Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Alabama's 1939 Homecoming

On Oct. 28, 1939, The Crimson Tide hosted Mississippi State for the University of Alabama's 20th Homecoming Celebration. The Tide bested the Bulldogs from Starkville 7-0.

Recently, color film of the festivities on campus were made public through the Paul W. Bryant Museum. This footage was taken Dr. J. Henry Goode of Tuscaloosa and was donated recently by his granddaughter Martha C. Cook.

This is part one of the film that includes various shots around campus during Homecoming Day. Part two is available here and it includes field level footage of the game itself as well as the halftime performance by the Million Dollar Band.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Sandy Sanford's Field Goal That Saved the 1937 Season

Sanford in the early 1940s.
Alabama earned a berth in the 1938 Rose Bowl with the foot of Haywood "Sandy" Sanford.

The Crimson Tide's unbeaten record was in danger in the waning minutes of the final contest of the regular season against Vanderbilt. With three minutes left in the game, Alabama trailed the Commodores 6-7.

The Crimson Tide then drove 75-yards down the field but the offense stalled near the goal line as the clock ticked down. Vandy punted to the Bama 33-yard-line. A pair of passes put the ball on the Alabama 17-yard-line where the Commodores defense stiffened. Alabama earned a few yards but nothing more.

On fourth down with the ball on the far hashmark, Alabama called a time out and Sanford replaced Joe Kilgrow as the kicker. The the 200 lb. native of Adona, Arkansas had saved the day two weeks prior coming off the bench to kick a last minute field goal against Tulane to give the Tide a 9-6 vicotry in New Orleans.

With the crowd of 22,000 in Nashville's Dudley Stadium began screaming at the top of their lungs Alabama's center, Jack Machtoff snapped the ball without a signal. With Herky Mosley holding the ball, Sanford booted the 22-yard field goal to ensure the Tide's 9-7 victory over the Commodores.

The victory earned Alabama a perfect regular season record, the SEC crown and, later, an invitation to the 1938 Rose Bowl to face Pacific Coast Champions, California. The Golden Bears would go on to beat The Crimson Tide 13-0 in Alabama's only loss in the New Year's Day classic.

Friday, October 28, 2011

The 1938 Rose Queen Cheryl Walker

Rose Queen Cheryl Walker and the 1938 Rose Court
The 1938 Queen of the Tournament of Roses was 20-year-old native of Pasadena, Cheryl Walker. The Pasadena Junior College student was selected out of more than 1,500 young women who vied for the honor. Alabama beat Stanford in the 1935 New Year's Day classic, 29-13.

The day after the Tournament of Roses she signed a film contract with Paramount that launched her modeling and film career. Walker worked as a double for stars such as Joyce Mathews, Madeleine Carroll and Veronica Lake until her first substantial role in 1940's "Chasing Trouble."

Walker's first starring role was in "Secrets of a Model"  later that year although she used the name Sharon Lee. From then until her retirement as an actress in 1948, Walker mainly appeared as a minor character in the films she worked on. The notable exception of her star turn "Stage Door Canteen" in 1943.

In the 1950s, Walker became involved in Southern California political activities traveling across the region giving speeches to civic and church groups on "the menace of communism". She founded Tuesday Morning Study Club that presented annual patriotism awards to anti-communist activists.

Walker died in 1971 of cancer in Pasadena.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

The 1935 Rose Bowl Drive Chart

Drive chart and stats from Alabama's 29-13 victory over Stanford in the 1935 Rose Bowl. The information was compiled and drawn by Ward Nash, a pioneering sports statistician from Los Angeles.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Don Hutson & Dixie Howell

Alabama's 1934 All-Americans Don Hutson and Dixie Howell pose with a Hollywood actress (possibly Jean Rogers) with a Los Angeles newspaper proclaiming the Crimson Tide victory in the 1935 Rose Bowl. No less than famed sportswriter Grantland Rice declared their performance in the game "one of the greatest all-around exhibitions that football has ever known."

Friday, October 21, 2011

William Ralph "Shorty" Price

Shorty Price being escorted from a game in the 1950s.
For decades, William Ralph Price - known to one and all "Shorty" due to his five foot stature - was perhaps the Alabama Crimson Tide football team's most famous, and infamous, fan.

A graduate of the University of Alabama, Price had briefly roomed with future governor George Wallace while attending law school in Tuscaloosa. A student during the high point of Frank Thomas' powerful 1940s Crimson Tide teams, Price's lifelong devotion to Alabama football began when he was elected to the cheerleading squad.

Over the next several decades, he became a staple at Alabama games; dressing in garish outfits, smoking his trademark Tampa Nugget cigars and standing on the in-field wall exhorting the crowd to cheer with him. Price was as likely to be found dancing in the aisles as climbing the goalposts and almost always heavily inebriated.

The antics of the Tide's self-anointed "Head Cheerleader" sometimes ran him afoul with the authorities. On one Third Saturday in October Price was carried away to jail by state troopers after mooning the entire Tennessee side of the stands.

During the 1979 Tennessee game at Legion Field in Birmingham, Price was arrested and later issued a $125 fine. The judge in the case, William Cole, told him "See you next fall" when handing down the sentence.

Aside from his devotion to Crimson Tide football, Price was famed across Alabama for his propensity to enter -and overwhelmingly lose - political races. He ran for Alabama governor no less than four times and even threw his hat in the ring for the Presidency of the United States in 1976.

