Odd Football Facts - 1

Sometimes It's Better to Lose

  • In 1942 undefeated Boston College had its eye on an Orange Bowl date with Alabama as it entered its final game with archrival Holy Cross. BC had won 14 of its last 15 games while HC was a mediocre 4-4-1.
  • But the inspired Crusaders scored a stunning 55-12 upset of the Eagles.
  • As a result, the BC players cancelled their planned post-game victory party at Boston's Cocoanut Grove nightclub.
  • That night, 492 people died at the Cocoanut Grove in the deadliest nightclub fire in history.

Nickname Changes for Reasons Other Than Political Correctness

  • Akron: From Zippers to Zips (1950)
  • Arkansas: From Cardinals to Razorbacks (1909)
  • Ball State: From Hoosieroons to Cardinals (1929)
  • East Carolina: From Teachers to Pirates (1934)
  • Kansas State: From Farmers to Wildcats (1915)
  • Nebraska: From Bugeaters to Cornhuskers (1900)
  • Nevada: From Sage Hens to Wolfpack (1923)
  • Oklahoma: From Rough Riders to Sooners (1908)
  • Southern California: From Methodists to Trojans (1912)
  • Texas Tech: From Matadors to Red Raiders (1932)
  • Virginia Tech: From Fighting Gobblers to Hokies (over a period of years)

Block That Kick

  • James Ferebee of New Mexico State (1978-81) holds the all-time kick block record with 19 (eight FGs, six PATs, five punts).
  • Kevin Irvin of Memphis State blocked four punts in one game against Arkansas in 1992. James King of Central Michigan did the same against Michigan State in 2001.

    L: James King blocks one of his four punts against Michigan State. R: Joe Wessel
  • Joe Wessel scored three TDs on blocked kicks in 1984 for Florida State.

More Kicking Oddities

  • Ole Miss's Bill Smith had at least one punt of 50y or more in a record 32 consecutive games (1983-86). Smith never punted in the NFL.
  • Pat Brady of Nevada owns a record that can only be tied, not broken. He boomed a 99y punt against Loyola (CA) October 28, 1950. Brady punted 223 times for the Steelers from 1952-54, averaging 44.5 ypk.

    L-R: Bill Smith, Pat Brady
Two 50y+ Passes on Same Drive
From The National Forgotten League: Entertaining Stories and Observations from Pro Football's First Fifty Years, Dan Daly (2012)
In the 1967 season opener against the Lions, the Packers' Bart Starr completed two passes longer than 50 yards on the same drive. ...

How Starr did it ...

  1. From his own 23 late in Q3, he hit receiver Carroll Dale for a 51-yard gain to the Detroit 26.
  2. A sack and a holding penalty (which in those days was 15 yards from the spot of the foul) pushed Green Bay back to its 45. On third and 39 Bart tossed a screen to Jim Grabowski, and the FB chugged 53y behind a wall of blockers to the Detroit 2.
Elijah Pitts ran it in on the next play ...

"He got lucky," Lions DT Alex Karras said of Starr's second 50-yarder. "Third-and-[39] and he calls a screen pass. Even if you don't expect it, you should get 25y and that's all."

Bart agreed, saying the Packers went with the play only because "I didn't know of anything else we had run all day we could get 40y with."
Origin of Aggie War Hymn
From "The Aggie War Hymn" in Stadium Stories: Texas A&M Ag­gies, Olin Buchanan (2004)

As Texas A&M alumnus J. V. Wilson stood guard along Europe's Rhine River at the end of World War I, he wrote the lyrics to "The Aggie War Hymn," one of the most recognizable fight songs in col­lege football. The hymn derides the University of Texas and its alma mater, "The Eyes of Texas." But most people outside of A&M are most familiar with the hymn's conclusion, in which Aggies are encouraged to "saw varsity's horns off" – a reference to Texas' longhorn mascot. At that point of the hymn, standing Aggies cross ankles, drape arms over shoulders, and sway side to side to simu­late the sawing of the horns. When 80,000 Aggies saw the horns at home games, the press box at Kyle Field literally sways from side to side.
Texas A&M 12th Man
Sid Luckman's Father
Chicago Bears QB Sid Luckman
Sid Luckman, Bears
Sid Luckman on Cover of Life Magazine

Sid Luckman was an outstanding QB at Columbia (1936-8) and with the Chicago Bears (1939-50). He is a mem­ber of both the College and Pro Football Halls of Fame.

