Tuesday, September 3, 2013

The Crimson Tide Special En Route to the 1938 Rose Bowl

In December 1937, the University of Alabama scheduled a special Southern Pacific train to carry the Crimson Tide football team and their supporters to Pasadena for the New Years Day game against the University of California. As in years past, the transportation for the Bama backers to the West Coast was organized by Jefferson Coleman, the UA athletic department business manager.

The 14-car train with 248 passengers dubbed "The Crimson Tide Special" by sportswriters left Tuscaloosa on Dec. 21 and travelled the 2,500 miles to California in three days, arriving at the Pasadena station at 9 a.m. on Christmas Eve morning.

The trip was not uneventful for the squad. During a practice on a rain-drenched field while on a stopover at San Antonio, Texas, Alabama player Leroy Munskie sustained a severe cut over his right eye that required several stiches. The cut was re-injured in a collision during another practice in a Tuscon, AZ stop. The injury sparked concern over if he would be able to play in the New Year's Day game.

Another train carrying Alabama supporters departed Tuscaloosa on Dec. 27 with about 150 passengers and two moretrains, one leaving Montgomery and another from Birmingham, departed the same day with about 200 addtiona Crimson Tide backers.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

1926 Rose Bowl Player of the Game Johnny Mack Brown

The Dothan Antelope put his speed and elusiveness on display at the 1925 Rose Bowl against Washington. Down by five to the Huskies in the third quarter, Alabama's Grant Gillis dropped back to his own 41 and launched a bomb to Brown who snagged it at the 25-yard-line at a dead run and galloped in the go-ahead touchdown.

Two plays later, Washington fumbled near their own 40 and the Alabama offense went to work again. On the first play of the drive Brown dashed down the field while Pooley Hubert dropped back and launched it. The Antelope looked over his shoulder and reeled in the pass at the three-yard-line and scored on the next stride.

In addition to his two touchdown receptions, Brown carried the ball eight times for 78 yards, averaging 6.3 yards a carry. He was later named Alabama's player of the game for his performance. Washington's MVP, George "Wildcat" Wilson, said of his foe in crimson, "That Mack Brown was all they said of him and more. He was about the fastest man in a football suit I have ever bumped up against."

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Diagramming Alabama & California's Key Plays

In the week prior to the 1938 Rose Bowl, the Newspaper Enterprise Association's sports artist Art Krenz produced this illustration featuring a play of each of the teams -- Alabama and California.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

The 1942 Cotton Bowl: Alabama vs Texas A&M

Alabama and Texas A&M met on the gridiron for the first time on Jan. 1, 1942 in the Cotton Bowl in Dallas, Texas. With the United States entrance into World War II less than a month before, football was not the primary thing on the mind of many.

“The whole mood of the country was downcast,” Alabama’s All-American end Holt Rast recalled years later. “We knew we were in a war and I was kind of anxious to get the game and my college degree behind me so I could join up and help my country.”

Over the course of the 1941 season, Texas A&M dominated the Southwest Conference with a record-breaking passing game that had tallied a total of 1,658 passing yards. The Aggies finished with a 9-1-0 record, a conference championship and ranked No. 9 in the nation. And they had outscored their opposition 260-46.

Despite a reputation as a run-heavy offense, Alabama’s air attack was even more potent than the Aggies. The Tide's "Notre Dame Box" offense lead to 1,698 yards aloft during the regular season. Still, that didn’t translate into the same kind of success that Texas A&M enjoyed. Alabama ended the season had an 8-2-0 record and were ranked 20th. Despite facing one of the toughest schedules in the nation, Alabama had outscored their opponents 234-64.

While the two teams seemed well matched on paper, Texas A&M’s record of success made them the favorite in the eyes of the oddsmakers. The Aggies went into Dallas as two time conference champions having also earned the national title in 1939. The 1942 Cotton Bowl was their third straight bowl game while two-loss Alabama had not had a post-season contest since the 13-0 drubbing by Cal in the 1938 Rose Bowl.

The Aggies coach, Homer Norton, was a native of Birmingham, a fact Thomas shared with his team prior to the game. “He has a lot of friends in Alabama,” Thomas said. “If we lose this one we’ll never hear the last of it. We’ll never live it down.”

In addition to the wartime setting, the North Texas winter weather conspired to dampen the mood of the game as well. The temperature at the 1:15 p.m. kickoff was 20 degrees but a crowd 33,000 spectators braved the brisk conditions for the highly anticipated contest.

The game turned into a defensive slugfest with both offenses doing their best to give the game away. Texas A&M tallied no less than seven interceptions and five lost fumbles. Alabama converted just a single first down, punted no less than sixteen times and gave up 81 yards in penalties. The Aggies outrushed Alabama 115 to 59 and outpassed the Crimson Tide 194 to 16.

The Crimson Tide scoring was fueled by the heads up play of halfback Jimmy Nelson. In the second quarter, the All-American returned an Aggie punt 72 yards for a touchdown in the second quarter to even the score. He scored again in the third quarter by recovering a Texas A&M fumble and dashing 21 yards to the end zone to put Alabama ahead 20-7. Nelson also snagged two of the Aggies’ interceptions.

Rast returned an interception for a touchdown to put the final points on the scoreboard for the Crimson Tide. With a 29-7 lead, Thomas put in his second and third stringers who gave up two touchdowns before time expired. The final score: Alabama 29 –Texas A&M 21.

