawrenceville School, starring for the football team. His older brother, Fred, also played football and was the star catcher for the baseball team. It was said that Fred could have gone on to play baseball professionally. Both boys went to college at Princeton.

Dana went out for the football squad as a freshman in the fall of 1901. He started on the scrub team but quickly distinguished himself among the top halfbacks and was moved to the varsity by first-year coach Langdon Lea, a former All-American. In October that year, Dana dislocated his shoulder and was sidelined for the season. He was back on the field in 1902, when Princeton went 8–1, with its lone defeat coming at the hands of Yale. In the Tigers’ 21–0 win over Columbia, Dana was picked as the man to stop Harold Weekes, who specialized in propelling himself over the line on short-yardage plays, a la Walter Payton. On one play, both men met at the height of their trajectories with a loud thud—and had to be carried off the field.

In 1903, Princeton went undefeated under coach Art Hillebrand and captain John DeWitt. The team had an impenetrable defense, allowing only 6 points, and pinning opponents deep in their own territory with their excellent punting. Dana was the star runner for the Tigers, earning unanimous All-America recognition. In a 44–0 win over Cornell, he scored three touchdowns. Ironically, given his proficiency in math and science, Dana’s main weakness as a player was actually remembering the team’s many plays.

The Tigers went 8–2 in Dana’s senior year, losing to Navy and Yale. After graduation, he went to work as a civil engineer for the Mott Ironworks in Trenton. He married Lyda Pierson in 1909 and they bought a house in Lawrenceville. Dana died of a heart attack a day before he turned 57.


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