Tuesday, September 3, 2013

The Crimson Tide Special En Route to the 1938 Rose Bowl


In December 1937, the University of Alabama scheduled a special Southern Pacific train to carry the Crimson Tide football team and their supporters to Pasadena for the New Years Day game against the University of California. As in years past, the transportation for the Bama backers to the West Coast was organized by Jefferson Coleman, the UA athletic department business manager.

The 14-car train with 248 passengers dubbed "The Crimson Tide Special" by sportswriters left Tuscaloosa on Dec. 21 and traveled the 2,500 miles to California in three days, arriving at the Pasadena station at 9 a.m. on Christmas Eve morning.

The trip was not uneventful for the squad. During a practice on a rain-drenched field while on a stopover at San Antonio, Texas, Alabama player Leroy Munskie sustained a severe cut over his right eye that required several stiches. The cut was re-injured in a collision during another practice in a Tuscon, AZ stop. The injury sparked concern over if he would be able to play in the New Year's Day game.

Another train carrying Alabama supporters departed Tuscaloosa on Dec. 27 with about 150 passengers and two more trains, one leaving Montgomery and another from Birmingham, departed the same day with about 200 additional Crimson Tide backers.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

1926 Rose Bowl Player of the Game Johnny Mack Brown

The Dothan Antelope put his speed and elusiveness on display at the 1925 Rose Bowl against Washington. Down by five to the Huskies in the third quarter, Alabama's Grant Gillis dropped back to his own 41 and launched a bomb to Brown who snagged it at the 25-yard-line at a dead run and galloped in the go-ahead touchdown.

Two plays later, Washington fumbled near their own 40 and the Alabama offense went to work again. On the first play of the drive Brown dashed down the field while Pooley Hubert dropped back and launched it. The Antelope looked over his shoulder and reeled in the pass at the three-yard-line and scored on the next stride.

In addition to his two touchdown receptions, Brown carried the ball eight times for 78 yards, averaging 6.3 yards a carry. He was later named Alabama's player of the game for his performance. Washington's MVP, George "Wildcat" Wilson, said of his foe in crimson, "That Mack Brown was all they said of him and more. He was about the fastest man in a football suit I have ever bumped up against."

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Diagramming Alabama & California's Key Plays

In the week prior to the 1938 Rose Bowl, the Newspaper Enterprise Association's sports artist Art Krenz produced this illustration featuring a play of each of the teams -- Alabama and California.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

The 1942 Cotton Bowl: Alabama vs Texas A&M

Alabama and Texas A&M met on the gridiron for the first time on Jan. 1, 1942 in the Cotton Bowl in Dallas, Texas. With the United States entrance into World War II less than a month before, football was not the primary thing on the mind of many.

“The whole mood of the country was downcast,” Alabama’s All-American end Holt Rast recalled years later. “We knew we were in a war and I was kind of anxious to get the game and my college degree behind me so I could join up and help my country.”

Over the course of the 1941 season, Texas A&M dominated the Southwest Conference with a record-breaking passing game that had tallied a total of 1,658 passing yards. The Aggies finished with a 9-1-0 record, a conference championship and ranked No. 9 in the nation. And they had outscored their opposition 260-46.

Despite a reputation as a run-heavy offense, Alabama’s air attack was even more potent than the Aggies. The Tide's "Notre Dame Box" offense lead to 1,698 yards aloft during the regular season. Still, that didn’t translate into the same kind of success that Texas A&M enjoyed. Alabama ended the season had an 8-2-0 record and were ranked 20th. Despite facing one of the toughest schedules in the nation, Alabama had outscored their opponents 234-64.

While the two teams seemed well matched on paper, Texas A&M’s record of success made them the favorite in the eyes of the oddsmakers. The Aggies went into Dallas as two time conference champions having also earned the national title in 1939. The 1942 Cotton Bowl was their third straight bowl game while two-loss Alabama had not had a post-season contest since the 13-0 drubbing by Cal in the 1938 Rose Bowl.

The Aggies coach, Homer Norton, was a native of Birmingham, a fact Thomas shared with his team prior to the game. “He has a lot of friends in Alabama,” Thomas said. “If we lose this one we’ll never hear the last of it. We’ll never live it down.”

In addition to the wartime setting, the North Texas winter weather conspired to dampen the mood of the game as well. The temperature at the 1:15 p.m. kickoff was 20 degrees but a crowd 33,000 spectators braved the brisk conditions for the highly anticipated contest.

The game turned into a defensive slugfest with both offenses doing their best to give the game away. Texas A&M tallied no less than seven interceptions and five lost fumbles. Alabama converted just a single first down, punted no less than sixteen times and gave up 81 yards in penalties. The Aggies outrushed Alabama 115 to 59 and outpassed the Crimson Tide 194 to 16.

The Crimson Tide scoring was fueled by the heads up play of halfback Jimmy Nelson. In the second quarter, the All-American returned an Aggie punt 72 yards for a touchdown in the second quarter to even the score. He scored again in the third quarter by recovering a Texas A&M fumble and dashing 21 yards to the end zone to put Alabama ahead 20-7. Nelson also snagged two of the Aggies’ interceptions.

