If you think your father's bowl games (1986-87) or your grandpa's bowl games (1961-62) seem like a different game or like ancient history, then get ready for an even longer and stranger trip back into a world where all the games were in black and white (in photos, not in the real world, silly!), none of them were on television, players were expected to play the whole game (both offense and defense), face masks were unheard of and the ball was actually a real pig carcass.
Just kidding about that last one!
Welcome to your great-grandfather's bowl games, circa 75 years ago (1936-37).
First, it's important to know that before World War II, when there was no GI Bill and most college campuses (both public and private) were not yet co-educational, getting a college education was quite rare. Students either came from wealthy families who could afford to pay the entire cost of the student's education, or, if they were fortunate, received academic scholarships from private or public sources.
Therefore, the chances of someone of your great-grandfather's generation going to college were far, far less than your own chances of going to college.
This goes a long way toward explaining both the origin of the sport of American football among the elite schools of what would become the Ivy League and the dominance of Ivy League schools in the early decades of the sport.
By the 1930s, however, that dominance was fading, as college football became a truly national pastime—enough so that in the 1936-37 season, the Associated Press (AP) began a poll of sportswriters to rank the top 20 teams.
The first AP poll was released on October 19, 1936; it has continued uninterrupted since, and is without a doubt the most important individual poll (the coaches' poll did not begin until the 1950-51 season, and has been through several ownership changes since then). There were multiple polls and mathematical formulas in existence before the AP began in 1936-37, and there have been others created since then. But the creation of the AP poll marked a watershed for college football, equally important to college football as the Fiesta Bowl's "National Championship Game" would be 50 years later (1986-87).
There was another important milestone in 1936-37: the first Cotton Bowl Game was held. Matching TCU and Marquette, the Cotton Bowl joined the other January 1st bowl games (all the bowl games in 1936-37 were on that day): the Rose, Orange, Sugar and Sun Bowls.
Other seemingly eternal college football institutions were only in their infancy in 1936-37.
The Heisman Trophy was only in its second year, and actually in its first year being called "The Heisman Memorial Trophy Award." In its first year, when Jay Berwanger of the University of Chicago won the award, it was called "The Downtown Athletic Club (DAC) Trophy." The trophy was named soon after DAC president John William Heisman—the former coach of multiple college teams, including Auburn, Clemson, Georgia Tech, Penn and Rice—died on October 3, 1936. Larry Kelley of Yale (see picture above) was therefore the first player to win the award under its present name.
The Orange, Sugar and Sun Bowls were only in their third year (though the Sun Bowl's first year had involved a local "All-Star" team of high school players). Other bowl games existed briefly in the years before World War II (including the "Bacardi Bowl;" see next slide), but these three, along with the Rose Bowl and the Cotton Bowl, have stood the test of time.
The 13-team (!) Southeastern Conference (SEC) was only in its fourth year, having separated from its parent conference, the then 23-team (!!) Southern Conference (SoCon) before the 1933-34 season. Six of the remaining 10 SoCon teams (Clemson, Duke, Maryland, North Carolina, North Carolina St. and South Carolina) would later be founding members of the Atlantic Coast Conference in 1953-54.
As you read the rest of this slideshow, keep in mind the following: only 12 teams participated in the college football postseason in 1936-37; the AP "national champion" was named before the bowl games, and was prohibited by its conference from playing in any such postseason exhibitions; that seven of the top 20 schools in the final AP poll (and five of the 12 teams in the bowl games) no longer play in the top tier of college football.
So, without further delay, here are the six "glorified exhibitions" of the 1936-37 season:
This game technically had no formal name; the sobriquet "Bacardi Bowl" was bestowed upon it by the more-than-willing press—who no doubt had consumed the namesake libation at some point during their stay in Cuba.
The game was part of the Cuban Christmas Sports Festival, organized by the Cuban government to promote Cuban tourism and Cuban products to American consumers. The timing was not ideal; the U.S. was still in the Great Depression, and Cuban president-of-the-month (well, seven months, actually) Miguel Mariano Gomez y Arias had just been ousted by the person who was really in charge behind the scenes, Colonel Fulgencio Batista y Zaldívar. Batista had come to power in 1933 and ran Cuba for the next quarter-century, either indirectly through figurehead presidents or as president himself.
