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Wednesday, February 21, 2007

A Trojan Idol...

Jim Hardy, my Hero
by Brooks

After Amby Schindler, Grenny Lansdell and Mickey McCardle, there was Jim Hardy in the history of Trojan heroes, at least in the history that I lived beginning in 1939. All were great backs but number 21, Hardy, became my favorite. Maybe because he was the first player who I actually saw play. Maybe because I was a little older or maybe because, at least in my mind, he was the first of the modern-day heroes.

His career overlapped with Mickey McCardle who was in the Marine Corp. He played in '42, '43, and '44, having been a high school star at Fairfax HS. He played behind McCardle in '42. McCardle shipped out in '43, and returned after the war. Hardy took over in '43 ( I believe he had a service commitment too). That is the year that Jeff Cravath, in his second year, installed the T-Formation. Hardy was the first Trojan T quarterback and was an immediate success. I was in Fontana Junior High School at the time and the war had just started. There was no TV then so you either went to the games or listened on the radio. I think I actually saw him play four times, hitchhiking from Fontana for three games in the Coliseum and my uncle took me once when the played March Field on the Riverside Junior College field. I listened on the radio for all the other games he played at USC.

He wasn’t a big guy, I think about 5-11 and 180 lbs but was a gifted athlete. He played both ways and did the punting. (photo right: Brooks in the middle, laughing at one of Mojack's jokes) The highlight of his career was the record he set in the 44 and 45 Rose Bowl games, passing for three touchdowns against Washington and then two more against Tennessee, the following year. In addition, he ran for a touchdown against the Vols and punted out of bounds within the ten yard line three (or four) times.

He had an unremarkable career in the pros. I followed as much as I could. All the pro teams were in the east until '48 when the Rams moved to LA. I believe he played for the St. Louis Cardinals and another team. I read about him from time to time being involved in the Rose Bowl or the Coliseum…or maybe both. In 1966, I was appointed to handle Security for the Anaheim Police Department in the brand new home of the Angels. I was there two years. I don’t remember whether it was '66 or '67 but Hardy promoted a double header AFC football game. He was pushing to get a team to move to Anaheim Stadium.

I was excited knowing that I would be working with “HIM.” The first time I saw him was when we got on the elevator at the same time. I was surprised that we were about the same size. Somehow I had the image of him being a big guy. I introduced myself to him and told him that he had been my Trojan football hero when I was a kid. He was very friendly, gracious and personable. We talked for a while after we got off the elevator and I told him how I used to argue with my older brothers about who was better between him and Bob Waterfield, his rival from UCLA. He asked me who I picked and I said, “you, of course, you were a Trojan.” He winked, slapped me on the shoulder and said I’d have to go along with your big brothers. I wasn’t convinced. I’m still not.

In the planning meeting, the question of how much to charge for the programs arose. Our people wanted to charge $2.00 I believe. He asked what they normally charged at NFL games and they said a dollar (I could be wrong about the amounts) and he said in a slightly elevated voice, “then it’s a dollar, we’re trying to sell them professional football not gouge them at the peanut stand.” And that’s what it was.

After the meeting, I was walking toward the elevator and he called my name. The great Jim Hardy knew my name. I turned and he took a handful of tickets out of a stack and handed them to me. He didn’t even count them. It turned out to be 13 tickets near the middle of the field.

I never saw him at the game or afterwards until November 18, 1999, at the Thursday practice before the 1999 Bruin game. I saw him across the field from the Goux Gate and walked over to him. I shook his hand and told him who I was and I could tell he didn’t recognize me. I reminded him that we had met before the double header football game in Anaheim and he said, “That was over 30 years ago and I’m 75 years old. Are you going to hold that against me because I can’t remember that?” I said, I don’t know why not, I’m only ten years younger than you and I remember.

We talked about the upcoming game. (photo right: Jim Hardy) He wasn’t too confident. I think the Bruins were favored to win their ninth straight. We talked a long time about the old days, the old football players of his day and the present. I tried to make the case for the old guys being better but he wasn’t buying it. He is just such a modest unassuming guy. I did get a concession from him that maybe they were a little tougher and better disciplined in his day but smaller and slower. Of course, we went on to break the 8-game losing streak on Saturday. I see him from time to time at practices. I say hello and he responds in a friendly way but I don’t think he remembers me still. It doesn’t matter at all to me. I remember him!

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