Archive for December, 2022

The End of an Era

December 31, 2022

There was a time when there were no New Year’s Day football bowl games to watch or listen to on the radio. There weren’t even bowl-shaped stadiums to host them. In fact, what we call bowl games today weren’t called that. Records have been changed to “grandfather in” major New Year’s Day games that were played in this primordial period .

Needing a place to accommodate large crowds to its football games–the schools referred to as Ivy League today were football powers back then and attracted more spectators than just the players’ parents and alumni living locally—Yale University broke ground for a stadium with a seating capacity of 70,896 in 1913. It opened for the 1914 36-0 drubbing by rival Harvard. More than 68,000 spectators nearly filled the new stadium, named The Yale Bowl because of its bowl-like configuration.

After Washington State’s upset of Brown in 1916, the New Year’s Day contest between eastern and western powers in Pasadena became an annual event. But it didn’t have a proper home. When the game’s future seemed certain, the City of Pasadena acquired land in Arroyo Seco on which to build a football stadium. They broke ground in February 1922. Construction was completed in October of that year. The horseshoe-shaped facility was called “Tournament of Roses Stadium” or “Tournament of Roses Bowl” prior to the 1923 New Year’s game. It was then officially named “Rose Bowl” as a reference to the Yale Bowl, although it wasn’t a bowl at that time. But it would accommodate 57.000 spectators.

The first game played in the new stadium was the regular-season meeting of the University of California (Cal) and University of Southern California (USC). Cal won 12-0 but declined the invitation to defend the honor of the West on the upcoming New Year’s Day. USC, having the Cal loss as the only blemish on her record, accepted the invitation to defend against the Eastern interloper, 6-2-1 Penn State. The Nittany Lions’ head coach, Hugo Bezdek, was no stranger to Pasadena. He had taken his Oregon team to victory there in 1917 and again in 1918 when some of his old players, then preparing for combat in WWI, got him to coach their Mare Island Marines team for that game. He wasn’t so successful in 1923 because USC prevailed 14-3.

Over the years, the Rose Bowl was expanded to become a complete bowl and seating was increased to 104,594 (later reduced to 92,542). The number of bowl games (few of which were played in actual bowl stadiums) expanded over the years to 26. However, the rise of the FCS playoffs has impacted the bowl games significantly. The 2024 expansion to twelve teams in the playoffs, with the Rose Bowl probably hosting a quarter-finals game, brings an end to the Rose Bowl’s prominence.

The 2023 game ends the 100-year-long sequence of significant games, broken only by World War II, in the Rose Bowl. It is only fitting that Penn State is again the eastern contender as it was in 1923. Their head coach, James Franklin, lost his first appearance in the Rose Bowl to USC in 2017, also on January 2nd. It is a sad, but fitting, end to a great run for Penn State to bookend the birth of the stadium and the end of its glory.

The Rose Bowl under construction.
Note the horseshoe shape.

The Granddaddy of Them All Dies

December 29, 2022

Lone Star Dietz would roll over in his grave if he heard about this.

Distracted by several pressing issues, I paid scant attention to the headlines about the Rose Bowl this fall. Stumbling across an article by Pasadena-based Joe Mathews yesterday, I learned what the hubbub was about. Dietz’s Washington State warriors upset Brown in the mud on January 1, 1916, putting West Coast football on an even footing with the East, establishing the Rose Bowl as an annual event, and instituting the New Year’s Day football tradition. A major game, generally pitting an eastern challenger against a western defender, has been featured on January 1st each year since then, unless it falls on a Sunday as it does this year. In that case it is played on Monday the 2nd. Because of its historic importance, Keith Jackson called the Rose Bowl “The Granddaddy of Them All.” That old man dies Monday night at the end of the Penn State-Utah contest.

How did this happen? Mathews blames it on the perceived need to have a single national champion as lobbied for by President Obama and many others. While only four teams were involved in the playoffs, the Rose Bowl continued to be a major event. But with the playoffs expanded to twelve teams, the Rose Bowl wouldn’t likely have attracted highly ranked teams if it wasn’t part of the playoff system. Adding to the dilemma was the shift of two California schools from the Pac-12 to the B1G. The possibility of a western team, say USC, being the eastern invader becomes a distinct possibility, destroying the East-West nature of the game.

Seeing no viable alternative, the Rose Bowl has now thrown in with the NCAA championship scheme. Mathews figures future Rose Bowls will be quarter-final games. That long drop from importance brings with it a financial deficit. The Tournament of Roses will need to make that up somehow or the Rose Parade will become another tradition of the past. An era has sadly passed.

Who Scheduled the 1905 Army Game?

December 17, 2022

Sometimes something you haven’t thought about before jumps into your head. Yesterday, I had one of those thoughts, “Was the 1905 Carlisle game against Army on the original schedule or was it added during the season?” I definitely hadn’t considered that before. Perhaps the thought popped into my head because games against the Canton and Massillon semi-pro teams were added late in the season. Regardless of why it came into my head, I had to resolve it.

My first step was to check with the 1905 Spaldings Guide. Sure enough, it was listed there. Since these guides were distributed prior to the start of the season, it was clear that this game had been scheduled ahead of the season start. But how far ahead?

To find that out, I consulted with the school newspaper for the 1904-1905 school year. The June 29, 1905 edition of The Arrow included the first published schedule for the 1905 season. The game was scheduled for a date that held no particular significance at that time, November 11, at West Point. The week after that the team would start a westward road trip in which they were to play games in Cincinnati and Pittsburg before ending their season with a Thanksgiving Day game in Washington, DC against Georgetown. But that schedule didn’t hold.

Who negotiated the extra games isn’t clear. It’s possible that George Woodruff arranged them before leaving the team after the Army game to join the Roosevelt administration. The games with Canton and Massillon were first listed in the October 20 issue of The Arrow, a factor that makes Woodruff’s involvement more likely.

How the games were arranged is less important that they were played. Beginning on November 11, the last game for which Carlisle had a full week to prepare, the Indians played six games in the time other schools played three, two if they didn’t have a Thanksgiving game. Carlisle was known for playing brutal schedules. The 1905 season was just one example of this.

The details of the 1905 contest with Army can be found in Gridiron Gypsies: How the Carlisle Indians Shaped Modern Football.

5Q Articles

December 15, 2022

I wonder if other newspapers are doing what my local paper, The Sentinel (Carlisle, PA), is doing. Rather than writing book reviews, they are publishing what they call 5Q articles. 5Q is shorthand for the five questions they provide the author to answer in writing, which they use, with “He said” interspersed randomly to give the appearance of an interview, to flesh out the body of the article. The on-line version includes photos and an image of the book’s front cover but the print version only includes the text. The column on the left was printed on the front page of the paper. The remainder was on page 7.A copy of the print version is provided. It may be necessary to view it in full-screen mode for the text to be large enough to read.

Missing from the Reviews

December 1, 2022

Reviews are coming in for Gridiron Gypsies and they’re very good. However, none of them say anything about what some consider a real bonus in this book: the list of  the 495 young men who were on Carlisle’s varsity and the years they played. Creating this list was a difficult, time-consuming task that was sometimes frustrating. Several names that appeared in newspaper coverage of the games are still a mystery. Any help in sorting out those names would be most welcome. These names can be found on page 324 of the book.

In order to compile this list, I scoured team photo captions, newspaper coverage both pre- and post-game, school newspaper articles, Spalding’s Guides, and Carlisle Indian School student files. There were probably other sources but they don’t come quickly to my muddled mind. A sample page is included to give you an idea of what was produced from this toil.