Five years from now, Jim Thorpe will win gold in the pentathlon and decathlon at the 1912 Olympics. The King of Sweden will tell Jim, “You sir, are the greatest athlete in the world.” Jim will reply, “Thanks, King.”
But on Oct. 19, 1907, the “greatest” had his worst kickoff return. Playing against Bucknell, Jim brushed aside tacklers like horseflies and headed for the goal line. In the last few yards, he eased up, got clipped by a diving player, did a face-plant and fumbled. Luckily, a teammate scooped up the ball and scored the TD.
Jim went on to perform many greatests in track, football and baseball. But some of his greatests are less well known.
- JT’s greatest joke: Walking into a hotel, checking in as “Chief Jim,” and when asked, “Do you have a reservation?” JT says, “Yes, sir, but it’s back in Oklahoma.”
- JT’s greatest weakness: Honesty. While other college athletes used fake names when playing minor league baseball to protect their amateur status, JT used his own name, which led, after the Olympics, to him being declared a “professional,” and stripped of his gold medals.
- JT’s greatest promotion: Forming an all-Indian football team, the Oorang Indians of the 1920s NFL, and inventing the half-time show, the first being Indian dances and hunting demonstrations with the Airedale dogs from the team’s sponsor, the Oorang Kennel.
On Oct. 19, even though Jim had bungled a TD, the Carlisle Indians shutout Bucknell, 15-0, and kept their perfect season alive.