When The Bear Gave Baron A Run For His Money

When football fans think of Paul “Bear” Bryant, nearly all of them automatically think of his great Alabama teams that featured the likes of Joe Namath, Kenny Stabler and LeRoy Jordan. And when Kentucky fans think of their great mid-century coaching icons, the first one that comes to mind is naturally their legendary basketball coach, Adolph “The Baron of the Bluegrass” Rupp, who led the ‘Cats to four NCAA titles. But not on New Year’s Day of 1951. That day belonged to football.

Going into this Sugar Bowl game, Bud Wilkinson’s Oklahoma Sooners had won 31 straight games going back to the first game of 1948, a streak that included the past two Sugar Bowls. Bear Bryant’s Kentucky Wildcats had run through their own schedule without a hitch until they came a cropper in the final game of the year against arch-rival Tennessee. Kentucky wound up at No. 7 in the polls, but Oklahoma’s four All-American starters and its three season winning streak combined to make the Sooners as a solid 6- to 7-point favorite. Even the unseasonably cool New Orleans weather favored Wilkinson’s largely one platoon team.

But every dog has its day, though in this case it turned out to be the Wildcats. The jarring tackling of Walt Yowarsky and his fellow Kentuckians caused five fumbles that led directly to a first quarter score and a stifling of a fourth quarter Sooner comeback. All-American quarterback Babe Parilli threw only twelve passes the entire afternoon, but of his nine completions, two connected for touchdowns, and that was enough to ensure the greatest day in Wildcat gridiron history. Kentucky has won many NCAA basketball tournaments in the ensuing years, and coach Bryant went on to even greater personal glories at Texas A&M and Alabama, but for one glorious afternoon “The Bear” could have given “Baron” Rupp himself a run for his money as Kentucky’s favorite coach.

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The Great Jack Davis: Tales of Crypt to Tales of Bulldog

People of a certain age first came upon Jack Davis on the pages of MAD, along with Tales of the Crypt and other comic books and magazines, where he was among the artists whose illustrations were so violent and gruesome that the publishers were set upon by a phalanx of congressional committees, hysterical parents, and a certain New York psychiatrist by the name of Frederick Wertheim.

His bestselling book, Seduction of the Innocent, caught the attention of the public to the point that the terrified comic book industry drew up a “voluntary” Comics Code that toned down Davis’s and other similar artists to the point where they could stay safely under the Congressional radar. Even MAD itself became but a shadow of its former self after an initial two-year run of being something really special.

And yet Davis himself, like most other intelligent artists and illustrators, never believed in putting all of his proverbial eggs in one easily smashed basket. After the Comic Code crackdown, he continued for many years to draw for MAD in a slightly gentler but equally maniacal style, somewhat altered for the G-rated audience but still the same Jack Davis underneath it all. He also worked for dozens of other magazines, ad campaigns, and pretty much anywhere else where his work could pay the rent. Such is the life of a lifelong freelancer.

But what interests us the most about Jack Davis’s career isn’t the human skulls that represented bases on a baseball diamond, or the bizarre tales spun by the hideous old witch who methodically emerged from the crypt every month. It’s those spectacularly ugly and yet beautiful Georgia Bulldogs that Davis has drawn for the football program covers of his beloved alma mater. This 1985 depiction of the fight to the death between Jawja Dog and Gainesville Gator is perhaps the most perfect example of his game day artwork we’ve ever seen, and we think you might agree..

Oh, and down on the field, the men in red and black must have been inspired by Davis’s depiction of mayhem, as they took a previously unbeaten Florida eleven and methodically ground them into a bloody pulp, a most fitting feast for a bulldog.

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The Mighty Machetanz, Part 1

Modern day fans can be forgiven for not knowing of Frederick (Fred) Machetanz, but when he passed away in 2002 at the age of 94, he had left quite a legacy as one of the greatest colorist artists that the state of Alaska had ever known, honored both as Alaskan of the Year at the age of 69 and Artist of the Year by American Artist Magazine at the age of 73. His work has been exhibited at leading galleries and museums all over the world.

But before Mr. Machetanz first set foot in the Alaska territory in 1935, he had already established quite a reputation among Ohio State football fans as the producer of perhaps the most impressive collection of program cover artwork the college world has ever seen. Beginning when he was still an undergraduate, Machetanz eventually produced artwork for 37 different covers from 1929 through 1942, when he left to join the Navy in Alaska. He then spent the rest of his life there, first as a Navy Intelligence Officer and then eventually as a full-time artist.

