Friday, December 28, 2012

Frank Thomas at Notre Dame

Frank Thomas, the future head football coach at the University of Alabama, was born in Muncie, Indiana in 1898. His father, an iron worker, moved the family to East Chicago six years later in search of employment.

The young Thomas became such a standout high school athlete he skipped his senior year to enter Kalamazoo College in Michigan. After two years there his prowess on the gridiron caught the eye of Notre Dame great Chipper Smith who contrived to get him admitted to his Indiana alma mater.

Arriving in South Bend in1919, Thomas was part of the Notre Dame freshman squad and gained the notice of second-year coach Knute Rockne. Thomas served as a third-string quarterback on the undefeated 1920 team, playing in five games.

His roommate was star George Gipp and the two played professional baseball in the off-season. (Thomas and many other Notre Dame players regularly played professional football on Sundays as well.) Gipp's sudden death from a throat infection in December of 1920 affected Thomas deeply.

"I broke down and cried like a baby," he later said. "It was like losing a brother."

Thomas was a staple of the Notre Dame roster for his junior and senior seasons which saw the team go 10-1 and 8-1-1, respectively. (Late in the 1922 season Rockne shuffled the starting lineup, switching Harry Stuhldreher for Thomas and creating the group that Grantland Rice would dub "The Four Horsemen" two years later).

Thomas' on-the-field decision making earned him the praise of Rockne who called Thomas "a fine field general."

"It's amazing the amount of football sense that Thomas kid has," Rockne told his staff after one game. "He can't miss becoming a great coach some day."

After graduating in the Spring of 1923, Thomas was contacted by the University of Georgia and subsequently hired. As the bulldogs' backfield coach, he was entrusted with importing Rockne's dynamic "Notre Dame Box" offense to southern football.

After a stop as head coach of University of Chattanooga, Thomas was tapped for the head coaching position at Alabama in 1931 following the surprise resignation of Wallace Wade. The Notre Dame alumnus would lead the Crimson Tide a 115-24-7 record, six bowl games and two national titles over the next fourteen seasons.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Dixie Howell and "The Adventures of Frank Merriwell"

Dixie Howell and Jean Rogers in a publicity photo of the All-
American's screen test for "The Adventures of Frank Merriwell."
While Johnny Mack Brown famously used his performance in the 1925 Rose Bowl to launch a career as a movie star, several other Alabama players were wooed by Hollywood during their trips to Pasadena. When the Crimson Tide came west and defeated Stanford in the 1935 Rose Bowl it gave Alabama's All-American Dixie Howell an opportunity to seek his silver screen fortune.

Howell was invited by Universal Pictures president Carl Laemmle to take screen test which led to the Rose Bowl MVP's appearance in the serial "The Adventures of Frank Merriwell."  Howell appeared uncredited in the eleventh film of the 12-part series, "The Crash in the Chasm." It was his only film role.

(A teammate of Howell's, Paul W. Bryant, would take a screen test when he traveled to California as an assistant coach on the Tide's 1938 Rose Bowl team. He never appeared in a film. "They were trying to make a silk purse out of a sow's ear," he later commented.)

The Merriwell franchise originated in a popular series of books published from 1896 to 1912 that were penned by Gilbert Patten writing under the pseudonym, Burt L. Standish. While the plots centered around the lead character solving a mystery or some similar adventure, Merriwell was notable for excelling at sports as an athlete at Yale.

Football games and other athletic contests were often featured prominently in the stories. As a result, the franchise became the model for the wave of juvenile sports fiction that peaked in popularity in the 1940s.

The series was adapted into comic books, radio serials and, eventually, a series of films starring Donald Briggs as the title character. The romantic interest, Elsie Belwood, was played by a pre-"Flash Gordon" Jean Rogers (who may also have appeared in publicity photos for the Rose Bowl game as well).

While Howell's film career came to naught his trip to Hollywood in 1935 did have a major impact on his life. While in California he met aspiring actress Peggy Watters whom he married in Mexico City in November of that same year.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Alabama Chesterfield Cigarettes Advertisement


This advertisement for Chesterfield cigarettes appeared in the Auburn Plainsman's Feb. 13, 1952 issue. It was part of an ad campaign that ran for several months with a different school being featured each week.

The Bama Drug Company was part of the Rexall chain of drug stores which were independently owned an operated. The Tuscaloosa store, located at 1201 University Avenue, was co-owned by Jack McRae and Gordon Haralson.

The Chesterfield brand of cigarettes were introduced in the early 1880s by Drummond Tobacco Company of St. Louis, Missouri. The name derived from Chesterfield County, Virginia. In 1912, Liggett & Myers Tobacco Company reintroduced the brand featuring a blend of Turkish-Virginia tobaccos.

Chesterfield cigarettes were on of the most popular brands sold in the first half of the 20th century. Chesterfield advertisements were ubiquitous in that era often featuring movie stars and professional athletes. Reportedly they were the brand preferred by legendary Alabama player and later head coach Paul W. Bryant.

