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TGS COLLEGE FB SPECIAL REPORT...RETURN OF THE INTERSECTIONALS!
by Bruce Marshall, Goldsheet.com Editor


We’re not sure the days of the great intersectionals in college football have returned. But we’re heartened by the turn-back-the-clock feel this weekend in Los Angeles, where we might wonder if it’s 1967 all over again, the last year both Texas (this week at UCLA) and Syracuse (at Southern Cal on Saturday) visited So Cal in the same season, and days when both the Bruins and Trojans played their home games in the venerable Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

That year, the Longhorns paid visit to USC in a late September showdown that was O.J. Simpson’s second game wearing cardinal and gold. And his first start as a Trojan, running for 158 yards as SC rallied from an early 7-0 deficit to beat 5th-ranked Texas and QB “Super” Bill Bradley by a 17-13 count. Later that season, Syracuse made the last of what were biennial excursions to the L.A. area in those days for an end-of-the-season battle vs. UCLA, winning the game by a bruising 32-14 count. More on that battle and others from the Syracuse file in just a moment.

We embrace such intersectional contests not only because they remind us at TGS of long ago and our earliest days as a publication, but also because they harken to an era in which, ironically, the college football nation seemed more closely-linked despite being long before the advent of ESPN or cable YV sports networks. Perhaps it was the introduction of coast-to-coast airline service in the 1950s, and the debut of the new fanjets that made travel between the time zones quicker than ever, that encouraged such intersectional battles between teams from different regions of the country in those days. Of course, that dynamic has not disappeared entirely as we move into the 2011 season, but the number of far-flung intersectional matchups has diminished over the years, for a variety of reasons. Not the least of which are economics, as it’s more cost-effective for schools to lessen the travel requirements whenever possible. It makes sense for Big Ten schools to play MAC entries in non-conference action, just as it makes sense for SEC and Pac-12 schools to tackle Sun Belt and WAC reps, respectively. It costs Georgia less to host a Western Kentucky than it does to make a trip to the West Coast to face UCLA; likewise, Washington would rather play host to Idaho than travel to Kentucky. But it wasn’t always such.

Burgeoning “super conferences” are another development that has put the old-fashioned intersectionals on the endangered list. With more scheduling requirements for league games, there are simply less opportunities to play teams from other parts of the country. Despite the wild popularity of college football today, we suspect the sport is poorer for such developments, and suggest that college football would really be zooming into the stratosphere these days if more of the old intersectionals were part of the modern scheduling equation.

We have always been intrigued by the wild idea introduced in 1959 that would have created a coast-to-coast “National Conference” to be sponsored by none other than old National Airlines, which was keen to promote its new coast-to-coast airline service and introduction of brand new DC-8 fanjets to its fleet of aircraft, at the time a significant upgrade from its stable of propeller-driven DC-7s and Lockheed Constellations, and turbo-prop Lockheed Electras. In those days long before the Big East, Conference USA, and Sun Belt, the college independent ranks were swelled with high-profile members, which included all of the eastern flagship programs of the day, Notre Dame, and the service academies including Air Force, which had quickly emerged as a factor after commencing its program in 1958. The idea for the “National Conference” was also spurred by the scandal-induced breakup of the old Pacific Coast Conference and possibility of enlisting both UCLA and USC into the new league. For a while in the summer of 1959, it looked as if the new conference might actually take flight, with the Bruins and Trojans joined by all three service academies (Army, Navy, and Air Force), plus Notre Dame, Penn State, Pittsburgh, and Syracuse. Potentially, this alliance could have forever changed the face of college football, but the idea soon extinguished. Never before or since has such a coast-to-coast conference alliance reached as far as the discussion stage.