Batista's ouster of Gomez two days before the start of the festival gave Auburn coach Jack Meagher cause for concern; Meagher insisted that Auburn receive its share of the game payout before the game or the team would not leave the United States (there is no record of whether Villanova coach Maurice J. "Clipper" Smith did the same).
One of the more infamous events of the Cuban Christmas Sports Festival was the race between Jesse Owens (who had just won Olympic medals in Berlin the previous summer) and a horse (ridden by a jockey). It's clear from the video that this was more of a publicity stunt than an actual contest.
So: Jesse Owens vs. horse on the undercard Dec. 26th, 1936, followed by Auburn vs. Villanova in the main event on Jan. 1st, 1937.
Auburn came into the game with a 7-2-1 record and had finished third in the Southeastern Conference (SEC), behind AP No. 2 LSU and AP No. 4 Alabama. The two losses were to Sugar Bowl participants LSU and Santa Clara; the tie was against Tulane. The Tigers were unranked, though they had been ranked as high as AP No. 16 during the season. More surprisingly, they had not played Alabama since the 1907-08 season; it would not be until 1948-49 that the two schools resumed their rivalry.
Meagher was in the third year of a nine-year career at Auburn. This was Auburn's first bowl game; the next season (1937-38) would see Meagher take the Tigers to the Orange Bowl. After that, however, came a 15-year bowl drought.
Villanova came into the game with a 7-2 record. Its two losses were to fellow eastern independents Bucknell and Temple; the Wildcats could boast wins over eastern independent Penn State and SoCon member South Carolina. Coach Smith was in the first year of a seven-year career at Villanova. This was also Villanova's first bowl.
The game proved to be a defensive affair, with plentiful punting and little scoring. That was to be expected, since Auburn had notched six shutouts in its 10 regular season games, while Villanova tallied four shutouts in its nine regular season contests.
The Tigers broke the scoreless deadlock late in the first quarter with a 40-yard touchdown run by halfback Billy Hitchcock, and led at the half, 7-0. Some extra entertainment had been provided in the second quarter when a fight broke out between Sam McCrocksey of Auburn and Joe Missar of Villanova and the two players were ejected.
The second half saw more defensive superiority, as neither team could mount a successful scoring drive. However, early in the fourth quarter the Wildcats blocked an Auburn quick-kick (early punt) deep in Auburn territory, and lineman Matthew Kuber ran the ball in for a touchdown. The game finished in a 7-7 tie.
Auburn would appear in the Orange Bowl the following season (1937-38), but then the Tigers would suffer a 15-year bowl drought. Villanova wouldn't return to a bowl game until 1947-48 and would eventually leave Division I-A (now FBS) after the 1980-81 season.
Interestingly, the Wildcats would play Auburn during the regular season in each of the following six years (1937-38 through 1942-43) while Smith was coach. Apparently the two teams—or at least the two coaches—bonded during their Cuba experience...
Not surprisingly, the relatively minor Sun Bowl matched two relatively minor Texas college teams: Hardin-Simmons University and the Texas College of Mines and Metallurgy (now UTEP).
Hardin-Simmons is now NCAA Div. III. At the time, it was independent, and later (1941-61) a member of the Border Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, along with Texas Mines. During that time it was in the NCAA "University" Division ("major" college). Between 1964-89, it had no football team.
The Cowboys were making their second consecutive Sun Bowl appearance, having tied New Mexico State, 14-14, in the first Sun Bowl to feature two college teams. They came into the game with a record of 8-2. The two losses came against Southwest Conference (SWC) members Texas A&M (which would finish the season 8-3-1) and Baylor (which would finish 6-3-1).
The rest of the Cowboys' schedule, with the exception of Fresno State, consisted of schools whose teams now compete in NCAA Divisions II and III, in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) or which have dropped football altogether.
