Illinois beats Stanford in 1952 Rose Bowl

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A Cardinal’s nothing but a bird

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A marquee’s matinee

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Bookies Had It Figured To The Point

When it comes to ranking Clemson coaches, the discussion for No. 1 begins and ends with Frank Howard.

For 30 years, Howard ruled Death Valley, gathering two Southern Conference titles and six ACC championships, 165 wins and two unbeaten seasons. His career extended through three full decades, three major wars and both one platoon and two platoon sets of playing rules. It was only natural that in 1989 he was elected to the College Football Hall of Fame in honor of his tenure.

While the program had its ups and downs during Howard’s reign, those two unbeaten seasons were his crowning achievements. After polishing off 11 straight wins just two years earlier, his 1950 entry was deadlocked on Big Thursday by its in-state South Carolina rival, but they ran through the rest of their schedule with supreme ease, outscoring their opponents by a lopsided count of 315-48. And when the Orange Bowl Committee began scouting out teams for its New Year’s Day festivities, the Tigers were a perfect choice to face the hometown Hurricanes.

Not that Clemson exactly expected a breeze. In fact a Hurricane would be more like it, as Miami not only had the home-field advantage, it also had compiled a similar unbeaten, once tied record. During the leadup to the game, the betting line fluctuated almost daily, but by kickoff time the Tigers were one-point favorites.

The game itself lived up to all expectations. The Tigers dominated the line of scrimmage all day, and raced in front 13-0 early in the third quarter. But just when they were about to take a commanding three-touchdown lead, an end zone interception shifted the momentum, and by the end of the third quarter Miami had taken a 14-13 lead, on the margin of that missed Clemson extra point.

But just when things looked bleak for the Tigers, a series of 15-yard penalties pinned the Hurricanes deep into their own territory, and right guard Sterling Smith charged into the end zone and brought down Miami’s Frank Smith for the safety that restored the one point advantage to the Tigers. From that point coach Howard’s defense took over, and when the final gun sounded the Tigers were in Miami territory, winners by the exact margin the bookies figured.

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1948 Army-Navy: “The Mismatch Of The Century” That Really Wasn’t

1948_Army_vs_NavyIn the immediate postwar years, the three dominant college football powers were Notre Dame, Michigan and Army, with a combined 69-6-8 record among them between 1946 and 1949.

Notre Dame and Michigan have been major powers for forever and a day, but for the Cadets these four years marked the greatest stretch of peacetime gridiron glory that their program has ever known., with three undefeated seasons and a national ranking as high as second. A few writers were even comparing them to NFL teams.

While Army was scaling the heights, however, the Navy program seemed to be in a fast-sinking paddleboat, with but one win each in 1946 and 1947 and an embarrassing no wins in 1948. So going into the traditional Army-Navy game, it was understandable that Allison Danzig of The New York Times called it “the mismatch of the century” with the unbeaten Cadets facing the winless Middies. With Army installed as a prohibitive 21-point favorite, in a point spread that was still rising on the day of the game, the bookies apparently agreed

But if anyone had looked a bit deeper into how those two teams had reached their respective “perfect” records, they would have taken their opponents into consideration. While the Army had faced an array of Ivy League opponents and teams with losing records, the Middies had had to run the gauntlet of unbeaten Notre Dame and Michigan in successive weeks, plus 4th ranked California, 19th ranked Cornell, and 8-win Missouri. Navy may have been playing the part of Don Quixote, but nobody could accuse them of being afraid of windmills.

And of course the glory of the Army-Navy game is that once the opening kickoff is in the air, all bets are off, as the Army discovered to its shock and sorrow. With President Truman sitting on the Navy side of the field, a mysterious banner arose over the crowd that read “GALLUP PICKS ARMY.” With happy memories of the recent election in mind, where the Gallup poll had forecast a landside win for the Republican Thomas E. Dewey, the president roared in laughter. And once again, “Gallup” was sent to the woodshed.

Buoyed by the return from injury of their star fullback Bill Hawkins and halfback “Pistol Pete” Williams, the Middies broke out on top with a long touchdown drive and then twice fought back to a tie after Army had gone ahead. The last two touchdowns were made by the now-healthy Bill Hawkins, who then preserved his status in the Naval Academy’s History of Heroes by swatting down an Arnold Galiffa pass that was headed for an end zone-heading Army receiver with only 58 seconds left on the scoreboard.

With their hats flying in the air in approval, the Middies could celebrate a “win” that rivaled the one pulled off by their cheering Commander-in-Chief in the stands.

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First Army-Navy Game at West Point in 51 Years

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Heroes of higher order

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