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Ducks fit to be tied after '33 snub.

Byline: Bob Clark The Register-Guard

At midseason, with the record 6-0 after a narrow win over UCLA, Oregon was being mentioned as a team that could end up in the national title game.

If not that, how about at least a Rose Bowl berth after a victory that `puts the title in the bag for the Ducks,' as The Register-Guard sports editor opined.

A couple of days later, that same columnist was forced to write `Perhaps we were a little hasty in handing Oregon the Pacific Coast Conference title.'

Sure enough, Dick Johnston, then the sports editor and columnist of The Register-Guard, proved to be more apt in his reevaluation of the league race in 1933 as Oregon ended up with no postseason game at all.

What kept the Oregon football team of 70 years ago out of a proposed national title game, or the Rose Bowl, was a loss to USC as Cotton Warburton led the Trojans to a 26-0 victory in the Los Angeles Coliseum. It was the only blemish in a 9-1 season, including a 4-1 mark in the Pacific Coast Conference that earned Oregon a share of the league title with Stanford.

The Ducks and the Indians - it was another half-century before Stanford became the Cardinal - didn't play that fall, and so it was left to the Tournament of Roses to choose which team would play in Pasadena on Jan. 1.

The committee opted for Stanford, which had ended USC's 27-game unbeaten streak while losing to Washington in PCC games. Oregon had a victory over the Huskies, but the margin of defeat to USC - and Stanford's proximity to the Rose Bowl - obviously swayed the decision.

After being selected, Stanford used its right to choose an opponent in the Rose Bowl game - you thought the BCS computers were iffy? - and selected Columbia.

Seriously. The Lions had lost to Princeton, 20-0. The victories had largely come over less-than-stellar competition.

Opined Henry McLemore of United Press International: `I mean, Columbia is in the Rose Bowl? Ha, ha, ha. It's a joke.'

It would have been Nebraska vs. Miami funny, except the Lions pulled a 7-0 upset of Stanford when the teams met on a Rose Bowl surface turned to a quagmire by a winter storm that dumped 12 inches of rain on the Pasadena area in the two days prior to the game. Firemen had to use pumpers to rid the field of water prior to kickoff.

The loss to Columbia, said Stanford coach Tiny Thornhill, `ought to shut up everybody who said we picked a setup' for an opponent.

`Sorry Mr. Thornhill, but we refuse to shut up,' Johnston columnized back in Eugene. `The game didn't prove that the Lions aren't a setup for a really powerful club. It did prove that the Rose Bowl committee made quite an error when they chose the Indians.'

Certainly Oregon had tried to make its case to be in the Rose Bowl. The Ducks would have even played Stanford, an idea proposed by a UO team official.

`Two Western teams have never played the historic Tournament of Roses game, and Stanford could fall back on that alibi without fear of criticism,' wrote Johnston for Eugene readers.

Stanford did, and Oregon could only bemoan the loss to the Trojans and the play of Warburton, who set up two touchdowns with pass receptions and took another pass 54 yards for a score.

`The huge Memorial Coliseum has been the stomping grounds of many football stars but none has been more elusive with a football in his arms than the little atom, Warburton,' wrote The Associated Press in its game account.

The Trojans, who were 1932's mythical national champions, had only a week previously had their 27-game streak without a defeat ended by a 13-7 loss to Stanford.

What were comparative scores worth, if not as a way to prove Stanford was the superior choice to Oregon? Sure, Oregon could make a similar argument using another common opponent in Washington, which lost to Oregon but beat Stanford, but the Huskies weren't the measuring stick to match the Trojans, particularly in the Los Angeles area that Rose Bowl officials called home.

A special season

Even without a postseason appearance, 1933 was a notable season of accomplishment for Oregon. Prink Callison was in his second year as the Oregon coach, and had led his team to a 6-3-1 record in 1932.

Oregon opened 1933 with shutouts of Linfield and Gonzaga, then had a struggle against another school called `Columbia,' this being what would evolve into the University of Portland. With starting halfback Mark Temple out with a leg injury, junior college transfer Maurice Van Vliet moved up from the third string to score two touchdowns as Oregon eked out a 14-7 triumph.

Then it was a 6-0 win over Washington, making it five consecutive years the Huskies hadn't been able to score against Oregon's defense, a unit led by all-time UO great Mike Mikulak, a linebacker and fullback.

`The mighty Mikulak, a tough, tireless fullback, almost single-handedly turned back several Washington threatening drives through the first three quarters,' wrote The Associated Press in its account of that game. The wire service account of the game also noted the Oregon touchdown came `with Mikulak hurling his body like a log over the top of the Washington line.'

Then came two more shutouts, over Idaho and UCLA. The former was played on a Friday night in Eugene, which allowed USC coach Howard Jones to slip down from Portland and personally scout Oregon. Better he had spent more time preparing for Oregon State, which the next day held the Trojans to a scoreless tie in Portland's Multnomah Stadium as 11 Beavers, the famed `Iron Men,' played the entire 60 minutes to end USC's 25-game winning streak.

