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Stanford 125: The 1940s

Sep 24, 2019

In recognizing the 125th season of Stanford football and the 150th year of college football, is celebrating and highlighting Stanford's football history with a season-long series by decade.

Stanford 125: The 1940s

Games of the Decade:

Sept. 28, 1940: Stanford 27, USF 0

In his first meeting with the team, in a history classroom in the quad, new Stanford coach Clark Shaughnessy said, "Boys, I have a formation for you that, if you learn it well, will take you to the Rose Bowl." He proceeded to sketch out an unusual alignment that featured a quarterback lining up behind the center and three backs in a line behind the quarterback. It was called the "T formation," and represented an antiquated system no longer used in the game.  

There were skeptics: "If Stanford wins a single game with that crazy formation, you can throw all the football I ever knew into the Pacific Ocean," coaching legend Pop Warner said. Though the T formation was designed for running, the modern passing game derived from it. It put a man in motion, emphasized deception over power, spread the field, and gave the quarterback and receivers greater responsibility. It revolutionized football.

In the nightcap of a season-opening doubleheader at Kezar Stadium, after Santa Clara played Utah, Stanford unveiled a new look – white helmets, cardinal jerseys, white pants – that continues to this day, and routed favored University of San Francisco, 27-0, with a style never seen before.

As Utah receiver Mac Speedie, later a Pro Football Hall of Famer, was showering after the first game, a teammate burst into the locker room and shouted, "Hey, you got to see this to believe it. They've got the damnedest formation out there I've ever seen. You can't even follow the ball."

The USF defense was so perplexed with Stanford's deception and misdirection that Pete Kmetovic scored the first touchdown untouched up the middle. The Indians continually ran right past confused defenders.

"This type of football is different," wrote Bill Leiser of the San Francisco Chronicle. "Why, some of those Stanford kids running away from the play actually had defenders chasing them harder than other defenders were chasing the ballcarrier."

USF coach George Malley looked like "a man who had just seen a ghost," the Chronicle wrote. Afterward, a stunned Malley said, "We were baffled, naturally, by all that running around in the backfield."

Stanford's style was so astonishing that the team was christened the "Wow Boys," with a nod to the great "Vow Boys" teams of the 1930s.

Stanford at Washington State; Oct. 19, 1940.

Jan. 1, 1941 (Rose Bowl): Stanford 21, Nebraska 13

Stanford completed its first perfect season since 1905 by beating Nebraska in the Rose Bowl, 21-13. This result and the Chicago Bears' 73-0 rout of the Washington Redskins in the NFL championship three weeks earlier (Clark Shaughnessy had worked informally with coach George Halas in developing the Bears' offense) convinced the country that the T formation was for real. Hugh Gallarneau scored twice and Pete Kmetovic broke open a 14-13 game with a spectacular 39-yard punt return in the third quarter for the final score. Stanford outgained the Cornhuskers, 347-128 on the way to finishing 10-0 and earning a share of the national championship.


Nebraska scores against Stanford in the 1941 Rose Bowl.

Nov. 22, 1947: California 21, Stanford 18

At the time, this was described by some as the greatest Big Game in history. In the midst of a 0-9 season, Stanford was a 40-point underdog against a Pappy Waldorf-coached Cal team that featured Jackie Jensen and would go 9-1. A quick Cal touchdown indicated a rout, but Stanford stormed back and took an 18-14 lead on an 11-yard pass from Don Campbell to Bob Anderson with five minutes left. The upset bid ended in the final seconds when Cal's Paul Keckley caught an option pass from Jensen and weaved 65 yards through the Indian defense for the winning score. A year later, Campbell's football career ended with a head injury suffered in the Big Game, but he went on to compete for Stanford in gymnastics and track and field, as a pole vaulter.


Julian Field carries for Stanford in the 1947 Big Game.
* * *

Notable Coaches:

Clark Shaughnessy (1940-41)

Clark Shaughnessy was hired at Stanford after a 2-6 season at University of Chicago, with losses by as much as 85-0. Chicago then dropped football. Though limited in resources by a lame-duck program at Chicago, Shaughnessy did not expect a school like Stanford to come calling. Stanford, however, was intrigued by the high regard in which Shaughnessy was held by his peers.

