But if the war was about anything, it was about preserving a way of life, and that life included a game that suddenly seemed more worth fighting for than ever.
WALLACE WADE KNEW about war, having served as a captain in the Army during the Great War, though he never made it overseas. Like many football coaches, Wade respected the structure, authority and power of the military, and he routinely hosted servicemen at Duke practices and games. One of nine children growing up on a farm in Trenton, Tenn., Wade learned early that hard work, discipline and football were American staples. After earning a scholarship to and a degree from Brown University, where he played on the offensive line in front of All-America Fritz Pollard, Wade entered the coaching ranks. His first job was at tiny Fitzgerald and Clark Military Academy in Tennessee, where he was 16--3, earning the notice of larger programs. He became an assistant coach at Vanderbilt, and the Commodores went 15-0-2 and won two Southern Conference titles during his two years in Nashville.
Wade was a hot commodity before coaches were hot commodities. He accepted the head job at Alabama, and college football would never be the same: Wade would win three national titles and four Southern Conference championships in eight years. Duke, which was not a football power, called Wade in 1930, looking for recommendations as it searched for a new football coach. The discussion led to a series of cloak-and-dagger negotiations that ended with Wade shocking the college football world by taking the top spot in Durham one year later.
Almost as soon as word of the Rose Bowl's cancellation spread, alternative venues were floated. Chicago offered to host the game at Soldier Field. Washington, D.C., suggested that it would be a patriotic gesture to play it in the nation's capital. But Wade had the inside track, and before those invitations even arrived he, Duke president Robert Flowers, vice president Henry Dwire and dean William Wannamaker had received permission from North Carolina governor Melville Broughton to stage the game in Durham. Wade was one of the most influential men in college football, so when he pitched the idea to Oregon State and the Tournament of Roses, the bid was accepted.
There were slightly more than two weeks to plan the biggest game in college football, and serious preparations—marked by unprecedented cooperation—began. The University of North Carolina, North Carolina State and Wake Forest lent temporary bleachers to increase the seating capacity at Duke Stadium from 35,000 to 56,000. The detested UNC student body even sent Duke a good luck scroll signed by more than 15,000 Tar Heels—a symbol of the camaraderie that gripped the nation. The city of Durham, no friend of Duke's at the time, rolled out the welcome mat for the world and for Oregon State.
Tickets? They sold out in 48 hours—a pity for the fans who sent Western Union telegrams to reserve spots only to have their requests misplaced. Otherwise, it was a scalper's delight, with $4.40 seats selling for $15 a pop.
The frenzy had something to do with the unique location and the national mood, but the game itself presented an appealing showdown. Oregon State's line outweighed Duke's by nearly 10 pounds per man, but the Beavers came in as 3-to-1 underdogs. Coach Stiner didn't think Duke had faced the level of competition in the Southern Conference that his team had seen in the PCC, where Oregon State had given up only 33 points all year. On the other hand Duke and its wide-open single wing offense had scored 311 points. Something had to give.
ON DEC. 19 the Beaver Special steam engine rattled out of Corvallis's 4th Street station. Filled with 31 players and a traveling party of 50 for the 3,417-mile journey to Durham, the train was high-class: air-conditioning, sleeper cars, dining cars, even formal meal menus (many of which the players sent home).
Standing on the platform was Jack Yoshihara, a reserve sophomore defensive back from Portland. Born in Japan in 1921 to a single mother, Yoshihara and his mom had come to the United States when he was three years old, on the last ship allowed into America before Japanese immigration was halted. They settled in Portland, where Yoshihara's mother married and opened a restaurant. Yoshihara grew up in two worlds: the Japanese neighborhoods of downtown Portland and the America outside their boundaries. Striving to be one of the boys, he laced up his football cleats and earned a spot on the Oregon State football team in 1940. Although he was largely a reserve and scout-team member, he had seen some game action, and like his teammates the 21-year-old reveled in the excitement of the Rose Bowl berth.
But days after Pearl Harbor, as Stiner put his team through a wet, grueling practice, two FBI agents in suits approached him on the field. Minutes later Stiner told Yoshihara that he would not be allowed to travel with the team: By executive order no Japanese-Americans were permitted to go more than 35 miles from their homes. Despite protests from teammates and fellow students to the Oregon State president and campus ROTC commander, Yoshihara was forced to watch as the train filled with his teammates, coaches and friends pulled away.