Poe Brothers, The,

Poe Brothers, The, contributed to many Princeton football victories in the twenty years beginning in 1882 and were the special nemesis of Harvard and Yale. There were six of them, sons of John Prentiss Poe 1854, attorney general of Maryland (and a cousin of the writer Edgar Allan Poe) who sent them to his Alma Mater, as he put it, ``from a full paternal quiver.'' They were all short and stocky, strong, and fast:

(1) Samuel Johnson Poe 1884, the eldest, played halfback in 1882 and 1883, and was also a lacrosse All-American.
(2) Edgar Allan Poe 1891 was quarterback and captain in his junior and senior years. In 1889, the year he was named All-American, he played a leading part in the 41 to 15 defeat of Harvard at Cambridge. During the excitement, a Harvard man asked a Princeton alumnus whether Poe was related to the great Edgar Allan Poe; the alumnus looked at him in astonishment and replied, ``He is the great Edgar Allan Poe.'' He graduated Phi Beta Kappa and became, like his father, attorney general of Maryland.
(3) John Prentiss Poe, Jr. 1895 had a reckless courage and a generous nature that endeared him to his contemporaries. His freshman year he was a star halfback on the varsity and class president. That spring, when he was required to withdraw from college for scholastic reasons, his whole class turned out at the Junction to see him off. He was readmitted in the fall, and played even more brilliantly. Later that year, again in academic arrears, he was obliged to leave, this time for good. For a time he coached football at other colleges, and then embarked on an adventurous career as cowpuncher, gold prospector, surveyor, and soldier of fortune. When World War I broke out he hastened to England and ``took the King's shilling'' as a private in the Royal Garrison Artillery. He later applied for transfer to the infantry and was assigned to the 1st Black Watch. He was killed in action in France on September 25, 1915. A portrait, showing his stocky figure with the kilts and bonnet of the Black Watch, hangs in Madison Hall; it was given by the Princeton Alumni Association of Maryland. Poe Field, provided in his memory by classmates and friends, is used for lacrosse and intramural athletics. The John Prentiss Poe Football Cup, given by his mother, is awarded annually to that member of the varsity football team who has best exemplified courage, modesty, perseverance, and good sportsmanship. It is Princeton's highest football award.
(4) Neilson (Net) Poe 1897 played in the backfield in 1895 and 1896 and returned to coach in later years. He served overseas with the A.E.F. in World War I and was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for gallantry in action. For twenty years between the World Wars, he was in charge of the scrubs, who were called Poe's ``Omelettes'' because ``they were good eggs who were beaten up.'' For another twenty years he maintained a close association with coaches and players, watching the daily practices and traveling with the team for its games away. Courteous and light-hearted, he was well liked by everyone who knew him.
(5) Arthur Poe '00, another All-American, made the decisive score that beat Yale in two successive years. In 1898 he ran ninety yards for a touchdown and the only score of the game. Newspapers reported that he had recovered a Yale fumble, but Poe said that he had grabbed the ball from a Yale halfback's arms, that he had a clear field and a ten-yard start for the goal line, and that he had never felt happier in his life. In the 1899 game, with less than a minute to play, and with the score 10 to 6 in Yale's favor, Bill Roper '02 of Princeton recovered a fumble on Yale's 30-yard line. It was getting dark and time was running out. The only feasible strategy was to try for a field goal, then worth 5 points, but Princeton's two drop-kickers were out with injuries. Arthur Poe volunteered to try a drop-kick even though he had never kicked in a college game before. The others agreed, Poe dropped back to the 35-yard line, and (the newspapers said) made a perfect dropkick. Poe's version was different:

``The pass from center came back perfectly which is more than anyone could truthfully say for the rest of the play. . . . The ball bounded a little too high off the ground as I dropped it and I got under it too much, raising it high into the air almost like a punt. It came down just about a foot over the crossbar and about a yard inside the upright. I wasn't sure it was good until I turned to the referee and saw him raise his arms and heard him say `goal.' . . . Then everything broke loose. . . . All I remember after that was being seized by a crowd of undergraduates and alumni who rushed out onto the field, and hearing my brother Net shout: `You damned lucky kid, you have licked them again.'''
(6) Gresham Poe '02 was first mentioned with his brothers in verses, ascribed to Booth Tarkington 1893, which were read at a victory celebration in 1899. Eli Yale is addressing the Tiger:

```Sir,' I said, `All Poes are gone --
Johnson, Edgar, Neilson, John;
Arthur with the toe on which
Winning goals are kicked galore.
Tell me, tell me, gentle Tiger,
Is it possible there are more?'
`Stop!' the Tiger cried, `there's Gresham,
Getting ready to refresh 'em --
Don't forget him. I implore.'''

As it turned out, Gresham spent most of his time on the bench as a substitute quarterback, but he did get into the Yale game his senior year. He was sent in with other substitutes in the fourth quarter when Yale was leading 12 to 0. The Princeton fans had practically conceded victory to Yale, but when Gresham appeared on the field they rose to their feet with a rousing cheer -- such was the magic of the name ``Poe.'' They rose again with a roar when Gresham received a punt and squirmed 23 yards before he was downed. ``Poe's presence seemed to rejuvenate the Tigers,'' Harper's Weekly reported, ``and for the last ten minutes of the contest they fairly outplayed the weary Elis. The ball was twice carried half the length of the field, but the whistle blew before Princeton could score.''


From Alexander Leitch, A Princeton Companion, copyright Princeton University Press (1978).

Go to Search A Princeton Companion