Bill DiFabio's Sports Column
Remember when: W&J earned respect in 1922 Rose Bowl
This W&J float appeared in the Tournament of Roses Parade in Pasadena, Calif., in January 1922.
An overflow crowd was on hand in Pasadena, Calif., Jan. 2, 1922, to watch Washington & Jefferson College play the University of California in the Tournament of Roses game. The two teams played to a 0-0 tie.
Washington & Jefferson football coach Earle “Greasy” Neale played professional baseball for the Cincinnati Reds at the same time he coached the Presidents.s
Earlier this month, the 100th Rose Bowl game was played in Pasadena, Calif.
On Jan. 2, 1922, the Presidents of Washington & Jefferson College played in the eighth Rose Bowl.
At the time, it was known as the Tournament of Roses game.
W&J, with an enrollment of 450 students at the time – the smallest school ever to play in the Rose Bowl – met the University of California Golden Bears, a school with an enrollment in the thousands.
Cal was favored by 14 points as the Golden Bears were no strangers to playing in the Rose Bowl. On Jan. 1, 1921, Cal clubbed Ohio State, 28-0, in the Tournament of Roses game.
California’s coach was Andy Smith, who compiled a 74-7-2 record with the Golden Bears, who were called “The Wonder Team.”
No wonder the Presidents were given no chance of scoring, let alone winning the game.
It’s a wonder the team even showed up. Only 19 players and a small coaching staff traveled by train from Washington to the West Coast.
The Presidents arrived Dec. 31, 1921, played the game only two days later and took the long train ride home. They arrived back in Washington Jan. 13.
On the way to Pasadena, there was a stowaway on the train. His name was Ross “Bucky” Buckanan.
“They gave him a ticket and sent him back home,” explained Scott McGuinness, the current Sports Information Director at W&J.
Then there’s the “Mother Murphy” story.
“Bob ‘Mother’ Murphy was the athletic director back then,” said current W&J athletic director Bill Dukett “The team was on a shoestring budget, so Murphy mortgaged his house to pay his expenses (a ticket on the train).”
The West Coast media was not kind to W&J. Jack James of the San Francisco Examiner wrote, “The only thing I know about Washington and Jefferson is that they are both dead.”
Most of the 55,000 fans in attendance didn’t expect a competitive game.
“It was like sending lambs to slaughter,” laughed Dukett.
The Presidents, though, had the last laugh.
On W&J’s first possession, halfback Wayne Brenkert broke loose for a 35-yard touchdown run. The play was negated when lineman Russell Stein was flagged for being offside. It was the only time in the game, which was played on a muddy field, that a player for either team would reach the end zone.
The game ended in a scoreless tie.
The Presidents’ defense was outstanding, holding the Golden Bears to just 49 total yards.
In their last four games of the season – against Detroit, West Virginia, Pitt and Cal – the Presidents allowed only six first downs and did not give up an offensive score.
“Allowing six first downs in four games is almost a defensive miracle,” wrote famed sports writer Grantland Rice. “There may have been several teams with better attacks than W&J, but the offense, although not brilliant, was at least good enough to beat some top teams.”
How tough were the Presidents in the Rose Bowl? The same 11 players stayed on the field the entire game, playing offense and defense.
How talented was the coach of the Presidents, Earl “Greasy“ Neale? He doubled as a outfielder with the Cincinnati Reds.
Several members of the media felt the soggy field conditions – the game was played in a steady rain – helped W&J hold Cal scoreless.
Henry Williams, a popular and respected writer for the Los Angeles Times, didn’t agree. “We are prone to be a bit doubtful on this point,” Williams wrote.
Neale coached the Presidents for one more year before turning the job over to John Heisman.
Yes, that John Heisman.
Heisman coached the Presidents to a 7-1-1 record in 1923.
Then there’s Charles “Pruner” West. West advanced the role of African Americans in collegiate sports as the quarterback for W&J in the Tournament of Roses game. He went on to attend medical school at Howard University and had a successful career as a physician in the Washington D.C. area.
Russ Stein, the team captain, went on to play in the NFL and was inducted into the Rose Bowl Hall of Fame in 1991.
On the subject of the Hall of Fame, check out the helmet that is located in the W&J football hall of fame display at Cameron Stadium. It’s the helmet worn by Stein.
The 1921 Washington & Jefferson football team was inducted into the Washington-Greene Chapter of the Pennsylvania Sports Hall of Fame in 1986.
Bill DiFabio writes a bi-weekly column on local sports history for the Observer-Reporter.