But his father Meyer never saw his son throw a single pass in any game, college or pro.

  • No, Meyer Luckman hadn't died earlier. He was locked away in Sing Sing prison in New York, where he spent the last eight years of his life.
  • He was convicted of killing his brother-in-law after catching him stealing money from the family truck­ing business.
  • The public was unaware of the shame Sid Luck­man's father brought to his family because it was the custom then for newspapers to protect sports heroes from bad publicity.
  • Even a profile story on Sid in Life magazine in 1938 mentioned nothing about his father being in prison, mentioning only that he was "a Brooklyn truck dri­ver."
  • Some articles claimed Meyer had died when Sid was a boy.
  • Sid didn't mention his father's conviction and in­ carceration in his 1949 autobigraphy Luckman at Quarterback.
One Man, All 40 Points
Bobby Layne, Texas
Bobby Layne

January 1, 1946 – Cotton Bowl, Dallas TX

10th-ranked Texas, champions of the Southwest Confer­ence, hosted the 10th Cotton Bowl in Dallas against Big 6 champion Missouri. (Colorado and Oklahoma A&M would join later to form the Big 8, forerunner of today's Big 12.)

  • A crowd of 45,000 witnessed the most productive game in bowl history by one player: sophomore tail­back Bobby Layne of the Longhorns.
  • Layne ran for three touchdowns, passed for two more, caught a 50y TD pass, and kicked four extra points.
  • He accounted for all his team's points in the 40-27 victory.

Layne also won Most Valuable Player in the 1948 Sugar Bowl.

  • He went on to 15-year career in the NFL for the Chicago Bears, New York Bulldogs, Detroit Lions, and Pittsburgh Steelers.
  • He is a member of both the College and Pro Football Halls of Fame.
Four SEC Ties on One Day

On Saturday, October 2, 1948, four games involving SEC teams ended in ties.

  • Alabama 14 Vanderbilt 14
  • Auburn 13 Louisiana Tech 13
  • Mississippi State 7 Baylor 7
  • Tennessee 7 Duke 7

In Mobile, Sailin' Ed Salem, a curly-topped Syrian from Birmingham, tossed a last-second TD pass and kicked the EP to gain Alabama a 14-14 tie with Vanderbilt before a capacity crowd of 36,000 in the first game at brand new Ladd Stadium.

  • Taking the snap at the Vandy 8, Salem, the sophomore successor to All-American Harry Gilmer, looked for a receiver as the final gun sounded and found Jack Brown just inside the EZ. The completion was Ed's eighth on the final drive, which began from the Commodore 48.
  • With its big line outcharging the Tide, Vandy broke the scoring ice in Q2 after neither team made a first down in the first 15 minutes. Herb Rich spun through the line from the 4 for the TD.
  • After a scoreless third period, Bama tied the contest at 7 early in Q4, the key play in the march being a 44y connection from Salem to Rebel Steiner. Ed did the honors on a run over LT from the 5.
  • Paced by Rich's running and passing, the Commodores retook the lead 14-7 on a 3y plunge by Dean Davidson.
  • That set the stage from Salem's last second dramatics.
Eddie Salem, AlabamaHerb Rich, Vanderbilt
L: Eddie Salem; R: Herb Rich

At Auburn, E Ralph Pyburn missed a "gimme" 18y FG in the closing minutes, and the Tigers had to settle for a 13-13 tie with pluckyLouisiana Tech before a homecoming crowd of 12,000.

  • The errant boot came after Auburn recovered a fumble on the Bulldog 15.
  • The home team scored first in the opening period when star TB Travis Tidwell went over from the 1 to wind up a 79y march. Pyburn's PAT try went awry.
  • Tech evened the count in Q3 when Jim Harrison ran a punt back 52y, then drove into the EZ from the 2 several plays later. Joe Michael missed his placement to leave the game tied.
  • The visitors pulled out in front in Q4 but didn't hold the lead long. HB Arnold Mathews intercepted Tidwell's pass on the Tech 45 and outran the entire Tiger team to the goal line. This time, Michael made his placement.
  • But HB Ray Pelfrey took the ensuing kickoff and dashed 87y to pay dirt. Pyburn's kick tied the fray.
Travis Tidwell, AuburnRalph Pyburn, Auburn
L: Travis Tidwell; R: Ralph Pyburn

21,000 saw Baylor's T and Mississippi State's single wing fight to a 7-7 tie in Memphis.

