SI Vault
Robert Cantwell
November 30, 1964
The annual Sports Illustrated Silver Anniversary Awards go to 25 college football players of the class of 1940 who achieved distinguished careers through
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November 30, 1964

An Era Shaped By War

The annual Sports Illustrated Silver Anniversary Awards go to 25 college football players of the class of 1940 who achieved distinguished careers through

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The weather was exceptionally pleasant in late September 1939. Cincinnati and St. Louis were struggling for the National League pennant, the Yankees had already won in the American League and there was a midsummer languor in the air. Resorts were still crowded, the New York World's Fair cut admissions to 40� to attract returning vacationers to Flushing Meadow, and on September 22, while Bob Feller was winning his 22nd game for Cleveland, there was the rare phenomenon of blue skies being reported over the entire U.S. The East's big racetracks reported weather clear, track fast, as they had for nearly a month, and at Belmont a South American import named Sorteado was winning the Manhattan Handicap by taking a fifth of a second off Man o' War's record for the mile and a half.

In Europe the climate in late September was considerably less benign. A cold rain fell on Warsaw, causing steam to rise from still-smoldering ruins. The exultant leaders of Nazi Germany and Communist Russia were meeting to divide up Poland, and it was noted that no major nation in history had ever been conquered more swiftly. The dikes were opened in Holland, a forlorn and wistful defensive move smacking of castle moats and breastworks. A nuisance of mud and water would not hold back a German tide. REICH AND SOVIET JOIN FOR PEACE—OR WAR ran an uncertain headline in The New York Times . The Poles, at least, were not in any doubt. But in the fall of 1939, as World War II was beginning, uncertainty was the prevailing mood. When old enemies like Hitler and Stalin were suddenly revealed to be allies, when entire nations were conquered in a few hours, nothing seemed infallible, nothing incredible.

Reality could only be found close to home. Here things were still credible. Goldfish, accustomed enough to being swallowed alive by bass, were now being swallowed alive by college students. A Harvard youth got down 89, and claimed a world's championship. There were other entertainments, ones easier to stomach. Badminton was the most popular game, Superman the most popular comic strip, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs the most popular movie. David O. Selznick announced his two-and-a-half-year search for a heroine was over: Vivien Leigh would play Scarlett O'Hara in Gone with the Wind. In the publishing field a renegade—ignoring the sincere warnings of all his friends—put out the first small paperback editions of bestsellers. He called them Pocket Books. Television sets had been placed on sale in May in New York, and by August 500 had been sold. They cost from $160 to $1,000, and screens were from five to 14 inches wide. Columbia and Princeton played the first baseball game ever televised. "Players are like flies," wrote an irritated sportswriter, but technical improvements came fast. By midsummer you could plainly see Leo Durocher leaping and pivoting at shortstop when Brooklyn played Cincinnati in the first televised major league game, inaugurating a new era in baseball and perhaps a new era in ham acting as well.

Admiral Richard E. Byrd set out for Antarctica with 125 men, three tanks, two planes, a snowmobile and some prefabricated houses. Brave admiral, brave man, they said, little thinking that bravery would soon be a common commodity, common to admirals and common to grocery boys. Six hundred tried to buy tickets for Pan American's first transatlantic commercial flight. The one-way fare was $375, the trip required 24 hours to Lisbon, and there was a plane each week. Joe Louis defended his heavyweight title by knocking out John Henry Lewis in one round, Jack Roper in one and then Tony Galento in four—which led the picky to ask if his powers were fading. The Baseball Hall of Fame was opened in Cooperstown, supposedly on the 100th anniversary of the invention of the game by Abner Double-day, who, of course, did not invent baseball at all. Football, not to be outdone, announced this was its 70th anniversary, and duly celebrated. Oddities tended to attract an undue share of public attention: there was amusement over the King and Queen of England eating hot dogs while visiting President Roosevelt at Hyde Park; outrage when the President changed the date of Thanksgiving from November 30 to November 23; excitement when Al Capone was released from a federal penitentiary after serving more than seven years for income tax evasion.

