Thorny Start : USC-Penn State Matchup Rekindles Heated Memories of the 1923 Rose Bowl


When USC plays Penn State Saturday at the Coliseum, it will be only the second meeting in the Southland between the college football powers, and the first here since Jan. 1, 1923.

USC beat the Nittany Lions, 14-3, in the '23 Rose Bowl, a game that was noteworthy for several reasons:

--It was the first Rose Bowl game played at the current site, although the "bowl" at the time actually was a horseshoe. The south end of the stadium was enclosed five years later, increasing capacity by about 20,000.

--It was the first of USC's record 27 appearances in the New Year's Day game and the first of the Trojans' record 19 Rose Bowl victories.

--It was the first of USC's 33 postseason bowl appearances.

--It was the first of Penn State's 26 postseason bowl appearances.

--It featured a shouting match between the opposing coaches--Elmer (Gloomy Gus) Henderson of USC and Hugo Bezdek of Penn State-- before the kickoff.

Henderson and Bezdek, in fact, almost came to blows. Henderson charged that Bezdek deliberately delayed the start of the game by refusing to bring his players onto the field.

Bezdek said his team had been caught in traffic, a claim that Henderson hotly contested.

"The Pennsylvania team arrived in plenty of time to play the game, but Bezdek had decided that he was going to play it in the cool of the evening," said Gwynn Wilson, 93, of Palos Verdes Estates, who was there as USC's graduate manager of the student body and was later instrumental in starting the USC-Notre Dame series.

But according to reports in the Pasadena Star-News, Bezdek had not acted maliciously.

The newspaper reported that three carloads of Penn State players had been stalled in a traffic jam in which "hundreds of cars" were involved and were able to make their way to the Rose Bowl only after Police Chief Charles H. Kelley intervened, allowing the cars to drive on sidewalks.

Then, once inside the stadium, "at the request of the management, Bezdek held his team off the field for 25 minutes while a large number of spectators still on the outside crowded the entranceways in a last-minute attempt to reach their seats," the Star-News reported.

"When Bezdek entered, Henderson, furious, accused him of trying to 'take the edge off the Trojans' by making them wait and lose nervous energy.

"Bezdek resented the charge and is said to have offered to slaughter the first Trojan on the spot, provided Henderson would remove his glasses. Only the intervention of President John J. Mitchell of the Tournament Assn. prevented blows."

According to "The Trojan Heritage: a Pictorial History of USC Football," Henderson said later that he wasn't about to fight Bezdek, a former boxer who made it through the University of Chicago partly with money he earned fighting under an assumed name.

"I told him that we would let our teams settle the issue," said Henderson, who died in 1965.

The game, which started more than 30 minutes later than scheduled, had been eagerly anticipated even before the altercation between the coaches, wrote Harry A. Williams of The Times.

"Never has the annual New Year's game caused an equal amount of discussion," Williams wrote. "It is doubtful whether there is a home, a shop, an office or a store in Southern California in which the contest has not been dissected.

"Every tongue seems to be on a hair-trigger with this game as the one and only topic. Every man, woman and (child) seems to have polled his or her own vote. Opinions are as rampant as Christmas shoppers were 10 days ago."

In front of a crowd of about 50,000, which had made its way through a traffic blockade that Chief Kelley described as the worst he had ever seen, Penn State took advantage of a 15-yard penalty against the Trojans to open a 3-0 first-quarter lead on a drop kick by Mike Palm.

But USC, which was voted into the game only after California had declined an invitation to make a third consecutive appearance, overcame its deficit in the second quarter, scoring after Harold Galloway had made what Williams later described as "one of the greatest plays ever seen on a gridiron."

On fourth down at Penn State's 10-yard line, Galloway made a diving catch of a poorly thrown pass by Gordon Campbell. Knocked out as he landed at the two-yard line, Galloway was helped from the field, despite his protestations, and sat out the rest of the quarter.

The go-ahead touchdown was scored by Campbell, who was described in The Times the next day as "pretty nearly" the star of the Trojan backfield.

"How the critics have overlooked this bird," wrote Joe Punt, "we cannot understand."

Roy (Bullet) Baker added a third-quarter touchdown for the Trojans, who had 305 total yards and 15 first downs while limiting Penn State to 138 total yards and six first downs.

"Southern California's first appearance in defense of the gridiron reputation of the West was a howling success," Punt wrote.

The game, which didn't start until after 3 p.m., ended after dark, forcing sportswriters and telegraph operators to strike matches in order to complete their stories.

"The full moon is peeping over the topmost rim of the stadium and beaming down upon the rooters of the Cardinal and Gold," Charles W. Paddock of the Pasadena Star-News wrote in the opening paragraph of his game story.

The new stadium, which replaced Tournament Park as the site of the annual game, was widely praised, the Star-News reported.

The newspaper saw a bright future for the Rose Bowl: "Comments by Eastern football experts . . . show that the Pasadena New Year's game is the pre-eminent postseason game, and will continue to be so."

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