HT: The War Eagle Reader

Thursday, October 4, 2012

The Cramton Bowl

Montgomery's Cramton Bowl shortly after completion in 1922.

On Sept. 20, 1922, Alabama's freshmen football squad traveled to Montgomery where they defeated Sidney-Lanier High School 21-0. The game was the first gridiron contest ever played in the Alabama state capital's new multi-sport venue, The Cramton Bowl.

The stadium under construction.
The stadium was built on the site of a former sanitary landfill owned by local lumberman, F.J. Cramton. The businessman spearheaded the $33,000 fundraising effort to get the facility built after the City of Montgomery balked on the project saying it was too large an undertaking.

The completed Cramton Bowl was designed to host both baseball and football games. The first sporting event at the new stadium was baseball game played May 1922 between Auburn University and Vanderbilt University.

Montgomery attorney James Edson contacted University of Alabama President George H. Denny about arranging to have the Crimson Tide play open its football season in the new stadium. Denny agreed to a game but suggested instead the scheduled contest with Georgia slated for Nov. 25.

Thus the Alabama varsity team opened the season against Marion Military Institute at Denny Field in Tuscaloosa and the freshmen squad traveled to the Alabama capitol. (The Crimson Tide beat Marion 110-0 -- a score which remains the largest margin of victory in the program's history.)

The first major college football contest in the venue was Tulane vs Auburn on Nov. 11, 1922. The local paper implored residents to show up for the game "to show the world MONTGOMERY IS A GOOD FOOTBALL TOWN."

The Tigers, led by their legendary coach Mike Donahue in his final year, trounced the Green Wave, headed by their legendary coach Clark Shaughnessy, 19-0.

Two weeks later, the Tide varsity made the trip to Montgomery themselves and downed the Bulldogs 10-6 in the Cramton Bowl. The finished stadium could accommodate about 7,000 with its permanent seating but reports put the size of the crowd at almost 10,000.

The stadium also was the site of the first football game played under artificial lights in the South when Cloverdale taking on Pike Road High School on the night of September 23, 1927. More than 7,000 spectators were on hand to see the contest under lights that were shipped in from California.

Between 1922 and 1932, Alabama played at least one game every season and then returned to Montgomery intermittently until 1954. Alabama's all-time record at Cramton Bowl stands at 17 wins and 3 losses. The stadium was more renowned as the home of the annual inter-sectional all-star contest -- the Blue-Gray Football Classic, an annual college football all-star game which was held there each December from 1938 until 2001.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

The Father of Alabama Football: William G. Little

William G. Little -- or "Bill," as he was invariably known throughout his life -- was born on August 29, 1873 in Sumter County, Alabama near Livingston. He entered the University of Alabama in 1888 but moved to Andover, Massachusetts to attend Phillips Academy in 1891 in anticipation of attending Yale. The death of his brother curtailed those plans and he came back to the Yellowhammer State and enrolled in the UA law school.

Little returned to Tuscaloosa with a passion for new sport of football which he had learned while in the Northeast. He brought his uniform and equipment for playing the game and quickly formed a team of 19 fellow students -- many who had never even seen a football before much less played the game. Little played guard and at 220 pounds he was easily the largest player on Alabama's inaugural squad.

The University of Alabama's 1892 football team.
With Little as captain and E. B. Beaumont as head coach the team played its first game in Birmingham on Friday afternoon, Nov. 11, 1892, at Lakeview Park.

The Alabama students faced off against a picked team from Birmingham high schools, with Alabama winning, 56-0. Alabama would go on to earn a 2-2 record that first season.

After graduating with the class of 1893, Little returned to Livingston where he operated a large farm and owned a retail store. He was active in politics, serving as Sumter County treasurer, tax collector and probate judge. He remained a staunch supporter of Alabama football throughout his life and often invited teams to his Sumter County farm.

Little died on April 11, 1938 in Selma following a short illness.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Champ Pickens' 1925 Book "Alabama"

In 1925, the ever entrepreneurial Champ Pickens struck upon a brilliant idea to promote Alabama football and, in the process, inadvertently created a publishing phenomena. Following the conclusion of the 1924 season, Pickens created an eight-page photo pamphlet titled "Alabama" believed to be the first publication devoted to Crimson Tide football ever produced.

Pickens' book, which appeared sometime after the 1925 spring practices, proclaimed 1924 "the greatest in the history of athletics at the University of Alabama" and boasted of the golf squad's conference championship as well as the baseball and basketball team's second-place finishes. Yet the heart of the book was the series of photographs of the various football games played by the Alabama gridders.

Under second-year head coach Wallace Wade, Alabama had rolled to an 8-1 record earned the Pickens' cup -- the trophy awarded to the champion of the Southern Conference donated by none other than Pickens himself. The Tide had completely dominated the schedule earning seven shutouts and outscoring opponents 290 to 24.