With nothing to lose after Stanford's 1-7-1 1939 season, Shaughnessy felt the time was right to unveil his version of the T formation, a system he never used at University of Chicago, but tinkered with in an association with George Halas and the NFL's Chicago Bears. Shaughnessy moved players to new positions to best fit roles within the new offense, and hired the Bears' quarterback of the previous season, Bernie Masterson, to tutor new quarterback Frankie Albert, an erstwhile halfback.

The result was a stunning season in which Stanford won the Pacific Coast Conference title and the Rose Bowl, finished with a perfect season (10-0) and earned a share of the national championship. Shaughnessy was named national Coach of the Year.

After the attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, Shaughnessy realized Stanford would discontinue football as the country headed toward war, and left after only two seasons to become coach and athletic director at Maryland.

Wrote Sports Illustrated's Ron Fimrite in his 1977 piece, "A Melding of Men All Suited to a T":

Clark Shaughnessy died on May 15, 1970 in Santa Monica, Calif, at the age of 78, his reputation for genius somehow intact despite a 149-116-17 record that scarcely compared with those of similarly acclaimed coaches. It was a reputation constructed largely on one all-triumphant, incandescent season. Never after 1940 did he find the right combination of time, circumstances and people to serve his restless intellect and turbulent energies. But it can be said that, perhaps more than any coach in the game's history, he left an enduring heritage.

There were many mourners at Shaughnessy's funeral, but the largest representation by far came from the Wow Boys of 1940. To them, prominent men in business and the professions, he remains "Mr. Shaughnessy, Coach."


Clark Shaughnessy.

Marchmont "Marchie" Schwartz (1942, '46-50)

An All-American halfback at Notre Dame, Marchmont "Marchie" Schwartz was an assistant to Clark Shaughnessy at Stanford in 1940-41 before taking over in 1942. Schwartz coached one season before the program was suspended during World War II. Schwartz returned to the Midwest to go into private business. After the war, Schwartz was convinced into returning and coached Stanford from 1946-50. Overall, he went 28-28-4 in six seasons, with four winning campaigns.


Marchie Schwartz.

* * *

Prominent Players:

Frankie Albert '42

Frankie Albert was described as an "inept tailback" by Don Liebendorfer in the book, The Color of Life is Red. After changing positions as a senior in 1940, Albert thrived as a left-handed quarterback in the T formation and launched the school's tradition of excellence at the QB position that continues today.

Wrote Clark Shaughnessy in his 1943 book, Football in War and Peace:

Long before I went to Stanford I had heard of him, I knew he fitted exactly the requirements of the T-Formation. Frankie, for example, was not used in [my] system as a blocker or a ball-carrier, assignments in which he would have been at a great disadvantage because he was neither strong nor fast. His talents were primarily those of a faker; he could fool people, and by temperament he ate up that sort of assignment. His talents were more intellectual and psychological than physical. He was a poker player if ever there was one, and the T-Formation gave him exactly the best opportunities to exploit those strengths of his to the utmost, at the same time covering up the shortcomings he had that would have put him at a great disadvantage in other styles of play.

After serving in the Navy for four years during World War II, Albert starred for the original San Francisco 49ers, where he played from 1946-52, and coached from 1956-58. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1956.


Frankie Albert.

Hugh "Duke" Gallarneau '40

A light heavyweight boxer at Stanford in 1937, Hugh Gallarneau never lost a bout, even when his coaches moved him up to heavyweight when the team faced a particularly tough big man. Gallarneau was miscast as a wingback in Tiny Thornhill's system, but moved to right halfback under Shaughnessy and showcased his speed and power. Shaughnessy called Gallarneau his "secret weapon." Between five seasons with the Chicago Bears, Gallarneau fought in the Pacific Theater and rose to the rank of major in the Marine Corps. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1982.


Hugh Gallarneau.

Chuck Taylor '43

Chuck Taylor was a quarterback and blocking back before mad scientist Clark Shaughnessy switched him to left guard. Taylor earned consensus All-America honors there in 1942. He served in the Navy and was with an amphibious force in the 1944 landing at Normandy in France. Taylor later served as coach and athletic director at Stanford and was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1984.


Chuck Taylor.
* * *

Best Teams:

1940 (10-0)

Clark Shaughnessy called Stanford's backfield of quarterback Frankie Albert, halfbacks Hugh Gallarneau and Pete Kmetovic, and fullback Norm Standlee the greatest in college football history. It was the heart of Stanford's success in compiling the best record (10-0) in school history.