Still, the era of the late ’50s and ‘60s was colorful in the sense that the same motivation for the “National Airlines Conference” provided the impetus for countless intersectional battles. The L.A.-area entries were a popular scheduling partner for schools across the land. UCLA scheduled recurring series with numerous eastern schools, including Syracuse, Penn State, and Pitt, during those years, and beginning in the mid ‘50s scheduled various other non-western foes such as Maryland, Kansas, Iowa, Texas A&M, Michigan, Illinois, Florida, Purdue, NC State, Ohio State, Vanderbilt, Duke, and TCU before adding Tennessee to the slate in 1965. Crosstown Southern Cal would always play Notre Dame, but also faced the likes of Wisconsin, Minnesota, Texas, Michigan, TCU, North Carolina, West Virginia, Baylor, Georgia Tech, SMU, Illinois, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Duke, Navy, Pittsburgh, Michigan State, Texas A&M, Northwestern, and Clemson, all over a stretch between 1956-68.

And Syracuse’s visit to the L.A. Coliseum this Saturday to face the Trojans brings back some of the best memories we have of that era. Which is why we were happy that the Orange decided to reinstitute some bicoastal intersectionals a few years ago when scheduling Washington for a home-and-home series. Last year’s trip to Seattle was Syracuse’s first to the West Coast since a 1977 trek to Oregon State, a game the then-called Orangemen lost 24-12. That was the Cuse’s first trip West since 1968, when Ben Schwartzwalder’s team absorbed a shock 43-0 beating at Cal. After losing nine turnovers in that drubbing, the veteran Schwartzwalder decided against any further Pacific Coast excursions, the next of which for Syracuse having to wait until deep into successor Frank Maloney’s tenure the next decade. Some oldtime Syracuse fans have often believed that Schwartzwalder’s Orangemen were never quite the same after that defeat at Berkeley, and, indeed, the program needed nearly two decades to resurrect itself under Dick MacPherson in the ‘80s.

No wonder Schwartzwalder was so dismayed by that 43-0 scoreline; the fact Syracuse was pummeled by the Golden Bears in ‘68 ran counter to a previous decade of the Orangemen doing mostly the opposite to their foes, especially the western ones such as UCLA. Which provided a perfect platform for Syracuse to become something of a national brand, even for a while rivaling Notre Dame, for much of the ’50s and ’60s.

Of course, Schwartzwalder’s Syracuse really emerged in the ‘50s when a bruising back named Jim Brown (yes, that Jim Brown) graced the roster and dominated proceedings on both sides of the line of scrimmage. Although not perhaps as much as his legend would indicate; the fact is that Brown was a greater pro player than collegian. That was partly due to the misgivings of the coaching staff that originally envisioned Brown as an end and kept him relatively inactive for much of his sophomore year in 1954. Brown’s Syracuse also played just 8 games per season in those days, and with several of those vs. lightly-regarded regional foes such as Colgate, Boston U, and Holy Cross, Brown flew somewhat under-the-radar in a college varsity career that lasted only 25 games (including the ‘57 Cotton Bowl vs. TCU), not even two season’s worth of play today. Still, Brown produced some prodigious feats, including great all-around play in a pair of wins over Army, a 225-yard rushing effort vs. a then-undefeated Holy Cross in 1955, and a 43-point scoring explosion in a 61-7 win over Colgate in 1956, which stood as a college scoring record for 34 years until Illinois RB Howard Griffith broke the mark in 1990. During the decade, Schwartzwalder’s Orangemen won the Lambert Trophy, signifying Eastern football superiority, on three occasions (1952, ‘56, and ‘59) and went “bowling” for the first time after the ‘52 season, although they might have wished they didn’t when losing 61-6 to Alabama in the Orange Bowl.

Schwartzwalder was something of a visionary, however, and in an era in which it was tricky to break the color line, did so as a matter of principle, although the Syracuse campus and area were hardly to be mistaken for more tolerant climes. The integrated Orangemen squads nonetheless became national powers in the 1950s, and indeed the eventual decline in the late 60s coincided with schools in other regions (as well as nearby at places like West Virgina) finally loosening the old limitations on black athletes. But that proved only part of a double-edged sword, as changing demographics and a southward drift of the population rendered Schwartzwalder’s old recruiting haunts in the northeast as less fertile.

