Tuesday, December 7, 2010

LSU and A&M's first bowl matchup night and day from JerryWorld

Old SEC and (the former) SWC rivals LSU and Texas A&M play one another for the first time since 1995 in the 2011 Cotton Bowl now played in Cowboys Stadium in the Dallas suburb of Arlington. This will be the 50th meeting between the two with 48 of the previous being regular season games. However, one of the earlier meetings was a rematch in the 1944 Orange Bowl.

Its always been rare and unusual for bowls to pair two teams that have already played during the regular season. But 1943 and the early part of 1944 were rare and unusual times for the United States, not just the NCAA.

Official 1944 Orange Bowl program with a salute to those involved in WWII

Once America entered World War II priorities changed and the prime priority was being victorious in war. Therefore athletics, whether professional or collegiate changed somewhat throughout the war. Some schools simply stopped playing sports during the war as many of the young men who made up the various teams were now participants in the war.Some schools actually had their football fortunes enhanced as their schools were designated as military training schools through various V-5 and V-12 programs. (The Army with its "A-12" program refused to let the some 100,000 members of their programs participate in athletics.)And, there was the increase in the number of bona fide military schools in addition to the academies at West Point and Annapolis which attracted some players from schools that were to remain as 'civilian schools'.

Athletics and training were emphasized at the schools. The thinking was the practice and efforts of college football were ideal training grounds for World War II. Numerous collegiate and professional athletes were recruited as instructors. They often played on or coached the football team of their respective school. Each team usually played established football powers in their geographic region or other service academies or similar training schools.

The Navy V-5 program was based on the idea that athletic competition was essential for the development of a soldier's character and physical training. Therefore, there was special emphasis placed on varsity and intramural athletics, especially those that involved bodily contact which of course, placed particular focus on football.

The Army A-12 and Navy V-12 programs started in 1943 to meet the immediate and long-range needs for commissioned officers to man ships, fly planes and command troops called to duty in WWII.When the draft age was lowered to 18 in November of 1942, the Army and Navy immediately realized a shortage of college-educated officers for its operations. Likewise, hundreds of colleges and universities feared economic collapse without students to fill potentially empty classrooms.

Help soon came from the federal government with the A-12 and V-12 programs. V-12 students already enrolled in the Navy and Marine Corps college reserve program, enlisted men who were recommended by their commanding officers and high school seniors who passed a nationwide qualifying examination.

For a three year period from July 1, 1943 through June 30, 1946, over 181,000 college-age men were enrolled at 131 colleges and universities throughout the United States in the V-12 programs. These V-12 schools ran the gamut from the Ivy League (Dartmouth in fact was the host to the largest of the Navy's V-12 units )and large state universities to small, church-associated colleges in very small towns.

Oddly enough, two universities with strong military history, LSU and Texas A&M were not part of either the A-12 or V-12 programs nor were there any on-campus affiliation through V-5 programs,either.Indeed, LSU and Texas A&M along with West Point and Annapolis were the top four schools producing officers for the U.S. Armed Forces. LSU had more than 5,000 former students serving as officers,including 16 who achieved the rank of Brigadier General or higher. In all, 12,000 individuals from LSU served and over 500 died during World War II. Nonetheless, the Tigers and Aggies were classified athletically as "civilian" schools as opposed to "V-12" schools.

"Civilian Schools" were basically raided by A-12 ,V-12 and the service academies for the best talent at those schools for its football teams. Many civilian schools with the war raging and most of its football talent fighting in Europe or having transferred to another school more militarily inclined,at least for the duration of the war chose not to field a team in 1943. In the SEC even with 12 teams at the time, only LSU, Georgia, Georgia Tech ,Tulane and Vanderbilt fielded teams that fall.Vanderbilt played an abbreviated schedule of five games playing Tennessee Tech twice, a military base team and two 'small colleges'.In Texas A&M's SWC of the seven schools in the conference in '43, the majority had some type of military classification. Baylor, like A&M, was classified as 'civilian' and elected not to field a team that year.

Even though the Tigers and Aggies fielded teams that fall, a lot of their star players soon left Baton Rouge and College Station respectively for other institutions. LSU lost star Alvin Dark to the Navy and was assigned to then Southwestern Louisiana Institute 's V-12 programs(now Louisiana-Lafayette) and Dub Jones to Tulane.The Aggies lost its share of players,too. In fact when Texas A&M faced Rice in 1943 ,where the tiny Houston school suddenly had a ratio of 2-1 of Navy ROTC men vs 'civilian' as of the summer of 1943 therefore requiring the civilians to live off campus, the Owls had 7 players on its roster whom had been Aggies in 1942.