In his three-decade-long political "career" Price lost no less than 13 elections, never garnering more than 2% of the vote. His only campaign victory was being elected an alternate delegate for the 1952 Democratic convention.

Price died in an automobile accident near Montgomery on Nov. 1, 1980 on the way to attend the Alabama vs. Mississippi State game in Jackson, Miss. The Crimson Tide lost 6-3 that day bringing a 28-game win streak to an end.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The First Third Saturday in October

UT's Gene McEver ran the opening kickoff back 98 yards for a touchdown.
The rivalry between Alabama and Tennessee emerged in the late 1920s when Robert Neyland took over the Volunteer program and created a serious rival to the great Crimson Tide squads of that era.

Neyland had been hired, not to topple Alabama, but to defeat in-state rival Vanderbilt who had an 18-2-1 record against the Vols at the time. UT's Dean of Engineering Nathan Dougherty told him, "Even the score with Vanderbilt. Do something about the terrible series standing."

The first season at Knoxville Neyland fell short of the goal winning every contest except the one with the Commodores. Along the way, the Volunteers earned no less than six shutouts and outscored their opponents 151-34. In 1927, they went undefeated and were Southern Conference co-champions.

Although Tennessee hadn't faced Alabama since 1914, Neyland scheduled the Tide for the 1928 season. At the time, the Crimson Tide were at the height of the Wallace Wade era. Between 1924 and 1926 the Crimson Tide had earned three Southern Conference titles and a pair of national championships. The 1927 squad had taken a step back and finished 5-4 but hopes were high in Tuscaloosa.

Neyland and his staff in 1926.
On Oct. 20, 1928 - the third Saturday of the month - the Volunteers travelled to Tuscaloosa to face the Crimson Tide. More than 15,000 were on hand at Denny Field for the Homecoming contest.

Before the game, Neyland approached Wade and asked if, in the case of a rout, the third and fourth quarters could be shortened. Wade agreed "in the unlikely even we have a halftime lead that requires such action."

It may have been a psychological ploy but it was a well-grounded one. The week prior, Tennessee eked out a 13-12 win over an Ole Miss squad Alabama had demolished 27-0 to start the season.

Any expectation of a Tennessee blowout was disabused when fullback Gene McEver ran the opening kickoff back 98 yards for a touchdown. From there the contest turned into a battle with the Crimson Tide scraping back within a point of the Vols but being undone by turnovers and an untimely safety.

Tennessee won 15-13 and gave Alabama its first home field loss in seven years. It had been such a tightly fought affair that Neyland, surrounded by reporters after the final whistle, was almost overcome.

"I know we won the game," he said. "But what was the score?"

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Don Hutson & Bill Lee in Lafayette, Louisiana

Photo via LOUISiana Digital Library
After winning the 1935 Rose Bowl against Stanford 29-13, the Alabama team packed up and departed Pasadena the day after the game. When the team's train, dubbed The Crimson Tide Special, stopped in Lafayette, Louisiana on Jan. 4 the team's All-Star end Don Hutson and team Captain William Lee posed for a photograph. The train pushed on after the stop for a reception in New Orleans later in the day and arrived in Tuscaloosa two days later.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Alabama vs. Mississippi State, 1940

Alabama squad faced an undefeated Mississippi State team in Denny Stadium on Nov. 30, 1940 for the final game of the season. The Bulldogs blanked the Crimson Tide 13-0. Alabama finished with a 7-2 record and stayed home for the postseason. The Bulldogs went on to defeat Georgetown 14-7 in the Orange Bowl.

The video shows Alabama coach Frank Thomas' famous "Notre Dame Box" offense in action. The Crimson Tide would set up in a traditional "T" formation and then shift either into the box alignment or a short punt formation. Also clear in this clip is the field of the then-24,000-capacity venue as well as the scoreboard and the wooden end zone bleachers.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Alabama's 1927 Rose Bowl Sponsors

Photo via Tuscaloosa Area Virtual Museum
The sponsors of the Alabama Crimson Tide at the 1927 Rose Bowl game who traveled to California on the train with the team. From left to right: Mrs. Almetie M. Grimes (wife of C.B Grimes, owner of The Bama theater), Miss Elinor Williams, Mrs. Cornelia "Connie" Brown (wife of former player Johnny Mack Brown), Miss Louise Fargason (the fiancée of player Hoyt Winslett) and the wife of player Gordon "Sherlock" Holmes. Alabama tied Stanford 7-7.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Frank Thomas & the 1935 College All-Star Game

In 1935, after leading his team to a Rose Bowl victory over Stanford, Alabama coach Frank Thomas was tapped to be head coach for the Chicago Charities College All-Star Game.

The contest was the brainchild of Chicago Tribune Sports editor Arch Ward and it had been inaugurated the year prior. It was a pre-season contest that featured a team of college standouts against the National Football League champion from the previous season.

Voting to select the coaches for the college team was heavily contested with more than 7 million ballots were cast. Thomas garnered almost 2.5 million. By contrast, only 737,000 people voted in the poll to determine the players on the roster.

In August of 1935 Thomas travelled with Alabama's standout halfback Dixie Howell to Chicago to prepare for the game at Northwestern University. The opponent would be George Halas's Chicago Bears who had finished runners up for the NFL championship they year before.

On the second day of camp, Thomas was hospitalized with what was diagnosed with "acute arthritis" but was most likely a bout with the symptoms from his chronic high blood pressure. He continued to handle the coaching duties despite being confined to a hospital bed for the next week. Thomas returned to the sidelines for the second week of the team's preparations and the game itself.