By 1959, Schwartzwalder had recruited numerous African-American athletes who manned several key positions in the Syracuse lineup, including FB Art Baker, tackle John Brown, and storied but ill-fated HB Ernie Davis, who would go on to win the Heisman Trophy two years later. But it was the 1959 team that set the standard not only at Syracuse but for the ages in college football. The sinewy Orangemen compiled perhaps the greatest statistical edges in the era of modern college football that memorable year, crushing the opposition, including an astounding 3163-193 rush edge...for the entire season! Many helpless foes could not move that Syracuse team off the line of scrimmage, and the physical, well-schooled, swarming defense suffocated all opponents. Moreover, the Cuse outscored foes 390-59 that year! Schwartzwalder's teams would only pass the ball on rare occasion, and tossing the pigskin was just a part-time chore for QB Dave Sarette, who completed only 49 passes in 11 games. But he did throw for 10 TDs and was helped in the aerial department by a handful of other Syracuse attackers who shared in occasional passing duties.

Capping that regular season was a first-ever trip to Los Angeles for a game vs. UCLA on December 5, when the Bruins were manhandled as had been all other Orangemen opponents that season. UCLA, trying to resurrect its program under from its glory days under Red Sanders earlier in the decade, had not approached that level since, and was easy picking for the bruising Cuse, although Bill Barnes' Bruins at least got on the scoreboard on a Billy Kilmer TD pass and 2-point conversion run by TB Skip Smith. UCLA was nonetheless trampled by a 456-yard Syracuse offensive onslaught led by HB Ger “Der Fuhrer” Schwedes. The Bruins, held to -13 yards rushing, trudged off a 36-8 loser, and HC Barnes was suitably impressed, calling Schwartzwalder's team "one of the greatest I've ever seen." Thus one of the more interesting intersectional rivalries for the next decade was born.

Indeed, the aesthetics of those Syracuse-UCLA games were also memorable for the brilliant color contrasts of the uniforms set against the bright green turf. The Cuse, outfitted in white shirts, dark orange helmets and pants, presented quite a contrast to the baby blue uniforms, gold helmets, and army tan pants of those Bruins. Although when the series resumed in 1962, UCLA changed its look for the game, the only time a Bruins team has worn its white unis at home as the Orangemen visited in a season-ender.

That ‘62 game resumed the series and Schwartzwalder was more than happy to again showcase his team on the Pacific Coast, returning to the Coliseum for games that year and in 1963. Both results looked similar, with Syracuse once more bludgeoning the Bruins with a physical style of play to which the Uclans were not accustomed. Led by punishing back John Mackey, who would go on to star as a Hall-of-Fame TE for the Baltimore Colts, the Cuse won the ‘62 battle by a 12-7 score, then clocked the Bruins again the following October 11, 1963 by a 29-7 count in a Friday night game at the Coliseum. Outweighed by 20 pounds per man, UCLA was pulverized again by the Orangemen, who were just too big and powerful for the smaller but spirited Bruin squad. The Cuse backfield, paced by the quarterbacking of Walley Mahle and the running of future Boston Patriots All-AFL rusher Jim Nance, and Nat Duckett, literally ran over the physically punished Uclans.

By this point UCLA could have been excused for surrendering rather than subjecting itself to another physical beating at the hands of Schwartzwalder’s men, but the Bruins thought they had a chance in 1964 when the venue switched East to Syracuse’s ancient Archbold Stadium for an early October clash just as the nation was settling in to watch NBC's satellite TV transmission of the Tokyo Olympics. UCLA was encouraged by its 3-0 start that season which included wins over Eastern independents Pitt and Penn State, and QB Larry Zeno entered the game that October 10 as the nation’s leader in total offense.

What ensued was a wrecking job even worse than previous Cuse beatdowns of helpless Uclan teams. Schwartzwalder’s ‘64 defense, affectionately referred to as “the Spiders,” put the choke hold on Zeno, who left the game battered and bruised in the 3rd Q after being thrown for -15 rush yards and amassing only 9 yards of offense. When the carnage was complete, UCLA was again in minus yardage territory rushing (-4 yards) and managed just 41 yards of total offense on the day, completing only 4 of 18 passes in a savage dismemberment by the “Spider” defense. Cuse DBs Buddy Johnson and Charley Brown had interception returns for TDs and a future star, a soph back named Floyd Little (yes, that Floyd Little), hinted at bigger and better things to come with a diagonal 90-yard punt return TD (shown above right). When the Bruins dragged themselves off of the field they were 39-0 losers, their baby blue unis appropriately caked by the old Archbold dirt.