Rast returned an interception for a touchdown to put the final points on the scoreboard for the Crimson Tide. With a 29-7 lead, Thomas put in his second and third stringers who gave up two touchdowns before time expired. The final score: Alabama 29 –Texas A&M 21.

“Now when they tell me Southwest Conference football is better than ours, I’ll just laugh at them,” Thomas quipped afterward. “They play good football but we play a better brand.”

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Alabama vs Georgia 1922

Alabama's Charles Bartlett turns the corner
for a 7-yard gain against Georgia in the 1922 game.
When Montgomery's Cramton Bowl opened in 1922, Alabama's "Thin Red Line" was intended to be the inaugural game for the stadium. Instead, the university's freshman squad was granted the honor as UA president George H. Denny succeeded in having the planned showdown with Georgia relocated to the venue.

It seemed a sharp business move as the Bulldogs under Herman J. Stegeman had become a southern power rolling up a 15-2-2 record the prior two years. As the Alabama game approached, Georgia's record wasn't as stellar as expected since the Bulldogs  had not won a game in November, starting with a tight 7-3 loss to Auburn the first Saturday of the month.

The Tide, meanwhile, were riding high after defeating John Heisman's University of Pennsylvania squad just three weeks prior. The full page ad in the Montgomery Advertiser for the Cramton Bowl contest explicitly noted this feat.

In the first quarter Alabama was driving to the end zone with Charles Bartlett completing key passes to Pooley Hubert and Alan MacCartee to reach the Georgia eight-yard-line. Then disaster struck as MacCartee fumbled and the Bulldogs' Fletcher recovered and galloped ninety-five yards for a touchdown. It would be the Bulldogs only score of the game.

Bama's Bartlett scored on a four-yard run late in the first half and then booted a field goal in the third to put his team up 10-6, which would prove to be the final score.

The game would be the last for Georgia's Stegeman who was replaced by George C. "Kid" Woodruff the following season. Alabama would go on crush Mississippi A&M the following week to conclude the 6-3-1 season and bring the tenure of head coach Xen Scott to an end. The Tide would be led by Wallace Wade in 1923.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Alabama's Frank Thomas Educates the Media

Frank Thomas
Alabama's legendary coach Frank Thomas was famously reserved. Never saying much more than necessary and rarely ever raising his voice, he was still able to convey a sense of complete command.

"Hell yes I was was scared of him," admitted his one time player and assistant coach Paul W. Bryant many years later. 

But Thomas understood the need to build bridges with the press due to the high profile of the Crimson Tide program and he was downright accommodating to newspapermen who covered his team.

Stuart X. Stephenson, the sports editor with The Montgomery Advertiser for almost 40 years until his retirement in 1968, once noted, "If any sports scribe alive ever disliked Frank Thomas, I didn't hear it."

In his 1970 book, Quote... Unquote, Stephenson shared this anecdote of how Thomas labored to ensure the men who wrote about the Alabama team understood what they saw on the field during the season.
Tommy knew the value of good press relations and he always made the writing fraternity glad they visited the Capstone.
Several times during a knockdown, drag-out scrimmage he would saunter over to the side line and ask: "What did you think of that play?" With only a speck of knowledge of the technical phases of what had taken place, I'd make the admission.
Then he'd invite me to come on the field and stand behind the offensive team. "I want to show you this in slow motion." I learned then why so many prefer to sit in the end zones to watch the line play.
To be sure, big league football coaches didn't have time to run important plays in slow motion for sports writers. But Frank Thomas did on numerous occasions.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Rudy Vallée and "Football Freddy"

By 1931, singer Rudy Vallée was a bona fide media sensation. His performances were invariably sold out and the screaming adoration of female fans would be repeated three decades later with the Beatles. He had appeared in his first feature film, Glorifying the American Girl, which was to launch a robust movie career over the next several decades.

But radio was the medium Vallée dominated. As one of the first of the "crooners" the medium played to the strengths of his singing style and that fueled his overwhelming popularity. In 1928 he debuted his radio show, The Fleischmann Hour, with an estimated 200 million listeners. It was a live variety revue with various guests that became a predecessor to the modern television talk show.

Vallée's show was popular among the college crowd and he played to the interests of his audience on his show. So when he chose to sing a tune about a football star he dedicated it one of the heroes of the 1931 Rose Bowl, Alabama's All-American tackle Fred Sington.

The famed singer and the football star had met during the Crimson Tide's trip west courtesy of former Alabama standout, Johnny Mack Brown, who had starred on the squad in the 1920s but had gone west pursuing a film career in Hollywood.

The song "Football Freddy" was written by Edgar Leslie and Con Conrad in 1930 and due to Vallee's performance it became a hit. And, as a result, Sington's fame spread well beyond the football field.

Other performers committed the song to vinyl including Jack Purvis, Ted Wallace & his Campus Boys and the group Six Jumping Jacks whose version is probably the best known today.

