I graduated from San Diego High School in February of 1935. I played with Ted Williams in junior baseball. He went to Hoover High. I played for the Ryan Juniors, which was in a youth league in the city. That team was made up of high school kids who were going to the playgrounds. I played on the same fields with him. He pitched and I caught at different times together. My favorite player was Cotton Warburton, and I understood that he was Ted's favorite, too. Cotton had come out of San Diego High before me. He was my inspiration. He was so great, the best day of my life was after watching Cotton play in a high school game, finding out he was coming back for another year of high school football. He was there four years, a little guy but he could sure run and so you were inspired my him. Harold Hobbs Adams was our high school coach. He coached both Warburton and I. Howard Jones hired him as an assistant coach at USC and he brought me with him.
This was a fairly common practice in those days. It was started by Nibs Price, a high school coach from San Diego. College football teams had always consisted of players trying out from amongst the student body, but after World War I the country became more mobile and the concept of recruiting came into being. Suddenly teams did not consist generally of boys from the general region, but rather a young man might be enticed to come to school even if he did not live near the campus.
The University of California at Berkeley had a large number of students come there for military training so they were attuned to this situation, and coach Andy Smith decided to turn his program into a national powerhouse. He hired Price because he had many contacts among the coaching fraternity in Southern California, which was a growing populace that Smith recognized was the place where most of the great athletes were coming from. One of those player was Brick Muller out of San Diego. Smith brought Price to Berkeley because he could bring Muller into school with him, but this practice was fraught with a new set of problems.
These recruits were prima donnas unlike average students, and Smith was a hard driver who conducted exhausting practice sessions. Muller and the Southern California contingent got fed up and decided to leave school. A meeting was held in the summer half-way in between, in Fresno, between Price and the players from Southern California in which it was agreed that the practice sessions would not be as strenuous. They all came back to school. Muller was the greatest player in the nation and those teams were known as the Wonder Teams, up until then the best dynasty the country had ever seen.
Well, Howard Jones had decided to one-up Andy Smith and Cal. "Gloomy Gus" Henderson had built USC from a regional program to a national power by bringing in high school players from the Seattle area, which had been the best hotbed of prep talent for years. He ushered USC into the Pacific Coast Conference and won our first Rose Bowl over Penn State in 1923. Jones started the rivalry with Notre Dame, which gave us an edge over Cal and Stanford, making us a national power and the top program on the West Coast. Coach Jones also had an advantage in recruiting, which was the movie industry. John "Duke" Wayne had played for him before going into the movies, and Duke arranged for Trojan players to be extras in movies, attend Hollywood parties, and be around all those pretty actresses.
By the time I got to USC this was the standard practice and the program attracted the greatest players in America. I entered USC in February of 1935, right out of high school. It was mid-year, and as I say I went with my high school coach, who got his job as an assistant under Jones. It was never really spelled out for me, but I understand that he got the job by bringing me into school with him.
Cotton Warburton was at USC for three years before me. I attended at night at first. I had been on the track team in high school. A track meet was held at Southern Cal and I participated and visited the campus in a slight drizzle. The Tommy Trojan statue was getting wet a little bit but it was an awesome sight, as the campus was turning from dusk to dark, so I could not have been there at a better time to be impressed. It was kind of plain otherwise, it was not much of a campus at the time. Coach Hobbs had all the connections. I never really claimed Hobbs got the job because of me, but Hobbs had coached Cotton, he had a good track record coaching in baseball, football and track. So Hobbs had gotten to USC and we were all together and were Sigma Alpha Epsilons. It was a great time, a great time in my life. I can't imagine anything being any better.
Even though USC was the school you wanted to play for, the football program had been down just a little bit before I got there. Cal and Stanford had gotten really jealous and accused us of cheating and academic impropriety, but it was all just a response to our surpassing them as a West Coast football power. We had won three national championships and the 1931-32 teams were probably the best teams ever, the famed Thundering Herd, but those freshmen up at Stanford had promised never to lose to Southern Cal again and they never did, so they became known as the Vow Boys. UCLA was getting better and better every year, so Coach Jones was determined to have his team get back to where they had been.
