From the Files of the RJ's Surrealist Research Bureau
The greatest team that never was
In a discussion over Super Bowl weekend with two associates I was surprised to learn they were unaware of the team many people—myself included—consider to be the greatest of all time. When we think of the greatest football teams ever most people think of the undefeated ‘72 Dolphins or the beloved ‘85 Bears but only a few of us recall fondly the tale of the amazing 1941 Plainfield Teachers College Comets.
Obscure colleges bursting from nowhere onto the national spotlight were far from unknown throughout the roaring 20s and 30s. The tiny Carlisle Indian Industrial School, behind the phenomenal Jim Thorpe, won the National Collegiate Championship in 1912. (Thorpe scored all of his team’s points in an 18-15 upset of Harvard, playing on both offense and defense as well as kicking three field goals.)
Enter the 1941 Plainfield Teachers College. After winning their first game by a score of 27–3, Plainfield’s 92-year-old coach Harry “Hurry-up” Holblitzel predicted (correctly) that no opponents would score against them again now that the kinks of his new “W formation,” in which the ends were lined up facing the backfield, were smoothed out.
The team’s star was full-blooded Chinese running back Jonny Chung, nicknamed “the Celestial Comet,” who reportedly chewed wild rice between plays and who scored 69 of Plainfield’s first 117 points, averaging 7.8 yards a carry.
Each week’s victory was more impressive than the last; the Plainfield eleven defeated Benson 20–0, Winona 27–0 and Randolph Tech 35–0.
However, on November 13, just before Bowl games were to be announced (Plainfield appeared to be a shoo-in), Plainfield issued this statement: “Due to flunking mid-term examinations, Plainfield has been forced to call off its last two games against Appalachian Tech and Harmony.”
It was a disaster for the mighty, undefeated Plainfield team and there was speculation of cheating on tests or professional players on the team. The truth, it turns out, was even weirder.
A New York Herald Tribune reporter traveled to Plainfield to do an article on the football phenoms and found out quickly that not only was there no team, there was no college there either! It had all been a lark, dreamed up by a bored stockbroker and some friends, who phoned in their phony stories each week to the New York Times and other big city wire services.
The scandal faded quickly due to the Pearl Harbor attack just days later, but not before some wit had penned a school song for the mighty Comets (sung to the tune of “Far Above Cayuga’s Waters”):
Far above New Jerseys swamplands rise Plainfield Teacher’s spires
and mark a phantom, ghostly college. that got on the wires.
Reading those dusty, yellowed clippings still brings a smile to my lips. The great Jonny Chung, the 92-year-old coach Hurry-up Holblitzel, the bizarre “W” formation, the undefeated, magical season of ‘41.
Plainfield Teachers College Comets—possibly, in some alternative dimension, the greatest team to ever play the game!
‘til next time, all homage to Xena!