A Rose Bowl matchup between Big Ten champ Minnesota, ranked No. 1, and Pacific Coast Conference champ Stanford, ranked No. 2, seemed obvious. However, the Big Ten did not allow teams to play in postseason bowls until 1947. The Associated Press did not rank teams after the bowls, so Minnesota was crowned national champ. However, Stanford was ranked No. 1 by Helms and the Poling System, and Boston College and Tennessee were No. 1 in other polls. All four claim a share of the national championship. It was Stanford's second national football title.


Rose Bowl program cover.

1942 (6-4)

Despite a 0-3 start in the first season under Marchmont Schwartz, Stanford rebounded with six victories in its final seven games to finish No. 12. Stanford was third in the conference, but finished as the PCC's highest-ranked team, helped along by a 26-7 Big Game triumph in Berkeley and a 28-13 victory over an undefeated and star-studded St. Mary's Pre-Flight. These would be the last games Stanford would play for four years. Mostly universities with Navy programs continued to field teams during World War II, but Stanford, which had only an Army unit, did not.


Buck Fawcett carries against Cal in 1942.

1949 (7-3-1)

Two years after a 0-9 season, Stanford returned to respectability by going 7-3-1 in 1949. A 34-13 victory over No. 12 USC at the L.A. Coliseum vaulted Stanford into the rankings, and Stanford moved up to No. 12 before a 33-14 Big Game loss to Cal. This was sophomore Gary Kerkorian's first season as starting quarterback. He would graduate with every Stanford passing record and a first-team All-America honor.


Gary Kerkorian runs for yardage against USC in 1949.

* * *

Key Moments:

Shaughnessy's "Celebration" (Oct. 12, 1940)

Stanford coach Clark Shaughnessy was all business. He didn't drink or smoke. He went to bed at 7 p.m. and rose at 3 or 4. Stanford had lost four in a row to South Bay rival Santa Clara and Shaughnessy knew this would be a tough one -- Santa Clara would end its season with a 33-13 victory over Oklahoma and a No. 11 ranking. In the second quarter at Stanford Stadium, fullback Norm Standlee bulled his way into the end zone from the 11. The fourth-down run was barely enough in a 7-6 victory over a Buck Shaw-coached team that used a sliding 5-3 alignment to stifle the Stanford attack. Shaughnessy, determined to celebrate, loaded his wife, Mae, into the car and drove to San Francisco. They stopped at a well-known ice-cream parlor and ordered chocolate nut sundaes. Immediately after finishing, they climbed back into the car and hurried home, so Shaughnessy could begin preparing for the next game.


Stanford scores in a 27-7 victory over Santa Clara in 1941, a year after the close 1940 contest.

Taylor's Defensive Stand (Nov. 9, 1940)

Before he was known as "Chuck", the All-America guard was known as "Red" Taylor. "Red" may have saved the game and the season with a defensive stand against No. 11 Washington at Stanford Stadium. The Huskies were undefeated in conference and lost only to top-ranked Minnesota, 19-14. After a series of bruising, tough games, undefeated Stanford was facing what today is referred to as a "trap" game.

Ahead 10-0 midway through the third quarter, Washington reached the Stanford 29 and faced second-and-1. But on successive plays, Taylor stopped the Huskies for a half-yard loss, a gain of less than a yard, and no gain, turning the ball over on downs. Invigorated, Stanford needed only three plays to score and kept its foot on the pedal in a 20-10 victory that wasn't ensured until Pete Kmetovic intercepted a pass and returned it 43 yards for a touchdown in the closing minutes.

Taylor's Steal (Oct. 24, 1942)

At San Francisco's Kezar Stadium, USC's Mickey McArdle attempted to squirm out of Hank Norberg's grasp when Chuck Taylor swooped in to yank the ball out of McArdle's hands and rambled 50 yards for a touchdown to cap off a 14-6 Stanford victory.
* * *

Unidentified Stanford player, 1948.

Lead photo: The undefeated Wow Boys of 1940. Front row, left to right: Fred Meyer, Bruno Banducci, Dick Palmer, Vic Lindskog, Chuck Taylor, Ed Stamm, Stan Graff. Back row (l. to r.): Hugh Gallarneau, Norm Standlee, Frankie Albert, Pete Kmetovic.