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To honor the 25 football lettermen of 25 years ago "who have most distinguished themselves in their chosen fields of life"—that was the task of selection presented to the colleges and the judges; and the men named below (see box) are the winners of SPORTS ILLUSTRATED'S first Silver Anniversary All-America awards.
They are outstanding survivors, along with many another American whether athlete or not, of one of the most testing quarter centuries in U.S. history.
Their generation came out of college in mid-Depression, watched the rise of the Hitlers and Tojos, fought a great world war on the fronts of land, sea, air and home, emerged from the war in a world threatened again by imperial Communism, to help create an era of unheard-of plenty, responsibilities and new challenges.
Just a week before the 1931 football season began, Japanese troops seized half a dozen strategic points in Manchuria including the vital rail center of Mukden. A day later, the lordly Bank of England, pressed cruelly by the Depression drain on British balances, abandoned the gold standard. ("A pillar of civilization has fallen," mourned the worried French, facing a similar decision.) Britons divided their attention between the falling pound sterling and a bitter government interrogation in London of Mahatma Gandhi, soon to be arrested again for his uncompromising call for Indian independence, while his less-known follower, Jawaharlal Nehru, was sentenced to two years at hard labor. The United States Steel Corp., instantly followed by other steel companies and by the copper, aluminum, textile and rubber industries, slashed wages 10%; it was the first general wage cutback in a decade. In Berlin a black-haired fanatic named Adolf Hitler made an arrogant visit of self-introduction to the president of the German Republic, ancient Paul von Hindenburg, and then returned to Nazi headquarters to wait for the conspired collapse of the republic.
The football season got off with a happy and proper disregard of all such omens. Tennessee, Tulane, Michigan State, Cornell, Texas and Alabama were some of the giants who won their openers easily, though opening day brought one of the splendid upsets of the season when little St. Mary's beat mighty Southern California and All-America Gaius Shaver 13-7 before 75,000 in Los Angeles. It was to be Southern California's only defeat all year. At half time, Conrad Nagel, the actor, read a tribute to Knute Rockne, killed that summer in the explosion of a plane over Kansas, while the thousands stood in silence and taps was blown.
It was a season of memorable games. Harvard's quarterback Barry Wood had one of his best days when the Harvards played Army in Michie Stadium. Wood set up the first Harvard score with a long pass, scored the extra point himself, rushing, after a bad pass from center; later Wood passed for the tying touchdown and then drop kicked the winning extra point for a 14-13 upset.
Yale's Albie Booth, a frail bundle of fire all season, led the Elis through a 5-1-2 season, including a 3-0 victory over Barry Wood and Harvard, with Booth kicking the decisive field goal. The season's rugged play left Booth physically exhausted and bedded down in a Connecticut sanitarium while his classmates deserted New Haven for parties and dances at the holidays. He missed the Princeton game, which Yale won 51-14 with cries of "score one more for Albie." Booth, who recovered in time to hit a grand-slam home run and beat Harvard again in baseball, never lost his dedication to football. Today, a business executive in New Haven, Booth finds time for a sideline career as one of the leading referees in the East. But in 1931 his aches and bruises from a year-long course of football, basketball and baseball, all of which he played in the same all-out spirit, led to grave suggestions that a college boy's athletics should be limited to one team-sport a year. Fortunately, nothing ever came of the idea.
The world of college was a protected world, and the parties went on at the Christmas holidays with not too much worry about June and jobs. Some of the songs that year were Goodnight Sweetheart, Love is Sweeping the Country, Sweet and Lovely, Dancing in the Dark. On Broadway, Fred Astaire was playing in The Bandwagon, Katharine Cornell in The Barretts of Wimpole Street. Ethel Merman, Rudy Vallee and Ray Bolger were the hits of George White's Scandals. On the moving picture screen, which had lately found its voice, Al Jolson's Singing Fool grossed $5 million. Walt Disney won an Oscar (the Academy statue got its nickname that year) for Mickey Mouse—although one of the cows in a Disney film had its udder removed by the finicky Hays Office.
Spring came, and graduation. Of the many commencement speeches that year none exceeded in practical advice the warning to the graduating class at Colgate: "Don't snatch your diploma. Be calm. Take your diploma in your right hand. Tip your cap with your left hand. Don't wave it, just tip it." The graduates could not have had better counsel; the world was not particularly waiting for their charging ranks, diplomas waved aloft. In the want-ad section of The New York Times of June 21, 1932 just 13 jobs were offered to men of all ages; somebody wanted a bookkeeper, somebody else a cabinetmaker, somebody else a drug clerk, etc. (on the corresponding day last June the Times ran 31 columns of "Help Wanted" ads, and undergraduates drove off in their MGs to consider the professional, cultural and golf-course opportunities of the various high-priced jobs being offered to them).
The 25 men who have won election to SPORTS ILLUSTRATED'S Silver Anniversary All-America made their debuts in these days. Businessmen, doctors, diplomats, clergymen, professional military men they are now. It may be that no one can ever establish, who did not live through it, what college football meant to them as they faced what is commonly and all too banally called the challenge of life. Nowadays the colleges are faced with many questions—not just how to grow and meet their faculty salaries and keep up with the frontiers of science and teaching—but with never-ending questions of values, including whom to admit, what to teach, what to stress.