Thursday, September 17, 2009

’38 Duke team stole my heart


When I was 10 years old in KCK, my parents ordered me to be a Kansas University fan. Neither had gone to college, but Dad drove Greyhound buses in Kansas and Missouri and, a la Don Fambrough, he liked the Kansans a lot better. The vaccination took; I wound up carrying a Jayhawk good-luck charm into war.

I read (newspapers) and listened (radio) to every smidgen I could get on KU and its sports. Basketball under Phog Allen produced numerous successes to relish. From 1935 to ’40, however, KU football under Ad Lindsey and Gwinn Henry had only a 15-33-4 record. I hardly noticed; I religiously followed the likes of Dick Sklar, Ed Phelps, Butch Hayes, John Peterson, Clarence Douglass, Lewis Ward, Ferrell Anderson, Don Pierce, Dave Shirk, Dick Amerine and Milt Sullivant.

But this Saturday’s visit by the Duke football team reminds me that in 1938 I cheated on my first love, KU, and also got hooked on a glamorous Blue Devil team that in its first nine games was undefeated, untied and unscored-upon. They had a superstar halfback, Eric Tipton, who ran, threw and kicked (punts and field goals). I couldn’t get enough data on coach Wallace Wade’s Wonders.

Heartbreak! My darlings went to the Rose Bowl (Jan. 1, 1939) and had Southern Cal beaten, at 3-0. A third-string USC back named Doyle Nave uncorked a miracle pass to star end Al Kreuger, and my invincibles fell, 7-3.

Kids often get so wrapped up in a team that it’s like losing a pet puppy when they fall. I sat by the radio and, at age 13, cried like hell. KU had gone 3-6 in ’38, and it had been easy to shift my allegiance to the Dukesters at least through the Rose Bowl. The agony of defeat lasted awhile.

Things have not gone too well for Duke in more recent times, including 0-11 records in 1996, 2000 and 2001 and 0-12 in 2006. But time was when the Blue Devils had national prominence. The coaching collisions of Wallace Wade and Tennessee’s Bob Neyland spawned legends. The Dukies had some brilliant seasons before they turned to sausage and Spam with that 0-11 in 2000.

I’m not sure I’ll ever have a non-KU football darling equivalent to that 9-1 club of ’38. You cannot overstate the all-around brilliance of tailback Eric Tipton, later a pro baseballer who eventually assisted in football and head-coached baseball at Army. One of the 1938 victories was 7-0 over Pitt when Pitt was also boffo. During that battle, Tipton had seven punts that stayed within Pitt’s own 10-yard line, while another seven kicks settled inside the 20. While he was there, Duke had a 25-4 record; he was the main reason … along with coach Wade, who had surprised people by moving to Duke from Alabama after he captured three national titles at ’Bama (1925, 1926 and 1930), each time after winning in the Rose Bowl.

Wade’s Alabama record was 51-13-3; his Duke tenure produced a 110-36-7. He said he went from ’Bama to Duke because he favored working with the bright youngsters at a private school.

Another oddity: Duke and Oregon State staged the 1942 Rose Bowl in Durham, N.C. The game was transplanted from Pasadena for security reasons after Japan’s Pearl Harbor attack. Duke lost, 20-16.

The ’09 Kansas footballers (564-543-58) are taking us back to glory days and hope to use Duke as another stepping stone to a 6-0 start. Duke comes here, at 449-459-31, with an illustrious history of its own.


killabees 11 years, 8 months ago

Interesting story. This is the sort of stuff I can't read elsewhere, and appreciate from Mayer.

milwaukeeJAYHAWK 11 years, 8 months ago

i agree. stories of yesteryear are so neat to hear because who else are we going to hear them from? heck, someday i'm going to be prattling on about the '97 jayhawk basketball team, the '08 Bill Self title run and Mangino's KU resurgance after years of mediocrity. i hope someone listens to my opinions on those matters too and how much they meant to me.....

FlaHawk 11 years, 8 months ago

Great article. I love these type of historical, personal and relavent articles. Kudo's to Bill Mayer for taking me back in time!


DCJayhawk0208 11 years, 8 months ago

So here's the question: Were the Jayhawks Bill's "good luck charm" in the war? Or did he take some sort of Jayhawk memento with him? And which war? If he was 13 in 1938, he would have been eligible at the tail end of WWII. So was it WWII or Korea?

Dirk Medema 11 years, 8 months ago

DC - Or was he referring to riding with his dad in missouri?

Dirk Medema 11 years, 8 months ago

Interesting. The Sports Network (via KCStar link) says this is the first meeting between the schools. I think I'll stick with Bill on this one.

John Boyle 11 years, 8 months ago

dagger, where does he say that they met before? He only said this visit reminds him of a time he cheated and cheered for Duke.

WisconsinJayhawk 11 years, 8 months ago

Just a thought... no one "has a team beaten" with a 3-0 lead.

I played poker the other day. The first card I was dealt was a King. Rejoice! I had my table mates soundly beaten.

Then they dealt another card.

waywardJay 11 years, 8 months ago

Was there a "boffo" in there ? Nothing says born in 1928 like throwing in the word Boffo !!!!!

I kid, I kid.

As a Mayer Critic, I actually like this article. History + context is good. this article has wonderful context, specifically considering these two play on Saturday. on Armed forces. Where I hope the Cannons will be bothering students studying for Class on the weekends instead of in the Student's section.....

I understand why duke in this instance, but Ewww..... we all have our youthful deliances, I remember watching Dwayne Wade in College and saying that kid's awesome, But Duke.... even the thought of cheering on that skeevy ratman from NY makes me get a little ill.

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