For me, it was a struggle. There was a lot talent, playing time was always hard to come by, and I broke my foot in a freshman game against Santa Ana High School, so that set me back for a year and a half. All of my freshman year was gone, but it did not affect my varsity eligibility. Freshman could not play varsity ball in those days. I became a starter in my sophomore year and started all the time I was at USC as long as I was healthy, but there was always competition t my position.
I was a tailback in a single wing offense. We lined up out of the huddle in a box formation single wing called the Warner B. It was a designated single wing offense and I always ran out of that formation. My varsity years were 1936, 1937, I laid out in '38, broke an ankle, then in 1939 I played my senior year. All in all, I was at USC for five and a half years including everything.
I played against California in 1937. They were the most powerfully organized team I'd played against and when I played against them they were seniors. Stub Allison was their coach and they had great players, they were great athletes like Vic Bottari and Sam Chapman, who went on to play outfield for Connie Mack's Philadelphia Athletics. Cal and Stanford made comebacks, they were determined to be national powers again, as Southern Cal had become. In 1937 Cal won the national championship, beating Alabama in the Rose Bowl, and in 1940 Stanford won the national title when they beat Nebraska in the Rose Bowl. Those were the last national championships each of those two schools won.
I got hit in the head against Cal. I was fuzzy, I was down and a guy just swung his foot through my helmet and I was goofy after that. We had a fierce competition with Cal and Stanford. Cal and Stanford never played an honest game in their lives, but there were a lot of shenanigans at that time. Cal would arrive in Los Angeles and it would be 90 degrees, it hadn't rained in months, but the field would be a quagmire. The maintenance guy would come out all apologetic, "Oh I must've forgot to turn off the sprinklers," but it would slow down Bottari and Chapman, you see.
It was always like that, rivalries between Northern and Southern California teams. Later the Candlestick ground's crew did the same thing to slow down Maury Wills of the Dodgers. Gamesmanship, all part of the sport of it, you see. But it was also an evolving time in the relationship between USC, Cal, Stanford, and now UCLA became our biggest rival. They were just a little commuter school, first in downtown then in Westwood, where at first people said nobody would travel that far just to go to school, but they played in our stadium, the Coliseum, and they were integrated and quickly built themselves into a competitive team by doing that.
We had been integrated way ahead of almost everybody, what with Brice Taylor making All-American back in the 1920s, so these games between the integrated Bruins and Trojans in front of huge crowds at the Coliseum were just visual statements that were more powerful than any speeches.
Jackie Robinson and the Bruins tied us, 0-0 in 1939. In 1936 they'd tied us 7-7. These games were just intense struggles with everything on the line. That game started to even things between the two teams, and over the next couple of decades UCLA was at least as strong as USC. Robinson was a great player, and his wife, Rachel Robinson was a student at UCLA then, why she still talks about the rivalry, which she compares to the Dodgers-Giants rivalry. But Jackie met his match in terms of opposing coaches when they went up against Jones. As a matter of fact we were getting ready to play them and Jones was at the blackboard drawing up UCLA's offense and defense. He drew their offense vs. our defense and he shifted where he saw weakness in our defense and we asked, "What about that, coach?" and Jones saw weaknesses but Jones covered up the hole and we outclassed them by overshifting them on our defense to offset their power. Robinson was on that '39 team but when they were driving towards the end for some reason they did not go to him and it cost them a chance at winning the game.
Kenny Washington, who also was a great sprinter in track, played for UCLA. Woody Strode was a big wide receiver and we didn't have anybody who was tall enough to cover him, but they weren't able to get the ball into his hands as much as they'd like. Jones just out-coached 'em, but they put the ball in the air and that scared the livin' daylight out of Jones. Afterward he just hid in his office like he was hiding from their passing.
