1924 | Syracusefan.com



Bored Historian
Aug 26, 2011
This is the second time Syracuse has traveled to play Southern California in the Los Angeles Coliseum. The Coliseum was not built for the Olympics, although it hosted them in 1932 and 1984. It was built in 1921-23 as a memorial to the veterans of World War I. USC started using it in 1923 with a game against Pomona College. SU traveled out there for the final game of the 1924 season.

Southern California was not yet considered a big national power but they were on the verge of it, under Coach Elmer “Gloomy Gus” Henderson , who had gone 45-7 since 1919. Playing the Orange was a good opportunity to make some headlines back east. Syracuse in 1923 had been invited to play in the Rose Bowl but the Chancellor refused permission. This trip was to make up for it. Ironically, both coaches would be moving on after this game- Henderson to Tulsa, (an indication of the lack of prestige the Trojans had at the time), and SU’s Chick Meehan to NYU, which he turned into a national power for a time in the late 20’s and early 30’s before their administration decided to de-emphasize the sport. Henderson would be replaced by a former Syracuse coach, Howard Jones, who would complete the process of turning the Trojans into a national power and become the first of the legendary USC coaches.

Meehan was a showman and “The boys were kept dressed in sweat shirts and sweat pants so that they could detrain at every stop to snap through light exercise and signal practice. Naturally we always attracted small crowds. The train stopped about four times a day. From every town news dispatches were sent East, saying that Syracuse had stopped off there for a brief workout….I have been told that newspaper offices doubted the veracity of the reports because of their great frequency. Upon returning home it took me some time to convince friends that the dozen dispatches in three days were legitimate. Even then they accused me of ‘putting on a show’ as if that were something foreign to a football coach’s business. “

But it was kind of foreign to showing up on the west coast with a well-rested team. They also had quite a sight-seeing schedule when they got there. Ken Rappoport’s “The Syracuse Football Story” has them on a Hollywood movie set, posting with the director and stars. I don’t know the film and don’t recognize the Hollywood people but I recognize Roy Simmons, who was a senior on this team, sitting on a chair next to them, with Meehan on the other side and the rest of the team standing around them.

The Trojans were 7-2, having lost to California, (the Golden Bears were in the latter stages of a 41-0-4 stretch from 1920-25), 0-7 and St. Mary’s 10-14. SU was 8-1-1, having tied Pitt 7-7 and then suffering an embarrassing 3-7 loss to West Virginia Weslayan, which was not even a major college team. But Meehan was a strong 35-7-4 since becoming coach in 1920 and had beaten Penn State, Boston College, Colgate and Columbia and were considered on the top teams in the East. The Trojans had out-scored their opposition 233-37, SU 154-42.

USC was known as the “counter punchers because of their tendency to lay back for the first part of the game and then rely on a sprit in the last quarter to bring home the victory”. (Sounds like SU in 2011!) They had “the greatest backfield in their history”, comprised of quarterback John Hawkins who “is the type of signal caller than can always be depended upon to do the unexpected at the crucial time”. “Laffy” Lefebvre was a “spectacular broken field runner”. Bob Lee was a “wonderful punter and drop-kicker”. Lee and Otto Anderson were “sheer speedsters”. Johnny Riddle was the “hardest hitter”. “Indian” Newman was a “star forward pass man”.

SU countered with Roy Simmons at quarterback with Chet Bowman and Jack McBride, “the best fullback in the East”, as his main running backs. Bowman was so fast that he’d beaten USC’s Charley Paddock, the Olympic sprint champion, the “World’s Fastest Human” in a track meet the previous spring. Willis Clark and Jim Foley also saw plenty of action. Sophomore Vic Hanson was a top end. Meehan also had Gus Rugge and Charley Lee, who could play every line position, including end. They were 185 and 190 pounds, respectively and “were remarkably fast for big fellows.” Each could block and tackle, pass and run with the ball. Back then , everybody was an athlete and a football player, not a specialist.

50,000 fans watched in a light rain and “stiff wind” that seemed more at home to the visitors than the home team. The field became a bit muddy. William Hanna of the Herald Journal reported that “it was an unenthusiastic crowd compared to the way Eastern crowds enjoy football. It really appeared that the spectators would have enjoyed it more had Syracuse won. “
USC kicked off into the SU end zone. Foley ran 20 yards on a promising first play from scrimmage. But SU had to punt and a back-up named John Bayley, with a reputation for kicking it low, was back. Trojan end Hobbs Adams came in unblocked due to a mix-up and blocked the punt, which was recovered by Riddle on the Orange 10 yard line. The SU defense held but Hawkins kicked a field goal to make it 0-3 in favor of the home team.

Syracuse chose to kick off, (an option often used then to change field position), McBride booted the ball into the end zone and USC started from their 20. The Orange forced a punt and took over on their own 47. But they were again unable to move the ball and Bayley came in to punt again. Future USC coach Jeff Cravath blocked it and Adams scooped it up, (one writer said that “he took it off the kicker’s toe”, so Cravath’s actual involvement is open to question), and ran 40 yards for a touchdown. The kick was no good so the score was 0-9.

McBride again kicked off into the end zone and again SU forced a punt and gain Bayley had to punt but this time got it off, with Vic Hanson downing Hawkins at the Trojan 25. The teams continued to exchange punts, (with McBride taking over for Bayley). Hanson kept flying downfield to make immediate tackles on the Trojan returners. Syracuse dominated the field position but couldn’t get the offense going. Jack McBride was the only ball-carrier who could make any progress against the Trojan forward wall. But it wasn’t enough. SU managed to penetrate to the USC 14 yard line in the second quarter but McBride missed a 27 yard field goal.
The Post Standard Article on the game says “On a triple pass, (Ray) Earle went over left tackle for two yards.” That sounds like an interesting play. Even more interesting was Otto Anderson’s 60 yard field goal attempt just before the half which was “short by inches”, (I think the ball was rounder in those days and perhaps earlier to kick.)

In the third period, reserve Morton Kaer hit Hawkins for a 49 yard pass play to the SU 25. But the orange managed to force a punt, (why not another field goal attempt?). SU was also forced to punt but “USC was penalized for slugging” and SU kept the ball. SU wound up punting anyway and USC did try a field goal that was blocked.

SU got to the Trojan 28 on an interference call on a pass from McBride to Hansen. McBride gained 5 yards on a “fake criss-cross”. (Let’s run a “fake criss-cross” on Saturday- or maybe a real one!). But a field goal was blocked and Kaer ran the ball back to the SU 38. Hawkins ran the ball to the SU 12. SU held and took over on downs.

But USC got the ball back and Hawkins scored on a 49 yard pass into the end zone. Hawkins then kicked the point to make it 0-16 early in the fourth quarter. Two more SU possessions were unproductive and USC was able to run out the clock for a 0-16 victory.

The Herald Journal noted the importance of the blocked kicks but said that “too much power in the Trojan line was the difference….the power was not applied in a running game or tearing through the Orange line or anything like that, but through the medium of as big active lot of forwards in out-playing the Syracuse line when Syracuse had the ball….Offensively the Syracuse line was not equal to handling the big Westerners and the Syracuse defense against the forward pass and protection of their own kicking game had flaws which brought about the defeat.”

Pappy Waldorf, SU’s tackle who would alter be a famous coach at California, said “We didn’t do well against USC. We had some fumbles and interceptions. They had a real good team but we shouldn’t have lost by that margin. We were pretty tired when we got there.” Leo Calland, Trojan’s assistant coach, had a different view: “They had a whale of a club but we took them apart with our spread formation. We had a powerful running attack from that spread.” There’s nothing new in football. But memories fade after a while.

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