The game was held on August 29, 1935 at Chicago's Soldier's Field in front of 77,450 customers who were drenched by a second-half downpour. The Bears bested the All-Stars in a 5-0 slog of a game that defied Thomas' plan of battle.

"It was that damned rain," Thomas said. "It turned what started out to be a great wide open game into a battle where the style was cramped."

Friday, October 7, 2011

Colonel Carleton K. Butler & The Million Dollar Band

The national reputation of the University of Alabama's Million Dollar Band was established under the 34-year tenure of director Colonel Carleton K. Butler.

The native Ohioan came to Alabama in the 1930s after earning degrees at Youngstown State and Kent State. Initially he served as the director of the Ramsay High School Band in Birmingham as well as serving in the same capacity at Tuscaloosa High School. When the Million Dollar Band's director Captain H.H. Turner stepped down in 1935, Butler assumed the duties.

As the Alabama football team enjoyed spectacular success on the gridiron in the 1930s and 40s, the Million Dollar Band also gained a reputation for its elaborate but technically superb halftime shows. Under his direction, the band played at 14 bowl games, three Alabama governor's inaugurations and performed at the inauguration of President Harry S Truman in 1948.

The band grew from and 80-piece all male ensemble to a 130-strong co-ed unit by the time of his retirement in 1969. (He eschewed the use of majorettes dismissing them as "show business.")

Butler received the honorary title of "Colonel" from the University of Alabama Campus ROTC in 1938 and was later named an honorary colonel on the staff of Gov. John Patterson.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

The Arroyo Seco Parkway

1938 Rose Queen Cheryl Walker at the groundbreaking ceremony.
Cheryl Walker presided as the Rose Queen in the 1938 Tournament of Roses and subsequent Rose Bowl that saw California defeat Alabama, 13-0. Three months later, her duties included the inauguration of one of the countries most historic infrastructure projects - the Arroyo Seco Parkway.

When the bulldozer carrying Walker pushed the first mound of dirt on March 22, 1940 it launched the construction of a six lane road between Pasadena and Los Angeles - the first freeway in the Western United States.

The increase in automobile usage in the late 20s and 1930s prompted a push to build a direct connection between the prospering city and its neighbor eight miles to the northeast. The $5.75 million freeway was built in the route of an intermittent stream that had long been one of the main transportation routes between the two cities.

The road was completed and dedicated on December 30, 1940 by Sally Stanton, that year's Rose Queen. It was in operation on New Year's Day in time for both the Tournament of Roses Parade and Rose Bowl that pitted Southern California against Tennessee (USC won 14-0).

At the time, the six "glass-smooth miles" represented a transitional phase between early parkways and modern freeways. The road's landscaped embankments, limited access, and depressed roadway made it the prototype of the Los Angeles freeway system.

Today California 110, or the Pasadena Freeway as it is also known, remains largely the same as when it was first completed but carries more than four times the traffic it was originally intended to. As a result it is now considered overly narrow and outdated (it was designed for traffic travelling at 45 mph) but $17 million initiative to upgrade the road proposal has drawn the ire of preservationists.

The freeway is in the National Record of Historic Places and one of the American Society of Civil Engineers Historic Landmarks.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Grant Gillis & The 1926 Rose Bowl

Alabama's Grant Gillis was Alabama's secret weapon in the 1926 Rose Bowl. For three quarters, while Washington's workhorse running back George "Wildcat" Wilson was in the game, Gillis' punts kept the Crimson Tide competitive.

By keeping the Washington offense at bay he bought time for the big-play theatrics of Johnny Mack Brown in the second quarter and ensured Alabama's 20-19 victory.

Gillis punted five times during the New Year's Day contest for an average of 40.8 yards per punt - the longest for 54 yards.No less than legendary sportswriter Damon Runyon declared him "one of the greatest kickers that ever dropped a football on his toe" after witnessing the contest.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The 1943 Orange Bowl


On New Year's Day 1943, Alabama faced off against Boston College in the Ninth Orange Bowl game in Miami, Florida. The video shows the two first-quarter scores by Boston College's Mike Holovak then two of Alabama's scores from the 22-point second quarter surge by the Crimson Tide; a touchdown pass from Russ Mosley to Wheeler Leath and then one by Johnny August to Ted Cook. Alabama won the game 37-21.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Hughie Thomas' Lucky Hat


Before Coach Paul Bryant made the houndstooth fedora an icon of Alabama football, there was Hugh Rowe Thomas' hat. In 1944, the 11-year-old son of Alabama's football coach Frank Thomas wore a red hat that brought the team luck almost the entire season.

Fred Digby, the Sports Editor for the New Orleans Item who promoted the Louisiana game tirelessly in its formative years and bequeathed it the name "Sugar Bowl," featured the young Thomas in a column prior to the 1945 New Year's Day game that pitted the Crimson Tide against the powerful Duke Blue Devil's squad.

Thomas's decreed the hat to be the team's good luck charm in Alabama's game that season versus Kentucky on Oct. 27, 1944 when he made a wish the Crimson Tide would intercept a Wildcat pass.

"I ran my finger around the rim and made a wish," he told Digby. "On the next play we intercepted a pass and then we won. Every game since I ran my finger around my hat and that's all there is to it."

If there was any doubt in the sixth grader's mind it was resolved a week later in Alabama's contest against Georgia at Legion Field. Thomas would often work in the press box as a spotter and accidentally left his hat on the team's sideline bench after accompanying his father and the Crimson Tide team onto the field. The Bulldogs won the game 14-7.

