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 contest, 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 fiancĂ©e 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.