Despite the interest the song sparked in Alabama's Sington, the tale told in "Football Freddy" wasn't exactly an autobiographical match. The lyrics focus far more on the player's romantic pursuits than his gridiron prowess. As one verse opines:
The women folks galore,
They know how he can score,
Especially when the lights are low
Football Freddy, rugged and tan.
Football Freddy, my collegiate man.
The tune also notes of Freddy; "he's not so good at school." That wasn't at all descriptive of the actual Fred Sington who was renowned for his academic excellence, as shown by his selection as a member of Phi Beta Kappa.

Friday, May 31, 2013

Bear Bryant at Vanderbilt

Vanderbilt's 1940 coaching staff (l to r): Assistant Paul Bryant,
Head Coach Red Sanders, assistants H.E. Alley and Jim Scoggins.
Following the 1935 season, Alabama end Paul W. Bryant had finished his career as a collegiate athlete. That spring his coach, Frank Thomas, sent him to Union College in Jackson, Tennessee, in order to teach that staff the Notre Dame offense run by the Crimson Tide. It was the first coaching experience for Bryant and it was followed by an offer to join Thomas’ staff as an assistant.

After four years, Bryant had earned his bachelors degree at Alabama and began looking for other coaching opportunities. He applied for a place on Frank Howard’s staff at Clemson but before he got a reply, Red Sanders of Vanderbilt stopped by in Tuscaloosa and offered him a job on the Commodore’s staff as an offensive line coach.

Sanders had planned to offer the job to Mississippi State assistant Murray Warmath but a chance conversation with Nashville sportswriter Fred Russell convinced him to take a chance on the protegee of Alabama's Thomas.

Sanders was in his first year with the Commodores. His predecessor, J. Ray Morrison, had been unable to keep the Vanderbilt program at the lofty heights it enjoyed under Dan McGugin. The first season under Sanders wasn't expected to be a dramatic change but it started off auspiciously enough with a 19-0 pasting of Washington & Lee.

The second contest was a hard fought 6-7 loss to Princeton in New Jersey and by the end of it the Commodore squad had been severely diminished by injuries. Set to play a mediocre Kentucky team at home in Nashville the following week, bettors were favoring the Wildcats. The odds got longer when Sanders took ill with appendicitis the Thursday before the game. With the head coach in the hospital, the top assistant took over his coaching duties.

So on Oct. 12, 1940 Paul “Bear” Bryant walked the sideline as a head coach for the very first time in his long and illustrious career. The 27-year-old was so nervous he later claimed to have driven out into the country and “puked my guts out” the night before the contest. Sanders gave the team a pep talk from his hospital bed by telephone prior the game but it was Bryant who led them onto the field.

The Commodores managed to battle the Wildcats to a 7-7 tie that was marked by an incident between the young coach and official, Bill McMasters. Late in the game McMasters ejected Vandy’s Art Reborovich for slugging Kentucky halfback Noah Mullins. The call that infuriated Bryant and, urged on by Vandy manager Preacher Franklin, he began moving toward the referee. Kentucky Athletic Director Bernie Schiveley stepped in and physically restrained Bryant. The neophyte coach calmed down but the call still rankled.

“Naturally I thought the officials cheated us somehow, else we’d have won,” he said later. “No young coach is going to believe he lost on his own merit.”

Sanders returned for the next game and the Commodores would limp to a disappointing 3-6-1 record for the season but almost upset Alabama on the road. The next year Vanderbilt powered to an 8-2 record that included a 7-0 victory over Bryant’s former team.

Although the 1941 team was one of the strongest the Commodores had seen in years and Bryant had already developed a formidable reputation as a recruiter, the young assistant’s contract was not renewed. Bryant then threw his hat in the ring for the newly vacant head coaching position at Arkansas.

After three meetings with the governor, Bryant was convinced he would return to his home state as the coach of the flagship university’s football team. Everything changed on Dec. 7 when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. The next morning Bryant drove to Washington D.C. and enlisted in the Navy ending his head coaching hopes for the duration of the war.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Alabama vs UCLA 2000

On Sept. 2, 2000 I was one of 76,640 who filed into Rose Bowl stadium to watch the Alabama Crimson Tide play on that famed field for the first time in more than a half century. It is also the only time the Tide has played in the historic venue during a regular season game.

The game pitted No. 3 ranked Alabama against an unheralded UCLA squad helmed by Bob Toledo. When Freddie Millons returned a punt 71 yards for a touchdown in the first quarter, it seemed to be like the kind of day everyone wearing Crimson expected – a repeat of Alabama last game in Pasadena, a 34-14 trouncing of USC in the 1946 Rose Bowl.

Instead, UCLA responded with three touchdowns before Alabama could muster its first offensive scoring drive. The Bruins went on to claim a 35-24 victory. The last time the Tide had lost in the historic venue was almost 62 years prior when Cal claimed the victory in the 1938 Rose Bowl.