Such displays of power were commonplace by the Syracuse teams of the day and UCLA almost singularly reinforced the stereotype of finesse West Coast teams being overmatched by the physicality of the Eastern brand of football. But UCLA had enough of serving as a punching bag for the Orange.

The Cuse came back to the Coliseum in 1965 understandably confident, having added a bruising battering ram of a fullback in 235-lb. soph Larry Csonka, who outweighed most of the Bruin defensive linemen by 30 pounds. His backfield partnership with Little would eventually be considered as one of the greatest in college history. But UCLA had made some changes, not the least of which was bringing in a new coach, Tommy Prothro, from Oregon State. While most of the L.A. area was concentrating on Game Three of the World Series between the Twins and Dodgers up the Harbor Freeway at Chavez Ravine, Prothro was readying for 5-point favorite Syracuse and brewing a new potent mix in Westwood, keyed by soph QB Gary Beban. Who, after the Orangemen fumbled on their first possession, promptly circled end for a 27-yard TD run and an early 7-0 UCLA lead. And when the Bruins got the ball back on their next possession, Beban promptly tossed a 79-yard TD bomb to WR Kurt Altenberg. Two plays, two TDs, and more points than UCLA had scored in any of the previous four meetings vs. Syracuse!

This different brand of Bruins also kept Little in check, limiting him to 27 yards rushing, and though Csonka eventually trampled the smaller UCLA defenders in the second half en route to 162 punishing rush yards, it was too little, too late. UCLA had broken the Syracuse hex with a 24-14 win, and suddenly everyone began to pay attention to Prothro, Beban, and the Bruins, who would go on to Rose Bowl glory later that year.

The fact that UCLA team in ‘65, and the next year’s 1966 team, handled Syracuse spoke volumes about the Prothro genius and quickly resurrecting a program that had been manhandled in all previous games vs. the Orangemen. It also signified a shift in the game to which Schwartzwalder was reluctant to adjust. Speed was now becoming as important as brawn, and the 1966 renewal of the series at Archbold Stadium confirmed the reversal of roles. Now it was UCLA dominating, running circles around the Orange, even in the Archbold Stadium mudpit. Prothro’s 5-3 defense again corralled Little, limiting him to only 12 YR, and held the stagnant and stodgy Cuse attack to a measly 147 yards. Meanwhile, Beban was passing and running in a modern UCLA offensive look that flummoxed the Cuse defense. UCLA completed the onslaught when DB Ray Armstrong returned a punt 62 yards for a score late in the 3rd Q to up the lead to 31-6. Only a pair of second-half Little TDs, the latter on a dazzling 65-yard punt return in the 4th Q, prevented a whitewash as the Cuse was buried, 31-12.

Two more renewals of the series were scheduled in 1967 & ‘68. Those games, however, more recalled the days of Syracuse domination. The Orange had reeled off 8 straight wins to close the ‘66 campaign after losing to UCLA, and carried a chip on their shoulder the entire ‘67 campaign, looking forward to a season-ending trip to the Coliseum to exact some revenge on the Bruins, who were riding high in the polls with Beban on his way to the Heisman Trophy. It was a dangerous bit of scheduling for UCLA to host an angry Syracuse the week after another expected epic showdown with crosstown USC, which turned out to be one of the games of the ages. Top-ranked entering that one, the Bruins lost by a heartbreaking 21-20 score, and AAWU rules of the day kept the UCLA at home for the postseason. Depressed after blowing national title and Rose Bowl hopes in the most-bitter of 1-point losses to the hated Trojans, and with Beban nursing sore ribs, Prothro’s team was hardly up for a physical encounter the next week with a strong and mad Syracuse bunch that had seethed all season at the attention the Bruins received as it waited to mete revenge.

