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Ralph Warren

Sport: Football

Born: August 21, 1871

Died: September 3, 1928

Town: Montclair

Ralph Herbert Warren was born August 21, 1871 in Montclair, where his family owned a summer home. Their primary residence was in Manhattan. Ralph attended the Lawrenceville School, where he became the star halfback on the football team despite being a gangly 140-pounder. His talent extended to the classroom, where he excelled in math and science. That got him into Princeton.

The Tigers had one of the top teams in the nation in the 1880s, and Ralph didn’t exactly fill out a football uniform even at over 150, so he settled for playing on the freshman team. Snake Ames, the star of the varsity, noticed how quick and tough Ralph was and invited him to join the scrub team—the tackling dummies for the starters. He played on the line and, somewhat surprisingly, his slight frame and quickness proved to be an advantage, enabling him to slip between bigger, slower blockers. When an injury opened up a spot at left end, he became a starter. Ralph became something of a legend in the Yale game, which was played in New York before 25,000-plus fans. He leaped on a fumble that proved a turning point in a 10–0 victory that secured the national championship.

In this era of college football, when the battle for field position often resulted in punts on second and third down, covering kicks was of paramount importance. We’d call this “special teams” play but in Ralph’s day the special team was the one on the field all afternoon. His speed and agility getting down the field, and his toughness breaking up blocks and tackling ball-carriers, made him one of the game’s best ends. In 1890, he earned recognition for this skill, being named to the second-ever All-America team.

Shep Homans was the star of the Princeton gridiron squad and, some say, their greatest 19th century player. But in a vote of the team in 1891, Ralph was accorded the honor of Tiger captain. He responded by assuming more of a coaching role, and so did not repeat his All-America performance. The Tigers went 12–1, and did not yield a single point until the season finale, when they lost to Yale. More than 40,000 attended the Thanksgiving Day game, during which Ralph suffered head and neck injuries. In the weeks that followed, he found it difficult to concentrate. He fell behind in his studies and couldn’t stop thinking about the loss to Yale.

While spending the holidays with a friend in Washington DC, Ralph walked out of the house and failed to return. His disappearance made national news and after a few days everyone assumed he had been the victim of foul play. On New Year’s Day, he turned up at his parents’ home in New York, confused and incoherent but otherwise unharmed. His family rightly assumed that he was suffering from the after-effect of his football injury weeks earlier. Fortunately, Ralph made a full recovery in 1892. He did not pay as a senior and graduated in 1893.

After Princeton, Ralph earned a graduate degree in mechanical engineering at Lehigh University and worked for more than three decades on projects in Northeastern Pennsylvania. He moved back to New York in the mid-1920s and passed away at the age of 57.


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