Texas Mines was playing in its first bowl game; conveniently for them, the game took place on their home field. The Miners came into the game with a record of 5-2-1, having finished second in the Border Conference to Arizona. The two losses came to West Texas A&M in the season opener and to fellow Border Conference member Arizona State; the tie came against Border Conference member Northern Arizona. Coach Mack Saxon was in the eighth year of a 13-year career in El Paso.
The first half of the game was fairly close; Hardin-Simmons scored first on a 13-yard run by Si Addington; the Miners then countered with a 40-yard touchdown pass (the extra point failed).
However, the game soon proved to be a mismatch. The Cowboys then scored 27 unanswered points on four rushing touchdowns. They led 13-6 at halftime, and the game finished 34-6.
Hardin-Simmons amassed 467 yards of total offense, of which 400 yards were on the ground; Addington was the game's leading rusher, with 142 yards on 16 carries. Texas Mines could only manage 109 yards, and only 46 yards rushing.
The Cowboys would go on to appear twice more in the Sun Bowl, in 1943-44 and 1958-59; the rest of their appearances were in minor bowl games, and as mentioned, football returned to the university as an NAIA (and later NCAA Division III) program in 1990-91.
The Miners would not appear in a bowl again for 12 years, until the 1948-49 season; incidentally, their first eight bowl appearances would all be in the Sun Bowl, at their home stadium. The last of those appearances was in 1967-68, during UTEP's "golden era." They haven't appeared in the Sun Bowl since then; their next bowl appearance after the December 1967 Sun Bowl came 21 years later, in the December 1988 Independence Bowl.
The first Cotton Bowl game was held in the wake of the Texas Centennial Exhibition, which had lasted most of the autumn of 1936. The stadium, which was built in 1930, had been named Fair Park Stadium after its location at the site of the Texas State Fairgrounds. In 1936, the stadium was renamed the Cotton Bowl, a name which it retains to this day.
TCU came into the game with an 8-2-2 record and ranked AP No. 16. The Horned Frogs had finished a half-game behind Arkansas (4-1-1 to 5-1-0) in the Southwest Conference (SWC), but the SWC did not automatically send its champion to the Cotton Bowl until the 1940-41 season. The Cotton Bowl invite would hinge on whether TCU beat undefeated (and Sugar Bowl-bound) Santa Clara in the final regular season game for both teams. The Horned Frogs shut out the AP No. 6 Broncos and received the Cotton Bowl Bid.
TCU's two losses had come against Texas Tech and Texas A&M; its two ties came against Mississippi State and crosstown rival SMU. In addition to the upset of Santa Clara, the Horned Frogs also had quality wins against Arkansas and Baylor. Coach Dutch Meyer was in the third year of a 19-year career at TCU.
Quarterback Sammy Baugh was in his senior year, had finished fourth in the Heisman Trophy voting and had been named a consensus All-American for a second straight year. He had helped lead the Horned Frogs to a 12-1 record and a "national title" the year before (1935-36), although there were *five* such "national champions" that year named by different polls and formulas (LSU, Minnesota, Princeton and SMU being the other four).
The Marquette Golden Avalanche came into the Cotton Bowl with a 7-1 record and ranked AP No. 20. An independent, Marquette had established rivalries with cross-state rival (and Big Ten member) Wisconsin, fellow independent Michigan State (which wouldn't join the Big Ten until the mid-1950s), Big Six member Iowa State and fellow Jesuit (Catholic) school St. Louis University. The Golden Avalanche faced those four teams in the first four games of the season, winning them all. They also beat SEC member Mississippi. Marquette's one loss was to eastern independent (and Orange Bowl-bound) Duquesne in the final game of the season.
Frank J. Murray was in the 15th and final year of his first stint as Marquette head coach; he would return to coach the Golden Avalanche for four years after World War II. However, this would be the school's one and only bowl game in its football history.
Marquette had their own consensus All-American back, Ray "Buzz" Buivid, who had finished third (ahead of Baugh) in the Heisman Trophy voting. Buivid was drafted by the Chicago Bears, but only played two seasons.