What made Machetanz special was the sheer variety of his drawing styles and his dry humor. One of his best known images, “King Football,” depicts a giant football perched on his throne, majestically surveying a pose of two opposing linemen on the field below. Another memorable image was the “fadeaway” drawing of a quarterback about to throw a pass, with the black background blending into the black uniform jersey in the style earlier made famous by the illustrator Coles Phillips.

But the one you see here is the one where Machetanz puts it all together, in an alleged “campus map” of Ohio State that was inspired by similar comic maps drawn by the “flapper” artist John Held, Jr., whose Yale program covers you can see on our website. In Machetanz’s vision, we see “unexplored” school buildings; “more school buildings” with sleeping students; “a couple of dandies”; sheep and cattle grazing; a “bathing beauty contest at Olenhangy Park”; and – of course – a jungle. After all, where else could a Mr. or Miz Buckeye go to escape the din from all those snoring students?

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A Forgotten Dynasty: Tatum’s Maryland Terrapins

Being stuck in a basketball conference like the ACC makes it tough for any non-Florida team to become much of a factor in national football polls. This is especially true when neighboring states continually raid your territory and make off with your best talent.

Such has been the fate of the Maryland Terrapins for pretty much the last 55 years, interrupted only briefly by short periods of a few unconsummated thrills. Buffered by Penn State to the north and Virginia Tech to the south, and with a student body and administration that concentrates its energy on hoops and minor sports, it has been a long and hard road to travel both for students and alumni.

It wasn’t always thus. When “Big Jim” Tatum left his head coaching job at Oklahoma in 1947, the formerly moribund Terrapin program immediately went to the Gator Bowl, where they tied powerful Georgia. Two years later they returned to the Gator Bowl and beat up on Missouri, but the fun was just beginning.

After a minor regression in 1950, over the next five years the Terps won 44 of 50 decisions, three conference championships, with a national championship in 1953. Those five teams alone produced seven first team All-Americans, seven more on the backup team and 18 future NFL players.

But the most memorable day of “Big Jim’s” tenure was when his No. 3 ranked 1951 team went up against the national champion Tennessee Volunteers in the Sugar Bowl. The Vols were favored, but the Terps dominated the game from start to finish, cruising to an easy 28-13 win. The only thing that prevented them from being No. 1 was the then-curious custom of not conducting any further polling after the close of the regular season.

After that, the Terps did go on to win that 1953 national championship, sweeping through 10 games without a scratch, and overpowering every opponent in sight by an average score of 30-4. Ironically, Maryland then went to the Orange Bowl to play once-beaten Oklahoma, coached by Tatum’s former assistant Bud Wilkinson, only to meet the same fate as Tennessee suffered at the Terps’ hands in 1951.

After losing a tightly fought 7-0 defensive battle, the record books still listed the Terps as the 1953 champions, but true Maryland fans know that the real champions were crowned in New Orleans on that glorious New Year’s Day of 1952. It remains to this day their one moment of consummate gridiron glory.

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Little Brown Jug, Part 2 – The Bernie Bierman Decade

Minnesota had had its moments of gridiron glory in the early 20th century, but in the 1920s they had floundered for most of the decade, winning some and losing some and never really getting out of a rut.

To put their stagnation in sharper perspective, in the 13 Little Brown Jug wars from 1920 through 1932, the Golden Gophers won but a single game and scored but 32 points. With 9 shutouts among their 12 losses, the Golden Gophers were being derisively referred to as the Golden Goose Eggs.

But then came Bernie Bierman, the Knute Rockne of the north country.

After having turned a so-so Tulane team into a Southern Conference bully, Bierman was hired by Minnesota in 1932 to shake the Gophers out of their lethargy – and did he ever. His first year saw another 5-3 record, but that was deceptive, as the three narrow losses came at the hands of three of the nation’s most powerful teams, including a season-ending 3-0 loss to national champion Michigan. That was to be the last Little Brown Jug game for 11 years where the Wolverines were to triumph.

Once they got rolling, the Bierman boys weren’t exactly subtle about sending a message down to Ann Arbor. Between 1934 and 1937, the once-mighty Michigan eleven were crushed by a combined count of 139 to 6. Beyond the Little Brown Jug, it wasn’t just the Wolverines who found themselves begging for mercy. To this day, no team has ever matched the Gophers’ 1934-36 run of three consecutive national championships.

