The Thundering Herd
Greatness also followed the Trojan players in the years after the 1931 season. Ernie Smith went from All-American to All-Pro and then the NFL Hall of Fame. Without his USC teammates, however, “I never would have achieved what I did,” he said.
He and Aaron Rosenberg were the great off-tackle blocking combination that fueled the Thundering Herd. Smith also had the utmost respect for Jones.
“He was called the ‘Head Man’ and he was that in all respects,” said Smith.
In 1932 a movie was made called The Spirit of Notre Dame. It was filmed at Loyola College in Los Angeles, and the football sequences were shot using Trojan and Loyola players (Smith among them).
In 1970 Smith was inducted into the College Hall of Fame along with the great Notre Dame coach Frank Leahy. His work with the Tournament of Roses Committee led to the foundation memorializing Howard Jones. Out of that grew sholarships for deserving USC students, leading to a number of football players going on to dental and law schools.
“There’s a tendency to shove the greats of the past into the past,” said Smith.
Ninteen thirty-two was the height of the Depression, and Los Angeles was hit as hard as most American cities. However, when it came to the world of sports, and especially college football, L.A. was “fat city.” Dean Cromwell’s magnificent track program was at full throttle, making the Olympic Games, held at the Coliseum, resemble a USC home meet of sorts. A Trojan had earned a gold medal in every Olympics since 1904 at St. Louis. The great Fred Kelly had taken gold in the 110-meter high hurdles at Stockholm in 1912. Charles Paddock, the “fastest man alive,” had competed in the famous Chariots of Fire Paris Games of 1924, where he came up empty after having earned gold in the 100 meters and four-by-100-meter relays of 1920. Frank Wykoff had earned gold in the 1928 four-by-100 meter relays, and Buster Crabbe had won a bronze in swimming.
The L.A. Games were a Trojan extravaganza, with ’SC trackmen taking five golds. The great Frank Wykoff took two of those, and Crabbe went for the gold and got one in the 400-meter freestyle swimming event.
Fresh off the glory of the Olympics, which by virtue of its being held at the Coliseum turned the campus into the Olympic Village, showing off the school, the city, and the greatness of its athletes as well, defending national champ USC and Los Angeles itself was flush with success as the 1932 football season got underway.
The participants and fans in L.A. simply had decided not to participate in the Depression. USC become not just a great football school, but a world-famous institution, in large part because it was showcased at the Games with Hollywood as its backdrop.
The 1931 team, number one and bathed in glory after beating the Irish and winning the Rose Bowl, were the epitome of college grid excellence. The 1932 team was even better, if that can be believed.
A new superstar, Aaron Rosenberg, emerged—an All-American defensive guard who powered one of the greatest defensive juggernauts of all times. Eight opponents were shut out (after six had gotten goose eggs in 1931). In 1938 Duke would be unbeaten, untied, and unscored upon in the regular season. So, too, would Tennessee the following year. Both those teams were beaten and scored on by USC in the Rose Bowl. In light of that, the ’32 Trojans must rank as one of the truly great defensive teams ever.
“Aaron Rosenberg is still considered Troy’s mightiest guard—on defense he stopped everything that came his way and charged viciously on offense,” was one appraisal of the era.
Smith was described as “headline material,” a “hammer-’em-down 200-pounder.”
“I give credit to Rosenberg for playing a big part in the success of the team’s defense against Notre Dame and Stanford in 1931 and 1932,” Coach Jones said. Of the fullbacks he was assigned to tackle, he “cracked him and messed him up.”
“The 1932 team was the strongest defensive team that USC ever had,” stated former USC publicist Al Wesson. “There were only two touchdowns scored on us all season—and they were both by passes. No one could move, no less score on the ground against us. Smith was one of the greatest tackles we ever had. Rosenberg was a smart, fine athlete. You couldn’t buy a yard against this team. I’d say without qualification that the offense of the 1931 team and the defense of the 1932 team were the best produced by Jones.”
Captain Tay Brown was an All-American tackle. Left end Ray Sparling made huge plays in crucial situations. New recruits of equal strength, an indication of Jones’s enormous recruiting ability, replaced the players from the 1931 champs who had graduated. There is little doubt that USC had gotten to the point where they enjoyed a huge advantage in attracting players to their school for reasons that went well over and above football. It was also obvious that the modest but steady success of UCLA was not preventing the great stars from wanting to be Trojans.