  • The Maroons' famed Shorty McWilliams, playing his fifth year of college football thanks to an NCAA rule that didn't count his 1945 season at West Point, led an attack that outgained the Bears on the ground 118-57. (Shorty's monicker was a reverse nickname since he stood 6'3".)
  • However, Adrian Burk's passing arm put Baylor ahead in the aerial battle 83-15.
  • State broke the ice in Q2 when sophomore E Art Tait blocked Burk's punt at the 18, and Murry Alexander plucked the ball out of the ozone and carried it over.
  • Baylor's tally came after a sustained drive launched at the outset of Q3. Strangely enough, the Bears' ground game netted four first downs to the State 30. At that point, Hayden Fry (future coach of SMU and Iowa) completed the first pass of the half. Several more passes moved the pigskin from the 2, from where Frank Boydstun took it over.
  • The Texans rued the end of the first half when they blocked McWilliams' kick and took over at the MSU 6. A pass put the ball on the 1, but the half ended before the Bears could run another play.
Shorty McWilliams, Mississippi StatAdrian Burk, Baylor
L: Shorty McWilliams; R: Adrian Burk

Visiting Tennessee battled Duke to an ineffectual 7-7 deadlock before 22,000 fans whose chief thrills came from the aerials of Vol TBs J. B. Proctor and Hal Littleford.

  • The Blue Devils scored the first time they had the ball. WB Tommy Hughes took the kickoff on his 12 and hauled it back 30y. After one first down, Vol Jack Armstrong intercepted a pass from TB Fred Folger on his 28 but fumbled it after a savage tackle, QB John Montgomery pouncing on the ball for Duke. Two player later, Folger threw more accurately to E Ed Austin for a 28y TD. Mike Souchak (future PGA golfer) split the uprights to make it 7-0.
  • The Vols tied the score in Q2 when Proctor plopped a 30y pass into the arms of E Kenneth Powell at the 10. His momentum carried him into the EZ on his stomach. Powell added the tying point.
  • In the second half, Duke G Jimmy Knotts blocked a quick kick on the UT 17. E Bill Duncan grabbed the ball and took off but was knocked down on the 10. Eschewing a FG, the Devils gained only 5y in four tries.
J.B. Proctor, TennesseeFred Folger, Duke
L: J. B. Proctor; R: Fred Folger
Lombardi for VP

In 1968, Republican presidential candidate Richard Nixon gave serious consideration to asking Vince Lombardi to be his vice-presidential running mate.

  • Lombardi had retired as coach of the Packers after the 1967 season, al­though he still served as GM.
  • So Nixon wouldn't anger the voters of Wisconsin, a state he had carried by a small margin over John F. Kennedy in 1960, by taking away their coach.
Richard Nixon at Whittier College
Richard Nixon Whittier College
Redskins Coach Vince Lombardi
Vince Lombardi
George Allen and Richard Nixon
Richard Nixon and George Allen
Spiro Agnew
Spiro Agnew

David Maraniss in When Pride Still Mattered: A Life of Vince Lombardi explains what happened.
Nixon loved football and was a student of strong leadership. He was impressed by Lombardi's charisma and old-fashioned philosophy, and assigned one of his coun­selors, John Mitchell, to conduct a background check on the coach. By Mitchell's later account, he returned with disheartening news -- they had the affections of the wrong Lombardi. Marie Lombardi (Vince's wife) was a conservative and a Nixon supporter, but Vince Lombardi was aligned with the Kennedys, too much of a Democrat, and had little regard for Nixon."
Nixon, of course, won the election without Lombardi.
  • However, Vince moved to Washington anyway to coach the Redskins for the 1970 season before dying of cancer before the '71 campaign.
  • Nixon stayed clear of Lombardi that season but famously suggested plays to George Allen, Vince's successor, and visited practice.
  • The man Nixon chose to be his vice president, Spiro Agnew, resigned in 1973 amid charges that included tax fraud.
The Snow Bowl

Can you imagine two teams combining for over 30 fumbles in one game?