The Crimson Tide would go on to a 3-8 season that proved the final stanza of the Mike Dubose era in Tuscaloosa. UCLA made it to the post season but fell to Wisconsin 21-20 in the Sun Bowl.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

The Alabama Crimson Tide at the Grand Canyon

Mike Szecsi, Hank Crisp, Billy Brown, Lindy Hood, Wallace Wade,
Dink Campbell, Jimmie Moore, Joe Sharpe, Russell Taylor.
In December 1930, the train carrying the Alabama Crimson Tide to California to play Washington State in the Rose Bowl took a stop in Arizona at the Grand Canyon. The team stopped at the canyon on Dec. 22 but the visit was cut short because a practice in San Antonio, Texas had put them behind schedule. A tour of Phoenix was abandoned but the stopover there the team was presented a black donkey named "Poison" which they brought with them to Pasadena.


Thursday, April 11, 2013

Alabama Homecoming 1941

Alabama welcomed Kentucky to Denny Stadium on Nov. 1, 1941 for the Crimson Tide's homecoming game. University officials heralded the occasion as an opportunity to "re-dedicate" the school for the service of the state and the nation. "In sum," said the Tuscaloosa News in an editorial, "the day was more spiritual than physical, for those who follow the University both 'on and off the football field.' "

Inclement weather played havoc with the festivities. A Friday night pep rally planned at Denny Stadium had to be moved to the the University auditorium and, on Saturday, a relatively lackluster crowd of 11,000 showed up for the game itself. Prior to the kickoff University president Richard C. Foster (whom the school's auditorium would later be named for) dedicated the game to the country's active duty servicemen.

Alabama's all-conference star, halfback Jimmy Nelson, led the team to a 30-0 rout of the Wildcats. The Crimson Tide starters lodged a touchdown each of the first three quarters before turning the game over to the second team in the final period. The backups proceeded to score a pair of touchdowns in the final minutes of the game to finish the lopsided victory. Oddly, Alabama failed to score a single point after touchdown all afternoon.

Following the contest, UA's Million Dollar Band mingled with the Kentucky band and entertained the spectators who remained in the stadium with a 20-minute concert. The rainy weather gave way to clear skies for the late afternoon A Club smoker.

With the victory Alabama earned the No. 15 spot in the AP poll; the Tide's first appearance in the rankings that season.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Alabama vs Pensacola Naval Air Base 1945

Alabama coaches Tilden Campbell, Hank Crisp and
 Frank Thomas watch the game from the Tide bench.
Just 7,500 fans came to Denny Stadium on Nov. 24, 1945 to see the No. 3 ranked Crimson Tide crush the Pensacola Naval Air Base Goslings 55-6. The Tides' first string scored three touchdowns in their first three possessions and then left the rest of the game to the backups. It was the eighth straight win for Alabama who had just been invited to play in the 1946 Rose Bowl game.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Bernard Patrick "Tony" Holm

Tony Holm was a standout running back for Wallace Wade's powerful teams in the late 1920s, who would go onto a journeyman career in the pro ranks that included a spot on the first Pittsburgh Steelers roster.

A native of Birmingham, Holm played at Fairfield High School before heading to Tuscaloosa in 1926. At jsut more than six feet and 214 pounds, Holm was considered physically imposing for a back in that era. His size allied with a "high knee action" running style made him difficult to tackle. His running prowess earned him sobriquets such as "The Battering Buckaroo" from sports writers.

While he was a productive player in the Tide's varsity backfield in 1927 and 1928, it was the 1929 season that made him a star. Alabama began that year's campaign bulldozing its first three opponents but then traveled to Knoxville to face Tennessee. The revived Volunteer squad under Major Robert Neyland had surprised the Crimson Tide in Tuscaloosa the season before earning a 15-13 victory. Alabama was looking for payback and as shot at the conference title.

The game proved to be a match of almost complete equals with the two teams battling to a stalemate. The outcome hinged on a punt of Holm's that was blocked and then recovered by Tennessee. The Vols drove to the Tide two-yard-line and then Tennessee's Gene McEver pulled off a play-action fake and ran in for the score. Tennessee won 6-0.

With injuries to backfield stars Billy Hicks, "Flash" Suther and "Monk" Campbell, Alabama's hopes of a championship season dimmed. When Holm went down with a broken rib in a 13-0 loss to Vanderbilt all seemed lost. The Crimson Tide's odds against an undefeated Kentucky team in Montgomery's Cramton Bowl seemed remote.

Holm entered the game "bandaged from his belt up, taped fro his waste down and reeking of liniments and lotion" but it didn't seem to hinder him at all. He grabbed the opening kickoff and ran it back 86 yards to the Wildcat's 15-yard-line. Over the next 60 minutes he would score three of the Tide's touchdowns while stymieing Kentucky's offense with his kicks and blocking. Alabama won 24-13.

The next week Holm repeated his performance in a 14-0 drubbing of Georgia Tech in Atlanta. He scored the Tide's two touchdowns, snagged a key interception and ran for 128 yards while slashing the Golden Tornado with his passing and punting prowess. Despite another stellar performance against Georgia in Birmingham to close the season, the Tide fell to the Bulldogs 12-0.

