“The Kansas Comet” of the college football world was born Marvin Allen Stevens on April 14, 1900, in Stockton, Kansas. The son of Dr. Calvin and Bertha (Allen) Stevens, Marvin never liked his first name and so was known to his friends and family as “Mal.” When less than a year old his parents moved to Osborne, Kansas, where he received his education and graduated Osborne High School in 1918. The previous summer Mal had gone to Kansas City, Missouri, and entered the Needles Institute of Optometry to study repairing and fitting spectacles. He completed his studies and returned home, where he assisted his father in that work throughout his senior year.
A star football player in high school, Mal was recruited by Washburn College of Topeka, Kansas, and in 1919 Mal entered Washburn, where he won ten athletic letters in five sports during three years there. In 1921 he captained the football team that claimed the Kansas Conference championship.
“A slender youth from Osborne led Washburn to a surprising 10 to 7 victory over a supposedly invincible Emporia Teachers eleven in 1921. The Emporians had been raging through the Kansas Conference that season. Washburn’s play had been erratic. When Coach Dwight Ream of Washburn caught Marvin Stevens, his quarterback, at a dance the night before the game, he kept him on the bench during the first half. “Steve,” as he was known to his Washburn teammates, went into the game in the third quarter. He led the Washburn second-half offensive that carried the ball deep into Emporia territory and kicked a field goal to give his team an upset victory.” – Topeka Daily Capital, November 6, 1921.
Mal’s recruitment by Washburn paved the way for a virtual avalanche of Osborne players joining the Washburn football team over the next two decades, including Lee Wykoff, Randall Sharp, Dewey Taylor, and others. In 1922 Mal transferred to Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, and played halfback for the football team. At six feet and 160 pounds, “The Kansas Comet” dazzled the East Coast crowds.
“I removed four of my players and bawled them out for not stopping him; then I realized that with his speed, drive and high-flying knees, nobody could have stopped him.” — Army coach John McEwen, after losing to Yale 31-10.
In 1923 Mal was named a Walter Camp All-American as he helped Yale win the Ivy League championship. The next year he also started for the college basketball team and later joined the football coaching staff as an assistant coach. Mal graduated in 1925 and enrolled in the Yale Medical School. He continued his coaching duties and that same year he married Barbara Luis Abbey at Millerton, New York. They had two children, Marvin, Jr. and Lucinda. In 1928 Mal was named the new head coach at Yale, the youngest coach in major college football at the time.
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The Harvard Crimson
STEVENS TO COACH YALE ELEVENS FOR NEXT THREE YEARS
Played on Championship Eleven of 1923 – Was Ineligible in His Senior Year
Published February 28, 1928
(Special Dispatch to the Crimson.)
New Haven, Connecticut, February 27, 1928 – Marvin Allen Stevens, a backfield player on the championship football team of 1923, was appointed head coach of Yale football teams for a period of three years, according to a statement issued last night by the Yale University Athletic Association.
Stevens during his Sophomore and Junior years was a versatile back and one of Yale’s most consistent ground gainers. In his Senior year he was ineligible. During the last few seasons, while a student at the Medical School, he has been assisting T. A. D. Jones on the coaching staff.
Professor George H. Nettleton, Chairman of the Board of Control of the Yale University Athletic Association issued the following statement last night. “The Board of Control of the Yale University Athletic Association announces the appointment of Marvin Allen Stevens of the Yale College Class of 1925, as head football coach for a term of three years. Since his graduation from Yale College, Mr. Stevens has been a student in the Yale Medical School where he is enrolled as a regular candidate for the M.D. Degree. He has been a member of the Yale football coaching staff for the past four years. This appointment assures the direction of Yale coaching by a resident member of the University community.”
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“Osborne naturally feels very proud of the success of this young man who has not only made a place of importance for himself in the world, but he has put the old hometown on the map in athletic circles.” – Charles Mann, Osborne County Farmer, March 1, 1928.
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Monday, September 24, 1928
“As the days and nights grow cooler in September, the gridiron absorbs the warmth of the waning sun. Rumors begin to sizzle, fat to drip off portly full-backs capering with pigskins.”
“The last teams to begin practice are those representing Yale, Harvard and Princeton. Even these had begun to grunt and exercise last week. While speculation as to which would be most imposing later in the season is properly confined to barrooms in college clubs and the writings of Grantland Rice, alert prognosticators fixed their attention upon the coaches. Of these, the most interesting is Marvin Allen (‘Mal’) Stevens who has replaced famed ‘Tad’ Jones of Yale. Brown, lithe and shy, ‘Mal’ Stevens played for Yale in 1923 on famed ‘Memphis Bill’ Mallory’s undefeated team; before that he had played for Washburn College, in Kansas. In his senior year at Yale he was ineligible; later, he was wont to divide his time between medical school and backfield coaching. Last year he was Jones’s assistant; this year he is the youngest of the important coaches and, since in football the cart goes before the horse, not the least likely to draw his team to November triumphs.”