Iowa and Wisconsin did that in a game played November 7, 1925, in Iowa City. As you might surmise, the weather had a lot to do with the bobbling.

  • Snow began falling early that morning, and by game time the field was coated with a two-inch blanket of white. The sheltered portions of the grandstands were well filled for the 5-0 Hawkeyes' final home game of the season, but there were vast vacant spaces in the sections open to the north wind. Many in the crowd of 10,000 left before the game was half over.
  • As the game began, the heavy snowfall made it almost impossible to see the yard and sideline stripes. The Wisconsin kicker had difficulty determining where to place the ball for the kickoff. The umpire dug through the snow to find the correct spot.
  • Both teams' backfields wore canvas gloves much of the time. But they didn't help players who were blinded by the hard driven snow and handicapped by the slippery ball and unsafe footing.
  • The fumbling started on the opening kickoff, but Iowa retained the pigskin. Twice within the first five plays from scrimmage, the Hawks again fumbled but managed to recover each one.
  • Two plays later, captain Donald Graham dropped back to punt. He fumbled the snap but recovered and tried to boot, but the ball squirted off his toe for 7y.
  • Two plays later, it was the Badgers' turn to fumble, giving the ball back to the Hawkeyes. However, Iowa returned the favor three plays later.
  • Failing to gain a first down, Wisconsin set up to punt with the ball on the Iowa 45. Leo Harmon got the boot off, but the wind blew the ball back to the Wisconsin 33. A -22 yarder will wreak havoc on your punting average!
  • But Harmon didn't have to kick himself because Iowa immediately fumbled the ball back. So Leo, probably aiming lower against the gale, kicked it 20y downfield on first down.
1925 Iowa-Wisconsin Action - 1
And so the contest went.
  • Officials had difficulty determining if first downs were made.
  • The snow bank at the south end of the field was so deep that one punt landed squarely and held fast.
  • "Who was it?" was a popular query among the spectators as they tried vainly to identify who was who.
1925 Iowa-Wisconsin Action - 2
Iowa's best scoring chance came in Q2.
  • Harmon fumbled, Iowa recovering on the Wisconsin 32. After a loss of 3, John Schirmer gained 12y over RT, one of the largest gains in the entire game. But the next three smashes by Schirmer gained just 3y.
  • So with the ball on the UW 18, Hogan entered the fray to try a drop kick for a FG. But he couldn't handle the slippery snap, and aghost in red covered the ball before he could retrieve it.
1925 Iowa-Wisconsin Action - 3
Wisconsin finally broke the scoring ice in Q4.
  • When one of Graham's punts carried straight up for almost no gain, the Badgers took possession on the Iowa 27.
  • Three smashes by Harmon gained 12y. Three more plays, and the ball was on the 1.
  • Doyle Harmon tried four times to punch over, but twice he slipped, once he was tackled from behind, and the last time the Iowa wall was impregnable.
  • Graham tried to punt out of danger immediately, but his punt was blocked and UW recovered. But the Badgers were penalized to the 6 for offside. Again Graham tried to boot it out, and again it was blocked and recovered on the 11.
  • The Harmon brothers gained 5 between them, and a penalty put the ball on the 1. Finally, Robert Kreuz plunged over for the TD. It was first reported that QB Edwin Crofoot scored the 6, but the mistake was corrected after the game.
  • Twice during the closing minutes, Leo Harmon punted against the wind from behind his goal line to keep the Hawks at bay.
  • Iowa attempted its first pass of the afternoon on the final play of the game, but it fell incomplete.
1925 Iowa-Wisconsin Action - 4
The offensive statistics showed the ineptitude of both teams.
  • Iowa outgained the visitors 74-56y.
  • The Hawkeyes managed four first downs to just two for the victors.
  • Harmon punted 13 times for a 30y average while Graham's 14 boots averaged 27y. Both boomed kicks with the wind at their backs to raise their final averages. During the first period, Graham blasted a punt 70y which rolled over the UW goal line.

There were so many fumbles that accounts differ as to how many.

  • The Associated Press article claims 33 with 19 by Iowa. However, the Hawkeyes also recovered 19.
  • Other accounts peg the total number of fumbles as high as 40.