I had some injuries, I think maybe I'd been hurt in '37 too, but anyway we were the Coliseum "visitors" and I didn't play, and so I was sitting outside with the lockers right behind us at tunnel six. I was on crutches and I decided to walk up the tunnel to avoid both teams from rushing up past me. So I walked across the track and entered the tunnel and started up and then somebody said to stick around, and all hell broke loose. Kenny Washington broke through with the ball twice and scored two touchdowns in 45 seconds. Oh man!
But we won in the Rose Bowl two years in a row. You know, we beat those Southern teams, we beat Notre Dame, our most difficult competition was in the conference, and so the big argument going on at that time was, where's the best football being played? Before World War II it was determined that the best players were out west and there were all kinds of theories, ranging from the sunshine, the vitamins in our fresh fruit, the gene pool of pioneers, more athletic men and women coming out to Hollywood. The world was taking notice of American football. Adolf Hitler was alarmed that America had the most rugged athletes playing football and that would make us formidable in war, and he sure would've been smart to have played that hunch.
I was hurt in 1938 and when we played Duke in the Rose Bowl we were heavy underdogs. Those guys had not only not lost a game, but nobody had even scored a point on them. They would punt on third down just to pin opponents down, they would get turnovers and score off their defense and just overwhelm you. Nobody really gave us a chance. I didn't play in that game. I'd played two or three games early in the season but I was injured with a broken foot so I just decided to sit out and save my eligibility for 1939.
Well we all know what happened. Duke led 3-0 and we couldn't move the ball against them at all, certainly not on the ground. That was how Howard Jones liked it on offense, he never liked putting the ball in the air. He never felt it was safe, but we went through several quarterbacks and all were ineffective and so Jones was desperate, we had to put the ball in the air if we were going to have a chance.
Quarterback Doyle Nave was fourth string, end "Antelope Al" Kreuger was third string I think. In another offense either guy would have started, they were great athletes, fast, Nave could throw, but neither was entirely compatible with Jones's offense. But Duke was unprepared for Doyle's passing effectiveness, and we drove with a few minutes to go and Doyle hit Al on several clutch passes until we were down near their goal line and then he hit Al for a touchdown to win the game, 7-3.
The place just went bonkers and the press made the biggest possible deal out of it. For years, decades, this was said to be the biggest sports moment of the century, the biggest Rose Bowl game ever, and Doyle Nave was instantaneously elevated to national hero. Women wrote him letters, magazines featured him, and even though Southern Cal was a huge football power before that, it put us on the map. It was on the radio across the country and Norman Topping heard it supposedly on his deathbed and it "miraculously" cured him, so the story goes. Braven Dyer just made his name writing about that game.
Kreuger was a demonstrative character. He and Doyle had great personalities and this helped because they talked to reporters and expounded on what happened, it was all very colorful. They were both fun-loving guys and the girls fell in love with 'em after that and they just had a great time at USC, we all did.
In a video Tom Kelly did some years ago Kreuger made these great descriptions of those catches. Doyle was sitting a little in front of him and he would say, "Oh, every pass was right on the numbers," and in the back Al was gesturing and gesticulating like every catch he had to dive and stretch out, and it was all great fun, typical of their personalities.
But as great as they were, neither really got better. Doyle never got better as a tailback, not in the kind of offense Howard Jones liked to run. Grenny Lansdell and I were ahead of him at tailback. The newspapers said Grenny and I were about equal. Doyle could not make three yards running in the single wing. He could throw and kick, but Jones liked us to run and both Grenny and I were better runners. He would have been excellent in a better system for passing but we were ahead of him.
Doyle as a person was sure of himself, he was athletic, confident in what he could do. Sometimes he felt he could do more than what he really could do. He was not as good a runner as Grenny and me, a good passer but not a field general. Grenny and I were given a better rating.
Kreuger was a happy-go-lucky fellow, a great player but not to the point where we would build an offense around him. He could execute his plays excellently but the coaches did not develop an offensive around him. He could get open against anybody who tried to cover him, though.
