It was hardly a cause for dancing in Market Street when Football Coach Clark Shaughnessy and Stanford University joined forces early in 1940. The Indians had won only one game in 1939. Coach Tiny Thornhill, who had endeared himself to Bay Area fans by taking three straight teams to the Rose Bowl, was fired, and Shaughnessy's credentials seemed to promise little. He had won no games the previous year at the University of Chicago and had lost by such scores as 85-0 and 61-0. Weighted down by this crushing burden, intellectual Chicago then gave up its coach and intercollegiate football.
Thus it was with some trepidation that Stanford opened the season at Kezar Stadium against the University of San Francisco, a solid, proven team. USF "might be the best team in our section," said a sportswriter, and added, "the young, green and inexperienced line the Indians present may break at times under the pressure of the Don forwards." But Stanford surprised the writer, and everybody else, by holding USF to a net gain of eight yards. It used only 11 plays and won in a breeze 27-0. In the locker room afterward the USF coach, according to one observer, "looked like a man who'd seen a ghost." What he actually had seen was the debut of one of the great miracle teams in college football, a team that popularized the T formation and sent seven men on to star in pro football. This was the beginning of the Wow Boys.
Shaughnessy's approach to victory was very un-Stanford. Thornhill's Vow Boys, who had sworn they would never lose to Southern Cal and never did, had been laughers. A meticulous play-planner, Shaughnessy analyzed the talent on hand and installed the T to take the best advantage of it. That meant around-the-clock work for his staff and his quarterback, Frankie Albert (above), who had been an unpredictable sophomore halfback in 1939. Before school opened Albert slept at the Shaughnessy home, where some skull sessions lasted until 6 o'clock in the morning. The T was not new ( Amos Alonzo Stagg had a highly developed version of it in 1896), but Stanford's success with Clark's T made it practically the biggest thing since Notre Dame brought in the forward pass against Army in 1913.
Stanford followers soon realized that despite his poor season at Chicago, Shaughnessy was a fine coach and was doing an amazing job of reshuffling the Stanford deck. "I saw the ideal college backfield for the T formation," said Shaughnessy. "I saw in Albert a daring fellow with the ball, one who could handle it deftly, could bootleg when necessary, could pass well and kick quickly. Pete Kmetovic couldn't run to his left, but as a man-in-motion and a runner to his right he was marvelous. For sheer straight-ahead power, Norm Standlee was the finest fullback in the country. And then we had Hugh Gallarneau, a versatile back, who could run to his left or to his right and was a fine man-in-motion. All of them, and that includes Albert, could block. All could catch. As I fitted these pieces together, I felt I would be a poor coach if I couldn't find a way to get the most out of them."
The line was not bad, either. Center Vic Lindskog was moved from the backfield; he eventually became an All-Pro center. At tackles were Bruno Banducci, later a pro with the San Francisco 49ers, and Ed Stamm, who became student-body president. Guard Dick Palmer was the most vicious blocker on the team. Right End Fred Meyer made All-Coast and both Clem Tomerlin and Stan Graff were good left ends. At the other guard was Chuck Taylor, now Stanford's athletic director. Albert called him "the spark of our line."
The opening victory over USF, in which Kmetovic returned a punt 60 yards for a touchdown, did not excite many people outside the San Francisco area, but as the loss-free season rolled on the sportswriters began to tell the story of stunned foes, fans unable to follow Albert's sleight-of-hand and what Shaughnessy himself later described as "one of the 12 greatest backfields of all time."
The Indians beat Oregon 13-0, helped by Gallarneau's 51-yard run. Santa Clara fell 7-6, the Broncos' only loss that year. Stanford came from behind to beat Washington State at Pullman (Kmetovic averaged 9.6 yards a carry and set up a touchdown with a 52-yard run). USC, dazzled by a 61-yard Albert-to-Kmetovic scoring play, was the fifth unbeaten team in a row to fall, 21-7. UCLA went down 20-14. Undefeated Washington got off to a 10-0 lead, but Taylor's great line play and Albert to Kmetovic for a 56-yard touchdown play spoiled the Huskies' Rose Bowl dreams. The Wow Boys clinched the Pacific Coast Conference title by beating Oregon State 28-14 and finished up by winning the Big Game over Cal 13-7 with a goal-line stand in the fourth quarter.
By this time there were plenty of believers and Stanford was an 8-5 favorite in the Rose Bowl over Nebraska's Cornhuskers, champions of the Big Six. But Nebraska jumped ahead quickly 7-0. Albert sent a play near the sideline and shouted to Shaughnessy, "Don't worry, we've got the ball now."
The Indians went on to win 21-13, the important final touchdown a 39-yard punt runback by Kmetovic, who for once did go to his left, then fled to his right behind some of the most scythelike blocking ever seen in the Arroyo Seco. Lightweight sub Eric Armstrong took one man out, and Albert cut down two with another block. Dick Palmer also took out two men, one of whom did a somersault and was knocked cold.