The only defeat Alabama suffered during the 1924 season was a 17-0 drubbing at the hands of the Prayin' Colonels of Centre College -- an unlikely powerhouse that had humbled the vaunted Harvard squad in Cambridge, Massachusetts just three years prior.

Pickens wrote that the varsity prospects for the 1925 season were "very bright" and "it is hoped the 'Crimson Tide' will roll to another championship." His words proved prescient. Not only did Alabama follow up with another Southern Conference Championship, the Tide claimed its first National Championship as well after defeating Washington in the 1926 Rose Bowl.

To commemorate the achievements of the 1925 team, Pickens promptly produced a follow-up book "The Will To Win."

Thursday, August 2, 2012

The 1930 Christening of Florida Stadium

The 1930 Florida Homecoming court and escorts await the kickoff.
In 1930 the unbeaten Alabama traveled to Gainesville, Florida on Nov. 8 as the visitors for the Gators' homecoming game. The contest marked the first time the Crimson Tide played a football game in the Sunshine State. The contest also marked the christening of the new Florida Stadium which was dedicated to the Florida servicemen who died in World War I. 

A crowd of 18,000 that were on hand for the game were about 3,000 less that the venue's capacity. A persistent drizzle that lasted throughout the game may have affected the attendance. 

The Crimson Tide were decidedly ungracious visitors as they pounded the Gators 21-0. Alabama outgained Florida 247 yards to 28 and earned 12 first downs to the Gator's two. The Tide would finish the season without a loss to garner an invitation to the 1931 Rose Bowl against Washington State.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

The Chrysanthemum and Alabama Football

UA's 1946 Homecoming Queen Jeanene
Vines and her escort John Hunter.
The chrysanthemum was introduced from Japan to the United States in the 1890s, just as gridiron football was gaining popularity as a sport among the college-eduted elite. The six-week autumnal blooming phase of the early varieties coincided with the brief football season of the era and became a sensation among affluent football fans who could afford them.

In fact, beginning in 1894 the University of Alabama yearbook denoted the white chrysanthemum as the school flower. Football had arrived at the school just two years prior and the association between the two were inevitable. The popularity of the flower was such that it was just as common for men to wear them as women.
A UA homecoming float in the mid 60s.

The rage for the flower among football fans faded by the turn of the century, and by that time they had become primarily a decoration for women's corsages. Still, by that time the chrysanthemum had become indelibly associated with football. When homecoming games were introduced at Alabama in 1920, the flower was an obvious connection with the earlier era of football and have continued to do so ever since.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

The Rammer Jammer: Rose Bowl Number

As the Alabama football team prepared to travel to California to play Stanford in the 1935 Rose Bowl against Stanford, the school's humor magazine, Rammer Jammer, published a football-themed issue to commemorate the occasion (Vol 12, No. 3; Dec. 1934). 

Filled with bawdy humor and bad jokes and campus gossip ("Endplaying Paul Bryant thinks occasionally of one Rosa Brooks, who, it has been said, thinks that 'Bear is so cute.'") the book also features an extended and decidedly irreverent take on team an their trip west. A good example is the suggested list of reasons to attend the contest in California.
REASONS FOR GOING TO THE "BOWL"
(For Personal Use)
  1. To get drunk.
  2. To eyeball the sweet jobs of the Sunshine state.
  3. To be qualified to take an active part in fireside ox casting for the ensuing years.
  4. To see the game (recommended for coaches, sports writers, photographers, etc.)

Friday, June 22, 2012

Parking at the 1938 Rose Bowl

Parking for the 1938 Rose Bowl was as much a challenge as it is for the modern game. A record crowd of 90,000 was on hand that New Year's Day to watch Alabama take on California.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Friday, June 15, 2012

The 1926 Tournament of Roses Parade

Photo: UCLA Library Digital Collections
Two girls dressed as flowers in front of a float presented at the 1926 Tournament of Roses parade in Pasadena. Alabama defeated Washington 20-19 in the Rose Bowl game later that day.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

The 1931 Rose Bowl

Film of the 1931 Rose Bowl between Alabama and Washington State taken by photographer Ralph Hutchison.  Bette Bohler, the granddaughter of Washington State College Athletic Director Doc Bohler donated the film to Washington State University in 2012.

It shows the Cougars' pre-game warm ups, the school's band performing and then the Washington State team running onto the field. Then there is a meeting between Alabama captain Charles "Foots" Clement (in white) and WSU captain Elmer Schwartz and Rose Bowl sponsor Irene Dunne. The final two minutes of the video consists primarily of shots of the game as well as of the Cougars' sideline.

Alabama won the game 24-0 and claimed the National Championship.

Monday, June 11, 2012

George Corley Wallace: Pugilist

Wallace (right) and Bart Tatmio were teammates on
University of Alabama boxing team in 1941.
As a young man, Alabama's notorious future governor, George Wallace, was noted for his skills as a boxer. He won the state the state Golden Gloves bantamweight championship two years in a row while a student at Barbour County High School. Wallace enrolled in the University of Alabama Law School in 1937 and put himself through school as a professional boxer as well as other odd jobs. He also was also a member of the UA boxing team eventually being named the squad's captain.

