All-Time Fumble : USC Alumni Hall of Fame Voters Insult Football Players Who Made School Nationally Prominent

When this was a younger century, USC football moved in and up as practically all there was to Los Angeles sports.

Little else of importance found its way onto the sports pages of the city's five or six daily newspapers.

And in the American South, East and Midwest, where, before television, before air travel, the West Coast seemed a distant, mythic dream, few sports fans even knew there was anything else out here.

What they did know about was Trojan football.

For, in the late '20s and early '30s, the opening of transcontinental radio sports coverage coincided with the beginnings of USC's football greatness.

In that era, the Trojans always seemed to be heading for, playing in, or at least playing for the Rose Bowl--once getting there three times in four years, and winning all three.

Or they were winning national football championships--three in five years.

Or they were struggling with Knute Rockne, whose Notre Dame teams won three one-point decisions from USC in four years, 13-12, 7-6, and 13-12. In the midst of all that, the Trojans beat Rockne in 1928, 27-14.

Those Trojans, indeed, won half of their school's first eight Notre Dame games--and most of their other games as well--as millions of Americans learned for the first time about the University of Southern California.

Or, as they've usually called it, Southern Cal.

That's how, in one decade, a provincial little Los Angeles school in the disconnected Far West was transformed into a national institution--a national power.

And 10 Trojans had the most to do with it.

As the 1920s rolled into the '30s, a football coach named Howard Jones and his nine consensus All-Americans led USC into a national prominence that it has held since.

Accordingly, when USC finally got around to establishing an athletic Hall of Fame this year, those 10 should have been the first--and only--Trojans elected.

Instead, when the 52 voters--mostly younger alumni--selected 16 athletes and others for the introductory Hall of Fame class, they got 15 names wrong.

Of the history-makers who deserve election, they recognized only the coach, Jones.

That was an extraordinary affront to the rest of those who helped get USC going.

In truth, only four of those the electors chose--O.J. Simpson, John McKay, Braven Dyer and Jones--should even have been considered. And of these, on reflection, only Jones rates membership in the charter class.

Most of the 52 voters, whoever they are, plainly lack both a sense of history at their own university and any interest in reading up on it.

Theirs is an all-time fumble.


On any big-news meter these days, a sports hall of fame isn't in it with Bosnia, perhaps, or even the NBA playoffs.

Still, injustice is injustice, wherever you find it.

And in this case, USC's alumni have wronged the school's first nine All-Americans, four of whom, lining up as tailbacks, were called quarterbacks: Mort Kaer, Morley Drury, Gaius Shaver and Cotton Warburton.

In a single-wing system, one was a blocking back, Erny Pinckert.

And four were linemen: tackles Jess Hibbs and Ernie Smith, and guards Johnny Baker and Aaron Rosenberg.

And without them, you can't have a valid Hall of Fame.

Not at USC.

They and 11 teammates in particular--the 11 others who earned All-American or other distinctive attention in that generation--were the true founders of USC athletics.

They were the players who, in 1925-33, during Jones' first nine years in Los Angeles, led the Trojans through nine big-winning seasons; who in one three-year stretch played a record 28 games without losing, and who played before crowds ranging up to 100,000 at the Coliseum and 120,000 at Chicago's Soldier Field.

And so, when the time comes for USC's alumni to expand their Hall of Fame next spring, they should elect a class of 20--starting with the nine players who should have made it this year and adding in the 11 who deserve to make it next year.

Here's what they all did:

* Four helped lead USC's 1928-29 football teams to a national championship one season and a Rose Bowl victory the next: end Francis Tappaan, lineman Nate Barragar, and backs Russ Saunders and Marshall Duffield.

* Five others helped take USC to a pair of Rose Bowl victories as leaders of the 1929 and 1931 teams and to the 1931 national championship: end Garrett Arbelbide, linemen Baker and Stan Williamson, and backs Shaver and Pinckert.

* Enrolling in the early '30s, six other USC football players helped lead their university to two national championships and two Rose Bowl victories on the 1931 and '32 teams: end Ray Sparling, linemen Smith, Rosenberg and Tay Brown, and backs Orv Mohler and Homer Griffith.

* Five other key Trojans were on teams that either began or ended the history-turning Jones decade. The school's first two great backs, Kaer and Drury, started it all off in the middle '20s with linemen Hibbs and Brice Taylor. In 1932 and '33, when USC twice blanked Notre Dame, Warburton climaxed the Hall-of-Fame-decade-that-wasn't.

Earlier this year, a USC alumni faction voted a different group of late-comers into the strange new Hall-of-Fame-that-is: Jon Arnett, Mike Garrett, Frank Gifford, Simpson (football); Fred Lynn (baseball); Buster Crabbe (swimming); Al Geiberger (golf); Parry O'Brien (track and field); Bill Sharman (basketball); Stan Smith (tennis); Norman Topping (administration); Dyer (sportswriting); Jones, McKay, Marv Goux, Rod Dedeaux (special awards).

The historic contribution of 15 of these 16 has been to sustain their heritage. And for doing it well, they, along with football stars Marcus Allen, Grenny Lansdell and Pat Haden, deserve early Hall of Fame membership.

But not yet. Soon, but not yet.


The sports fans who throughout America tuned into the earliest transcontinental broadcasts--hearing about Pinckert and Arbelbide and Johnny Baker for the first time in the 1920s--are mostly all gone now.

So are many of the millions who, in all 48 states, read all about it in their hometown newspapers.

Yet the impression of excellence that USC first made on a big country nearly 70 years ago is still there.

As one consequence, historians credit USC's early football teams with a proud achievement: putting Los Angeles on the national sports map.

That wasn't, however, the best thing they did. Their principal achievement was putting USC on the national university map.

They built the foundation on which USC has erected a great educational institution that might have had trouble reaching such heights without its football teams--particularly in a state crowded with so many other great schools, from UCLA and Caltech to Cal and Stanford.

As John Hubbard, professor emeritus of history, formerly president of USC, noted in a 1980 Times interview, "a half century of success in football" has largely made USC what it is.

Hubbard concluded that three winning coaches--Jones, McKay and John Robinson--have taken the university so far that, ironically, "USC athletics has become no more than a handsome auxiliary to one of the nation's fine academic institutions."

Trojan football teams slumped awhile after the Hubbard era, but they seem to be coming back, now that Robinson has returned.

And under 1990s President Steven B. Sample, USC has continued to attract eminent new scholars as well as an envied endowment.

Thus in any reckoning of the American universities that for many decades have been best known throughout the 50 states, USC is up there with Notre Dame, Harvard and Stanford.

And their football teams played a major role in bringing each to the attention of the nation:

* Harvard helped invent football. And a Harvard team later played in the Rose Bowl--and won--long before USC ever got there.

* For many years, football has also advertised Stanford, whose 1925 Rose Bowl team lost to Notre Dame's Four Horsemen six months before Howard Jones landed at USC.

* As for USC and Notre Dame, their intersectional football series has been America's most celebrated since Jones and Rockne.

In Los Angeles, it wasn't baseball, obviously, that introduced USC to the nation. And it wasn't swimming, golf, tennis or track--which, curiously, were all represented in the Trojans' first Hall of Fame class, and which have something else in common: Their public followings are so small that USC's football program must support them all.

Long before there was midget auto racing in Hollywood, long before Benny Goodman played the Palomar, long before the arrival of the Raiders or Dodgers or Rams--even before UCLA--there was USC football.

Nothing else mattered .

Everyone who can read knows that.

For USC's alumni, what matters now is their next vote.

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