Thomas promised Digby he would be wearing his hat for the Sugar Bowl and predicted his father's team would win 13-8. The hat's powers either didn't work in New Orleans or expired at the end of the calendar year. Duke won the game 29-26.

Thomas eventually graduated from the University of Alabama and became an insurance agent in Tuscaloosa. He was elected to the state House of Representatives in 1966 but served just more than a year. In April 1967 he was killed in a car wreck near Maplesville while travelling to Montgomery for a special session of the legislature. He was 33.

The six-lane highway bridge over the Black Warrior River connecting Tuscaloosa and Northport that was approved in that legislative session was named in his honor. The structure was dedicated in December 1973 and opened the following month.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Alabama vs. Fordham 1939 Program

The game program from the Oct. 7, 1939 contest between Alabama and Fordham at the New York Polo Grounds. The two teams had met on the same field in 1932 with the Empire State squad emerging victorious 20-0. The Rams luck didn't hold for the rematch as the Crimson Tide won the game 7-6 after the Fordham kicker missed the tying extra point kick following a fourth quarter touchdown.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

The 1926 Rose Bowl

A panoramic view of the 1926 Rose Bowl game between Alabama and Washington. The Crimson Tide bested the Huskies 20-19 in Pasadena's Rose Bowl Stadium before a crowd of more than 43,000.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

A Cheer for Alabama

In 1937, after Alabama rolled undefeated through the regular season and finished ranked 4th in the country, the Crimson Tide earned their fifth invitation to play No. 2 California in the Rose Bowl. On Dec. 2, less than a week after the trip was announced, the Birmingham Chamber of Commerce began putting together a promotional magazine to tout the Yellowhammer State to the country at large. A Cheer for Alabama was rolling off the presses just two weeks later.

The magazine consisted of photo collections and articles highlighting the industries and opportunities in Alabama during the late 1930s. It covered subjects such as the cotton and steel industry as well as the port facilities and railroad access. The state's historic and cultural highlights were given good coverage and there was even a section on Alabama Polytechnic Institute.

According to the editors, "a carload" of the magazines was put on the train that left Birmingham on Dec. 25 carrying the Crimson Tide team and 2,000 backers to Pasadena. The publication was then circulated on the West Coast to promote interest in Alabama.

The cover of A Cheer for Alabama featured a photo of Alabama cheerleader Martha Witt Burleson who had earned a bit of national fame by the trip to the Rose Bowl. Described as an All-American Cheerleader, she was featured in a series of slightly-cheesecake photos that were circulated in newspapers nationally the weeks before the New Year's Day game under the title "No Wonder Bama Cheers."

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The 1927 Rose Bowl Drive Chart

Drive chart and stats from Alabama's 7-7 tie with Stanford in the 1927 Rose Bowl. The information was compiled and drawn by Ward Nash, a pioneering sports statistician from Los Angeles.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Alabama Cheerleaders at Legion Field in 1940

Photo via Tuscaloosa Area Virtual Museum
University of Alabama cheerleaders at a Crimson Tide game in 1940 at Legion Field in Birmingham. Alabama played Tennessee, Tulane and Vanderbilt in the venue that season falling to the Vols 12-27 but beating both the Green Wave (13-6) and the Commodores (25-21).

Friday, September 23, 2011

Stars Fell on Alabama


As the Alabama Crimson Tide football team reached the height of their power and popularity in the mid-1930s, songwriters Frank S. Perkins and Mitchell Parish penned a tune that would become as identified with the state and the era as the football team, Stars Fell On Alabama.

Massachusetts-born Perkins penned the music and Michell, a Jewish immigrant from Lithuania who originally settled in Louisiana, wrote the words for the song. The song referred to the extremely active Lenoid meteor showers visible across much of Alabama on the night of Nov. 12, 1833.

"For several hours, thousands and even millions of these meteors appeared in every direction to be in constant motion," wrote The Huntsville Democrat of the event. The spectacular incident terrified many people across the South who witnessed it, particularly slaves, and it eventually became a part of Alabama folklore.

The song was preceded in 1934 by an autobiographical bestselling book of the same name written by Carl Carmer. In Stars Fell on Alabama, the New York native chronicled his experience as a northerner who had moved to Tuscaloosa to teach at the University of Alabama during the 1920s.

A great deal of the work involved his experience with the state's vibrant folk culture and he discussed the importance of the 1833 meteor shower in the cultural memory of the state.

"Many an Alabamian to this day reckons dates from 'the year the stars fell,'" he wrote.

The popularity of the song increased after it was recorded by Guy Lombardo and his orchestra later in 1934. Stars Fell On Alabama quickly became a standard of jazz musicians and has since been notably performed by Jack Teagarden, Frank Sinatra as well as Ella Fitzgerald & Louis Armstrong.

In 1957, Billie Holiday recorded this version of the song just two years before her death at the age of 44. It appeared on her fifth studio album, Songs for Distingué Lovers, and features the work of trumpeter Harry Edison and saxophonist Ben Webster.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Café Brûlot Diabolique at the 1945 Sugar Bowl

Photo via The Duke University Archives
Prior to the 1945 Sugar Bowl, Alabama coach Frank Thomas and Duke's Eddie Cameron took time to stir a pot of "Café Brûlot Diabolique" at a pre-game banquet for both teams held at New Orleans' famed restaurant, Antoine's. On New Year's Day, the Crimson Tide was bested 29-26 by the Blue Devils in a game legendary sportswriter Grantland Rice would proclaim "one of the great thrillers of all time."