Both teams were capable of using the passing game to win, but the game proved (as many, but not all, postseason bowls do) to be a defensive struggle instead. Each team threw three interceptions in the game.
TCU scored first; after an interception of Buivid, the Horned Frogs used the reverse play on the ground along with "quick out" passes down the sideline to drive deep into Marquette territory, but the drive stalled, and TCU settled for a field goal. However, Marquette was ready for Baugh's surprise "quick kick" the next time TCU had the ball, as back Art Guepe returned Baugh's punt for a 60-yard touchdown. The extra point failed, and Marquette had its only lead of the game, 6-3, roughly midway through the first quarter.
The lead didn't last long, as TCU drove 78 yards for the touchdown, with Baugh completing a 55-yard touchdown pass to end/kicker L.D. Meyer (the coach's nephew), who then kicked the extra point to put TCU back in front, 10-6.
That was it until late in the second quarter, when TCU launched another drive, this time of 62 yards, culminating in an 18-yard touchdown pass to L.D. Meyer from back Vic Montgomery. The TCU extra point missed, and the score at halftime would prove to be the final score: a 16-6 win for TCU.
The two teams finished about even in terms of total yards passing, with TCU having 149 yards and Marquette having 134. However, TCU overwhelmed the Marquette defense with 169 rushing yards to the Golden Avalanche's 55. Though the Marquette defense did reasonably well against TCU, the fact that the offense was unable to score (the only Marquette score having come on special teams) sealed the team's fate.
TCU would go on to win the AP "National Championship" two years later, in the 1938-39 season, with Horned Frogs quarterback Davey O'Brien winning the Heisman as well. Marquette, on the other hand, would eventually drop football after the 1960-61 season, as the divide between the University Division and the College Division widened.
Much as today, the Southeastern Conference (SEC) was well-represented in the postseason in 1936-37, with three of its 13 teams (LSU, Auburn and Mississippi State) playing in the six bowl games. Unlike today, this was partly due to the Big Ten prohibition on its members playing postseason games (which lasted from 1902-03 through 1945-46).
The Orange Bowl was in its third year of existence as a proper bowl game, and in its final year at Miami Field, before the game's namesake stadium was built on the same spot.
Duquesne, an independent, came into the game ranked AP No. 14 and with a record of 7-2. Its two losses had come to West Virginia Wesleyan and Detroit; its seven wins—including important wins over crosstown rival (and Rose Bowl-bound) Pittsburgh and fellow independent (and Cotton Bowl-bound) Marquette—had *all* come by shutout. Not only that; in the two losses, the opponents collectively scored 16 points. So Duquesne's defensive pedigree was evident.
Coach John P. "Clipper" Smith (no relation to Villanova coach Maurice J. Smith, who was also known as "Clipper") was in his first year as coach of the Dukes after a three-year stint at North Carolina State; he would coach three years at Duquesne, finishing with an 18-12 record.
Mississippi State came into the game unranked and with a record of 7-2-1, finishing fifth in the 13-team SEC with a conference record of 3-2. The two losses had come, unsurprisingly, against SEC champion LSU and second-place Alabama. The tie came against TCU in a scoreless affair in Dallas. There were no signature wins, although a 26-6 victory against struggling rival Ole Miss (who would finish 5-5-2 for the year) was welcome.
Coach Ralph Sasse was in the second of his three years at MSU, and had led the Bulldogs to an 8-3 record the previous year (1935-36), but the 2-3 conference record was only good for ninth place. You see, during this time, SEC teams only played half of their games against conference opponents; the non-conference schedule could be determined according to each team's wishes.
This led to 10 of the 13 SEC teams finishing with .500 records or better in 1936-37, thanks to relatively weak (and large) non-conference schedules. The more cynical among you are free to note the parallels with the present day.
Nevertheless, the Bulldogs could also boast of their defense, as six of their seven wins had come by shutout.
Mississippi State started off the game more brightly, taking a 6-0 lead from a 10-yard touchdown run by back Ike Pickle (the PAT failed).