A week later, Oregon made the first of two trips to Los Angeles, beating UCLA when the game's only touchdown was scored via the lone pass attempted by the Ducks that day. These were conservative offenses, in low-scoring days of football: That same afternoon, Oregon State beat Washington State 2-0 on a second-quarter safety while the Huskies knocked off Stanford 6-0 on a pair of field goals.

Oregon was back home the next week, and used reserves to beat Utah in order to rest weary and ailing regulars for a game in Portland the following Saturday against Oregon State.

The Ducks were 7-0, the Beavers 5-0-2, the second tie on their record also a scoreless deadlock, with Gonzaga. Only one touchdown had been scored on Oregon State all season, that in a 12-7 victory over San Francisco.

In the buildup to the game came the word from Chicago that both the Webfoots and the Beavers were being considered to play in a proposed Dec. 9 game at Soldier Field by something called the `National Championship Committee.'

In the Civil War that drew an estimated 40,000 to the Portland facility, OSU scored first on a field goal by Ade Schwammel, but the Ducks had a 6-3 lead at halftime on a 1-yard touchdown by Mikulak. Temple added a 12-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter, and the Ducks prevailed 13-3.

Throwing only two passes, both incomplete, all of Oregon's 244 yards came on rushes, including 22 for 89 yards by Mikulak and another 80 on 14 carries for Leighton Gee.

As the Ducks celebrated that victory, they found even more reason to cheer: Stanford had beaten USC, 13-7, on two field goals in the last 4 1/2 minutes. Oregon led the PCC, and had only one league game remaining, the visit to USC.

Oregon was 8-0 and with the same-day losses for Oregon State and USC, the Ducks were one of only seven major college teams still undefeated, along with Army, Michigan, Georgia, Duke, Princeton and Nebraska. It was enough that in The Register-Guard of Nov. 12, sports editor Johnston could anoint Oregon as certain Rose Bowl representatives, even with the Trojans left to play.

Too bold, that statement. If Oregon did lose to USC, as the Ducks did, and Stanford could win its remaining PCC games against Montana and California, as the Indians did, the teams would be tied, as they were at the end of the season.

If the Ducks themselves had looked ahead, it was a fatal mistake. After its first loss in three seasons, USC was a team on a mission as it prepared to host Oregon. Jones, the legendary coach, demoted two starters to third team and dismissed another Trojan in the wake of the loss to Stanford. There were other alterations to the lineup.

`I am making these changes because some of our older players have become self-satisfied and are therefore of less value to the team than those who are still seeking to improve,' Jones said.

The dream ends

It turned into no contest. Oregon reached the USC 15-yard line in the second quarter, but the offense posed no other threats until a pass was batted down at the goal line as the game ended. Mikulak, so often the savior for the Ducks, lost two fumbles. Gee went out early with a sprained ankle.

There were even crucial mistakes on special teams. USC's first touchdown, in the opening six minutes, was set up by a 15-yard penalty when an overzealous Duck ran over the USC punt returner, who had signalled for a fair catch.

And as it had been the previous season in a 33-0 loss to the Trojans, the UO defense was overmatched against USC's passing attack, highlighted by short throws to Warburton and his subsequent brilliant runs.

On Warburton's 54-yard touchdown, `the mighty mite galloped along behind a lot of interference, personally directing his mates as he pointed out men to block,' detailed a wire service account of the game.

Oregon had almost two weeks to recover before finishing the season against Saint Mary's. On the intervening Saturday, Oregon's season effectively ended as Stanford beat California 7-3, holding on after the Bears had a first-and-goal at the 4-yard line before a third-down interception ended that drive, and Oregon's dream of a Cal upset that would propel the Ducks to the Rose Bowl.

That game won, Stanford was subsequently invited to the Rose Bowl and left to pick an opponent. In fairness, Stanford did try for a better foe than Columbia, but ran into obstacles. Both Michigan and Minnesota were prohibited from playing because of a Big Ten rule against postseason games. Princeton, which ended the season as the nation's lone unbeaten team, and Army were considered for the berth opposite Stanford, but made it clear they'd decline an invitation.

Oregon made its brief bid, as did USC in search of a rematch with Stanford, but ultimately the choice was Columbia, to the chagrin of many.

The Ducks had only the finale at Saint Mary's to play, and a 13-7 victory prompted UO fans attending the game at Kezar Stadium in San Francisco to tear down a goalpost and break it up for souvenirs of Oregon's great season.

All that was left was to lament the one loss, and the Rose Bowl appearance that was missed.

`There is only one conclusion that can be drawn concerning the Rose Bowl game,' Johnston wrote in The Register-Guard. `It will be an uneven battle between two fairly good elevens and it will mean nothing whatever.'

Especially to the Ducks, who didn't quite get there.


Oregon's 1933 season

Linfield ... W, 53-0

at Gonzaga ... W, 14-0

Columbia (a) ... W, 14-7

at Washington ... W, 6-0

Idaho ... W, 19-0

at UCLA ... W, 7-0

Utah ... W, 26-7

Oregon State (b) ... W, 13-3

at USC ... L, 26-0

at Saint Mary's ... W, 13-7

a: school now known as University of Portland

b: game played at Civic Stadium in Portland
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Aug 27, 2003
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