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.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Denny Field

The first designated playing field for the University of Alabama football team on the Tuscaloosa campus was University Field which opened in 1915. Located at the intersection of 10th Street and 7th Avenue near the south side of the campus, it was renamed Denny Field in 1920 to recognize then-UA president George Hutcheson Denny who had worked to revitalize the program and make it competitive in the Southern Conference. Denny Field was subsequently replaced by the 12,000-seat Denny Stadium in 1929.

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.