Duquesne then scored on a 1-yard run in the second quarter by tailback Boyd Brumbaugh, and although MSU would answer with a 40-yard touchdown pass from Pee Wee Armstrong to Fred Walters to retake the lead, 12-7 (they missed the PAT again), the Bulldogs' offense would sputter for the rest of the game, throwing four interceptions on the day.
The Dukes didn't exactly shine on offense themselves, but they didn't have to; their defense shut the Bulldogs down for the rest of the game. Late in the fourth quarter, Brumbaugh heaved a long pass downfield and connected with end Ernie Hefferle for a 72-yard score. The extra point failed, so Brumbaugh's converted PAT in the first half had proven to be the margin of victory. Mississippi State's two missed extra points turned out to have cost them the game.
The final score was Duquesne 13, Mississippi State 12.
This would be the Dukes' first, last and only major bowl game; Duquesne would drop football from 1951-52 through 1968-69, before returning in 1979-80 as a Division III program. In 1993-94, the Dukes made the leap up to Division I-AA (now FCS), where they remain to this day.
This was Mississippi State's first bowl game, and although the Bulldogs would return to the Orange Bowl four years later (beating Georgetown...yes, *that* Georgetown), at the end of the 1940-41 season, it would then be a 22-year wait until their third bowl game.
LSU came into the Sugar Bowl ranked AP No. 2, while Santa Clara was ranked AP No. 6.
The Santa Clara Broncos were the Boise State of their time. An independent, they became an NCAA University Division ("major college") independent once the designation was created the next season (1937-38). The Broncos had finished the season 7-1; the only loss was to Cotton Bowl-bound TCU in the season finale, 10-6.
The Broncos' quality wins came against local rivals Stanford, St. Mary's (Cal.) and San Jose State; Santa Clara also beat bowl-bound Auburn (12-0). All four of those games were shutouts; indeed, five of the Broncos' seven wins were shutouts.
Santa Clara was coached by Buck Shaw, who was known as the "Silver Fox." Shaw was in his first season as head coach and immediately turned the team around from the previous season's 3-6 record. He would go on to have a record of 47-10-4 in seven seasons, after which he coached at Cal and Air Force, as well as the San Fransisco 49ers (in the four years of the All-America Football Conference) and the Philadelphia Eagles in the NFL, leading the Eagles to the 1960 NFL Championship with a win over the Green Bay Packers.
LSU finished the regular season as the Southeastern Conference (SEC) champions, with a 9-0-1 record. The tie came against Texas in Austin, 6-6. Big wins came against Auburn, Mississippi State and Arkansas. End Gaynell Tinsley was one of three unanimous consensus All-Americans that season (Heisman Trophy winner Larry Kelley of Yale being one of the others).
Bernie Moore was in the second year of a 13-year career as coach of the Tigers, and had just led them to their second consecutive SEC championship (they had lost the previous season's Sugar Bowl against TCU, 3-2. Yes, a field goal and a safety). After retiring as LSU coach, Moore would serve as SEC commissioner from 1948 to 1966.
The game itself? Santa Clara 21, LSU 14.
The win over the Tigers began a 16-game winning streak for Santa Clara, including a perfect 8-0 regular season in 1937 and a shutout win over LSU in a Sugar Bowl rematch. In those nine games, the Broncos scored 163 points and allowed only nine (seven to Stanford and two to San Jose State).
Unfortunately, Santa Clara discontinued football after 1952-53; it resumed as an NCAA College Division ("small" college) program in 1959-60 and became a Division II program in 1973-74 upon the creation of Divisions I, II and III. The Broncos continued for another 20 years, before dropping football altogether after the 1992-93 season.
So, in a way, you could say that (in contrast to the situation now) in 1936-37 a relatively obscure program, even an independent not named Notre Dame, could get a shot at the big boys not just once, but twice in a row. Santa Clara received a fairer shake than Boise State ever did.
Pittsburgh came into the Rose Bowl ranked AP No. 3, behind "national champion" Minnesota and AP No. 2 LSU. Washington was ranked AP No. 5.
