Friday night at the dinner celebrating legendary Yale football coach Carmen Cozza’s induction into the National College Football Hall of Fame, nothing spoke louder for Cozza’s contribution to Yale football than the three standing ovations he received from the audience of 300 during the course of the night.
After 179 victories, 10 Ivy League Championships, and seven Kodak District I Division I-AA Coach of the Year awards, the dinner was a fitting tribute to Cozza’s 32 seasons with Yale football, which ended after the 1996 season. Being able to make it to his own induction celebration dinner had an extra special meaning for Cozza, who just earlier this year was confined to a hospital bed because of illness.
The celebration dinner, hosted by the Yale Athletic Department, took place in Commons dining hall, which was decorated with a makeshift stage that had the words “Celebrating a Legend” overhead. Among the audience were 22 of the 32 captains who played under Cozza. The speakers included Athletics Director Tom Beckett, Master of Ceremonies Jack Ford ’72, 1982 football captain Patrick Ruwe ’83, John Toner, vice president of the College Football Hall of Fame and three-year letter winner Tone Grant ’66.
The night began with opening remarks from Beckett. Ford, host of The Sports Reporters II show on ESPN, followed Beckett.
“This [dinner] is a celebration of this spectacular recognition and acknowledgment that people realize what we have known a long time ago — that [Cozza] is one of the legends of college football,” Ford said. “Each of us [players] has inducted Carm into our personal hall of fame.”
After dinner and an invocation by Tony Mazurkiewicz ’96, who was captain of the 1995 team, Ruwe spoke on behalf of the Yale Football Association.
Ruwe spoke about the many lessons that Cozza imparted on his players, including himself.
“To all of us he’s an inspiration,” Ruwe said. “Coach has taught us about honor, loyalty, and courage. He taught us that games are not won with luck on Saturday but with hard work during the week.”
Grant delivered the salute, which was the keynote speech for the night. He spoke about Cozza’s humility and integrity as a coach, emphasizing the personal bond that Cozza established with all his players.
“We’ve all been through history with Carm,” Grant said. “Through all that he never lost his respect for us as people. We always knew that he cared as much about what happened to us after we played as when we played.”
The last speaker of the night was Cozza. He responded to his adoring audience in characteristic Cozza fashion — with humility and grace. Cozza’s speech was short but filled with anecdotes and jokes. He gave thanks to his family, the assistant coaches and athletic trainers who had served under him throughout his years at Yale.
In a particularly emotional part of his speech, Cozza spoke about some of the things he thought about during his illness earlier this year.
“My coaching has meant very much to me,” Cozza said. “I thought how fortunate I’ve been to have coached 2,000 of the finest men on the planet. I want to share this [honor] with all of you.”
Cozza closed his speech by urging the 2002 Bulldogs to “beat Princeton.”
The dinner drew a very favorable response from its attendees. Jon Reese ’90, captain of the 1989 Ivy championship-winning team, had tears in his eyes throughout parts of the night.
“Carm [Cozza] is such a unique person,” Reese said. “He helps you find meaning in life. Being here tonight is bittersweet. He meant so much to us. When he retired it took a piece of us with him.”
Rob Lyon ’64, a fan of Yale football since 1960, enjoyed the dinner.
“The evening went very well,” Lyon said. “I thought the speakers did a good job of not reminiscing too much which often happens at these kind of events.”
Current Yale football head coach Jack Siedlecki also expressed his approval of the dinner.
“The dinner was wonderful and Carm always amazes me with his humility, sense of humor, and graciousness,” Siedlecki said. “I think the genuine love for the man that coached them rang loud and clear from his former players.”