“If any of these players of prominence show signs of lagging,” wrote one football magazine, “Jones will have somebody else in there in a hurry.”
Jones knew that team competition was a very good thing that pushed everybody. “Players get one or two chances to make good, and if they fail it is a long time before they land on the first string again,” the magazine continued. Shaver was thought to be the player most likely to be missed, and the backfield might “lack cohesion” early.
A new superstar emerged in the USC backfield. Cotton Warburton quickly became a Trojan legend. He was only 140 pounds, but the sophomore from San Diego was a scatback, a term that applied to a number of great runners of the decade. Ted Williams, the great baseball star who also grew up in San Diego, had seen Warburton as a high schooler, would follow his career at USC, and later in his life counted Cotton as one of his all-time favorite athletes.
Warburton scored a touchdown in a 9–6 win over Washington and scored in the 13–0 defeat of Notre Dame. He scored twice in a 35–0 pasting of Pitt in the Rose Bowl.
“I was responsible for the one and only blemish on our undefeated, untied, and almost unscored on record,” Warburton did admit. He slipped in the Cal game and let the Bears score. Against Stanford, Warburton knocked down multiple Stanford passes.
“The USC defensive power was absolutely astounding; their ability to out-dazzle Mr. [Pop] Warner’s razzle-dazzle was uncanny,” wrote Mark Kelly of the Los Angeles Examiner.
USC opened the year with five straight shutouts before Warburton slipped and Cal broke the string in ’SC’s 27–7 victory. Cal was said to be desperate to win, or at least show, against the Trojans, so perplexed were they by their loss of football prestige over a decade against the team that they wanted to beat more than any. Stanford of course is their biggest rival, but USC is the top of the mountain. Perhaps they took some solace in that they ended USC’s scoreless record, but the loss was hardly a “show.” USC no longer even looked at the Bears as anything more important than the rest of the schedule. Oregon and Washington fell, and Notre Dame came into town.
Warburton returned a punt 39 yards to set up a touchdown pass, and USC recovered an Irish fumble to create another score. The game was not the dramatic extravaganza of 1931, but the Trojans faithful of 93,924 were happy to observe a good old-fashioned whuppin’.
The Pacific Coast Conference champions returned to Pasadena, where Pittsburgh came in hoping for some measure of respect after their 47–14 loss three years earlier. They should have stayed in the Steel City for the holidays.
East Coast independent Colgate<<au: who is this? SMALL SCHOOL; ED MARINARO PLAYED THERE IN 1971>> was left home. The papers remarked that they were “unbeaten, untied, unscored on, and uninvited.”
Sophomore quarterback Homer Griffith out of Fairfax High had mostly handed off to Warburton, but toward season’s end he came into his own against Notre Dame and Pitt. He hit Ford Palmer for a 50-yard first-quarter touchdown in front of 78,874. Warburton starred on both sides of the ball. He scored twice late.
Pitt went home with their tales between their legs, 35–0. USC was the back-to-back national champion, and at that point, if a poll were taken to determine the greatest program of the century up to this season, it would very well have been a tie between USC and Notre Dame, with a slight edge to ’SC.
Four years later, Pitt returned to Pasadena to play Washington. Coach Jock Sutherland ordered the bus to a stop on the hill overlooking the Arroyo Seco and announced, “There it is. There’s the place two Pittsburgh teams were beaten by a total of 68 points.”
<did you know . . .>That a tradition at USC in Ernie Smith’s day was the “haircut?” A player would take to the barber’s chair. “Barber” Smith gave him theworks: a shave, hot towel, but really a full body massage with extremely rough use of the hands, leaving black-and-blue marks on the poor guy. One day Smith gave the “haircut” and a teammate rose and pulled the towel off the “victim’s” face.
It was Howard Jones, who had been duped into thinking he was getting a real haircut.
<did you know . . .>That in 1971 USC fielded the best basketball team in the school’s history? Led by Paul Westphal, they only lost two games—both to national champion UCLA—and were number two in the nation.
<did you know . . .>That Minnesota pitcher Dave Winfield, a future Hall of Fame outfielder with San Diego and the Yankees, had struck out 14 Trojans and was leading 7–0 heading into the ninth inning of a 1973 College World Series game? USC rallied to win it 8–7 en route to a fourth straight NCAA title.
Causes Steven Travers Supports
Conservative, Christian, USC, American patriotism