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.