1942 Durham Rose Bowl: Prelude to War for the Players
Within days of the attack on Pearl Harbor, nine Japanese submarines were prowling off our West Coast. Eight American merchant ships were attacked in that area during one week in mid-December of 1941. Two of them were sunk.
These actions helped fuel growing fears that Japan would level another large naval attack against us somewhere between Seattle and San Diego. Some people even thought there could be an invasion in Washington, Oregon or California.
As a result, on Dec. 14, 1941, just a week after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Rose Bowl Committee, whose members undoubtedly harbored those anxieties about possible attacks, canceled both the Tournament of Roses Parade, which would attract more than a million spectators along its 5.5-mile route, and the Rose Bowl football game, slated to draw more than 90,000 fans for the match between Oregon State and Duke.
Army officials had recommended the cancellations, feeling that crowds of more than a million people lining Orange Grove and Colorado boulevards for the morning parade in Pasadena, Calif., followed shortly thereafter by the huge crowd jamming into the nearby Rose Bowl, would provide tempting targets for the enemy on New Year’s Day 1942.
The undefeated Duke Blue Devils had accepted the invitation to meet the host team from the Pacific Coast Conference, Oregon State (8-2), setting off a big celebration in Durham on Nov. 23, 1941. This would be Duke’s second appearance in the Rose Bowl in four years. The undefeated, untied and unscored-upon Blue Devils of 1938, led by Eric Tipton, gave up a touchdown for the first time in losing to Southern California, 7-3, in the 1939 Rose Bowl.
But the attack on Pearl Harbor and our entry into World War II seemed to put an end to any Rose Bowl game that winter as precautions were taken to protect against possible attacks along the West Coast.
The other three major football bowls of that era — Orange, Sugar and Cotton — were not canceling their games for Jan. 1, 1942, even though Miami, site of the Orange Bowl, might have been subject to German U-boat attack just as the West Coast could come under fire from Japanese forces.
Also, there were numerous groups and individuals who did not want to see the oldest of these four major bowl games become a victim of the Dec. 7 attack. One of them was Arch Ward, the Chicago Tribune sports editor who had been instrumental in creating the annual Major League Baseball All-Star game in 1934. With his political connections, Ward got the powers that be in Chicago to offer up that city’s big Soldiers Field for the Jan. 1, 1942, Rose Bowl game. He then invited Duke and Oregon State to meet about halfway in the Windy City for the big game.
However, Robert Lee Flowers, who had been installed as Duke’s president earlier in 1941, had other ideas. He and the Duke board of trustees, along with the Blue Devils’ football coach, Wallace Wade, decided to ask Oregon State to come to Durham and play the Rose Bowl game in Duke Stadium, a bowl seating only 35,000. The Beavers accepted this bit of emergency Southern hospitality.
By borrowing portable bleachers from its neighbors, the University of North Carolina and North Carolina State, Duke was able to increase its stadium capacity to 56,000 for what became a sellout and the largest crowd to watch a sports event in North Carolina to that date.
Thus the Oregon State Beavers met and defeated the highly favored Duke Blue Devils, 20-16, in the 28th Rose Bowl on a nasty, cold and rainy afternoon in Durham 70 years ago today. A ticket to that Rose Bowl game cost $4.40, whereas a ticket for tomorrow’s 98th Rose Bowl game between Wisconsin and the University of Oregon costs either $150 or $175.
Bigger Issues Transpiring
Considered one of the two biggest upsets in Rose Bowl history (Columbia beating Stanford, 7-0, in 1934, being the other), Oregon State won the only Rose Bowl game not played in Pasadena. But despite the big crowd and what was an exciting battle between these two teams, our nation’s citizens and leaders had much more serious things on their minds than a transplanted Rose Bowl game.
While the Rose Bowl game was being played that Thursday afternoon, a momentous meeting was taking place just about 275 miles north of Durham in the White House. Winston Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt, along with their respective high commands, met that New Year’s Day 1942 for the first of numerous war councils between the two Allied leaders since we entered the war that England had been waging against Hitler’s Germany for the past 28 months.
Churchill spent New Year’s Eve traveling by train from Ottawa to Washington after a couple of days of meetings with Canada’s Prime Minister William Mackenzie King. Football games, including even the usually impressive Rose Bowl, were truly of little consequence that day. Even the players and coaches involved may have had other things on their minds, such as forebodings about their immediate futures. Certainly our nation as a whole looked to the year ahead with great apprehension.
War Takes Its Toll
World War II exacted a great price from those 80 players who suited up for the Durham Rose Bowl game.
Three members of the Duke team and one Oregon State player were killed in action during the war. They were Duke backs Walter Griffith and Al Hoover, plus tackle Bob Nanni and Oregon State back Everett Smith. All four lost their lives in the South Pacific.
Tom Prothro, the Duke quarterback in that Durham Rose Bowl game, served 39 months as a Navy officer before beginning a successful career as a football coach. Ironically, Prothro, considered one of college football’s most cerebral coaches of his day, was the head coach at Oregon State, 1955–1964, and then head coach at UCLA, 1965–1974, before working seven years as an NFL head coach.
His Oregon State team lost to Iowa in the 1957 Rose Bowl, and his UCLA team beat Michigan State in the 1966 Rose Bowl. Duke’s coach, Wallace Wade, was a lieutenant colonel in the Army Reserve. He was activated shortly after the 1942 Rose Bowl game and saw considerable action in Europe as an artillery commander. During the Battle of the Bulge in the cold winter of 1944-45, Wade ran across Stan Czech, who was an Oregon State tackle in the 1942 Rose Bowl game. Without anything to eat for two days in the snow-covered Belgian forest, Wade readily accepted food and hot coffee from one of his former opponents.
Wade returned after the war to coach five more years at Duke, which renamed its football arena Wallace Wade Stadium.
Tom Prothro’s backup at quarterback for Duke, Charlie Haynes, and an Oregon State tackle, Frank Parker, served in the Army’s 88th Infantry Divsion as rifle platoon leaders. Haynes was seriously injured during the 1944 Arno Valley Campaign in Italy when Parker ran across him and carried him to safety.
A Rare Contest
The Duke Stadium press box was filled to capacity for the 1942 Rose Bowl game. One of the reporters was the 24-year-old sports editor of the Greensboro Daily News, John Derr, who was called to duty in April 1942. Entering service at Fort Bragg, he ended up in the Army Air Corps. After serving in the CBI Theater, Derr, a North Carolina native, returned to begin his very successful career with CBS in New York before retiring to Pinehurst, where he now lives.
That Rose Bowl game in Durham 70 years ago today was the rare contest during which unusual, meaningful relationships involving life and death were first established. Maybe the biggest truth about the 1942 Rose Bowl game is that both teams were winners.
Gordon White served 43 years as a sports reporter for The New York Times. His email is sports@thepilot. com.
More like this story