The 1940 UA boxing team.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Bama Whip LSU

Photo from The Alabama Digital Archives
The parade through Tuscaloosa prior to the 1947 game against LSU. The sign on the cage reads "Mike Captured by Bama." The Crimson Tide bested the Bayou Bengals 41-12. The victory earned the two-loss Crimson Tide a bid to the Sugar Bowl to face the University of Texas.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

The 1946 Rose Bowl Drive Chart


The drive chart and stats for Alabama's 34-14 victory over the University of Southern California in the 1946 Rose Bowl. The information was compiled and drawn by Ward Nash, a pioneering sports statistician from Los Angeles.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Charles Bernier: The Father of Alabama Homecoming

Orville Rush, president of the Washington D.C. UA Alumni group;
former UA President George H. Denny; former Alabama halfback
Johnny Mack Brown and UA Alumni Secretary Charles Bernier at the
1950 homecoming victory against Mississippi State (14-7).
Alabama's first Homecoming game was on Nov. 13, 1920, a 21-0 victory against LSU. The event was the brainchild of UA Athletic Director Charles Bernier who had arrived at The Capstone that year from Virginia Tech. He took over organizing many of the school's homecoming activities when he became the alumni secretary in 1942. Bernier, who coached baseball and basketball when he first arrived in Tuscaloosa, is also credited as introducing grant-in-aid scholarships at the school. 

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Highlights of the Year 1928

From the 1928 University of Alabama yearbook. The Crimson Tide football team went 5-4-1 in the 1927 season, ceding the Southern Conference Crown to Georgia Tech who went on to an undefeated season, a victory in the 1929 Rose Bowl and the National Championship.

The cartoon also references Charles Lindberg's flight across Latin America, the sinking of the USS S-4 Submarine off Provincetown, Mass., the presidential election pitting Republican Herbert Hoover against Democrat Al Smith and Alabama Attorney General Charles McCall's attack on the Ku Klux Klan in the state.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The Alabama Rose Bowl That Wasn't

Bama's standout tailback Joe Kilgrow and head coach Frank Thomas.
Between 1926 and 1946 the Crimson Tide played in six Rose Bowl games – a total exceeded only by the University of Southern California. Then there was the one that got away. In 1936, despite earning one of the best records in the nation, Alabama found itself locked out of Pasadena's New Year's Day classic.

After winning the 1935 Rose Bowl and claiming the national championship, Alabama's football fortunes fell back to earth. The Crimson Tide lost no less than nine of the starters that led the Crimson Tide to an undefeated 1934 season and the team limped to a disappointing 6-2-1 record.

Going into the 1936 campaign, Crimson Tide head coach Frank Thomas was far more optimistic than the season prior.

"We'll do better this year," he said. "Our fellows learned a lot last season. They learned it the hard way."

The talent was certainly there in 1936. Alabama had added a quality tailback in Joe Kilgrow, ace kicker Riley Smith was back in the lineup and guard Arthur "Tarzan" White would go on to earn All-American honors for his play that season. In addition, Thomas had added of two former players as coaches to his staff; Tilden Campbell and Paul W. Bryant.

The Crimson Tide came out of the gate red hot. Over the first three games – Howard, Clemson and Mississippi State – Alabama didn't allow a single point while scoring a total of 73. Then came The Third Saturday in October.

In 1935 Alabama drubbed the Volunteers 25-0 in Knoxville but Tennessee's legendary coach, Major Robert Neyland, had been absent due to being been called away for service in the Panama Canal Zone. In 1936 he was back and his Volunteers battled a favored Tide squad to a 0-0 tie at Birmingham's Legion Field.

It would be the sole blemish on Alabama's record and it proved a costly one.

Alabama dominated the remainder of the 1936 slate including a season finale against a highly-regarded Vanderbilt squad. Many observers, including Thomas himself, thought the 14-6 victory against the Commodores would be enough to garner post-season bowl bid. Of the country's five bowl games (and Cuba's Rhumba Bowl), the Sugar and the Rose were strongly considering extending an invitation to the Crimson Tide.

Yet it wasn't to be.

The first problem was Bernie Moore's powerful LSU squad. Although the Bayou Bengals' record was marred by a tie with Texas, they they had been victorious against all their conference foes that season. Thus, they claimed the SEC crown.

LSU's Mike the Tiger debuted
in 1936. Shown here with
trainer Mike Chambers.
Yet with matching unbeaten records both the Tigers and the Crimson Tide held out hope to be matched against Pacific Coast Conference champion Washington (7-1-1) in the 1937 Rose Bowl game. As November dragged into December the Huskies dithered on making a decision.

Many observers thought Alabama's chances were quite good since the Huskies' coach Jimmie Phelan had been teammates with the Tide's Thomas at Notre Dame. On the other hand, the Tide had stunned Washington 20-19 in their first meeting, the 1926 Rose Bowl.