In 1939 Jones would not have made Doyle the number one tailback. Grenny and I held up the position. This was the single wing, it was different then, a quarterback was not what he is today. Doyle was more oriented towards what we now think of as a "drop back" quarterback, whereby Grenny and I usually ran out of the formation but could on occasion throw short passes.
In 1939, I recognized that I had a helluva job to play vs. the competition between myself, Grenny and Doyle. Now Doyle was at first one up because of his Rose Bowl performance against Duke. Jones was influenced by the newspapers, because they all backed Doyle. Braven Dyer of the Los Angeles Times particularly advocated the "modernization" of football. The ball had been reduced in size, making it easier to throw, and it was not a uniform-size ball, whereas at one time balls might be one size in the West, another size in the South, you know. Sammy Baugh was a throwing sensation, and Don Hutson an end who could catch any thrown ball at Alabama, and we had Doyle Nave. His performance against Duke had been considered a breakthrough.
It went against Howard Jones's natural instincts to throw the ball, but how could you argue against what Doyle had done? But we tied Oregon in the opening game and boy we all just thought that was the end of world. How to overcome that? I don't recall much about that game. I'd say we were inexperienced, Doyle had hardly played in '38 aside from the last couple minutes of the Rose Bowl, so I was getting up and running and Doyle did not make it. After that I got more playing time, Grenny and I. Doyle certainly played a fair amount, but he did not emerge as the great star his Rose Bowl performance led so many to believe he was destined to become.
Well, we found our rhythm and just went on a streak, and by season's end there was not a better team in America. That was the year we went back to South Bend and walloped Notre Dame. In those days we played the Irish at the end of the year back there as well as at home, and it could get cold and that was an advantage for them, but we beat them 20-12. We'd beat them 13-0 in Los Angeles the previous season and the rivalry was very even, but USC never beat the Irish at Notre Dame again until O.J. Simpson in 1967.
The USC-Notre Dame rivalry is and always was exemplary of what college football is all about. To go back there and play against them, to be a part of that is an honor, it really is. As I say, it was the end of the season, it was colder, and put it this way, I was a disappointment to Jones because I was a senior but I was not playing as much as I thought I should. Doyle got a lot of time on the field and Grenny was an All-American. I probably could have made a big success at any other school but at USC that year there was more competition for playing time than the opposition provided in games. Vs. Notre Dame we won 20-12. I went in, played well and we won. I ran an end run in front of coach Elmer Layden and made about eight yards and decided to run it again and I broke loose 44 yards for a touchdown. The whole weight of the game, I could feel it, I knew it, and nobody was gonna catch me so I thought of thumbing my nose at Layden. Some guy from 'Bama had thumbed his nose on about the 12, so I thought of doing the same thing, then I thought it would be disrespectful so I stuck my tongue out at him and nobody saw it but me. I said to myself, SC doesn't do that.
The West Coast had the best football teams at that time. We barely beat Washington, 9-7, then tied UCLA, 0-0, so when another unbeaten, untied, unscored-on Southern team, this time Tennessee, came out to the Rose Bowl we were not intimidated at all. We did not think of the national title before the game, it was not recognized, no group was authorized to do that. I was not playing to win that, just to win the game. The Associated Press had started up a poll in 1936, and there were a number of systems, the most recognized and respected being one devised by a Professor Dickinson based on strength of schedule, performance, it took into consideration the bowl games and it was the most legit, but as I say there was not the hype for this then as today so our main concern was to win the game for the prestige of the University, the conference, the Pacific Coast.
Coach Bob Neyland's Tennessee Volunteers were a fine team but frankly we had a superior team, both in terms of our ability and our coaching. I felt I was best quarterback on that team for field generalship so I don't think we would have done as well without me, and I had earned the playing time I got in that game.
I threw a touchdown pass to Kreuger, and as I say in those days passing was not number one in SC's method of advancing the ball, especially when I was in the game, but Doyle was the inspiration for the idea of passing the football. Maybe not so much because of what Braven Dyer wrote, but he liked Doyle. Rather, Jones saw the way the game was changing and started opening things up.
