How Swede it was: 1924 football

by Charles Gussow | 2/24/98 6:00am

"Swede: The Will to Win" by David Oberlander will never find any audience outside that of Dartmouth College. It is about Swede Oberlander '26 who, while known inside the College, is not a prominent national figure. The book, though thoroughly researched, is written more as a son's tribute to his father than as a football chronicle, and it shows in its writing style. The story is still worth reading.

Halfback Andrew "Swede" Oberlander led the 1925 Big Green football team to victory over the University of Chicago to earn the national championship. Chicago, the 1924 Big Ten Champions, fell to Dartmouth 33-7. This would be the only time Dartmouth boasted the nation's best football team.

Oberlander provides overviews of the games in the 1925 season before describing the Chicago game. These brief accounts are generally informative and highlight the key plays of the game. However, they lack a narrative flow which would have given the reader a summary of the action rather than a few bits of interesting information. When Oberlander describes the key Chicago win, he retains this disjuncted style. He includes newspaper stories which flesh out some of the details of the game, but he still does not manage to put together a chronological compilation of the game. He first includes the Chicago Sunday Tribune's overview of the game, then he tells us that Swede threw three touchdown passes, then includes another summary of the game. While this conveyed much of what happened in that glorious moment for Dartmouth football, it does not capture the emotional intensity of the game.

After page 31, we hear no more about Swede's experience with the Big Green. Oberlander tells the reader of his father's experience as an Ohio State coach, medical doctor, Naval officer and corporate executive. Since Andrew Oberlander led a remarkable life, this was interesting enough to merit reading. However, the best part of this 90-page book was its first third.

As a tribute to the author's father, the book is a sucess. It conveys the life story of an exceptional man and his influence on those around him. As a sports book about the impact of a key player on a championship team, the book falls short. This book does not capture the emotional intensity of athletic competetion as other sports authors.

Despite its flaws, the book is worth the money to read it. The story of Dartmouth as a national powerhouse is a compelling one and the book provides a window into the world of college football in the 1920s.