Thursday, June 04, 2009

Working and Playing with Archie

Columbia Hall of Famer Archie Roberts (CREDIT: Columbia Athletics)

We are now at part three of the Roger Dennis interview. Click here for part one and here for part two.

This part is solely dedicated to Roger's memories of Columbia great Archie Roberts.
My own posts about Roberts' greatest games are here and here.

Jake: You came to prominence as one of QB Archie Roberts' favorite weapons. What was he like and did you change your style of play to accommodate his skills?

Roger: Archie was – probably still is – very quiet, very humble, I would say shy. A very nice guy. You didn’t really get to know him very well. I always felt that he felt that he so had to live up to his All-American image that he was not really free to experiment in life; he had to do well as an athlete, he had to do well in the classroom, he had to become a doctor or a lawyer or a governor or something like that; he had to stay away from drink or drugs, had to behave himself at all times.

Now, two things here: (1) I don’t know for sure that this is true, because he and I have never had a really heavy and emotionally open conversation (not yet anyway), and (2) I don’t say these things in any kind of derogatory way, because I like Archie a lot, and I don’t believe for a minute that he was insincere; I believe he was truly a kind-hearted person who actually made the decision that he wanted to live his life doing things along the ‘high road’ that people expected of him. On a personal level I sometimes felt sorry for him because it seemed he would never, could never, ‘let his hair down’ and have some wild, crazy fun! But that was me trying to look at his life through my eyes. Most important thing: He was, and I’m sure still is, a good guy; and he has done some real good things with his life. Funny, writing this now and thinking, reflecting like this makes me think I might wanna get in touch and spend some time with him.

Roberts went on to become one of the world's greatest heart surgeons

Archie was a SUPERB athlete, a Prep school All-American in football, basketball, and baseball. Before I comment on what it was like to play with him I’ll tell you a funny little story that illustrates his gentleness and humility. I believe it was my first day on campus in September of 1961 (I was originally Class of ’65); definitely it was the first time that the freshmen football candidates got together. The late Art Cutler and I were talking – we were both from Long Island and had gotten to know each other via recruiting activities. Then a third teammate was there, and Art commented that he heard we had a great quarterback recruit from Massachusetts coming in, a guy named Archie Roberts. Of course the third guy was in fact Archie. He got a sort of embarrassed look on his face, kind of an ‘aw shucks’ look, put his fingers up to his lips, and said something like, “Oh, well, that’s me.”

You didn’t have to adjust your game to Archie; if adjusting was necessary he would do it. In fact we had a favorite play we ran, wherein I would run one of two routes, he would pick up which one it was, and then deliver an almost always beautifully thrown pass. (I’ll tell you more about this in a later post, because it fits in with some of my best football memories.) His passes were great. He had a strong arm, so he could throw the ball way downfield, or if he were throwing a shorter pass it would get to you quickly and right on time. Yet even with this strength his passes arrived gently and were easy to catch.

I’ll tell you something. For reasons which I might get into later on I took a year off, starting in the spring semester of my sophomore year (February of 1963). Also, I never played wide receiver until my junior year, which was after I came back to school and was by then Archie’s last year. If I or the coaches had discovered earlier that wide receiver was the ideal position for me and I had caught passes from Archie as a sophomore, I might very well have not have missed the 1964 season. I might have only taken one semester off, instead of a full year. (I say ‘might’ because there was so much going on inside me at that time – so much confusion, frustration, hurt, anger, etc. – that I might not have been emotionally ready to come back, even if it meant missing a season of catching passes from Archie. I truly don’t know. But I can’t help but wonder ‘what might have been’).

And I'll tell you another Archie story. The summer after our freshman year Archie was staying in the city. Since I was from the metro area he asked if I knew of a good summer baseball league. (I played freshman baseball). Well, I don't know if they still exist or not*, but at that time the Merrick Rangers - out on Long Island - played in a real good summer amateur league that was kind of like the Cape Cod league; a real solid league with some fine ballplayers. I brought Archie out for a tryout. After watching him swing for about a minute, the coach turned to me and said, "That's a major league hitter!"

I don't know why Arch chose football over baseball professionally; probably because he could work out attending medical school better with football. (Like I said, I liked him a lot, but we didn't talk that much.) And I don't know why he didn't do better as a pro quarterback - not that what he did was shabby. Maybe trying to juggle pro football and medical school was just too much.

Another bottom line: it was a real honor and privilege to play with someone with his kind of skills AND that kind of humility. Don't see that combo very often!

*Editor's note: It appears the Merrick Rangers went defunct many years ago. I live in the neighboring town and most people in the area tell me they stopped playing sometime in the 1970's.


At Fri Jun 05, 01:05:00 AM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for all the Roger Dennis interviews and keep them coming. I enjoy them all because he's articulate, comprehensive and doesn't spare himself at all, which shows he's being honest. It's a great insight into Lion foootball and the whole Columbia experience. And coincidentally, I am a huge Archie Roberts fan. I saw the great passing, etc. but what I always think of first is his defense. That was still the time when the QB played safety on defense and there were so many times when there was no one between a breakway runner and the end zone except Archie roberts and he brought the runner down every time.

At Fri Jun 05, 03:09:00 AM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Archie Roberts was on the cover of the Princeton program when we played Princeton at Princeton Archie's senior year. What an incredible tribute and what a classy act. We lost that game to an excellent Princeton team, but we played a whale of a game and were in it until the very end. The reason why Archie played safety was not only because he was such a great defender, but because there were only two substitutions which were permitted at the change of possession. All the great players in those days went both ways. Iacavazzi played both offense and defense for Princeton, for example. As far as Archie's passes being easy to catch, maybe they were for Roger, but I can tell you that Archie could throw a rope.

At Mon Dec 07, 10:42:00 AM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Archie--'priceless'...a true gem!-- and Al Butts and others made Columbia football exciting.
The Cornell game was amazing!
Roger was terrific and a fine person!

Thank you!
Neal H. Hurwitz CC'66


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