“Now when they tell me Southwest Conference football is better than ours, I’ll just laugh at them,” Thomas quipped afterward. “They play good football but we play a better brand.”

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Alabama vs Georgia 1922

Alabama's Charles Bartlett turns the corner
for a 7-yard gain against Georgia in the 1922 game.
When Montgomery's Cramton Bowl opened in 1922, Alabama's "Thin Red Line" was intended to be the inaugural game for the stadium. Instead, the university's freshman squad was granted the honor as UA president George H. Denny succeeded in having the planned showdown with Georgia relocated to the venue.

It seemed a sharp business move as the Bulldogs under Herman J. Stegeman had become a southern power rolling up a 15-2-2 record the prior two years. As the Alabama game approached, Georgia's record wasn't as stellar as expected since the Bulldogs  had not won a game in November, starting with a tight 7-3 loss to Auburn the first Saturday of the month.

The Tide, meanwhile, were riding high after defeating John Heisman's University of Pennsylvania squad just three weeks prior. The full page ad in the Montgomery Advertiser for the Cramton Bowl contest explicitly noted this feat.

In the first quarter Alabama was driving to the end zone with Charles Bartlett completing key passes to Pooley Hubert and Alan MacCartee to reach the Georgia eight-yard-line. Then disaster struck as MacCartee fumbled and the Bulldogs' Fletcher recovered and galloped ninety-five yards for a touchdown. It would be the Bulldogs only score of the game.

Bama's Bartlett scored on a four-yard run late in the first half and then booted a field goal in the third to put his team up 10-6, which would prove to be the final score.

The game would be the last for Georgia's Stegeman who was replaced by George C. "Kid" Woodruff the following season. Alabama would go on crush Mississippi A&M the following week to conclude the 6-3-1 season and bring the tenure of head coach Xen Scott to an end. The Tide would be led by Wallace Wade in 1923.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Alabama's Frank Thomas Educates the Media

Frank Thomas
Alabama's legendary coach Frank Thomas was famously reserved. Never saying much more than necessary and rarely ever raising his voice, he was still able to convey a sense of complete command.

"Hell yes I was was scared of him," admitted his one time player and assistant coach Paul W. Bryant many years later. 

But Thomas understood the need to build bridges with the press due to the high profile of the Crimson Tide program and he was downright accommodating to newspapermen who covered his team.

Stuart X. Stephenson, the sports editor with The Montgomery Advertiser for almost 40 years until his retirement in 1968, once noted, "If any sports scribe alive ever disliked Frank Thomas, I didn't hear it."

In his 1970 book, Quote... Unquote, Stephenson shared this anecdote of how Thomas labored to ensure the men who wrote about the Alabama team understood what they saw on the field during the season.
Tommy knew the value of good press relations and he always made the writing fraternity glad they visited the Capstone.
Several times during a knockdown, drag-out scrimmage he would saunter over to the side line and ask: "What did you think of that play?" With only a speck of knowledge of the technical phases of what had taken place, I'd make the admission.
Then he'd invite me to come on the field and stand behind the offensive team. "I want to show you this in slow motion." I learned then why so many prefer to sit in the end zones to watch the line play.
To be sure, big league football coaches didn't have time to run important plays in slow motion for sports writers. But Frank Thomas did on numerous occasions.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Rudy Vallée and "Football Freddy"

By 1931, singer Rudy Vallée was a bona fide media sensation. His performances were invariably sold out and the screaming adoration of female fans would be repeated three decades later with the Beatles. He had appeared in his first feature film, Glorifying the American Girl, which was to launch a robust movie career over the next several decades.

But radio was the medium Vallée dominated. As one of the first of the "crooners" the medium played to the strengths of his singing style and that fueled his overwhelming popularity. In 1928 he debuted his radio show, The Fleischmann Hour, with an estimated 200 million listeners. It was a live variety revue with various guests that became a predecessor to the modern television talk show.

Vallée's show was popular among the college crowd and he played to the interests of his audience on his show. So when he chose to sing a tune about a football star he dedicated it one of the heroes of the 1931 Rose Bowl, Alabama's All-American tackle Fred Sington.

The famed singer and the football star had met during the Crimson Tide's trip west courtesy of former Alabama standout, Johnny Mack Brown, who had starred on the squad in the 1920s but had gone west pursuing a film career in Hollywood.

The song "Football Freddy" was written by Edgar Leslie and Con Conrad in 1930 and due to Vallee's performance it became a hit. And, as a result, Sington's fame spread well beyond the football field.

Other performers committed the song to vinyl including Jack Purvis, Ted Wallace & his Campus Boys and the group Six Jumping Jacks whose version is probably the best known today.

Despite the interest the song sparked in Alabama's Sington, the tale told in "Football Freddy" wasn't exactly an autobiographical match. The lyrics focus far more on the player's romantic pursuits than his gridiron prowess. As one verse opines:
The women folks galore,
They know how he can score,
Especially when the lights are low
Football Freddy, rugged and tan.
Football Freddy, my collegiate man.
The tune also notes of Freddy; "he's not so good at school." That wasn't at all descriptive of the actual Fred Sington who was renowned for his academic excellence, as shown by his selection as a member of Phi Beta Kappa.