Finally, after putting off the decision for weeks, Washington balked at playing the powerful SEC teams and tapped Pittsburgh as their opponent in Pasadena's inter-sectional showcase.

The choice sparked a firestorm of criticism. Sportswriters from coast to cost immediately blasted the decision citing Pittsburgh's record – the Panthers had been tied by Fordham 0-0 and beaten by Duquesne 7-0 – as well as three previous losses in the Rose Bowl game itself.

Maxwell Stiles of the Los Angeles Examiner went as far as to dismiss Pitt as "the greatest 'el foldo' of all the teams to ever play in Pasadena." Sid Ziff of the Los Angeles Evening Herald & Express dismissed the match up as "just blah" and said "Washington can have the game, we don't want it."

John Lardner of the American Newspaper Alliance regaled his readers with jokes he had heard about the contest:
"For instance, there is the one about the two football teams named Pat and Mike. ‘Have you been asked to the Rose Bowl?' says Mike. ‘Hell, no,' says Pat. ‘I'm undefeated."
Meanwhile, Alabama and LSU fans responded by dispatching a deluge of angry telegrams to Washington's athletic director Ray Eckmann. A sampling:
"I really don't blame you. You probably have to look out for your dear boys, even to tucking them to bed at night. The way Alabama has licked the West's pets in past games, it must be embarrassing."
"You're afraid to invite LSU, so let me wish you success with your game against Vassar."
"Our boys play football. What do the Pacific Coast Lord Fauntleroys play? Touch football?"
"There is no question in my mind but that Pittsburgh was selected because you wanted to satisfy the motion picture industry."
Pittsburgh would end up having the last laugh. The Panthers walloped the Huskies 21-0 on New Years Day 1937 and claimed the national championship.

LSU's consolation prize would be an invitation to play the Santa Clara Broncos in the third annual Sugar Bowl. The favored Bayou Bengals were subsequently bested in New Orleans' Tulane Stadium by the California squad, 21-14.

And Alabama's 1936 team stayed home and remained the only major college squad without a loss on its record. In the Associated Press poll, the first ever tabulated, the Tide finished fourth in the nation.

"Can you imagine going through an unbeaten season with only one tie and not getting a bowl bid?" Thomas remarked a decade later. "Things are different today. You can lose several times and still get into a bowl."

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The Hiring of Frank Thomas as Coach of the Crimson Tide

In April 1930, Crimson Tide head coach Wallace Wade shocked Alabama by announcing he was leaving at the end of the next season to take over the job at Duke University. Although the school was deluged with applications for the position, Wade recommended Georgia assistant Frank Thomas as his replacement.

Frank Thomas
A former player under Knute Rockne at Notre Dame, the 31-year-old Thomas had already earned a reputation among his peers as an offensive tactician. After a successful three-year stint as head coach at Chattanooga, he returned to Georgia to serve as backfield coach under his former Irish teammate Henry Mehre.

With Alabama president George H. Denny's approval, Wade phoned Thomas an set up a meeting with the younger coach at a  track meet at Legion Field. It was pouring down rain when the two talked beneath the stands. Wade told Thomas he was being considered for the job and to expect a call from Denny.

After the search committee vetted Thomas' candidacy and a release from his contract with Georgia was obtained a meeting to formally sign the Alabama contract was arranged for July 15 in the Birmingham office of Borden Burr, a former Alabama player who remained involved with the program. Also on hand was Ed Camp, a columnist for the Atlanta Journal who had also recommended Thomas for the job.

After a short talk, the three-year contract to succeed Wade as the coach of the Alabama football program after the 1930 season was presented and signed.

Then Denny addressed his new employee:
"Mr. Thomas, now that you have accepted our proposition I will give you the benefit of my views based on many years of observation. It is my conviction that material is 90 percent, coaching ability ten percent. I desire further to say that you will be provided with the 90 percent and that you will be held to strict accounting for delivering the remaining ten percent."
As Thomas and Camp left the office, the new Crimson Tide coach grabbed the newspaperman by the arm and said, "Those were the hardest and coldest words I ever heard. Do you reckon his figures were right?"

"I think the proportion was considerably off," Camp replied. "But there is no doubt the good doctor meant what he said."

Monday, May 21, 2012

Frank Thomas and William Lee

Alabama head coach Frank Thomas confers with team captain Bill Lee during practice prior to the 1935 Rose Bowl. The Crimson Tide defeated Stanford in the New Year's Day classic, 29-13.

Friday, May 18, 2012

The 1938 Rose Bowl Drive Chart

The drive chart and stats for Alabama's 13-0 loss to California in the 1938 Rose Bowl. The information was compiled and drawn by Ward Nash, a pioneering sports statistician from Los Angeles.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Jefferson Jackson Coleman

Jeff Coleman, Frank Thomas and Wallace Wade
For more than half a century, Jeff Coleman served as an administrator for the University of Alabama athletics department overseeing an era of massive growth made possible partially due to the success of the Crimson Tide football program.