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Tragedy at the Tournament of Roses Parade

City of Pasadena officials inspect the wreckage of a grandstand
that collapsed during the Rose Parade on Jan. 1, 1926.
Jan. 1, 1926 was the deadliest day in the history of the Tournament of Roses. More than a dozen people were killed in a trio of tragic incidents on the route of the Rose Parade that year, the worst of which was the collapse of a shoddily-built grandstand constructed to view the procession.

A crowd of several hundred thousand people had gathered along the 5-and-a-half mile parade route on New Year’s Day morning prior to the football game that pitted the Alabama Crimson Tide against the Washington Huskies.

Several temporary grandstands had been constructed to accommodate the crowd and approximately 350 people were on the elevated structure erected at the southeast corner of Colorado and Madison as the parade passed at 11 a.m.

According to newspaper reports there was first a loud crack then the entire grandstand dropped slightly. The front end of the bleachers then rapidly began moving forward several feet.

"This was followed instantly by the total collapse of supporting beams and braces and the stand crashed to the ground, a tangled mass of men, women and children, broken timbers and bright colored decorations," reported the Pasadena Morning Sun.

Members of a Robert's Golden State Band were standing nearby after having been ejected from the parade for not being authorized to perform. They immediately began working to pull survivors from the wreckage.

The crowd on Colorado Street in
Pasadena after the 1926 parade.
Eight people were killed instantly and three more perished later from their injuries. News reports said 135 people, mostly women and children, were hospitalized due to their injuries while about 100 others were given first aid treatment at the scene.

The collapse was attributed to a host of structural flaws including poor-grade lumber, bad workmanship and a complete absence of cross bracing. Moreover, there had been almost no oversight during the design and construction by the city or tournament officials - both of whom later denied any responsibility for the accident.

Pasadena's deputy building and safety inspector, Charles B. Bucknall, and building contractor Paul F. Mahoney were both charged with manslaughter. Bucknall was acquitted and Mahoney convicted to ten years in prison. He served one year but was freed when the charges against him were dropped after a new trial was ordered.

The disaster spurred the City of Pasadena to install strict regulations for the design, construction and inspection of grandstands. The new standards required the use of that steel-reinforced frames for the structures.

The incident wasn't the only tragedy that morning. Susan M. Bowen, the wife of a prominent local real estate developer, died when she fell from a roof of a two story commercial building along the parade route on Colorado Boulevard. Her fall also killed a parade spectator on the street below.

The final fatality that day was Pasadena equestrian police officer John Fox who was working crowd control along on the parade route. As the procession approached the crowd pressed in and the officer's horse was spooked. Fox was thrown to the ground and trampled by the animal. He died from spinal injuries.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The 1943 Orange Bowl Program

Alabama made its first appearance in the Orange Bowl on Jan. 1, 1943 in a matchup with Boston College. It was the ninth edition of Miami's New Year's Day contest. After giving up a pair of touchdowns to the Eagles in the first quarter, the Crimson Tide rallied and rolled up 22 points in the second stanza and finished with a 37-21 victory.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Irene Dunne and the 1931 Rose Bowl

The team captains, Alabama's Charles Clement and Elmer Schwartz of
Washington State, meet with Irene Dunne prior to the 1931 Rose Bowl.
The 1931 Washington State team that contended  against Alabama in the 1931 Rose Bowl was represented on the sideline by a promising young Hollywood actress, Irene Dunne.

A native of Kentucky, Dunne began her career in the 1920s on Broadway and her big break came in the starring role of Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II's musical Show Boat. She was "discovered" during a Chicago performance in 1929 and signed a contract with RKO and starred in her first movie the following year (Leathernecking).

Dunne and the Wash. State team.
Dunne was tapped as a sponsor for the Washington State Cougars as part of a publicity push for the young starlet. She posed for photographs with the team captains before the game at midfield and addressed the Cougar squad before the kickoff.

Although the stadium had been expanded to a new-capacity crowd of more than 84,500, inclement weather was blamed for a disappointing turnout of 65,000 for the game.

In a 1990 interview with the Spokane, Washington Spokesman-Review, Washington State tailback Tuffy Ellingsen recalled the team's encounter with Dunne.

"Before the game she came out and met in our huddle," he said. "Irene had a little speech. She said, 'We want good sportsmanship. We want good relations between the teams.' One of our guys said, 'We'd rather have good relations with you, Irene.'"

Washington State lost to the Crimson Tide 24-0.

Dunne's performance in Cimarron later that year earned her a nomination for the Academy Award for Best actress (she would go on to earn a total of five nominations but never won). She would go on to become a very popular screen heroine during the 1930s and 1940s starring in films such as Back Street (1932), Theodora Goes Wild (1936) and The Awful Truth (1937).

Friday, September 16, 2011

Pop Warner at Stanford


By the time Glenn Scobey Warner arrived in Palo Alto in 1924, he was already an institution. The 53-year-old coach known as "Pop" took over the Stanford football program after leading Cornell, Pittsburgh and, most famously, the Carlisle Indian School to gridiron success.

A trailblazer in the sport, Warner is credited with introducing a host of innovations that have become not simply commonplace but are the backbone of how the game is played. These include the unbalanced line, the backfield, the screen pass, the rolling block, the naked reverse and the practice of numbering plays.

