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THE 1947 ROSE BOWL CONTROVERSY

Missing in Action

Outrage over postseason picks isn't new. Try the year Army was left out.

December 16, 2003|Shav Glick | Times Staff Writer

If you think the BCS controversy over this season's bowl games is big news, you should have been in Southern California in 1946.

That was the year Army, undefeated in three seasons, was prepared to play in the Jan. 1, 1947, Rose Bowl game with Glenn Davis, its Heisman Trophy winner from nearby Claremont, who would be making his first collegiate appearance before home fans after a phenomenal high school career.

On Nov. 21, however, little more than a month before the game, the announcement of an agreement among the Tournament of Roses Assn., the Pacific Coast Conference, forerunner to the Pacific 10, and the Big Nine, now the Big Ten, pulled the rug out from under Army. The conferences announced a five-year plan to put their champions, exclusively, in the Rose Bowl.

"Take it this year, or leave it," said Kenneth L. "Tug" Wilson, Big Nine commissioner, in response to grumbling about waiting until Jan. 1, 1948.

The agreement was popularly called a shotgun wedding and the outcry was immediate. There was no television and there were no Web sites or radio talk shows to keep the criticism boiling, but at the time it was no less vociferous than today's BCS arguments.

Paul Zimmerman, sports editor of the Los Angeles Times, had a black border put around his column, part of which read: "In Memoriam. The Rose Bowl. Born January 1, 1916. Died November 21, 1946 ... Rest in Peace."

Not only was Army, which had said it wanted to come to Pasadena to help with its recruiting program, insulted, but so were universities from the South, which had furnished opposing teams in seven of the previous nine games but now were locked out.

It didn't help when Wilson told reporters, in what were taken as pointed remarks about Southern schools: "We must set up a policy whereby a boy will choose a school for its educational value rather than the school choosing the boy for his athletic ability."

It also didn't help when Montana and Idaho, then members of the PCC, voted in favor of the merger, which USC and UCLA opposed. Both Bill Ackerman, UCLA graduate manager, and Willis O. Hunter, USC athletic director, were openly miffed at the 6-2 vote in favor of the pact.

Wrote columnist Maxwell Stiles in the Long Beach Press-Telegram: "We don't like being told by a bunch of professors in Missoula [Mont.] and Moscow [Idaho] and Ann Arbor [Mich.] that we must play a Big Nine team every year.

"Maybe someday we'd like to see Alabama or Columbia or Nebraska or Pitt or Duke. It isn't that we don't want to see Illinois or Michigan play, for we do. It's that we don't believe the closed shop has any place in intercollegiate football."

Commented columnist Braven Dyer of The Times: "The Coast and Western Conference [Big Nine] are the laughingstock of the sports-minded nation today. The ridicule which will be heaped upon them is richly deserved. It doesn't make sense that Montana, winner of seven conference games in 21 years, should tell fans of Southern California, who have built the Rose Bowl into a national institution, that they cannot see Army play."

There were all sorts of ideas floated to counteract the idea.

The Los Angeles City Council voted unanimously to invite Army to play Notre Dame in the Coliseum on either Dec. 22 or 25, with proceeds going to the Army and Navy Relief Fund and the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis. One council member even suggested playing it Jan. 1, directly opposite the Rose Bowl game.

Army rejected the idea and later turned down invitations to play in the Sugar and Orange Bowls.

From New York, the United Press' Oscar Fraley wrote: "The tie-up between the Pacific Coast and the Western Conference and the resultant snub of Army, make it evident that the time may be ripe for [USC or UCLA] to go independent and become the Notre Dame of the Far West."

Austen Lake, Boston Evening American columnist, suggested the agreement had come about because Pasadena real estate salespeople would find it easier to sell land "at higher prices to people from the Middle West than to the yokels from Dixie."

Criticism was universal among Southern California writers.

Said Charlie Park of the Glendale News-Press: "John Q. Public has been sold down the river again. The fans who pay the freight were virtually unanimous in wanting to see the Army play, and their wishes have been ignored."

Bob Hoenig, in the Hollywood Citizen-News: "A game that could have made football history fades out of the picture and in its place a tourist attraction takes form. There was a fumble on this play, and a bad one."

In his book, "The Rose Bowl Game," Rube Samuelsen, sports editor of the Pasadena Star-News and president of the Football Writers Assn. of America, wrote, "[Army's] being by-passed when they were not only openly willing to come but had full War Department approval appeared downright stupid."

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