A native of Livingston, Alabama, Coleman enrolled at the University of Alabama in 1924. The following year the 19-year-old signed on as the student secretary to head football coach Wallace Wade. He also served as student manager to the squad and regularly penned stories about the team for various newspapers including The New York Times.

Two years later Coleman, although still a student, was named the business manager for the athletic department, a position he held for the next 27 years. In 1954 he was named the director of alumni affairs which he remained until his retirement in 1974.

During his time as an administrator he served as UA's Director of Athletics, the secretary of the university's faculty committee on Athletics and the school's purchasing agent. He also founded the University Supply Store and the University Club.

In the late 1960s, Coleman chaired the committee that oversaw the planning and construction of Memorial Coliseum which opened in January 1968. The facility was re-named in his honor in 1988. He also handled several expansions to Denny Stadium during his time as an administrator, seeing it grow from an 11,000-person venue when it opened in 1929 to seating more than 60,000 by the time he retired.

A stalwart fan of the football team, Coleman saw his first game in 1924. Between that contest and 1970, Coleman only missed just two contests. At the time of his death in 1995 he was the only person to have attended every single one of the Crimson Tide's bowl games, starting with the 1926 Rose Bowl where he sat by famed sportswriter Grantland Rice.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Julia Tutwiler Hall

The original Tutwiler Hall on the University of Alabama campus photographed in the mid-1940s. Built in 1914, the womens's dormotory was named for Julia Tutwiler, daughter of the first professor of ancient languages Henry Tutwiler. In 1892, the younger Tutwiler persuaded the 11th president of the university, Richard Channing Jones, to allow women as students which was permitted the following year.

Doster Hall is to the right and the west stands of Denny Stadium are visible behind it. At the time, the capacity of the football venue stood at 31,000. Today, the Rose Administration building is located at the site of the original Tutwiler Hall and a new residence facilty bearing the name was built in 1968.

Friday, May 11, 2012

A 1931 Tournament of Roses Souvenir

An envelope that enclosed a series of picture postcards from the 1931 Tournament of Roses Parade. Some of the photos are shown below. Alabama bested Washington State 24-0 in that year's Rose Bowl game.


Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Champ Pickens and the 1926 Rose Bowl Invitation

Alabama's first Rose Bowl appearance may have been partly due to a sleight of hand by one of the Crimson Tide's greatest promoters, Champ Pickens.

Champ Pickens
Pickens, who had been a manager for the University of Alabama's1896 squad, remained close to the program after leaving school. He worked tirelessly to promote the Alabama team as well as football across the south.

When Wallace Wade arrived in Tuscaloosa and the Crimson Tide began to dominate its regional competition and Pickens believed Alabama should set its sights even higher.

By the middle of November 1925, Alabama had blasted through the regular season with such dominance that the only points scored against them had been a touchdown by Birmingham Southern College. The second-to-last game of the regular season was a tilt against Florida in Montgomery for the Southern Conference crown. 

The champion's trophy was a 22-inch high sterling silver cup lined with gold known as The Pickens Trophy as it was donated by none other than Champ himself since 1923. (The trophy was retired in 1926 after Alabama won it for the third time, retaining it.)

In his autobiography, Pickens claimed to have then set in motion the events that lead to the Tide playing in Pasadena. Visiting with Wade in the coach's hotel room the day before the game, Pickens suggested taking the team to play in the Rose Bowl.

Wade responded, "Let's do."

Pickens said he then put a call into the Governor, William Brandon, who he knew personally and asked if he could send a telegram with the state official's name on it. Brandon agreed. So Pickens sent off the following telegram to the chairman of the Tournament of Roses Committee, Les Henry.
Speaking unofficially and without knowledge of the University of Alabama authorities, I want to call your attention to the Crimson Tide's great football record this year. Alabama plays Florida tomorrow for the championship. Please watch for the score. If you are interested in a real opponent for your West Coast team, then give Alabama serious consideration. 
- W.W. Brandon, Governor of Alabama
The next day, Alabama beat Florida 32-0 and claimed the Southern Championship. After the game, Pickens  received a return telegram (under the governor's name) from Henry. The Tournament of Roses official thanked Brandon for the earlier telegram and noted "Alabama will be given the utmost consideration" for the upcoming bowl game.

Alabama wrapped up the season with a 27-0 drubbing of Georgia. Shortly afterward, the Crimson Tide was invited to play in the New Years Day classic in Pasadena. According to Pickens, Henry later admitted the committee had never heard of Alabama until receiving the "governor's" telegram.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Alabama's 1935 Rose Bowl Offensive Line

(left to right) Paul Bryant, Bill Lee, Bob Ed Morrow, Kay Francis,
Charlie Marr, Benn Boswell and Don Hutson.

Friday, May 4, 2012

The 1946 Tournament of Roses Parade

The 57th Tournament of Roses Queen and her Royal Court
The 1946 Tournament of Roses was the first to be held following the end of World War II and the event's centerpiece parade garnered a extraordinarily large amount of attention and participation.