Holm's 1,387 yards on the season -- almost half of the team's total gained on the ground -- earned him All-Conference and All-American honors.

After unsuccessfully trying to enter West Point to play for Army (he was three months too old), Holm started his professional career with the Providence, RI Steamrollers in 1930 but moved on to   the Portsmouth VA Spartans the following season. In 1932 he was on the Chicago Cardinals roster but at the start of the 1933 season Holm was part of the very first Pittsburgh Pirates squad -- the franchise that would later become famous as the Steelers.

The 1933 Pittsburgh Pirates.

In the Pirates' inaugural game against the New York Giants on Sept. 20, a powerful 65 yard punt by Holm led to his team's only points. When the His kick pinned the Giants on their own one-yard-line and when they were forced to punt, the Pirate's Johnny Oehler blocked it and earned the safety. The visiting Giants would claim a 23-2 victory.

Holm played nine games for the Pirates but a leg injury cut his season short. He finished the season with 406 yards passing and 160 yards rushing, his best marks as a pro. He joined the American Professional Football League's Charlotte NC Bantams as a player coach in 1934 but resigned after three games, ending his playing career.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

The 1945 Rose Bowl

On Jan. 1, 1945 the University of Tennessee played in their second (and last) Rose Bowl. They lost 25-0 to USC.

Monday, April 1, 2013

The 1940 Rose Bowl

On Jan. 1, 1940 the University of Tennessee played in their first Rose Bowl game. They lost 14-0 to USC.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Rose Bowl Postcard

A postcard of the Rose Bowl stadium in Pasadena, California during one of the venue's New Year's Day inter-sectional games from the 1920s.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

The 1930 Alabama Football Banquet

A telegram from Atlanta Georgian sports editor Jimmy Burns
to Alabama Coach Wallace Wade. 
Alabama's annual football banquet for the 1930 season was held  Dec. 2, at the McLester Hotel in Tuscaloosa with more than 250 people in attendance. The Tide team was on hand as well as members of numerous local high school football teams. Alabama varsity squad had gone undefeated through the regular season and, just days prior, had received an invitation to play Washington State in the Rose Bowl on New Year's Day 1931.

"This team will go down as the greatest ever seen in the South," declared University of Alabama President George Denny at the banquet. "Greatest in exemplifying and illustrating the correct ideals of character, fine spirit, scholarship and devotion to duty in the daily walks under these old oak trees we love so well."

The event was bittersweet for Alabama fans as head coach Wallace Wade had announced his resignation prior to the season and his intention to accept the job as the head coach of Duke. Wade was presented a wristwatch from the the Junior Chamber of Commerce and the Merchant's Bureau who sponsored the banquet.

William Little, the captain of Alabama's first football team spoke as did V.H. Friedman, a longtime supporter of the team. Incoming Alabama coach Frank Thomas sent a telegram with his praise for Wade and the 1930 team as did Jimmy Burns, the sports editor at the Atlanta Georgian. Burns covered southern sports for 17 years at the paper, decamping in the late 1930s for Florida where he became  the Miami Herald's sports editor for almost a quarter century. The text of his telegram is below.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Alabama Rose Bowl Access Ribbons

In an era long before the laminated access card, lapel ribbons were used to identify people with various degrees of access to games. These are two such ribbons for Alabama Rose Bowl contests; a red photographer press pass for the 1927 Rose Bowl and a white spectator pass for the 1935 Rose Bowl.

Monday, March 18, 2013

The Moon Winx Court

A Moon Winx postcard from the 1930s.
The Moon Winx Court was built in the 1920s about four and a half miles outside of Tuscaloosa proper on the Birmingham Highway (US 11) which today is University Boulevard in Alberta City neighborhood of the city.

Originally owned by Meade Johnston, the motor court-style motel was a landmark for out-of-town visitors in the 1920s and 1930s. Its 20 rooms could accommodate a total of 56 guests.

Ad from a 1932 issue of the UA
humor magazine Rammer Jammer.
During its initial heyday the motel hosted celebrities such as St. Louis Cardinals' owner Sam Breadon, women's golfer Louise Suggs, singer Helen Jepson and famed explorer Dr. R. Chapman Andrews. It was also a regular stop for fans and officials accompanying teams playing the University of Alabama squads.

Eddie Jacquin, a sportswriter with the Champaign, Ill. News-Gazette, who traveled extensively in the south covering University of Illinois baseball during the 20's, wrote of the Moon Winx: "Tuscaloosa also goes down in our notebook of travels as having on its outskirts the finest motor court we have ever seen. It is called Moon Winx and nobody knows just why except that in Alabama on a certain night the moon winks! So there you are."

In 1946, Johnson retired to the Gulf Coast and sold the Moon Winx to Holt native Victor Rogers. During Rogers' tenure as owner the motel it was considered one of the most respectable lodgings for visitors in the area. Visiting luminaries such as actors Robert Mitchum and Allan "Rocky" Lane stayed at the motel in this period.