Alvin Dark, an All-SEC performer at LSU as a sophomore in 1942 is shown running for a big gain for "V-12" power SLI in their 24-7 Oil Bowl win in '43 over Arkansas A&M.

While the Tigers did have a lot of its talent depleted going into the '43 season, LSU did have one its most accomplished ,but least celebrated all-time players, Steve Van Buren. Van Buren was born in La Ceiba, Honduras but matriculated to New Orleans as a boy after being orphaned. His athletic prowess at Warren Easton High School in New Orleans earned him a scholarship to LSU.

The 1943 LSU Tigers were led by future NFL Hall of Famer Steve van Buren. After a stellar career with the Philadelphia Eagles, the first member of the Eagles' organization inducted into the Hall is one of 7 former Eagle players to have his number retired, # 15.

As perhaps a precursor to a potential bowl opponent, LSU opened the 1943 season at home vs Georgia, a team the Tigers would also play a month later in Columbus,Ga. During the war,it wasn't uncommon for teams to play another team twice in a season, or play a team athletically a 'class' or two below normal opposition. One of the few teams to play games at night, LSU defeated the Bulldogs 34-27 before 20,000 at Tiger Stadium. Van Buren scored three touchdowns and added four more extra points in addition to 144 yards rushing on 25 attempts.

1942 Heisman Trophy winner Frank Sinkwich (21) is shown leading Georgia to a 9-0 win over UCLA in the '43 Rose Bowl and share of the 1942 National Title. Nine months later, no lettermen from the great '42 team were on the '43 squad

Georgia ,also a 'civilian team', was a shell of their team one year earlier that won the SEC, Rose Bowl and a share of the National Title. The Bulldogs in 1943 consisted of 25 freshman and a few players who had not met military physical standards. The 'Dogs, like other civilian schools, had lost 82 members of the 1942 team to the military or various Navy and Army programs some schools offered or military schools. Colorful Bulldog head coach Wally Butts quipped,"Everyone wants to play us. I get calls everyday.We're nothing but white meat."

LSU's defense improved the next week in another home win this time over Rice and star running back Bucky Sheffield. The Tigers downed the Owls 20-7 as Van Buren scored twice and rushed for 113 yards on 43 carries. The Tigers entered the polls at #17 after the win.

But the defense struggled again the following week in a home loss to Texas A&M before a crowd of 25,000 as LSU's entry into the polls was short lived.Texas A&M, with virtually no upperclassmen due to the draft and transfers to schools with war driven military programs and referred to affectionately as "The Kiddie Korps", won by a surprisingly easy 28-13. The Tigers' final score came with under four minutes left to make the score as close as it was. The unbeaten Aggies entered the polls after this game with a ranking of #18.

LSU got back on the winning track the following week in the fourth of four home games to open the 1943 season. The game and opponent was virtually a glorified scrimmage as the Louisiana branch of the Army Specialized Training Unit (A.S.T.U.), actually housed on the LSU campus but with no association with the university, fell to LSU 28-7 as Van Buren again rushed for over 100 yards,this time 132 yards on 43 attempts.

Next up was a rematch in Columbus, Ga with the Georgia Bulldogs. Georgia had won its next three games after the first LSU game and entered the polls at #20. But a loss to Daniel Field knocked the 'Dogs out and they entered the game 3-2.As in the season opener in Baton Rouge, LSU won this one as well, but with more ease, 27-6.The Bulldogs led 6-0 after one,but after that it was all LSU,mainly Steve Van Buren. Van Buren scored three touchdowns to increase his season point total to 83 points,which led the nation, and rushed for 110 yards on 22 carries. The Tigers held off a Bulldog charge in the third leading only 14-6 with an interception by Carroll Griffith at the goal line and returned it to midfield where Van Buren's final td of the game four plays later put the game out of reach at 20-6.

The win gave LSU a 4-1 record and also put the Tigers at the top of the Orange Bowl's wish list.With the Orange taking the stand that it wanted 'civilian teams' their options were somewhat limited. Coupled with Van Buren's amazing season to date, LSU was indeed an attractive team.

Back in Baton Rouge the following week, LSU recorded its only shutout of the season in a 14-0 win over TCU. Van Buren again rushed for over 100 yards, this time rushing for 118 yards on 43 carries.The Tigers now 5-1 re-entered the polls at #20. However,next up for the Tigers was a trip to Atlanta to face 3-3, but very rugged and talented Georgia Tech.

