Most of the defining moments of Rumsfeld’s time at Princeton came outside the lecture hall – in athletics, where Rumsfeld says he learned that “there is a relationship between effort and application and results.” Although he captained the 150-pound football team, Rumsfeld enjoyed greater athletic success as a wrestler, starting with an undefeated record as a freshman. As a junior, he finished second in the Eastern Intercollegiate Wrestling Association in the 157-pound weight classification. Elected team captain for his senior year, Rumsfeld went undefeated again during the regular season and finished fourth in the Easterns.
It is in the wrestling room, more than anywhere else, that one can catch a glimpse of the mature Rumsfeld. Defeat in wrestling can be not only humiliating (being pinned to the mat in front of scores of spectators) but painful as well, and even the victor bears scars. “Rummy always had swollen ears and mat burns all over him,” Castle says. Once, in a match against Cornell, Rumsfeld separated his shoulder, yet continued and managed to win on points.
Although the Nassau Herald called him a “speedy takedown specialist,” that phrase does not adequately describe the Rumsfeld wrestling style. He was characteristically preemptive, refusing to wait for a chance to exploit an opponent’s weaknesses, preferring instead to initiate the action and make his opponent react to him. A favorite move was the “fireman’s carry,” in which the wrestler drops to one knee, shoots under his opponent’s leg, and throws him over his shoulder before dumping him on the mat. It requires quickness and strength, and Rumsfeld practiced it often in the wrestling room, as well as on his roommates.