So naturally when the 1938 Wolverine squad arrived in Minneapolis for their matchup against yet another unbeaten Gopher team, few tout artists gave them much of a chance. And in spite of being outgained by more than 2 to 1 and being bottled up until the last few minutes of the game, the Gophers put it all together for one glorious 90 yard touchdown drive, capped by an extra point that kept the Jug in Minnesota for yet another year. By 1940 and 1941 they were once again on top of the football world, and without the intrusion of the war, who knows what further glories they might have gained?

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Little Brown Jug, Part 1 – “Yost Left His Yug”

When the Wolverines and the Golden Gophers began their rivalry back in 1903, both teams were undefeated and football fever was sending the mercury through the top of the thermometer. Michigan’s Fielding Yost was so worried that the home team was going to contaminate the drinking water that he bought a 5-gallon jug from a local store for protection. It cost him but 30 cents, and little did he know that he’d just begun one of the most storied rivalries in college football.

That first game ended in a 6-6 tie, but it wasn’t even allowed to finish, in a scene that would have made traveling British soccer fans raise their mugs in thumbs-up approval. With two minutes remaining on the clock, a combination of an imminent thunderstorm and a surge of riotous Gopher fans sent the Wolverines beating a hasty retreat, and broke up the game for good. As Michigan had been heavily favored, it was a decisive moral victory for the Land of 10,000 Lakes.

At the end of the game, the Minnesota locker room custodian discovered that Yost had left his jug behind in the pandemonium. Handing it over to L. J. Cooke, the head of the athletic department, the custodian Oscar Munson declared in his thick Swedish accent, “Yost Left His Yug”. For whatever unknown reason Yost wrote to get it back, and then Clarke, seizing the moment, replied “We have your little brown jug; if you want it, you’ll have to win it.” And thus began the longest running trophy game in gridiron history, though it wasn’t until the year after World War I ended that it really picked up steam.

As the 1920s set in, the Golden Gophers were plodding along in mediocrity, while the Wolverines were consistently among the top teams in the country. But when they met in Ann Arbor in 1923, both teams were once again unbeaten and raring for the fiercest battle. As the smoke cleared, the Mitten State eleven had eked out a hard-fought 10 to 0 triumph, but mighty teams of husky Minnesota kindergarteners were already plotting out play diagrams in their parents’ wheatfields, and dreaming of distant revenge. They knew their day was going to come. But that’s for another day.

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Pitt and Fordham: Trench Warfare At The Polo Grounds

So powerful were the Fordham “Seven Blocks of Granite” teams of the 1930s that their school’s nickname was adopted in tribute by the newly-formed Cleveland Rams of the NFL, the same team later in Los Angeles and now in St. Louis. With their home games played in the Polo Grounds and a “subway alumni” following that rivaled Notre Dame’s, there wasn’t a school in the country that looked forward to a visit to 155th Street.

Even more powerful during the 1937 season were the defending Rose Bowl champions, the mighty Panthers of Pittsburgh. Regularly running roughshod over the likes of Notre Dame, Penn State, Nebraska, Army, Navy, Stanford and Southern Cal, the Panthers had a shutout streak extending back to the previous year, and were installed as 12 to 5 favorites against Fordham in the era before point spreads measured the betting line. But the Rams had rolled through their first two opponents by a combined 114 to 0, and with the past two meetings of these teams having ended in scoreless ties, the anticipation was palpable. Imagine a meeting between the 1985 Bears and the 2000 Ravens and you’ll have an idea of what the 53,000 fans in the Polo Grounds might have been expecting as the opening kickoff loomed.

As it turned out, it was trench warfare once again, and by the end of the afternoon the Rams and the Panthers were still looking for their first points. The defenses once again ruled supreme, and when a holding penalty negated a 40-yard touchdown sprint by Pitt All-American Marshall Goldberg, the two teams settled down to clouds of dust and a series of back-and-forth fumbles that ruined any chances of scoring.

By the end of the year, in what was to be the high spot of the two teams’ pre-war fortunes, the Panthers made it to the top of the national polls, while the Rams at # 3 trailed only Pitt and California. But while the Panthers behind Tony Dorsett eventually returned to the top of the heap in the 70s, the Rams had but a few short years of gridiron glory left, and after a 1942 Sugar Bowl win over Missouri the program quickly retrenched in the aftermath of World War II, and was dropped altogether after the 1954 season. It was a relatively brief moment in the sun, but while it lasted it was glorious.

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