Summer lingered as a record 1,494,000 enrolled in college. They were headed into a football-happy autumn that was to see Texas A&M, never nationally prominent before, end Villanova's 22-game unbeaten streak and become the nation's No. 1 team. Tennessee was a powerful rival, until it lost in the Rose Bowl to Southern Cal, and Georgia Tech, Cornell and Princeton were surprise powers. It was to be a season of long-remembered stars—Tom Harmon (still a junior) and Forest Evashevski at Michigan, Kenny Washington at UCLA, Paul Christman at Missouri, John Kimbrough and Joe Boyd at Texas A&M, Nick Drahos at Cornell, Frank Ivy at Oklahoma. And, above them all, Nile Kinnick of Iowa. He was 5 feet 8, he was Phi Beta Kappa, grandson of an Iowa governor, and he was three and a half years away from crashing his Navy fighter plane into the Caribbean.

These were the teams and the times of the Silver Anniversary Award winners. One of them, Charles Boswell, blinded in the war, recalls that the campus at the University of Alabama was particularly attractive that fall, with its white-columned houses and the famous Gorgas Oak that was a favorite meeting place for students, a part of the campus spared when the Yankees burned Tuscaloosa 74 years before. Another, John Winterholler, later crippled in a Japanese prison camp, was back at Laramie for his final year at the University of Wyoming, where the old officers' quarters from Fort Saunders had been converted to a clubhouse and a chapter house for Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority. Howard Ector was among the returning Georgia Tech students. He was quarterback of the Tech team that lost only to Notre Dame (17-14) and to Duke (7-6). Thirty-two members of his team went to World War II, and 11 were killed. Among the 14,000 students at busy Minnesota was Harold Van Every, later to be shot down over Germany, injured and imprisoned, thus ending his professional football career with the Green Bay Packers. And among the 800 at Grinnell, on that placid campus in the hollow between the Skunk and Iowa rivers, was Howard Grimes, a linebacker then, an insurance man now.

The winners of this year's Silver Anniversary Awards—awards that honor them for their significant contributions to their times—come from a wide range of country and from remarkably different fields of endeavor, but in 1939 they were alike in one respect. War was going to deflect their lives in ways that no one could understand and no one could have presumed. Albin Irzyk was clerking in Dan Donahue's clothing store in Salem, Mass. to put himself through college; Seymour Shwiller was a waiter and radio repairman working his way through William & Mary. Brigadier General Irzyk is now an assistant chief of staff in Europe, Colonel Shwiller an administrator with the Atomic Energy Commission. Sometimes, as with Charles Boswell or John Winterholler, the winners have worked heroically to rebuild their lives from the wreckage left by war. In the fine fall of 1939 the future was too indistinct to be faced—just war in the distance, and at home the sunlight bright over everything.


He was a center at Princeton, but in World War II Bruce Alger learned to straighten up and fly right. After 23 combat missions in the Pacific, which earned him a Distinguished Flying Cross and Air Medal with clusters, Alger returned to Dallas, where he became a successful real estate man, thriving on what he calls his "workhorse" attitude toward life. In 1954 he became the first Republican ever to represent Dallas County in Congress, winning on an ultraconservative platform, and has served five straight terms. He built a powerful political organization by "clearly stating my principles, then never deviating," a technique that he says attracts "people of real principle, dedication and belief." His followers, he adds, "work for me like their lives depend on it." A strong Goldwater backer, Alger was expected to beat Democrat Earle Cabell, former Dallas mayor, this fall but went down to a surprising 44,719-vote defeat. "I'm flabbergasted," he said. "Losing is new to me."

Forced to bail out of his fighter 30 miles behind the Japanese lines on Guadalcanal in 1942, Marine Lieut. Richard Amerine made his way through the jungle and the enemy to rejoin his squadron seven days later. For this endeavor he received the Silver Star. Subsequently he commanded fighter squadrons in the Pacific, then decided to make the service a career. He became Chief of Staff of Operations for the Third Marine Aircraft Wing at El Toro, Calif. and is now Deputy Director of the Sixth Marine Corps in Atlanta. An orphan himself, he has made a hobby of helping similarly deprived children, including the launching of a campaign that led to many donations for Korean orphanages. Now 47, the ex-halfback still flies (he has qualified as a jet pilot), and he has just taken up golf. Those who know him predict he will be no time at all breaking 80 and a long time flying jets.

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