Admiral William F "Bull" Halsey was the grand marshall of the parade which was comprise of more than 50 floats. Officials said the crowds that descended on Pasadena to see the parade were the largest in the history of the event.

1946 Tournament of Roses
Queen Patricia Auman
The Rose Queen was Patricia Auman, a 17-year-old student at Pasadena Junior College. After her year-long duties concluded, Auman chose to attend Stanford rather than pursue a movie career like many other Rose Queens.

Years later, when interviewed by the Los Angeles Times, she said she greatly enjoyed the experience but had resevations about what it meant and the commercialization of the event.

“While the tournament has always stressed it wasn’t a beauty contest I don’t like the emphasis on looks," she told the paper in 1979. "I wish they would do away with it entirely or combine it with achievement; what a person is, now how they look."

Alabama defeated the University of Southern California 34-13 in the 1946 Rose Bowl, the final appearance of the Crimson Tide in the New Year's Day classic.

The color photograph above was taken by Huntington Park resident O.W. Sjogren. Several of his shots of this Rose parade and a few others have recently been uploaded onto Flickr.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Henry Gorham Crisp

Tide assistant Hank Crisp with former player Johnny Mack Brown and
 head coach Wallace Wade during practices before the 1931 Rose Bowl.
Henry Gorham Crisp, universally referred to as "Hank," was one of the most reliable fixtures within Alabama's athletics for more than four decades. The North Carolina native coached a number of sports at The Capstone and twice served as the top administrator of the athletic department.

Although Crisp lost his hand cutting corn to fill a silo when he was 13, he became a standout athlete at Hampden-Sydney College and Virginia Polytechnical Institute (now known as Virginia Tech). He was the captain of the undefeated 1918 VPI squad that claimed the South Atlantic Intercollegiate Athletic Association Championship.

After graduating he spent a year playing professional baseball then took the job as Alabama's head track coach in February 1921. He followed Charles A. Bernier, his coach at both VPI and Hampden-Sydney, who had been named Alabama's head basketball coach and athletic director. Crisp quickly became a fixture within Crimson Tide Athletics.

Crisp was a three-sport
letterman at VPI.
Upon arriving in Tuscaloosa he became an assistant football coach under Xen Scott and his contribution to Alabama's gridiron success over the ensuing decades was significant. He has been credited with inaugurating Spring football practice at Alabama within a few months of his arrival.

Crisp served as an assistant under five Crimson Tide football coaches; Scott, Wallace Wade, Frank Thomas, Red Drew and J. B. Whitworth. Today he is perhaps best remembered as the man who recruited Paul W. Bryant, then a standout high school player in Fordyce, Arkansas.

Renowned as a strict taskmaster and disciplinarian, Crisp was considered one of the best line coaches in the country. Despite his tough demeanor, those who played for him invariably noted his compassionate nature. Bryant himself later praised his former coach and colleague for his ability to get players mentally prepared to compete.

"He was a field coach," Bryant said. "He got it done out there on the field and not everybody can do that."

In 1924, Crisp was named Alabama's head basketball coach and he held that position until 1942 then returned for the 1946 season. His career record was 266-129, a respectable .673. In 1930 the team rolled up a 20-0 record and claimed the Southern Conference championship. In 1934 Crisp's Crimson Tide team claimed the first of Alabama's six SEC titles.

He was also the school's head baseball coach in 1928 and 1929.

During World War II, Crisp served as the head of civilian physical instruction for the US Navy at the training station on the University of Georgia campus. He was an assistant coach with the Skycrackers football team under Lieutenant Raymond Wolf and was on the sidelines in 1942 when they beat the Crimson Tide 35-9 in Birmingham.

Crisp returned to Alabama to assist with the 1946 Rose Bowl team but then left to coach Miami Seahawks of the now defunct All-America conference. After one year he took an assistant coach job at Tulane under Henry Franka. In 1950, Alabama coach Red Drew brought Crisp back to Tuscaloosa as an assistant.

Crisp served as Alabama's Director of Athletics from 1931 to 1939 and again from 1954 through 1957 when he stepped aside in order to allow Bryant to return. Crisp continued on as the director of intramural sports until his retirement from the university in 1967.

On Jan. 23, 1970, the 73-year-old Crisp collapsed and died during a reception an hour before he was to be inducted into the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame. Today Alabama's indoor football practice facility is named in his honor.

Monday, April 30, 2012

The 1931 Rose Bowl Drive Chart

The drive chart and stats for Alabama's 24-0 victory over Washington State in the 1931 Rose Bowl. The information was compiled and drawn by Ward Nash, a pioneering sports statistician from Los Angeles.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Clem Gryska

Clem Gryska was a Stubenville, Ohio native who came to Tuscaloosa in the late 1940s to play for the Crimson Tide and became a fixture in the school's football program and athletic department for almost a half a century. 

