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HOOVER'S GOLDEN GATE
November 29, 1954
No one, including the teams and business manager Herbert Hoover, was prepared for the first frenzied Stanford-California football game
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November 29, 1954

Hoover's Golden Gate

No one, including the teams and business manager Herbert Hoover, was prepared for the first frenzied Stanford-California football game

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Whenever Stanford and California renew their football rivalry, as they did last week at Berkeley's Memorial Stadium, they rekindle a hot, old fire. More than 80,000 can gather comfortably around the conflagration at Berkeley today. But no well-planned event in this series is likely to provide such extravagant entertainment as the first game, which was played before less than 10,000 fans, half of whom were not expected.

In some ways Stanford and California did plan for their March 19, 1892 meeting. But if it had not been for a Stanford undergraduate named Herbert Hoover, who tried to extract sudden order from delirious chaos, the kick-off might never have taken place.

The quaintly fantastic adventure which has been recorded as the Far West's first intercollegiate football game began when California, which for 10 years had played high school and club teams, decided to go big time and challenged Stanford. The junior college was not precisely prepared for such an event. But the students—particularly one John Whittemore—would not admit the fact. Whittemore had come to Stanford from St. Louis University, where he had played a couple of seasons of football. Delegating himself the left halfback, he beseeched his friends to rally to the cause. The young men who turned out were neither massive nor experienced. But they were eager, and they called Whittemore "Coach."

Meanwhile students chose a young Hoover (class of 1895) to arrange the California game. Gambling on the gate, he approached Dave Goulcher, San Francisco sporting goods dealer, with an order for new uniforms—all on credit. Goulcher acceded. Hoover and his California counterpart, Herbert Lang, rented the Haight Street baseball grounds in San Francisco for $250. And, in a burst of optimism, Hoover ordered the printing of 5,000 tickets.

On the eve of the contest college students boiled through San Francisco streets. Flashing their school colors they banged, rattled and blew a variety of noisemakers in a concerted effort to draw attention to the mayhem of the morrow. The next day, while players started toward the field from downtown hotels in gaily bedecked tallyhos, Hoover was confronted with a curious problem at the scene of impending action. The 5,000 tickets (priced at $2) had been sold, and still drays and carriages arrived laden with fans. Gold and silver currency already was spilling from bags over the floor of the ticket booth. The frantic Hoover quickly sent assistants to scour the neighborhood for wash boilers, dishpans, bathtubs—anything to hold more coins. Hastily organizing a force of student police, he directed them to escort a customer to the gate in return for each cash payment. By game time 5,000 jammed the stands and several thousand more jostled in a driveway around the field.

BUT WHERE WAS THE FOOTBALL?

Between bets which made the heavier California team 10-1 favorites, the boisterous throng sounded off with fish horns, Chinese fiddles, conch shells, rattles, bazoos and bells. The noise continued after the players rolled up in their tallyhos and took the field. Soon, however, they quit the gridiron amid a mighty silence. There was no football!

Horrified, Hoover begged Goulcher, who had come to see his uniforms in use, to ride into town and get one. That unhappy man made the trip but could find no bladder for a football. Instead he put a punching bag bladder in the pigskin, creating a not-so-prolate spheroid. Over an hour passed before he returned to the field with his awkward invention.

Whittemore, who won the toss, quickly noticed that the ball was misshapen, and chose to kick off. When unsuspecting California fumbled a few plays later Stanford took over on the Bears' 45. They tried a great experiment which they had been practicing under Whittemore's direction. The ball was centered to Quarterback Tom Code, who gave it to Whittemore. While Code and Fullback Carl Clemans led him to the center of the line, the other halfback, Paul Downing, who had received the ball in a hand-off, ran unnoticed down the sideline. It was probably football's first reverse play. When the confused Californians finally turned around they saw Downing squatting on the ball between the goal posts. Almost an hour and three-quarters later the referee blew the final whistle. Stanford had won, 14-10.

Hoover, Lang and a squad of assistants spent the night counting receipts in a room at the California Hotel. By 3 a.m. Sunday morning nearly $20,000 had been stuffed into cloth bags. Hoover put the bags under the mattress of his hotel bed and told a group of Stanford students to sleep on it. Only then did the future President relax enough to reflect that he had been too busy to see the game.

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