The Orangemen were not chopped liver themselves in '67, entering the Coliseum 7-2, winning most of their games in the familiar Schwartzwalder, beatdown style. Upset losses at Navy and home vs. Penn State kept Syracuse from serious national title hopes, but the Orangemen were dominating physically again, and had not allowed an opponent to rush for as many as 100 yards (Penn State gaining the most at 88 yards) all season. West Virginia (-19 YR), Holy Cross (-12 YR), and Baylor (4 YR) either lost yardage on the ground or gained inches per carry vs. an updated version of the '64 Spiders now featuring end and future Oakland Raiders LB Art Thoms, and LB Jim Cheyunski, who would also go on to an extended pro career with the Patriots, Bills, and Colts. Meanwhile, Csonka was bulling his way to another 1000-yard season and All-American honors.

The game was no contest, with Syracuse physically dominating once again from the outset. Csonka’s bruising thrusts softened the Bruin defensive line which had no interest getting involved in the sort of trench warfare the Orangemen preferred, and Syracuse punished UCLA early en route to a quick 13-0 lead. Meanwhile the Cuse defense roughed up the sore-ribbed Beban and KO’d him for good in the 3rd Q after the score had mushroomed to 19-0. UCLA made a brief rally behind backup QB Bill Bolden, including a then-school record 92-yard TD pass to sprinter Ron Copeland, but by then the die was cast that late November day. Besides Csonka, QB Rick Cassata was running the Bruins silly with 119 yards rushing of his own and thoroughly outplaying the battered Beban. Early in the 4th quarter and snapping from the Bruin 3, Cassata was chased backwards 20 yards before spotting end Tom Coughlin (yes, that Tom Coughlin) in the endzone for a TD and a 26-7 lead. Cassata would score again later to complete a 32-14 romp in which the Cuse brutalized the Bruins with 316 yards rushing en route to 462 yards of offense.

Serious students of West Coast football have long acknowledged that the letdown the Bruins suffered was understandable and probably preferable to losing in that manner had they beaten SC the previous week. Although it was a point of much conjecture at the time from many UCLA backers who suspected the Bruins would have approached that Syracuse game much differently has SC been vanquished the previous week. We've never been sure, because Prothro's team was so beaten to a pulp by the angry Orangemen. UCLA was at least spared from blowing its national title hopes in the finale against Syracuse after what would have been perhaps the most rousing win in school history over SC. As it was, the loss to the Orangemen was quickly forgotten in Westwood.

Nobody knew at the time that UCLA’s star would quickly fade soon after the 1968 and last series renewal at old Archbold, again reduced to a sea of deep mud. The Bruins were 2-0 and 9th-ranked as they entered cold and wet Archbold on October 5, but would lose 7 of their next 8 games that season in a hail of injuries and post-Beban ineffectiveness. The mucky track in October of ‘68 suited Schwartzwalder just fine as the Orangemen concentrated on their bone-crushing ground game while effectively eschewing the pass (which the coach would have gladly banned from the game if he could) behind limited QB Paul Paolisso, content instead to let punishing 230-lb. soph FB Al Newton (subsequently known as A. Alif Muhammad) pile drive the smaller Bruin DL with 121 YR. UCLA was not as dynamic as it was the last time it visited in 1966, and soph QB Jim Nader struggled with the conditions. TB John Godbolt had put the Cuse up 13-0 in the 3rd Q on a short blast, but the Bruins clawed back to 13-7 deep into the 4th Q on a short TD run by TB Greg Jones. On the ensuing kickoff, however, Bruin Zenon Andrusyshyn’s onside kick was picked up by TE Bill Maddox, who rumbled 49 yards the other way for a clinching TD in a 20-7 final. Schwartzwalder, outfoxed in 1965 & '66, would indeed have the last two laughs on Prothro.

Now, 43 years later, it’s Southern Cal and not UCLA that will be hosting Syracuse at the Coliseum as the Orange make their first appearance in L.A. since Larry Csonka’s days. We just hope it’s not another 43 years before the Cuse makes another trek to California...there’s too much college football history a generation of West Coasters has missed.


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