Isenberg, Phil : Jews In Sports @ Virtual Museum

Isenberg, Phil

Phillip J. Isenberg

Isenberg played college ball for Harvard in the 1950s.

Birth and Death Dates:

Career Highlights:
In 1948, Isenberg played a huge role in Harvard's 33-24 upset victory over Columbia, a game which still haunts some of Columbia's players and delights the Crimson. The previous fall, Columbia had ended Army's 32-game unbeaten streak by defeating the mighty Cadets, 21-20. Entering the game, Columbia had won six consecutive games (dating back to the Army upset) and was generally regarded as 7-8 point favorites, particularly since they were starting with essentially the same squad that had beaten Harvard.

Harvard, on the other hand, was coming off a 4-5-0 season and entered the game with a new coach, a new offense, and even new uniforms. Few gave the unknown Crimson a chance in the first Harvard-Columbia game since 1901. The Boston Globe compared Harvard to "somebody in the crowd challenging (heavyweight champion) Joe Louis. Disaster figures to be the inevitable outcome."

On the opening play from scrimmage, Isenberg made his presence felt. The 18-year old sophomore linebacker making his Harvard debut knifed through the Columbia line and nailed the Lions' halfback for a three-yard loss. A seventh-string tackle just three weeks before the opening game (he'd nearly quit to concentrate on pre-med studies), Isenberg made nine of Harvard's first 12 tackles. When the P.A. announcer continually said: "Isenberg made the stop," Phil's mother asked his high school coach who had made the trip to the game, "Do they mean Phil?"

The Boston Globe wrote after the game, "Isenberg was all over the field whacking Columbia backs." With Isenberg and the defense stuffing Columbia's attack, the Harvard offense took full advantage and jumped out to a 27-10 halftime lead. They held on to win the game, 33-24. Despite Harvard's win over Columbia in the opening game of the 1948 season, the Crimson limped to a 4-4-0 record that year. The following season, Harvard finished with a record of 1-8-0, the worst in school history. In 1950, Isenberg was elected captain, but the team continued to struggle, finishing with a record of 1-9-0.

That season, he won the Frederick Greeley Crocker Award, given to the Harvard player who, "in the opinion of his teammates, possesses the initiative, perseverance, courage, and selflessness which were demonstrated by Ted Crocker [an end on the 1933 Crimson team who was killed while serving on a destroyer in 1944]."


Career Dates:
Isenberg played as a back at Harvard University from 1948-1950.

Physical description:
5'10", 170 pounds

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encyclopedia of JEWS in sports by Bernard Postal, Jesse Silver, and Roy Silver (New York: Bloch Publishing Co., 1965)