Warner's success at Stanford was founded on his double wingback offense from which he befuddled defenses with "a bewildering set of spins, reverses, double reverses, fake reverses, runs from fake passes and passes from fake runs" as sportswriter Tim Cohane put it.

Alabama and Stanford battled
to a tie in the 1927 Rose Bowl
When Stanford contacted Warner in 1921 to move west and coach the Indians, he first sent a pair of his assistants to help the team transition to his approach. He himself arrived in 1924 and immediately took the team to the Rose Bowl (where they lost to Notre Dame). He returned to Pasadena twice more in the next three years including the 1927 game against Alabama that resulted in a 7-7 tie.

Warner was also an innovator. He is credited with the creation of shoulder and thigh pads and he was known to experiment with equipment to give his teams an edge. In the 1927 Rose Bowl he outfitted his team with silk pants in hopes it would make them faster and tougher to tackle.

Another innovation Warner used against Alabama was a zone pass defense. While the strategy didn't earn Stanford the victory, it was effective in stymieing the Crimson Tide aerial assault. Alabama attempted seven passes and completed only one.

After the 1932 season, Warner left Stanford and headed back east to coach Temple. In his nine years in Palo Alto he had collected a 71-17-8 record. He retired from coaching in 1938 with a lifetime 319–106–32 record. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1951.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Alabama's 1947 Homecoming

Photo via the Tuscaloosa Area Virtual Museum
The 1947 Alabama Homecoming Queen Sue Donegan parades before a sell out crowd of 25,000 at Denny Stadium atop the Crimson Tide's live elephant mascot. The football team was in the first year of Harold "Red" Drew's coaching tenure and faced a daunting LSU squad for the Nov. 22 contest.

Alabama's Harry Gilmer ran back LSU's first punt 92 yards for a touchdown less than three minutes into the contest and the Crimson Tide never looked back. The Tiger's ailing Y.A. Tittle was unable to mount a comeback and Alabama bested LSU 41-12. The victory earned the Crimson Tide an invitation to play in the 1948 Sugar Bowl.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The 1946 Tournament of Roses Parade

Film of the Tournament of Roses Parade in Pasadena on Jan. 1, 1946 prior to the game between Alabama and USC.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Washington's "Wildcat" Wilson

Wilson carries the ball against Alabama in the 1926 Rose Bowl.
George "Wildcat" Wilson was the University of Washington's all-everything player in the early 1920s. His stellar play lifted the Huskies to prominence in the Pacific Coast Conference.

During his three years with Washington the Huskies won 28 games, lost three, were tied thrice, and went to the Rose Bowl in 1925 and 1926. He also set the school's record for career touchdowns at 37 which still stands (it was tied by Joe Steele in the late 1970s).

George "Wildcat" Wilson
Wilson was a 60-minute player and handled the ball almost every play when on offense. With it in hand the 5' 11", 185 lb. speedster was a triple threat as he was able to rush, pass or kick with equal skill. Moreover he used the stiff-arm with disturbing effectiveness when he chose to run. He was also considered a formidable linebacker.

In 1925 he was named to Grantland Rice's All-American squad alongside Red Grange and his team earned an invitation to the Rose Bowl game to face Alabama. Wilson was having a day against the Crimson Tide but was knocked out of the game late in the second quarter and didn't return to play until the final period.

With Wilson in the game, Washington gained 317 yards and scored 19 points. With him on the sideline, the Huskies could only garner 17 yards and went scoreless. In that interim, Alabama scored 20 points. That proved to be the difference as the final whistle sounded. Alabama 20 - Washington 19.

Wilson was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1951, named to the All-Time Pacific Coast Team in 1969 and inducted into the Rose Bowl Hall of Fame in 1991.

Monday, September 12, 2011

The Harry Gilmer Newspaper Cartoon

Between 1928 and 1975, illustrator Bob Coyne was a staple of Boston sports scene, producing more than 15,000 cartoons and caricatures for various Beantown publications. When Alabama traveled to Massachusetts in November 1946 to play Boston College, Coyne produced this piece featuring the Crimson Tide's Harry Gilmer for The Boston Post. The Eagles defeated Alabama 13-7 at Fenway Park in Boston.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Johnny Mack Brown, The Crimson Tide's Cowboy Movie Star

Johnny Mack Brown was the photogenic star of Alabama's first Rose Bowl squad. The fleet-footed halfback was dubbed the "Dothan Antelope" and he ran for two touchdowns in the contest against Washington to garner the Most Valuable Player award. The performance in Pasadena was a prelude for a long career in Hollywood.

Johnny Mack Brown
Interestingly, Brown was "discovered" while in Alabama, not during the Crimson Tide's trip to California. A group of actors filming Men of Steel in Birmingham in 1925 met Brown after a game and urged him to take a screen test. After graduating from Alabama, Brown was offered a contract with MGM for $75 a week.

Brown was first touted as a romantic foil in silent films and was featured alongside Greta Garbo, Marion Davies as well as Mary Pickford in 1929's Coquette - a role that earned the actress an Academy Award for her performance.

The zenith of his pursuit to become leading actor for a major studio came in 1930 when he starred in King Vidor's Billy the Kid but the rapid rise of Clark Gable as the main lead for MGM curtailed his career. Brown went on to work as a character actor for several other major studios but his desire for leading roles led him to work for low-budget independent studios. It was there he resurrected his career as a star of B-movie westerns.

