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Saturday, February 10, 2007

Remembering 1939...

The Disheartening Tie
by Brooks

I love nostalgia! Traveling back in time to the 1939 UCLA game is more than just reminiscing about a football game. It is an emotional trip in a mental time machine. (photo left: Brooks and his dog Kobe) It is reliving a different time and life that no one can take away from me. No television, no video games, the automobile and airplane age was in its infancy, few had radios, the family without a car was the norm, few had phones and those that did usually were on a party line with one or more other families. We didn’t sit in the house watching television, we played outside; baseball, basketball and football or we dug caves, built tree houses and swung from ropes in trees like Tarzan. Sometimes on Saturday, if we could snatch enough milk bottles to raise a dime, we would go to the movies. Two movies, a serial like the Lone Ranger, newsreel, coming attractions and a cartoon!

The 1939 USC-UCLA game was a classic. (photo right: Hatchet Man and Gunslinger make nice before the big game) The Trojans were ranked number 3 in the country. Being nationally ranked was expected of the Trojans, but for the first time in their young football history the Bruins were also nationally ranked at number 9. The Bruins had never beaten the Trojans. The game promised to be spectacular. The local papers were hyping it like never before.

Things were different in 1939. The nation was slowly climbing out of a devastating Depression and Hitler was raising hell in Europe. America was fat, dumb and happy and football was as big then as it is now in Los Angeles.

Most of the Herders, if dropped into 1939 Los Angeles, would have no idea where they were. (photo left: the LA Examiner building). Automobiles were squat, boxy and noisy and, due to the depression, were mostly out of repair. I lived at 10537 San Gabriel, in South Gate at the time, less than five miles from the Coliseum. South Gate was so named because it was in fact the south gate into Los Angeles. In 1939, a billboard sign claimed that we were the fastest growing city in America. Streets were about 200 feet apart and mostly full of little bungalow and Spanish style houses; early hardhat manor. And they were also full of kids like me. The streets up until about a year earlier had not been paved. You got into the country driving down Long Beach Blvd. to the beach. Strawberry farming was still a major business in the area.

South Gate was heaven in those days. There was no smog. A typical day, winter or summer, was high clouds and/or a white mist that would break up at mid morning and the deep blue would peek though and gradually overtake the white. The morning of December 9th was no different. We had been arguing about the game all week at school. As now, there were Bruins and Trojans; and about equally divided. As I recall, we Trojans were a little brighter and better athletes than the Bruins. We had NO chance of actually seeing the game. It was an early sellout and there were rumors that scalpers were getting as much as $5 for tickets. $5 or $.25, it made no difference to me and most of the San Gabriel kids. Raising $.25 was out of the question. It never occurred to me to ask my Pop for a quarter. Not only would he have not given it to me, he wouldn’t even have taken the request seriously.

We played football the morning of the game on the lawn at the corner of Tenaya and San Gabriel. The lawn was owned by the Browns who lived next door. The two Brown kids, Tom and Jack usually played with us but if they didn’t, the Browns still let us play there. They were in the game that day, along with me, my brother Jack, John Pattee, later an All-league miler at SGHS and later on the UCLA track team. I can’t remember who else was there but there were about ten of us. Someone had a radio on a cord near the sidewalk. When the big game started, we stopped our game and grouped around the radio.

Grenny Lansdell and Amby Schindler were the stars for USC. Lansdell was an All-American and two-time All-PCC. A few weeks later, Schindler would be the MVP in the Trojan win over Tennessee in the Rose bowl. Nave was still there along with Al Krueger (photo right: Al Krueger catching TD pass against Duke in '39 RB). All-American interior lineman Harry Smith from Chaffey High School played for the Trojans. The great Bobby Robertson was a back up QB. Other Trojans on that team that went on to play in the pros, along with Lansdell, Nave, Kruger, Schindler, were Bill Fisk, Bob Winslow, Bob Hoffman, Howard Stoeker, Phil Gaspar, Ben Sohn, Bob Peoples and Jack Banta. Thirteen Trojans from that team were drafted in the years 39 and 40.

The Bruins obviously had a great team too, but the only two players I remember were Jackie Robinson and Kenny Washington. Washington had a good pro career in football and Robinson, of course, broke the color barrier in baseball and is a hall of famer (photo left: Kenny Washington).

I can’t really remember much about the game except the Trojans seemed to dominate it. They just didn’t score. It seems like I remember a lot of calls for Washington and Robinson making great defensive plays. It seemed to me that it was just a matter of time before the Trojans scored. But they didn’t. Toward the end of the game, the Bruins began to make some great plays and took the ball to the goal line. I don’t remember if it was first and goal on the one or second and goal on the one but it was scary.

The Bruin kids were jumping up and down, doing cartwheels on the lawn and generally just making themselves obnoxious. We Trojans just stood there in stunned disbelief. What was going on, how can this be, I remember thinking. (photo right: Jackie Robinson) I was near tears. Third and one Kenny Washington was stopped cold with no gain. Fourth and one! I remember the announcer marveling that they were going to go for it instead of kicking a field goal. I’m not sure but I believe the announcer was Bill Stearn. Anyway, I can’t remember who carried the ball, probably Washington or Robinson, but they were stopped cold. The game ended shortly after. The stupid Bruin kids stopped their gyrations and we took it where they left off. Then later, after it had sunk in and the euphoria had dimmed, the attitudes reversed again. The gutsy little Bruins had tied the mighty Trojans. I realized that we hadn’t won, we only tied and in being tied, maybe we lost. Anyway, those stupid Bruin kids acted in school on Monday like they had won. I hate ties.

People who know more about these things than I do tell me it is impossible, we were standing over 4 miles from the Coliseum, but when the Trojans made that stop on the one yard line, I KNOW I HEARD THE CROWD ROARING!

1 comment:

tim said...

Nice Story, Keep 'em coming.