Ben Boynton -- Greatest Football Eph Ever ?

Eph Legends
Eph Legends

Ben Boynton – First Texan HS All-American, First Texan named to College Football Hall of Fame & 3-Time All-American for the Ephs

He was a high school football legend in his native Texas, a three-time All-American at Williams, and played four years of pro football. Ben Lee Boynton might not have been the best football player who ever suited up for the Ephs, but few have accomplished as much as he did

Only 5-foot-10, and 165 pounds, Boynton could do it all: run, pass, and even kick. A quarterback, he led the Ephs to their first unbeaten season in school history – 7-0-1 – as a sophomore in 1917. As a senior in 1920, he led the East in scoring with 141 points, 50 more then the runner-up. He also averaged 45 yards per punt during his collegiate career.

Ben Boynton '21

A three sport athlete at Williams (basketball and baseball), Boynton carried a football “like a baseball”, but could throw it with “uncanny accuracy,” a student publication noted. He once completed a pass while lying flat on his back. His greatest thrill at Williams was running a missed field goal back 110-yards for a touchdown against Hamilton in 1919.

“Let’s see them beat that one,” Boynton said when he was elected to the National Football Hall of Fame in 1962. He was the first native Texan elected.

Boynton was also the first Texas high school football star to earn All-America honors, which he received in all three of his years at Williams. But his career was more than just statistics. Boynton was as colorful as he was gifted.

He was known for doffing his helmet and playing bareheaded, especially when morale on the field was low.

“When he got rid of the helmet,” an observer told The Williams Record during the 1970s, “we knew he meant business.”

Once, when the Ephs played a team with a good field goal kicker, Boynton climbed an upright, and stood as far out on the crossbar as he could to block the kick. He came down only after the referee said Williams would forfeit the game if he didn’t. Sometimes his willfulness backfired on him. Boynton, known as “Rascal” at Williams, was ejected from his final collegiate game for arguing a call against Amherst, and the Ephs went on to lose without him.

Born in 1898 in Waco, Texas, the son of a federal judge, Boynton was a standout quarterback for three years in high school. He was known as the “Waco Wonder” for his scholastic exploits.

As a sophomore in 1917, Boynton became the leader of a young team that had only two players over the age of 21. He quickly showed a knack for making the big play at the right time. At Cornell in the third game of the season, Boynton led the Ephs back from an early 10-0 deficit, with a 45-yard touchdown run late in the game to give Williams a 14-10 victory over a team that had won the mythical national championship two years before. Trapped behind the line of scrimmage, Boynton somehow got free and outran the entire Cornell team to the end zone.

A victory over the Big Red sent the Williams campus into ecstasy when the news reached Williamstown.  A bonfire was organized, students snaked-danced to the Greylock Hotel, and a professor provided stories of a big Williams victory over Cornell 30 years before.

Boynton-mania had begun.

Two weeks later, Boynton had a hand in all of Williams’ points in a 9-6 win over Columbia, throwing a 50-yard touchdown pass for the game winning score. Wesleyan managed to contain Boynton in the Ephs first Little Three contest, a scoreless tie that prevented the Ephs from an undefeated season. But Boynton scored all three touchdowns in a season-ending 20-0 victory over Amherst that gave the Ephs the Little Three title.

“For a time it looked as if the much-heralded Boynton was a myth,” wrote the New York World, which covered the game. “But the Amherst team, backed by the entire student body was sad to learn to its sad disappointment the worth of the Texan.”

Following the season, Boynton was selected by Frank Menke, the author of “The Encyclopedia of Sport”, as a member of his All-America team, an honor that he would also receive in 1919 and 1920. Boynton also made Walter Camp’s All-America team in 1920.

In 1918, Boynton left school to serve as a gunnery sergeant in the Marines during World War 1. But he returned to Williams in 1919, captained the Ephs for two years, and saw his reputation grow.

It was embellished by sportswriters who mostly saw Boynton play when the Ephs faced stronger teams like Harvard or Columbia in the big media markets of Boston and New York. Following a 38-0 loss in 1920 to a powerful Harvard squad that had beaten Oregon to win the Rose Bowl the previous year, a scribe from the New York Herald Tribune wrote that Boynton was the best player on the field. He played part of that game without his helmet.

“Captain Benny Boynton was in the limelight throughout, running back kicks, heaving forward passes, sweeping around the ends, and bringing down Harvard runners bound for the Williams goal,” noted the Boston Sunday Post.

Boynton failed to score in the Harvard game, but his best year statistically occurred in 1920 when he led the East in scoring, compiling those 141 points in just seven games for a 5-3 Ephs team. The Ephs were an offensive juggernaut that year scoring 313 points. They routed undefeated Wesleyan, 50-14, but could score only once against Amherst in Boynton’s last game. Williams led 7-0 when Boynton was ejected early in the fourth quarter for arguing about a fumble, and went on to lose 14-7.

The unfortunate ending didn’t prevent noted official “Big Bill” Edwards from selecting Boynton to his all-time college football team, which also included Jim Thorpe, after the season ended.

Boynton’s ejection from the Amherst game was the lone blemish on a collegiate career that was never forgotten. The proof came 42 years later, when Boynton was selected to the National Football Hall of Fame.

“I was nominated by the committee several years ago, and that was honor enough,” he said. “But I am completely overwhelmed by this.”

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