“As usual, there is a pother about the new-rules and an argument as to how they shall be interpreted.”
“These are, in the last analysis, of small consequences and too intricate to explain without generally unintelligible technicalities. A far more important consideration is the continued and preposterous refusal of Athletic Associations at Yale, Harvard, Princeton and certain other colleges to provide proper facilities for unfortunate newspaper reporters who are compelled to sit on top of the windy stadiums, fumbling telegraph instruments with frozen thumbs.”
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Mal graduated from Yale Medical School in 1929 and opened a general practice in New Haven. In 1931 he served for a year as President of the American Football Coaches Association. After four years as head football coach he stepped down at Yale after compiling a 21-11-8 record. In 1933 he coached the Yale freshmen football team, and the next year he was named the new head football coach at New York University, a position he held for eight years.
Meanwhile Mal’s medical career flourished. From 1931 through 1936 he held a research fellowship in surgery at Yale, and during 1933-34 he was an assistant in surgery, obstetrics, and gynecology there. In 1936 he received his Doctor of Medical Science degree from Columbia University and opened a practice in orthopedic surgery, where he emerged as a pioneer in the treatment of college athletic injuries. From 1936 to 1941 he was an assistant clinical professor of orthopedic surgery at Yale.
Then Mal’s life took a distinct change. First, he and his wife divorced in 1938. And then in December 1941 the United States entered World War II. New York University dropped its football program for the duration of the war and Mal entered the Navy as a lieutenant commander, medical specialist, in charge of orthopedics at Sampson, Brooklyn, and St. Albans Naval Hospitals. He was then shipped to England and served as a medical consultant with the British Navy during the D-Day events in 1944. Mal was then sent to the South Pacific and served as a commander on the hospital ship U.S.S. Haven. This ship was among the first to reach Nagasaki after the dropping of the atomic bomb there and Mal helped with preliminary studies for the Navy on atomic warfare and its effects.
Before he left for England in 1943 Mal married Dorothy Hill Hopper at Harwinton, Connecticut. The couple had two children, Jean and Marcy. Discharged at the end of the war, Mal reopened his orthopedic practice and then in 1946 became head coach of the Brooklyn Dodgers of the All-American Football Conference, a professional team of which he was also part-owner. In 1947 he served as team physician to both the New York Yankees in baseball and the football New York Yankees of the All-American Conference.
From 1951 through 1975 Mal was chairman of the Medical Advisory Board to the New York State Athletic Commission. He also served as the attending orthopedist at the Jersey City Medical Center and as assistant professor at New York University. Mal belonged to a number of medical societies and was a director of the Navy League Council of New York. He wrote several scientific articles for magazines and a book on the control of athletic injuries. As Medical Advisory Board chairman he helped to initiate safety programs for boxing and wrestling that earned him a medal from the French Ministry for his services in this field. He was instrumental in the installment of a Neuro-Muscular Clinic at New York University to research Lou Gehrig’s Disease and other related maladies. For a time he served as the eastern director of the Sister Elizabeth Kenny Institute and Clinic for infantile paralysis. He kept up several hobbies and found time for hunting, fishing, photography, wild horse capturing, skiing, and big game hunting–especially of mountain lions.
“I also get a big kick out of my little farm of sixty acres in Connecticut, which has about thirty acres of woods,” he reported in 1955. “Being from Kansas, where we used to burn buffalo chips, it is fun to keep four or five fireplaces going with Connecticut oak.”
In 1969 Mal was awarded the Distinguished American Award of the National Football Foundation and Hall of Fame for his services to college athletics. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame as a player in 1974, and received the Washburn University Distinguished Alumni Award for his services in the combined fields of sports and medicine. He also was given the James J. Walker Memorial Award “for long and meritorious service to the sport of boxing. Mal was a member of the 1970-1971 class to the Washburn Athletics Hall of Fame and in 1984 he was inducted into the New York University Athletics Hall of Fame as a coach.
In 1975 Dr. Mal Stevens retired from practice and enjoyed a brief but well-earned retirement. He died December 6, 1979, in New York City and was laid to rest in the West Cemetery at Madison, Connecticut.
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