Tech had been blown out by eventual national champion Notre Dame earlier and lost a tough one at Navy. The week before the LSU-Georgia Tech game, the Yellow Jackets lost a heartbreaker to Duke, 14-7 before a capacity crowd at Grant Field in what was billed as to decide 'Dixie's best 1943 collegiate team'.Duke, like Tech had an influx of new students from various military programs. Georgia Tech,in fact, had an additional 1,040 on campus through the Navy's V-12 program.

LSU suffered a beat down vs 'lend-lease' Georgia Tech in 1943, but it was nothing like what Tech did to Cumberland 27 years earlier.

LSU was no match for the Yellow Jackets. Talented and deep Georgia Tech crushed the Tigers 42-7 which probably could have been worse as the Tech didn't score in the final stanza. Local boy Frank Broyles, future Arkansas head coach and ABC analyst, scored two touchdowns and added an extra point. Tech's four other touchdowns were scored by four different players to lead the balanced attack. LSU's lone touchdown came in the second quarter by none other than Van Buren who capped off a 66 yard drive and then converted the extra point.

After an off week, the Tigers traveled to New Orleans for the yearly showdown with Tulane. Oddly enough, the Wave was coming off a big loss to Georgia Tech ,as well, having lost at home to the Yellow Jackets, 33-0. In 1943 LSU vs Tulane was one of the biggest rivalries in the Southeast and LSU had just a slim 20-16-3 lead in the series.Adding some spice to this year's game was Ruston's Dub Jones who helped lead LSU to an 18-6 win over Tulane in Baton Rouge a year earlier, was now a member of the Green Wave having transferred to Tulane as part of their Navy V-12 program.

Dub Jones (86) shown after his NFL record tying six touchdowns for Cleveland vs the Bears in 1951 played for LSU vs Tulane in 1942, but had two touchdowns for the Green Wave in the 27-0 win over the Tigers in 1943

Jones, who's son Bert was an All-American quarterback at LSU in 1972, this time played a big part in Tulane's win over LSU. Before over 40,000 at Tulane Stadium , the Wave erupted for three third quarter touchdowns and shutout LSU, 27-0 as Jones scored two touchdowns in the game.

In the immediate aftermath in LSU's dressing room, the Orange Bowl Committee officially offered the Tigers an invitation to the 1944 Orange Bowl in Miami. Ironically as LSU's players were able to perk up with the news after a crushing shutout loss to their archrival, it was LSU's "scoring punch" which had put the Tigers high on the Orange's wish-list. Not known at the time would be who LSU would play. The Orange having selected 'civilian' LSU ,indicated it planned to select another 'civilian' team and not another team having the aid in some form or fashion of service cadets, so as "not to disturb the training program." With the War throwing a wrinkle into bowl season, the Orange was hoping for another offensive thriller to go along with the two most recent Orange Bowls, Alabama's 37-21 win over Boston College and Georgia's 40-26 win over TCU in January of '42.

Finding a credible 'civilian' team was easier said than done.Finding teams for bowls, period,was difficult in the fall of 1943. Many of the top schools in 1943 such as Notre Dame and the Big Ten schools didn't participate in bowl games.(Incidentally, Notre Dame was named National Champion for 1943 with a 9-1 record even though the Irish lost its last game 19-14 to Great Lakes Naval Training Station out of Chicago. Purdue, co-champ of the Big Ten was unbeaten and recorded a 23-13 win over Great Lakes finished 5th in the Nation.)

Among many reasons such as travel, the Rose Bowl chose an all Pacific Coast match between Washington and Southern California.The Huskies , coached by "Pest" Welch, had only played four games all year, all against service teams, after Oregon,Oregon State, Washington State and Idaho all elected to not play football in '43 right before the season started. The Cotton Bowl pitted Randolph Field, an Air Force unit vs Texas. The Ramblers, were among six bonafide service teams (besides Army and Navy), not schools aided by various V-12 type programs, to be ranked in 1943.

Of the many military schools that fielded football teams in 1943, Randolph Field was the only one to go to a bowl. The Ramblers tied Texas 7-7 in the Cotton Bowl.

The Sun Bowl pitted Southwestern University of Georgetown,TX (an original member of the SWC) and aided athletically by the Navy V-12 program vs New Mexico. The Sugar Bowl selected SEC champion Georgia Tech as one participant. Second ranked Iowa Pre-Flight and SLI were high on the Sugar's list. But as part of the Navy, Iowa Pre-Flight was eliminated due to the Navy's 48 hour limit on furloughs. Tulsa ranked 15th, who played in the 1943 Sugar Bowl was considered the best 'civilian team' in the nation that year with a 6-0-1 mark and basically invited itself. SLI was led to believe a win over Randolph Field (which SLI did win 6-0) would put them in the Sugar. But Tulsa was able to convince the Sugar Bowl Committee to select the Golden Hurricanes before the SLI-Randolph Field game as the committee indeed did as a 'safe choice'.SLI went off to Houston's short live Oil Bowl an won a rematch with Arkansas A&M.

