Victory in every shade: Gamble holds ‘degree of immortality’
By Jake Tiger
In the spring of 1952, before there were Broncs or a Rider University, Harry Gamble graduated from Rider College after commanding a patchwork platoon of Roughriders to two undefeated football seasons.
Thirty-nine years later, as general manager of the Philadelphia Eagles, Gamble was drafting NFL legends like Reggie White, Randall Cunningham and Eric Allen, piecing together one of the best rosters in the franchise’s history.
From Roughriders purple and gold, to Kelly green and everything in between, Gamble finding a way to win was always a surefire bet.
Gamble, a three-year letterman, was unequivocally one of the meanest, toughest men to ever muddy the trenches for the Roughriders.
“Two hundred thirty pounds of bone-crushing man packed solidly into a 6-foot-3-inch frame–that’s Harry Gamble,” said The Rider News in an issue published on Sep. 21, 1951.
The Pitman, New Jersey, native began his tenure at Rider in 1947 when he was just 16 years old, and promptly joined the football team for its second season after being reintroduced due to strong demand from enrolled World War II veterans.
As a Roughrider, Gamble served as a menacing left tackle and veteran leader, helping them to two undefeated seasons and a 24-8-1 record in his four-year career, despite losing a substantial chunk of players to the Korean War draft from 1950-51.
The 1951 season was Gamble and Rider football’s final campaign, with the program soon being cut for financial reasons.
Gamble graduated from Rider College in 1952 with a bachelor’s in business administration, and while Rider football began its slow fade into obscurity, Gamble sought to make a career of football with his gritty Roughrider leadership.
“I didn’t intend to go to college. No one else in my family had,” said Gamble to The Rider News in 1994. “If it weren’t for Rider, I don’t know where I’d be.”
The gifted Gamble quickly climbed the coaching ladder, with the early years of his career including winning stints as head coach of Clayton High School, Audubon High School, Lafayette College and the University of Pennsylvania.
A 24-8-1 record in three years as head coach at UPenn not only mirrored Gamble’s record at Rider, but caught the attention of the neighboring Philadelphia Eagles.
The Eagles initially brought Gamble on as a volunteer assistant coach in 1981, and again, he rose through the ranks, from full-time positional coach, to director of football operations and eventually general manager in 1985—an unprecedented four-year ascension.
With Gamble at the helm, the Eagles made steady improvements, and were in playoff contention for the majority of his tenure.
By the early ’90s, Gamble’s work had culminated in a masterpiece of a roster that was poised for a Super Bowl, thanks to a star quarterback in Cunningham and a defense orchestrated by White, the franchise’s all-time sack leader.
However, potential Super Bowl parades were soon derailed when Cunningham tore his anterior collateral ligament in the first game of the 1991-92 season.
From there, the team was forced into another rebuild due to Cunningham’s inability to fully recover and questionable decisions by owner Norman Braman, who sold the team soon after in 1995.
Gamble resigned from his role as general manager in the fallout of the ownership change, and became the NFL’s coordinator of football operations. Under Gamble, the Eagles achieved a record of 96-78-1.
‘The family business’
In 1994, Gamble joined the newly-named Rider University’s Board of Trustees, serving multiple terms for his alma mater, even past his retirement from the NFL in 1997.
“I worked my way up. It’s a tough business, but I’ve done what I wanted to do,” said Gamble to The Rider News in 1994. “I’m delighted to be a part of the Rider scene.”
Gamble’s eventful career was capped off with an induction into the Rider Athletics Hall of Fame in 1996 for his professional achievements and Roughrider legacy, becoming the first person inducted for football.
“He just always loved the school and always felt like giving back,” said Tom Gamble, 60, one of Harry Gamble’s two sons. “Down to the core, he was just a really good guy. … He valued people, he valued relationships, he valued trust. He empowered people and just had a great way about him.”
Tom Gamble promoted to Michigan football’s director of player personnel in February 2022, and is currently calling the shots for one of the country’s best programs.
At the end of the 2022-23 season, his Michigan Wolverines were ranked third in the nation, and were just one of four teams to make the College Football Playoffs.
He called it “the family business.”
“I learned a ton from being around my dad, just absorbing him and how he did things and how he treated people,” said Tom Gamble. “I don’t know that there were too many people that didn’t get along with him. … The person was the professional.”
On Jan. 29, 2017, flags across Rider’s campus were lowered to half-staff with the passing of Harry Gamble at the age of 83.
“We would like to be able, when time eventually calls us away from this earth, to have a feeling that maybe our individual life mattered in some fashion,” said Gamble during former UPenn Assistant Coach Otto Kneidinger’s Blair County Sports Hall of Fame induction. “Those of us who have that good fortune of coaching, it carries a degree of immortality.”
A fade to black for a life colored by victory.