Brown eventually starred in no less than 127 Westerns and, during the heyday of the genre during the 1940s, he was consistently among the top ten money-makers for the independent studios and never ranked outside of the top ten in Box Office popularity polls.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

The 1935 Rose Bowl

The 1935 Rose Bowl that pitted Alabama against Stanford was expected to be a close game. And it was... for most of the first quarter. A pair of fumbles by the Crimson Tide stymied Alabama's offense and provided Stanford a 7-0 lead.

Then, in the second quarter, Alabama unloaded on the Indians, scoring 22 points in less than 13 minutes. This film shows two of those scoring plays; a 59-yard touchdown pass from Dixie Howell (54) to Don Hutson (14) as well as Howell's 67-yard touchdown run that broke the game open for the Crimson Tide.

Alabama won the game 29-13 and claimed the national championship.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Demoralizing the Opposition with the Second Team

Wallace Wade
During his last season in Tuscaloosa before heading off to take over the head coach position at Duke University, Wallace Wade employed an unusual tactic with his Alabama squad - he refused to start the starters. For every game of the 1930 season, the first quarter was played with the second team.

"You see, that second team was able to hold everybody scoreless the whole year," he explained years later. "We knew it would help us for an opponent to play the second team and not score and then know we were sending in the first team."

And it worked. Alabama's first team stayed on the bench for the first quarter then came in and crushed the opposing team. At the end of the season the Crimson Tide had outscored its opponents 271 to 13. They held held eight teams scoreless and only Vanderbilt and Tennessee were able to reach the end zone and both of them accomplished the feat only once.

The Crimson Tide even used it in the 1931 Rose Bowl against Washington State to successfully down the Cougars 24-0 and claim the national championship.

It wasn't exactly an original idea. Knute Rockne had previously employed the tactic with spectacular success at Notre Dame calling his second squad the "shock troops." Tulane's Clark Shaughnessy tried the gambit against LSU in 1926 but the Green Wave second team allowed the Tigers to score what proved to be the winning touchdown of the contest.

You can read more about it over at Roll Bama Roll.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The 1931 Rose Court

1931 Rose Queen Mary Lou Waddell and her court.
Myrta Olmstead, Alice Ashley, Myrna Wilson,
Fannie Arnold, Florence Dunkerley. 

Monday, June 27, 2011

Huey Long's Courtship of Alabama's Frank Thomas

Huey Long chats with officials prior to the
LSU vs Arkansas game in the late 1920s.
In 1934, Alabama rolled to an undefeated regular season and garnered an invite to the Rose Bowl to face Stanford. It marked an apogee for Crimson Tide head coach Frank Thomas who had lead Alabama to a 33-4-1 record in four seasons. He had seen Alabama play in the Pasadena classic the year prior to his arrival in Tuscaloosa and now he was taking the Tide there himself.

On the way to the game Louisiana's powerful Senator, Huey P. Long, allegedly made him an offer he couldn't refuse.

LSU was coached by Biff Jones who had lead the Tigers to a 20-5-6 record over three years and had claimed the Southern Conference Championship his inaugural season. A confrontation between Long - who took a major interest in the team - and the coach outside the locker room at halftime of the final game of the season against Oregon had resulted in his resignation. Long promised he would make a big-time hire and he set his sights on Thomas.

The Alabama coach had been given a five-year contract by UA president George Denny extension following the 1934 season that included "a nice increase" over his previous salary. The move came after Thomas name surfaced as a replacement for Tennessee's Robert Neyland who had been called away by the military for active service in Panama.

The first candidate Long considered was Clark Shaughnessy who had lead Tulane for more than a decade but had just finished his first season at the University of Chicago. When that offer was rebuffed the Kingfish turned his attention to Alabama's Thomas who, as chance would have it was in New Orleans.

When the Crimson Tide train stopped in the Crescent City on the way to California for the bowl game, a secret meeting was arranged between Thomas and Long, according to LSU's Athletic Director at the time, T.P. Heard. Long offered Thomas a $15,000 salary and salaries of $7,500 for two assistants of his choosing. Thomas accepted the offer on a handshake but demanded secrecy given the situation.

"If any hint of this talk gets into the papers," he reportedly told Long. "The deal is off."

Heard accompanied Thomas to Pasadena to keep Long appraised of the situation. Before the train arrived in Los Angeles, the Kingfish had changed his mind. Bernie Moore, an assistant at LSU since the late 20s, was given the job after a recommendation by Vanderbilt's Dan McGugin.

Alabama won the 1935 Rose Bowl and Thomas returned to Tuscaloosa where he coached for another nine seasons before retiring from the profession due to ill health. His final record at The Capstone was 115-24-7. Moore took the Tigers to two SEC Championships in his first two seasons then remained in Baton Rouge until 1947, finishing with a 83-39-6 record.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Alabama's Experiment with the Head Coach In Waiting

Wallace Wade handed off the Alabama head
coaching duties to Frank Thomas in 1930.
Just more than 80 years ago, Alabama tried the head-coach-in-waiting strategy in order to maintain stability in the football program. In the Spring of 1930 head coach Wallace Wade stunned Alabama by accepting the head coaching job at Duke University. Three months later his hand-picked successor, Frank Thomas, agreed to be the Crimson Tide head coach - after the 1930 season.

Wade then lead Alabama to an undefeated season, the 1931 Rose Bowl and a national championship as Thomas waited in the wings. At the conclusion of the season Wade left for Durham, N.C. and Thomas began his fantastically successful 15-year run as the Crimson Tide coach.

More on this story is available at Roll Bama Roll.

