- Historic Sites
Walter Camp And His Gridiron Game
Man and boy—as player, “coach of coaches,” and keeper of the rule book— he was the guiding genius in the crucial, formative years of college football
October 1961 | Volume 12, Issue 6
Twelve simple movements were found to meet the needs, so the young men would resist fatigue as well as contagion. Having worked out these movements, I tried them on classes of men, emphasizing that they were to be done lightly and naturally, more in the spirit of refreshment than with lips compressed, lungs heaving and the muscles tightly flexed.
He called this simple regimen the Daily Dozen, and after it was instituted throughout the Navy, with evident benefit, Camp was called to Washington. The nation’s capital was full of nerve-racked, sleepless civilians trying to help Camp’s longtime friend Tom (now better known as Woodrow) Wilson win the war. Camp was asked if he couldn’t somehow condition these people, too.
He began by inviting volunteers to meet him at 7:30 A.M. on the lawn behind the Treasury. Scores of bigwigs complied, including Cabinet officers, though they feared the worst. This lithe, erect martinet “of rubber and steel” would probably forbid them to smoke and drink, put them on diets, exercise them half to death. Instead he asked only that they lay aside their hats and coats, follow him in his twelve “simple movements,” and come back again next day. This they all did, in great wonderment. They kept coming, with apparently gratifying results.
Now the originator of the Daily Dozen came into great demand throughout the country. He responded by visiting city after city to speak and demonstrate before business and health groups, going everywhere on a voluntary basis. One night on a train, the conductor told Camp that a distinguished-looking male passenger was suffering tortures from insomnia. Could Camp do anything? Leading the sufferer forward to the baggage car, Camp put him through a Daily Dozen and then assured him, “Now you’ll sleep.” And he did, too. Whereupon the conductor is supposed to have asked Camp, “Are you a doctor?” Camp, smiling wryly, is said to have replied, “Well, almost.”
Promoters swarmed around, urging Camp to found a health institute and get rich. Camp conscientiously and scornfully refused “to capitalize my reputation in amateur athletics.” With blatant bodybuilders like William Muldoon, Eugene Sandow, and Bernarr Macfadden in mind, he said: “I don’t want to be one of these wooly-headed physical culturists.”
He finally consented to write one article for American magazine . He entitled it “Take a Tip from the Tiger,” using that feline as an exemplar of health and fitness through gentle stretching and flexing. In the article he gave to the American public, for no return beyond his modest writer’s fee, the entire Daily Dozen routine, complete with illustrations and instructions, alliteratively captioned for easy memorization.
One night in his sixty-sixth year, after a football rules committee meeting, Walter Camp died in his sleep at a New York hotel, suddenly, peacefully, inexplicably. His life and work are memorialized in an entrance arch, subscribed for by scores of American colleges and secondary schools, through which generations of spectators have approached the Yale Bowl.
When an inscription was sought for that arch, the minds of football men went back to a historic plaque at Rugby which immortalizes an English schoolboy named William Webb Ellis. One evening in 1823, impatient to score before the five o’clock curfew should ring, Ellis revolutionized Rugby by taking the ball and the law into his own hands, and the Ellis plaque reads:
But Walter Camp did more than revolutionize American football and make Yale its dominant power for more than thirty years. By practice and example he did so much more that football itself seemed almost incidental, and the word was omitted from his memorial. The graven words on the Camp Arch say with simple grandeur: