From Sugar Bowl:
The First Fifty Years
by Marty Mule
Oxmoor House, Inc.,
In action at
the Sugar Bowl. Wedey is #11.
Oklahoma A&M - St.
Thursday, January 1, 1946
"I'll be right here
for it, too."
A letter from Wallace
Wade to [New Orleans sports writer and Sugar Bowl founder] Fred
Digby after Duke-Alabama cut short the tale of his Sugar Bowl
listening post while in the war. Wade wrote he was involved in
military operations on January 1, 1945.
Undefeated Alabama was
the southern choice of all the major bowls. Little St. Mary's
was embarrassing the Goliaths of California. Army was the best
team in the country, and there was talk of the Cadets breaking
their bowl ban for a holiday in Pasadena or New Orleans.
Army favored a Rose Bowl
invitation but was reluctant to decide before the Navy game.
The Sugar Bowl pressured Pasadena to extend an early bid. The
Sugar Bowl told Alabama to make up its mind or forget a New Orleans
trip. Pasadena, with no answer from Army in the offing, was afraid
of coming up empty with both the Cadets and the Tide.
Frank Leahy told Fred
Digby, "... I have no interest in St. Mary's, nor is [St.
Mary's coach] Jim Phelan more than an acquaintance, but if the
Sugar Bowlers invite the Gaels for their game, I am sure they'll
give the fans a show such as they've never seen. I'll be right
here for it, too." St. Mary's and Oklahoma A&M were
extended Sugar Bowl invitations the following day. Both accepted.
The undefeated Aggies, Missouri Valley Conference champions,
were the nation's best ground offensive team, averaging 287.7
yards a game. St. Mary's, a tiny (enrollment under 300) Christian
Brothers school in northern California, ran a sleight-of-hand
offense and averaged 170 yards passing. A&M's Bob Fenimore,
in the era of Glenn Davis and Doc Blanchard, was the nation's
leading rusher [1,641 yards], followed by none other than Hawaiian
Hurricane Herman Wedemeyer [1,428 yards] of St. Mary's. Both
were first team All-Americans. Oklahoma A&M finished fifth
and St. Mary's seventh in the final Associated Press poll, giving
New Orleans the only major bowl match-up of the Top 10 teams.
Ticket demand was incredible.
Seventy-five thousand fans, the highest Sugar Bowl attendance
in its 12 games, were cramped into Tulane stadium. The governor
of Oklahoma strolled into Sugar Bowl headquarters a couple of
days before the game, spotted President Sam Corenswet and other
bowl committeemen, walked over, and said, "Gentlemen, I'm
a man of few words. I want tickets." Corenswet replied,
"We're men of few words, too, governor. We haven't got any."
Oklahoma A&M 33 -
St. Mary's 13
"Too much power - too much speed."
Wedemeyer is #11.
"I remember we went
onto the field in just T-shirts and pants with no pads,"
Herman Wedemeyer recalled years later. "Bob Fenimore and
the big Oklahoma A&M team was already out there. The entire
stadium was full. How many were there, 72,000? Well, they all
laughed at us. We looked like midgets on the field. No wonder
people laughed. But that sort of set the stage for what was to
Oklahoma A&M was a
team that started seven war veterans, including fullback Jim
Reynolds who flew 52 missions over Germany, and tackle Bert Cole
who had been shot down over Yugoslavia and spent months among
the Chetnicks while making his way back to Allied lines. In contrast,
St. Mary's was a lot like Alabama in 1945 with seven 17-year-old
starters on a team and an average age of 18 and a half years.
Also, A&M, the heaviest team to play in the first 12 Sugar
Bowls at a 203-pound average, was man-for-man 15 pounds larger
than the Sugar Bowl's youngest-ever team. And St. Mary's was
bitten severely by the flu bug four days before.
However, the Gaels fired
the opening salvo. Very early in the game, Fenimore punted to
Wedemeyer - the 21-year-old Honolulu native. He scampered 10
yards along the sidelines and then lateralled to the trailing
Wes Busch. Busch was instantly clear and apparently headed for
a touchdown before slipping untouched on the A&M 46. Spike
Cordeiro swung wide to the left on the next play, then flipped
to Wedemeyer who faded back and waited for Dennis O'Connor to
work his way behind Fenimore. O'Connor took the ball at the 10
After being penalized
for being offsides on a successful onsides kick, the Gaels kicked
to Jim Parmer who returned to the 36. The methodical Aggies answered
the St. Mary's touchdown in five plays. Fenimore passed to Cecil
Haskins at the Gael 45, then flashed around end to the 30. He
ran for another yard, then he passed to Haskins to the 1. The
receiver fell in with Wedemeyer and Cordeiro hanging on.
Fenimore set things in
motion for more points by returning a second quarter punt 15
yards to the St. Mary's 30. Also capable of razzle-dazzle, Oklahoma
A&M picked up 11 yards on two Parmer carries. Then Parmer,
Nate Wilson, and Fenimore each handled the ball on a one-play
series of laterals that Fenimore delivered to the 1. Cutting
off right tackle, Fenimore scored.
Not to be outdone, Wedemeyer
returned the kickoff to the Gael 34 and then passed to O'Connor
at the Aggie 44. He wheeled around right end, cut back to the
middle of the field, and pounded out 24 yards before lateralling
to guard Carl DeSalvo. The lineman picked up a horde of blockers
to escort him the remaining 20 yards. The weary Wedemeyer missed
the extra point, leaving St. Mary's behind 14-13. Oklahoma A&M
drove to the 9, but that was all the scoring in the first 30
"The half ended with
us trailing, 14-13," Wedemeyer remembered. "The feeling
of the entire stadium had changed. Now, they all seemed to be
rooting for St. Mary's."
In the second half, the
Gaels drove to the Aggie 27, but Fenimore intercepted a pass
at his 20 and returned it 7 yards. Fenimore got off a 60-yard
punt that sailed over Cordeiro's head to the 10. Spike returned
it to the 22, but St. Mary's was guilty of clipping and was penalized
to the 7.
When the Gaels kicked,
Fenimore took in the ball at midfield and weaved his way to the
7. Wedemeyer, the last man between runner and goal, brought him
down. For three downs the St. Mary's defense staved off the touchdown.
On fourth down from a half-yard out, Fenimore slammed in. Don
Schultz blocked the PAT, and St. Mary's remained within waving
A&M, at last showing
superiority over the tiring Gaels, was handed its next opportunity
on a freak fourth-quarter play. Wedemeyer slipped while attempting
to punt from his 39 and missed the ball completely. Neill Armstrong
recovered on the 35. Seven plays later Jim Reynolds went over
the goal from the 1.
The Sugar Bowl, heard
for the first time over the American Broadcasting Company, was
a settled matter. A&M got another touchdown as the horn sounded.
The Aggies drove to the 9, but a penalty and a sack placed them
back at the 20 in the waning seconds. Reynolds went for more
points and threw deep. St. Mary's Paul Crowe batted the ball
into the air, seemingly breaking up the game's last play. Alert
Aggie reserve back Joe Thomas grabbed the tumbling ball and crossed
the goal, making the final score 33-13.
Coach Jim Phelan, after
locking the press out of the dressing room for 30 minutes, explained,
"Too much power - too much speed. And above all, too much