An ad for the motel in the Tuscaloosa 
News after the 1954 renovation.
It was during the 1940s that the Moon Winx became part of Quality Courts – a referral group that formed in the late 1930s to control the growing negative perception the public had of motels. Rogers' daughter, Susan Elmore, recalled in 2003 that vehicles with local license plates were required to have a very good reason to stay.

In 1950 the Moon Winx was expanded with the construction of a new building that boasted 12 air-conditioned rooms - increasing the motel's capacity by half. Four years later Rogers completed a renovation of the entire motel that included upgrading all the rooms with air-conditioning, television and telephones.

A restaurant, The Barn, was added during that period which was renowned for its home cooking. The restaurant became one of The Lamplighter chain in 1960.

Rogers sold the hotel in 1956 when he learned that traffic on the highway was to be routed to Skyland Boulevard. It would be the construction of Interstate 20 between Tuscaloosa and Birmingham during the 1960s that would lead to the decline of the motel. But two notable events occurred before that time which elevated the Moon Winx to a Tuscaloosa institution.

In 1959, artist Glenn House with the River Sign Company made a half moon sign for the motel using dayglo paint. The lettering and moon were outlined in neon lighting. The eye catching design has become indelibly associated with the business if not Tuscaloosa itself.

A year prior, Paul W. Bryant returned to take over the Crimson Tide football team and he began the practice of housing the squad at the Moon Winx the night before home games. The team would have their pre-game meal in a partitioned-off section of the motel dining room where Bryant would give his charges a final speech before heading to the stadium.

A Moon Winx postcard from the 1960s.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

"Big" Jim Folsom Campaigning With the Crimson Tide

UA President Raymond Paty, Alabama star Harry Gilmer and
Democratic candidate for Alabama Governor, Jim Folsom.
On Oct. 12, 1946, Alabama played its first game of the season at Denny Field against an outmatched Southwestern Louisiana squad (now UL-Lafayette). While spectators might have let their attention wander from the 54-0 blowout there was a distinctive six foot-eight inch figure on the sideline they could hardly miss -- "Big" Jim Folsom.

Folsom was a candidate in the state's gubernatorial election to be held in just three weeks time. The former University of Alabama student (he never graduated from the school) had survived an ugly party primary in the spring and was considered a shoo-in for the general election due to the weakness of the Republican party in the state.

According to the Tuscaloosa News, Folsom "was cheered by thousands of students. He gave the fans a thrill when he picked up and hugged and kissed a pretty co-ed cheerleader."

Folsom had been unsuccessful in his previous run for governor in 1942 but his calls for reform and colorful style earned him a growing base of support across the state. For the 1946 election he returned with his now trademark mop and bucket which he said would "clean out" the Capitol. As expected he was elected on Nov. 5, 1946 and was inaugurated the following January for the first of his two terms in office.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

1935 Rose Bowl Coaches Cartoon

A newspaper cartoon from December 1934 featuring the coaches of the upcoming Rose Bowl game; Alabama's Frank Thomas and Stanford's Claude "Tiny" Thornhill. The cartoon at the bottom features Stanford's mascot at the time, the Indian.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

The 1927 Rose Bowl from the Air

An aerial view of the Rose Bowl stadium during the 1927 game pitting Alabama against Stanford. This was the last game in the distinctive "horseshoe" version of the venue as the southern end was completed prior to the following year's contest. The 1927 game ended in a 7-7 tie.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

The 1948 Sugar Bowl Game Film

In 1947 Alabama rolled up an 8-2 regular season record under first year coach Harold Drew. The performance earned the Crimson Tide an invitation to play Texas in the 1948 Sugar Bowl at Tulane Stadium in New Orleans. The game was expected to be a clash of two of the country's hottest passers, Alabama's Harry Gilmer and the Texas' Bobby Layne. The result was a 27-7 defeat at the hands of the Longhorns, the fourth straight for the Tide against Texas.

Thursday, February 28, 2013

The Crimson Tide Special

In 1934, Alabama blasted through the regular season undefeated and garnered the team's fourth invitation to play in the Rose Bowl against western champion Stanford. The arrangements for the three-day trip to California were handled by Athletic Department business manager Jefferson Coleman and advertised in local newspapers the first week of December.

The 14-car "Crimson Tide Special" left Tuscaloosa on time at 10:20 a.m. Dec. 21 carrying the 35 members of the Alabama team and about 350 fans who signed up for the "Crimson Tide Special" offer. A host of coaches, athletic department officials and sports writers were part of the official party as well. An orchestra of university students, The Alabama Cavaliers, accompanied the group to play for the crowd on stop overs along the way.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Alabama's Riley Smith and the Washington Redskins

Riley Smith kicks a field goal in the first quarter of a Washington
Redskins game vs. the Brooklyn Dodgers on Oct. 30, 1938.  