Gryska lost most of his right hand in a childhood accident making him ineligible for service in World War II. Instead he became a blocking back for Frank Thomas' famed "War Babies" squads. 

He was a freshman on the undefeated 1945 team that claimed the SEC championship and trounced USC in the 1946 Rose Bowl. Under coach Red Drew, Gryska was moved to end where he earned letters in 1947 and 1948. 

Following graduation, Gryska coached high school football in the state but returned to The Capstone in 1960 as an assistant under Paul Bryant. He was the Tide's freshman coach as well as recruiting coordinator until 1976 when he was promoted to Assistant Athletic Director, also under Bryant. 

After stepping down in 1993, Gryska became the director of the Paul W. Bryant Museum until his retirement in 2010. Gryska passed away on April 23, 2012 at the age of 83.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Dixie Howell and the University of Mexico Pumas

Dixie Howell, Los Angeles Mexican consul Ricardo Hill and Ernesto
Navas, the captain of the 1935 University of Mexico team.
After leading Alabama to a victory over Stanford in the 1935 Rose Bowl, halfback Dixie Howell took a job as the head coach of the football team of the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México in Mexico City. The former All-American brought his Crimson Tide teammate Charles Marr with him to Mexico as an assistant.

American oil magnate Harry Ford Sinclair sponsored the squad, footing Howell and Marr's salaries as well as purchasing the team's equipment.

The Pumas highlighted their 1935 season with a series of games against US squads. They traveled to Los Angeles on Sept. 21 for their first game but were trounced by Occidental College 26-7. The next contest against Lamar ended in a 32-0 blowout and then a 27-7 loss against Louisiana College. Howell and Marr eventually suited up and played for the Mexican team in a game against St. Mary's College of Texas.

Despite the losses north of the border, the Pumas would go on to a successful season in the Organización Nacional Estudiantil de Futbol Americano league, claiming the school's third national championship.

Howell did not return to Mexico City the next season but took a job as an assistant coach at Tulane. He would later go on to become head coach at Arizona State University and the University of Idaho. In 1946 he served as backs coach at Alabama.

Marr took over the head coaching duties at the University of Mexico for 1936 and 1937 claiming the Mexican championship in each season.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Bebe Daniels Meets the 1925 Alabama Crimson Tide


On their first visit to California for the 1926 Rose Bowl, the Alabama Crimson Tide team made a stop in Hollywood for a few publicity shots. Here silent film star Bebe Daniels exhorts Coach Wallace Wade (with hat in hand) and the Alabama team on the fine points of strategy for the upcoming contest against Washington in Pasadena.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Frank Thomas Breaks Down the Alabama Crimson Tide

In 1935 Alabama beat Stanford in the Rose Bowl, the third victory for the Crimson Tide in Pasadena's New Year's Day classic. The popularity of the team and their head coach Frank Thomas brought unprecedented media attention including a lengthy feature in Sport Story Magazine.

Street & Smith was a New York City publishing house that pioneered pulp fiction and dime magazines. In 1923, they introduced the first sports pulp title, Sport Story Magazine. Twelve years later the bi-weekly magazine was the leading sports publication of its type in the country.

Thomas was featured in a cover article in the first October issue "The Air Route to Victory." Written in the first person, the story is credited "As told to Arthur Grahame." Grahame was a prolific writer for Street & Smith's various titles during the 1930s and had penned a fictional story about Alabama football for the magazine in 1927.

Although ghost written, the 10-page story provides a detailed look into Thomas' approach to coaching as well as his thoughts on Alabama's performance in the 1935 Rose Bowl game. He starts by explaining how he came to Tuscaloosa and his use of the Notre Dame's "simple and elastic" system which he had learned in South Bend under Knute Rockne.

"[The Notre Dame system] is a good system but it isn't the only system," he said. "Like every other successful football system, it is built on a foundation of skill in the game's fundamentals, blocking , tackling and ball handling."

Thomas then goes on to credit Alabama's win in Pasadena to the fact the Crimson Tide had a "triple threat" player in Dixie Howell -- one that could run, pass and kick extremely well -- and that Stanford didn't. Then Thomas explains how the Alabama pass attack worked, breaking down two plays in detail.

In the first (Diagram No. 1) he explained the offense was designed to use two of the backs to provide extra protection for Howell while the third bolted upfield with the two receivers.

"The defense had no way of knowing to which of the three eligible receivers the pass would go," Thomas wrote. It went to Don Hutson -- Alabama's so-called "pass catching, speed merchant end" -- who subsequently scored. (It may be this play.)

The second play (Diagram No. 2) used a similar deception. As Howell dropped back Alabama's "other end" Paul Bryant dashed six yards and then immediately cut across the field.

"The defense figured that the pass would go to Bryant," Thomas explained. "It didn't."

Again Alabama used an array of backs to block for Howell buying time for the play to develop. Hutson ran six yards out and stopped then, instead of blocking the defensive back for Bryant, he turned completely around and waited for the ball. Howell then threw it to him for a long gain.