The offense we designed meant that every pass was from the threat of a run, so you faked to run, drop one or two steps, then threw a pass something under 10 yards. I was primarily a runner and only threw about two passes in that game. What I'm trying to say is we depended on running mopre and had to make it all look like I was running to help the passes.
I remember we had the ball on their two. I went back to the huddle and I said to myself, "Here we are in the Rose Bowl," and I said, "Give 'em somethung to think about," and I faked two or three steps and arched a perfect, beautiful pass, and Al was not looking, and he just turned around and it was there. We only needed two yards and it was perfect.
Jones possessed tremendous ingenuity, but it was his application of the defense that made him great. He understood the game of football and understood defense, and his players were always strong on defense. He recruited good players who were strong on defense.
I felt we were better physically than our opponents. We had a first team and a second team. In the days of both-sides-of-the-ball football, you used to go with two teams, and out second team was as strong as our first. The second team with Joe Shell as our captain, they did most of the scoring and Shell was really proud of that, made a big point of it.
Jones had adjusted to what he had because he had great players on that '39 team and they produced for him and they knew that. He never got beat badly. We never lost 40-0. Heck, that's just SC football over the years. Even in the rare times they're down the Trojans never lose 40-0. They lost like that to Notre Dame one year and it was such a rarity they talk about to this day like it's a freak thing, which it was.
What does it mean to be a Trojan? I was happy I was able to go to USC and be successful in football. I had been well coached and could do what was required of me and was so happy that other players were equally as well skilled in football, on offense and on defense. I was very fortunate and we could play with anybody. I figured we were as good as anybody we played and we loved competition. We weren't afraid of Notre Dame or any teams.
We skipped over before this question, what USC meant, and behind my mentality on that would be that we were a big university that wanted me to play football, to represent them. We had wonderful scholars there and I had great teammates. We were recognized as a champion and I was thrilled to death to play because of that, it was the best place I could possibly go to further my desire to educated and get great coaching.
There is a sense of tradition there, it was strong then and it's been maintained, and that's a big part of What It Means to Be a Trojan, because a young fella like yourself can come talk to me about it and we have this common understanding of the place, of what it does mean. Historically USC never lost site of fact they are USC, and they represent the great collegiate world of education and football, and are a vital part of the collegiate experience for undergraduates, as it should be. It was a perfect place to do the collegiate education and we had great coaches to help us out.
USC was a place where all kinds of people come together. Patricia Nixon, the First Lady, was at USC when I was there. She was not yet married to Richard Nixon, they both lived in Whittier and Richard Nixon had a car, which was a little unusual in those days, but he had one because his father owned a grocery store and he needed it to drive to the Farmer's Market in L.A. to buy groceries for that store. He would drive Pat Nixon on dates with other guys, like a limo service, and they'd go to the Coliseum to watch football games together.
USC drew good athletes. It was great to be part of that machine. The Olympic team in those days was like our track and swim team wearing red, white and blue instead of cardinal and gold. In our leisure time, if you had money you could do what you liked and really enjoy being a USC person, but it took money to be able to socially enjoy the social scene, to join a frat. It took money to maintain a wardrobe. You had to be a guy people wanted to associate with in order to be invited as a pledge.
But as an athlete we were considered part of that in crowd. John Wayne had played there and even though he didn't come from money he was invited to pledge a fraternity because he had a persona others wanted to have around, but he injured himself body surfing down in Newport Beach and when he fell out of the first string he lost his scholarship. His fraternity brothers loaned him money but the debts got too big after a while so he left school and went over to Fox Studios and got into the movies, but he always maintained loyalty to USC. That's What It Means to Be a Trojan.
Ambrose Schindler was the star of USC's 14-0 victory over unbeaten, untied, unscored-on Tennessee in the 1940 Rose Bowl. His pass to "Antelope Al" Kreuger secured victory and gave coach Howard Jones his fourth national championship.
Causes Steven Travers Supports
Conservative, Christian, USC, American patriotism