In the first NFL Draft on on Feb. 8, 1936, Alabama halfback Riley Smith was chosen second behind inaugural Heisman Trophy winner Jay Berwanger from the University of Chicago. When Berwanger chose to forgo a pro career, Smith became the first NFL player selected in the draft to play in the league.

At the time, the Redskins were still located in Boston but owner George Marshall was already pondering moving the franchise due to lack of fan support. While the Harvard and Yale were packing in the crowds on Saturday the Redskins could only average 5,000 or so per contest. The situation darkened further with the arrival of the Boston Shamrocks AFL team in 1936.

With Smith at quarterback, the Redskins put together the team's first winning season as well as the franchise's first Championship appearance. The Green Bay Packers' offense, fueled by Smith's former Alabama teammate, receiver Don Hutson, defeated the Redskin's 21-6 in the title game.

Smith became a part of Redskins lore on Sept. 16, 1937 when he starred in the first game the team played in Washington D.C. after moving from Boston. In front of a capacity crowd of 24,492  Smith shone in the floodlights at Griffith Stadium against the New York Giants. He would score all of the Redskin's points in a 13-3 victory over the Giants; a 60-yard interception runback, two field goals and a conversion kick.

"With deft toes and hands and a streaky change of pace when that need arose, the comparatively unheralded Smith projected himself full into the spotlight of last night’s scene to win the game for Washington," gushed Washington Post sportswriter Shirley Povich of the performance.

Smith's starring role in the offense was already being eclipsed by the Redskins' first pick in the in 1937 draft: TCU's Sammy Baugh whose one-year $8,000 contract made him the highest paid player on the team. Yet, in 1937, the offensive punch of Smith, Baugh and receiver Wayne Milliner of Notre Dame proved to much for the opposition.

The 1937 Washington Redskins
The Redskins would go on to an 8-2 regular season record which earned them the NFL's Eastern Division Crown. Their reward was to face George Halas' formidable Chicago Bears at Wrigley Field in the NFL Championship game. Smith was undaunted by the Bear's reputation and guaranteed a Redskins victory. "Washington will beat the Bears and Sammy Baugh will be the man responsible."

On Dec. 12, 1937 the Redskins beat the Bears 28-21 in front of a crowd of 15,870 on a bitterly cold Chicago day. The 15-degree temperatures and freezing cold ground prompted Baugh to call it "the worst game I ever played in terms of the conditions." Still, Smith proved prescient as Baugh completed 17 of 34 passes for 352 yards and three touchdowns. The Redskins were the 1937 NFL Champions.

In his first two seasons, Smith had been a workhorse for the Redskins squad, missing only three minutes in 26 games. In 1938 he played just seven games due to injury and decided to retire from the sport saying "there just wasn't any money in it." Playing 60 minutes each week for just $250 a game, "just didn't add up."

After  his stint in the pros, Smith went on to coach at Washington & Lee University for several years. After serving in the Navy during World War II he returned to Alabama and went into real estate. He died in Mobile on Aug. 9, 1999.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

The Completion of the Rose Bowl Stadium

Built in 1922, Rose Bowl Stadium was initially constructed in a horseshoe shape with the south end of the venue left "open." The popularity of the annual inter-sectional contest in the mid-1920s, due partly to the success of the Alabama team's success there, provided the financial means to complete the stadium. The new southern section debuted with the 1928 Rose Bowl game featuring Pittsburgh and Stanford raising the stadium's capacity by 16,000 to 79,000.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

The Harry Gilmer Helmet

In the late 1940s, former Alabama star Harry Gilmer was one of a group of football players whose name appeared on "signature model" sports equipment. Gilmer's helmet, which featured his name on the front, was produced by the Chicago-based athletic equipment company Dubow. The company also produced a line of "Harry Gilmer" footballs as shown in the magazine advertisement below. Other football stars with similar licensing deals at that time included Notre Dame's Frank Leahy and Michigan's Tom Harmon.


Friday, February 15, 2013

The University of Alabama's Response to Collier's Magazine

On Jan. 4, 1941 Collier's magazine published an expose of the Alabama football program titled, "How to Keep Football Stars in College." The article was penned by a University of Alabama alumnus, William Bradford Huie, who claimed to have worked in the school's athletic department and witnessed firsthand many of the incidents he reported.

The Collier's story alleged the university used local high schools as a recruiting pool and when athletes arrived on campus they would be put in "sham" courses to maintain eligibility. Once the athletes were no longer able to play they were discarded, physically crippled and educationally bereft.

On Feb. 15 a report prepared by a University of Alabama faculty committee examining the allegations in the Huie article was released. The 14-page report broke down almost every detail of the story published by Collier's and concluded it was an almost complete fabrication. Moreover, the committee found that Huie had used unethical methods of reporting the article, deceiving the subjects of his intent to write a hit piece on the Crimson Tide program.

"The findings of the committee constitute an absolute and complete repudiation of Mr. Huie's claims and charges. These findings properly brand them as wholly false," wrote UA President Richard Foster in the report's introduction.