Pitt was led by alumnus and long-term coach John "Jock" Sutherland, who had played under his predecessor at Pitt, Glenn "Pop" Warner. Sutherland had replaced Warner in 1924-25 and was in the 13th year of his 15-year stint as Pitt head coach. His record over those 15 years was 111-20-12 and included four Rose Bowl games (this being the fourth and last), including Pitt's first ever bowl in 1927-28. The three previous Rose Bowl games had all resulted in losses.
The leading rusher and passer was sophomore Marshall Goldberg. Tackle Averell Daniell was named a consensus All-American.
Pitt finished the regular season 7-1-1. The lone loss was to local rival (and Orange Bowl participant) Duquesne; the tie was to Fordham University. Wins came against Ohio State, Notre Dame and Nebraska, as well as against regional rivals Penn State and West Virginia. Five of the Panthers' seven wins were shutouts.
Washington finished the regular season 7-1-1 and as champions of the Pacific Coast Conference (if you're wondering, Idaho and Montana were both members of the PCC at this time). The Huskies' lone loss was to eventual "national champion" Minnesota in their season opener; the tie came against a weak Stanford team. The four biggest wins all came by shutout against conference rivals UCLA, California, Southern California and Washington State. Six of the Huskies' seven wins were shutouts.
The Huskies were led by coach James Phelan, in the seventh year of a 12-year term. Guard Max Starcevich was a consensus All-American.
Pitt running back Frank Patrick scored two rushing touchdowns, and defender/kicker Bill Daddio (I kid you not, Daddy-O) ran back an interception (one of four on the day by the Panthers) for a touchdown in the fourth quarter to put the game away. Daddio would be named the game's MVP.
The final score was Pittsburgh 21, Washington 0.
Pitt had 300 total yards, 254 of those rushing. Pitt's leading rusher was Bobby LaRue, with 109 yards on 15 attempts. Washington was limited to 153 yards. The game was the Panthers' sixth defensive shutout of the season, a mark they would match the next season.
Pitt would go on to finish 9-0-1 in 1937-38 and be named the AP "national champion." Running back Marshall Goldberg would be the star player on that team.
Minnesota had won "national championships" in polls from the previous two seasons (1934-35 and 1935-36), but the AP poll would prove to be the gold standard, and Minnesota holds the honor of being named the first AP "national champion." Not surprisingly, however, the Gophers count those two pre-AP "national titles" along with the four they won in the AP era (1936-37, 1940-41, 1941-42 and 1961-62).
In fact, most schools which were proclaimed champion by one or another poll before 1936-37 (and even some that won championships awarded "retroactively," years later by statisticians or pollsters) include those in their "national championships won" totals. Of course, they are free to do so, but the fact remains that the NCAA does not recognize those as official (i.e. NCAA) team championships. Only those teams that have won the Division II and Division III postseason tournaments since 1973-74, and the Division I-A (now FCS) postseason tournament since 1978-79, have such official recognition.
Minnesota won three of the first six AP "national championships:" 1936-37, 1940-41 and 1941-42. Notably (perhaps shockingly to today's college football fans), the Gophers did not participate in a bowl game in *any* of those three "championship" seasons. After the first Rose Bowl game of 1902 (which matched Michigan against Stanford), the Big Ten prohibited its members from participating in bowl games until the 1947-48 season, when an agreement was made with the Pacific Coast Conference (PCC) to send a representative from each conference to play in the Rose Bowl.
And of course the AP named its "national champion" at the end of the regular season, before the bowl games were held. It didn't matter whether a team went to a bowl or not... and it would continue not to matter for the next 30 years. Bowl games had begun as glorified exhibitions, and they continued to be such until the late 1960s.
Those who argue that bowls are a hallowed part of the postseason either (a) are not aware that the equally hallowed "national championships" had no connection whatsoever with postseason bowls for a full century (if college football dates to 1869-70); (b) are not aware that NCAA postseason college football playoffs in other divisions began at about the same time as the change to holding the final AP and UPI polls after the bowl games; or (c) both.