A native of Chicago, Robert W. (Tiny) Maxwell began playing college football at the University of Chicago in 1902 for Amos Alonzo Stagg. At 6-foot-4, 240 lbs., he also boxed and set school hammer and shot-put records.
But it was in 1905, while playing guard for Swarthmore College, that Maxwell made a major impact on the game of football as we know it today. At the end of a savage contest with Penn, in which he turned in his customary stellar performance, Maxwell's nose broken, his eyes swollen nearly shut, and his face closely resembled steak tartare. According to gridiron historians, a newspaper photo of his face so shocked President Theodore Roosevelt, that two days later, in a meeting with major college representatives, the President demanded that they "clean up football," or he'd ban the game outright. Three months later, rules were changed to double the yardage required for a first down from five to ten, reduce playing time from seventy minutes to sixty minutes, add restrictions against roughing, establish a neutral zone on the line of scrimmage the length of the football, and to legalize the forward pass.
After a brief, post-graduate career playing for such teams as the Massillon Tigers and Canton Bulldogs, Maxwell's career as a referee began when he was called at the last minute to fill in for an official who didn't show up. Because of his tremendous size, quickness, and knowledge of the rules, he was soon in demand for such major games as Harvard-Yale and Army-Navy.
In time, Tiny's role as an official would influence football considerably. Walter Camp said Maxwell set the standard for fairness and competence. His apartment near City Hall in Philadelphia became a gathering place for fellow officials. Out of their meetings grew the East's first formal association of football officials.
Maxwell also became one of the rare players to make the leap from field to press box. In 1914, after a journalistic apprenticeship in Chicago as a reporter for the Record-Herald, he began writing a sports column for Philadelphia's Public Ledger. Two years later, he became Sports Editor of the Evening Public Ledger, a position he held until his death.
Early in the summer of 1922, Maxwell and some friends went for a countryside drive north of Philadelphia. While returning that night, Maxwell eyed a car stopped directly in front of him. As he changed lanes to pass, he ran head-on into a truck carrying Boy Scouts home from a picnic. A passenger in Maxwell's car recalls seeing him pinned beneath the wreckage as he yelled, "Help the others, I can wait!!"
Tiny spent the next few days in a hospital, having suffered seven broken ribs, a punctured lung, and a dislocated hip. Pneumonia developed and delirium soon followed. On the night of June 29th, he was visited by his neighbor and close friend Charles Heeb. Emerging from his delirium, he talked of packing his bags and going home. "Take two hours' sleep and I'll go with you," Heeb told him. "All right kid," replied Maxwell, "I'll go to sleep," and he did.
Tiny was thirty-seven when he died. In 1937, The Robert W. Maxwell Memorial Football Club was founded in Philadelphia by Maxwell's friend, Bert Bell, to present awards in his name and to promote football safety. A dwindling few members recall the man, himself.
"He was salt of the earth," wrote Damon Runyon of Maxwell. "A grand fellow. We wish we had the power to tell you what a wonderful chap he was to make you understand what he meant to us and all his other friends. He was, physically , a tremendous man. Nature had to make provisions for the housing of his great heart."
Condensed version of an article by Ralph Keyes reprinted courtesy of Sports Illustrated from the November 12, 1984 issue...Copyright 1984, Time, Inc.