Collier's sent associate editor Kyle Crichton to Tuscaloosa to meet with university officials and investigate the charges against the magazine and its author. In the face of such overwhelming evidence Collier's published a full retraction of Huie's article and an apology to the university in its April 5, 1941 issue.

Freddie Russell, the sports editor of the Nashville Banner and Ed Danforth, the sports editor of the Atlanta Journal, interviewed Huie in Cullman, Alabama soon after the Collier's story was debunked. They reported that Huie confessed he had fabricated the tale in order to sell it to the magazine.

"They like to buy any stories that picture Southerns as illiterate or stupid," Huie said. "Look at 'Tobacco Road.' Then there would be no market for a story telling what fine manhood football at Alabama built. If there had been a market, I could have written one on that idea."

The full report issued by the University of Alabama's faculty committee on the matter can be found after the jump.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Alabama Arrives in Pasadena for the 1946 Rose Bowl

Alabama's Harry Gilmer, Coach Frank Thomas
and Vaughn Mancha arrive in Pasadena.
On Dec. 26, 1945, the University of Alabama football team arrived in Pasadena, California for the 1946 Rose Bowl after a 72-hour train trip from Tuscaloosa.

Although the train arrived more than nine hours late Alabama Head Coach Frank Thomas immediately ordered his team to a workout under the lights at South Pasadena High School. It was the first time in Rose Bowl history a team held a night workout to prepare for the New Year's Day game.

The trip had not been uneventful. Nine Crimson Tide players suffered from the flu on the way and halfback Lowell Tew was dealing with a broken jaw from a hit he took on the final day of practice in Tuscaloosa. Alabama would go on to defeat USC in the Rose Bowl game, 34-14.

Monday, February 11, 2013

The 1931 Rose Bowl Game Film

Alabama faced off against Washington State in the 1931 Rose Bowl and the Crimson Tide soundly defeated the Cougars 24-0. This ten minute film narrates the games' action in some detail. It is different than the film shot by Ralph Hutchenson for Washington State and involves more of game action taken, apparently, from the press box.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Dorsett Vandeventer Graves

A cartoon depicting D.V. Graves'
career before coaching at Alabama.
Dorsett Vandeventer Graves, better known as "D.V." or "Tubby," was the University of Alabama's football coach from 1911 through 1915. A native of Alabama, Graves attended the University of Missouri from 1906 to 1908 where he played football and baseball.

He was hired as Alabama's 12th football coach in 1911 and became the school's baseball and basketball coach the following year. Highlights of his tenure included a 1912 victory over regional powerhouse Sewanee and a 13-0 shut out of John Heisman's Georgia Tech team in 1914.

In 1912 George Hutchenson Denny became the president of the University of Alabama. Denny saw football as a way to increase the the profile of the school and became very hands on in the athletics department. And to do that he knew he needed a winner.

Alabama's 1912 team.
While Graves' Alabama squads never suffered a losing season, by 1914 it was clear he wasn't the coach to take the Alabama program to the next level. Denny replaced him with Thomas Kelly in 1915. Graves finished at Alabama with a respectable 21-12-3 record (.625).

Graves next popped up at Texas A&M as an assistant under Dana X. Bible. He assumed the head coaching responsibilities for the Aggies in 1918 when Bible served in the military for World War I. The team performed quite well under his leadership losing just one game, a 0-7 contest against the Longhorns in Austin on Nov. 28, 1918.

When Bible returned in 1919, Graves went back to his role as an assistant coach and was on hand as A&M rolled to an undefeated (and unscored upon) season that culminated in a national championship. In 1920, Graves had moved on to the head coaching position at Montana State, where he amassed a 5-5-1 over two seasons.

Graves then headed to the Pacific Northwest where he signed on at the University of Washington. Between 1923 and 1946 Graves served as an assistant coach on the football team and baseball head coach. He later became the assistant director of athletics.

Graves passed away in 1960. He is now enshrined in the Husky Hall of Fame and the school's former baseball field as well as its current intercollegiate athletics building were named in his honor.

A version of this entry first appeared on Burnt Orange Nation.

Friday, February 1, 2013

The 1938 Tournament of Roses Parade

The City of Santa Barbara float in the 1938 parade.
On Jan. 1, 1938 the 49th Annual Tournament of Roses Parade was held in downtown Pasadena, California. The procession preceded the game between Alabama and California in the Rose Bowl. Below is a short home movie of the parade and, after the jump, there are a collection of photos of various floats.


Monday, January 28, 2013

University of Alabama Postcards


A collection of postcards featuring the University of Alabama primarily from the 1930s and 1940s. The image of Denny Stadium is prior to the addition of end zone bleachers in 1946 which puts the capacity at 24,000.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Alabama vs. Mississippi A&M, 1931

The souvenir program for the Alabama vs Mississippi State (then Miss. A&M) game of 1931. The Tide, under first year head coach Frank Thomas, defeated the Maroons 53-0. The game was so one-sided that Alabama's first team, including dual scoring threat of Leon Long and Hillman Holley, only played for the first quarter. It was the Tide's second and last trip to play in Meridian, Mississippi (the first was in 1926).