Tradition: Great Moments in the First Fifty Years of Cardinal Football
The first fifty years of Stanford Football are a story of spontaneity, inventiveness, hubris, and glory. The free-thinking independence and determination of those early teams remind us just how successful Stanford students can be when they put their mind to something, and give us an ideal to live up to both as we march into this year’s Big Game, and many seasons to come.
You’ll note that the events below don’t all occur within fifty years after 1892. But with a 9 year segue into Rubgy, a three-year hiatus in the 1910s, and another during World War II, the first fifty years of Cardinal Football span the years 1892-1966.
1892 First Big Game
Not long after Stanford’s founding, Berkeley, already jealous of all the attention being lavished on the new university, challenged us to a football match. But while Berkeley had ten years of experience at the game, only one man of Stanford’s 600-strong pioneer class had actually ever played football – John Whittemore, a senior from Washington University. In the first documented instance of Stanford Varsity Procrastination, we put off the game until March 19. The two teams met on Haight Field in San Francisco.
Only 10,000 tickets had been printed, but nearly twice as many sports-starved Bay Area residents showed up. The Stanford football manager, a freshman by the name of Herbert Hoover, and the Cal manager collected gold and silver in pots and pans. Then, as the crowd continued to pile in, the two teams confronted them with another problem – there was no ball.
Half an hour later, with two brand-new pigskins, the game finally begun.
Though Berkeley had been favored, the Stanford squad had assiduously been learning and practicing the game. In a match of brawn and brains, the quick learners won, upsetting Cal with a 14-10 victory.
That evening the team managers retired to count the money collected from their overflow crowd. Hoover commented, “I had never seen $30,000 before. The bank next morning found that we had $18 more. We were well financed for the next season”
1932-5 Stanford Vow Boys (pictured above)
Seventy years ago, in another era of adversity, a group of Freshman Redshirts did something legendary. They manifested the hubris and self-confidence of any Stanford Freshman.
In late October of 1932, the “thundering herd” of USC descended upon the Farm. The next Monday, as the varsity licked its wounds in the aftermath of the rout, the Freshmen discussed their plight. Suddenly, Frankie Alustiza proclaimed “They Will never do that to our team. We will never lose to the Trojans.” A few minutes later, another member of the team proclaimed, “Let’s make that a vow.”
Though the press reported on the vow, it was lucky for the Vow Boys, it was forgotten until the next fall when facing USC, they were suddenly called upon to make good upon it. Thus, the class of 1936 became the Vow Boys.
Somehow they succeeded, trouncing USC 13-7. They amended their vow to include Cal, whom they beat 7-3. Over the course of their three years, the Vow Boys racked up an impressive 25-4 record (with two ties). During this time, they never abandoned their spontaneous approach to football. In contrast to Walt Harris’ current apparently stentorian management style, Vow Boys’ coach Tiny Thornhill ran a loose ship. He permitted the Vow Boys to come late to practice when necessary and imposed no curfew, trusting their own judgment. It was often hard to tell who was in charge of practice. They brought the same independence of mind to the field, and it brought them victory.
1951 Stanford vs. USC
On November 10, Stanford met USC (both 7-0) at the Memorial Coliseum in Los Angeles. The outcome was to determine that year’s Rose Bowl bid, and as always seems to be the case, USC was heavily favored. The first three quarters were relatively timid, but with nine minutes left in the game, the Trojans managed to bring the score to 20-13. The Stanford team needed to score once to tie the game, but the Cardinal was determined to beat USC. With three minutes left in the game, we evened the score. While this brought relief for the thousands of students who had traveled down to L.A., our team pushed on for more. Stanford handily pushed nearly to the goal line, was penalized eleven yards, worked its way to the half-yard line, and boomed over in the next play. Then, to punctuate its trouncing, it converted the last point, for a superfluous 27-20 finish. It has been called Stanford’s “Game of the Century” by some.