Monday, June 6, 2011

The Deal That Dealt Army Wrong

Ernest Newquist, in an letter on behalf of Southern California football fans opposing the deal in 1947 that limited the Rose Bowl Game to members of the Pacific Coast and Big Nine Conferences. Army had been considered to play in the game that season but was replaced by Illinois due to the agreement.

The whole story is on Prolate Spheroid

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The East Coast Rose Bowl

Duke Stadium, Jan. 1, 1942
The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941 disrupted every aspect of life in the United States and the Rose Bowl was certainly no exception. In late November, Duke's undefeated and untied squad  - led by former Alabama coach Wallace Wade - had been tapped to play Oregon State in the New Year's Day contest but with the country's entry into World War II, the fate of the game was in doubt.

The destruction of the Pacific outpost was followed by concerns of a follow-up attack somewhere on the West Coast. The US government prohibited larger gatherings on the Pacific seaboard and, in response, officials at Duke University offered to host the game in Durham, North Carolina.

The capacity of Duke Stadium was expanded almost 60 percent using bleachers on loan from the University of North Carolina and North Carolina State. Despite the cold and rainy weather, more than 55,000 fans packed into the venue to watch the Oregon State Beavers  upset the Blue Devils 20-16.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Graham McNamee & the Inaugural Rose Bowl Radio Broadcast

Graham McNamee broadcasting
the 1924 World Series.
McNamee rose to national prominence with the spread of sports radio broadcasts in the 1920s. He is credited as the first "color commentator" and his dramatic depictions of the action electrified his broadcasts.
 
The Radio Corporation of America experienced a boom in sales during the 1920s fueled mostly by the availability of free over-the-air sales. By 1924, more than 2.5 million units had been sold to customers across the United States and as many as twice that were in use by 1927.

Initially, live radio accounts of sporting events were simple descriptions of the action by newspaper writers. For listeners further afield, they were forced to make do with local radio announcers reading telegraph and phone reports of the action.

When McNamee was hired by WEAF in New York in 1923, that changed completely. Despite his relative ignorance of the games he called, his vivid accounts of the action fueled by his apparent enthusiasm revolutionized sports broadcasts.

In November of 1926, RCA formed the National Broadcasting Corporation and began presenting music and comedy shows on a network of 25 stations across the United States. The fledgling network - already known by the moniker NBC - immediately snapped up exclusive broadcast rights from the Tournament of Roses.

So when Alabama headed to Pasadena to face the Stanford Indians in the Crimson Tide's second Rose Bowl, the network  chose to make the game the first coast-to-coast network broadcast. McNamee was tapped to call the game and launched a new era in popularity for the inter-sectional contest. NBC was so pleased with the response they agreed to purchase broadcast rights to the game for another seven years.

In 1984, McNamee was part of the inaugural class inducted into the American Sportscasters Association's Hall of Fame.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Alabama's Live Elephant Mascots

Up until the 1950s, Alabama would sometimes parade a pair of live elephant mascots around Tuscaloosa (and even on the field of Denny Stadium) on gameday such as this pair in the Quad in1945. The practice was suspended when caring for the animals became too expensive.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

John Heisman's Bulletin Board Material

In 1922, Alabama head coach Xen Scott took his team on a trip north to Philadelphia to play the University of Pennsylvania on historic Franklin Field.

Heisman at Penn
The coach of the Quakers that season was none other than John Heisman who had landed at Penn after a divorce settlement forced him to leave Georgia Tech (the couple agreed to not live in the same city and his former wife chose to stay in Atlanta).

Penn was viewed as a power that season after trouncing Navy and the Quakers were undefeated heading into the Nov. 4 contest with the Crimson Tide. Heisman went so far as to tell a local newspaper that he didn't want to embarrass Alabama so he planned to pull his starters after "a 25 or 30 point lead."

That quip, according to Bernie Perry, the Crimson Tide's manager that year,  prompted a mad scramble by the Alabama staff.

"[Athletic Director Charles] Bernier and I bought up all the available papers and he saw that every boy had a copy," he told the Birmingham Post-Herald in a 1959 story about the game.

The Crimson Tide beat the Quakers 9-7.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The 1935 Rose Bowl Champions

Alabama's 29-13 victory over Stanford on Jan. 1, 1935 brought out large
crowds to greet the team when they returned from the West Coast.

Monday, April 25, 2011

William Bradford Huie's "How To Keep Football Stars in College"

On Jan. 4, 1941 William Bradford Huie's first story in a major magazine was published and it immediately set off a firestorm of criticism. The University of Alabama graduate's piece in Collier's: The National Weekly magazine, "How to Keep Football Stars in College," accused the Crimson Tide football program of a litany of abuses.

Using a lively and colorful manner that became his hallmark, Huie alleged Alabama engaged in a regular practice of paying players,  used local high schools to process ineligible players from out-of-state and a relentless purging of players who were unable to perform on the football field. Huie even claimed to have been hired by the school as a tutor charged with keeping academically inept athletes qualified scholastically so they could play.

"I guess I'm trying to kid myself into believing there is more good than bad in the collegiate football system," he wrote.

A university faculty committee issued an exhaustive report a month later finding all the accusations in the article baseless. Three months later, Collier's retracted the story and offered apology to the school for publishing it:

Huie would go onto a long and distinguished career as a muckraking journalist, screenwriter and author, including numerous groundbreaking works on the civil rights movement. He was inducted into the University of Alabama's College of Communication and Information Sciences Hall of Fame in 1998.