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Whatever else was said about the young men who were coming out of American colleges a quarter of a century ago, nobody called them the lost generation. They were freshmen in the fall of 1933, when college enrollment was declining so fast it seemed classes might disappear entirely. "The 1935 season wasn't so bad," said Dr. Prescott Jordan, referring to football in those times at the University of Chicago, "but in 1936 only 40 candidates showed up for fall practice."
Dr. Jordan is now an eminent professor of surgery, but 25 years ago he was a much-trampled guard on the Chicago team that was beaten by Indiana, Purdue, Illinois, Vanderbilt and Ohio State. "By the time the season got under way," Dr. Jordan continued, "11 of us were the first team, with about four substitutes. What system did we use? Well, to tell the truth, we played mostly defense about 59 minutes of every game. Our rallying cry was, 'Oh, hell, here they come again.' "
Captain Whitney Wright is now a distinguished naval officer engaged in duties so confidential that it is almost a breach of security to mention his name—he is head of the nuclear planning division of an important part of the nation's military force in Europe. He learned to play football under Depression conditions at high school in Hyde Park, Mass. "We had no locker room then," he explained, "and had to change in the woods behind the school. Sometimes we'd play until we couldn't see the ball any more. The coach would get the teachers and neighbors to line their cars along the field and turn on the lights." After this Spartan beginning Captain Wright went to Colby College, which in 1936 won one and lost seven for the worst year in its history.
Colonel Charles Meyer is now deputy commander of the northern area command of the V Corps stationed in Germany. His father was an Army officer who once taught philosophy at West Point, and young Meyer grew up on Army posts, some of them in the Philippines, where there wasn't much chance to learn football. Back in the States he tried to make up for lost time, in his senior year at Chestnut Hill Academy in Pennsylvania played every minute in every football, basketball and baseball game, took part in every track meet and worked the school switchboard for his meals. He was so light that when he turned out for the freshman team at West Point nobody paid any attention to him. The only reason he was ever allowed to carry the ball at all was as a courtesy to his father, who visited the field one evening as dusk was falling. Young Meyer was sent into scrimmage, and he got away for two spectacular runs. From starring on the freshman team he went on to star for Army for three years. His weight was always given as 147 pounds, but in fact he never weighed more than 139. "Another Monk Meyer," sportswriters used to say, whenever any good small man beat a good big man. "I was never hurt," said Colonel Meyer the other day in Frankfurt, "in any way a few bandages and a heat a mp wouldn't cure."
"We felt as if we were going into a meat grinder," said Richard Walker Boiling, recollecting the 1936 season in which Sewanee lost six, tied one and won none. Congressman Boiling (Democrat, Missouri) is now serving his seventh term as Representative from Kansas City, but 25 years ago he was a tackle when Sewanee, with 248 students (down from 332 before the Depression), regularly took on Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia Tech, Vanderbilt and other major powers. Young Boiling went to Sewanee after Phillips Exeter and played football because, being six feet tall and weighing 210 pounds, he was one of the largest people at Sewanee, and it was expected of him.
Each Saturday he and his colleagues spent the full 60 minutes in the meat grinder because, as Congressman Boiling remembers it, "there wasn't anybody else to put in." Sewanee never won a conference game, and some of the scores, like that of the Georgia Tech game in 1936 (58-0), looked like a vote for states' rights in the first Confederate Congress in Montgomery. The last game of the 1936 season was with Tulane in New Orleans, and Boiling, whose ankle had been in a cast since the game with Mississippi State (68-0), was in the press box identifying Sewanee players for a radio announcer as Tulane won 53-6. After the game the Sewanee players went to Antoine's for dinner and a few drinks, but it wasn't a festive occasion—"Most of us folded up early," said the Congressman.
William Craig is now a patient and philosophical dean of men at Stanford, but back in 1936 he was working for his board and room at Middlebury College. "Football is very complicated today, and college itself is hard work," he says. "I don't think the kids have as much fun as we did.... We were just 30 or 35 guys who came out voluntarily for football—we weren't invited—and when we won a game in the Little Potato League our joy was unbounded. We never had a huddle, and we never had a signal on defense. Nor did we have a coach-scout in the press box to telephone the bench on every play. We didn't have a press box."
In the first game with Union the score was 0-0 in the fourth quarter when Craig, the captain and the right end, blocked a punt and Middlebury won 7-0. The next week Middlebury beat Colby (the team on which Whitney Wright, the future nuclear strategist, played tackle) 6-0. Thereafter Middlebury games were reported like major college football as the winning streak added up to the only undefeated season in Middlebury's history.
"I may be the only man who ever pulled off an opposing player's pants," said James Cheever Farley, referring to equipment failure, one of the problems of the Depression years. Mr. Farley is now a vice-president of the Richmond Engineering Company and a civic leader of Richmond, but 25 years ago he was a relentless guard on the Virginia Military Institute team. In a game at Baker Field in New York, Al Barabas, the hero of Columbia's great Rose Bowl victory, carried the ball on a slant to his left and Farley—making a, desperate lunge—caught the back of Barabas' pants. Barabas' belt broke. He kept going, dragging Farley along. But Barabas was in a desperate situation, holding the ball in one hand and clutching his ripping pants with the other. Farley held on grimly, until at last Barabas and his pants both tumbled to the ground, separately. Columbia won 29-6, but the vivid recollection of the game was of the players of both teams surrounding the scowling Barabas while his new pants were rushed from the locker room. Asked last week if he remembered the incident, Barabas said in astonishment: "Yes. It isn't the sort of thing you forget."
Joseph O'Neill, who is now a director of the Texas Mid-Continent Oil and Gas Association and half a dozen other firms, began playing football at LaSalle High School in Philadelphia, and on his first play in his first game caught a 45-yard pass, an experience that guaranteed a lifelong interest in football. Born into a family with nine boys, O'Neill got into Notre Dame without a football scholarship and waited on tables. Notre Dame in 1936 had a great season but lost to Pittsburgh 26-0. "That team really beat us," says O'Neill. "They were the best team I played against in three years." O'Neill punted eight times in that game, averaging 44 yards. Two weeks later Navy also beat Notre Dame, 3-0. "Navy had no business on the field with us," O'Neill says now. "We outgained them 249 yards to 171, but we were a passing team and could complete only four out of 23."