Ellis Jones, who had his right arm amputated as a child was one of many of civilian Tulsa's "Frnka's 4-F's" that led the Hurricane to the 1944 Sugar Bowl

A 'civilian team' Tulsa was one of the more intriguing and curious teams of 1943. Although they were a power in that era with Sugar and Orange appearances as well as top ten finishes, Tulsa ,like other civilian teams had seen most of its better players go off directly to war or some other school with a military affliliation. Only six players were left from the 10-1 1942 team and 24 of the 40 were classified as '4-F' meaning they were unfit for military duty.One player, Ellis Jones had only one arm. One player had only one lung,another player only one kidney.

Wanting to match LSU with another civilian team worthy of a bid to the Orange left the Orange Bowl Committee with only one choice: a rematch for LSU vs Texas A&M. The Aggies were truly an intriguing team ,as well as good team in 1943. A&M had dipped to 4-5-1 in '42 after an incredible three year run that started with a National Title in 1939, SWC co-champs in 1940 and an outright SWC title in 1941.Not much was expected from A&M in 1943 as the majority of upperclassmen had been called to serve through some military capacity during WWII ,most going to another university as part of one its service programs. The Aggies "Kiddie Korps" included 65 freshman.

Unlike fellow SWC 'civilian' Baylor who decided against fielding a team, Homer Norton's Aggies decided if they had 11 guys,they'd see what happened. What happened was the Aggies almost won the SWC going 7-1-1 in the regular season with only a season-ending Thanksgiving Day loss to #14 hated Texas, 27-13. A&M was led on offense by QB Jim "Babe" Hallmark, Marion Flanagan who set a school record for returning 49 punt returns and receiver Jesse "Red" Burditt. A&M's pass defense only allowed 33 completions in 139 attempts that season, a 24 percent accuracy rate.

1943 Aggie coach Homer Norton. Norton was 82-53-9 at A&M with a National Title , three SWC titles, Cotton,Orange and Sugar appearances. But his 7-2-1 "Kiddie Korps" squad in '43 was considered by many to be his finest coaching job.

As gametime approached and even though the Aggies would be without Flanagan, they were favored to prevail again as they had earlier in the season. Grantland Rice, the legendary sportswriter of the times and almost like the 'ESPN' of his day by himself, said in fact, "this will largely be a game of speed and spirit. Earlier in the year Texas A&M beat L.S.U. by two touchdowns and figures to repeat by the same margin."

LSU won the game 19-14 before 27,000 as Steve Van Buren, playing with a sprained ankle, was part of all of the Tigers' points.Van Buren , who finished the year as NCAA scoring champion with 98 points with 14 td's and 14 xp's, rushed for 160 of LSU's 181 rushing yards and scored the first touchdown of the game on an 11 yard double reverse. After an A&M fumble, Van Buren passed 21 yards to Burton Goode to put LSU up 12-0. Late in the first, Hallmark hit Burditt for a twenty yard touchdown pass and Bing Turner's placement cut it to 12-7, which after a scoreless second quarter was the score at halftime.

Early in the third Van Buren got things going once again as he dashed 63 yards for a touchdown and added the conversion as LSU increased its lead to 19-7. Later an LSU turnover on the Tigers' 25 led to A&M's next score. Hallmark ,who passed for 199 yards in the game, hit Marion Settegast for a 19 yard touchdown and Turner's conversion cut the lead to 19-14 at the end of three.

Steve Van Buren (right,with ball) had a hand, and foot, in all of LSU's points in the 19-14 Orange Bowl win over Texas A&M in 1944.

That would be the final score as LSU held off the Aggies. Not that the Aggies didn't go down swinging. Hallmark threw 32 passes, quite a lot for that era, but LSU intercepted 5 of them. The Tigers all but shut out the Aggies' ground game limiting them to 4 yards on 24 carries.

Now both teams meet in a bowl game once again. This time inside a 90,000 seat domed stadium and each team with full scholarships and both squads in the top 20. Quite a change from 67 years ago when the two played a rematch with 'civilian players' and neither team was ranked.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks to the men of LSU for their service.

    But I'd like to add the numbers for the Texas Aggies. From the book "Texas Aggies go to War" by Dethloff and Adams, intro to chapter 12:

    "Of the more than 20,000 Aggies in combat in World War II, 953 died in combat, scores became POWs, 7 received the Congressional Medal of Honor, 10 were aerial fighter aces, some 14,000 served as officers, and 29 reached the rank of general officer during the war."