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.