The living legacy of one of the last of the truly great all-around
triple-threat stars in college football history is very much in evidence
at Newport Harbor High these particularly glorious gridiron days for the
unbeaten (12-0-1 and counting) 1999 Sailors.
Senior tight end-nose guard-defensive end and student body president
Brad Lansdell Craig and his younger brother, sophomore reserve
quarterback Morgan Earl Craig, both members of Coach Jeff Brinkley's
high-rolling varsity which duels Irvine Friday night for the CIF Division
VI championship, are grandsons of USC legend Grenny Lansdell.
Grenville Archer Lansdell Jr., WWII hero and All-American tailback in
the old Howard Jones Thundering Herd power-plus single-wing offense in
1939. And today a member of the Daily Pilot's Sports Hall of Fame,
celebrating the millennium.
Lansdell died in 1983 of complications from Alzheimer's, but his name
lives on in Southern California. Mary Lansdell, his widow and grandmother
of the Craig brothers, as well as mother of their mother, Brett, still
resides in her and Grenny's longtime home just around the corner from
Newport Harbor High.
To say he was "one of the last of truly great all-around triple-threat
stars" is hardly an exaggeration as the triple-threaters vanished with
the dinosaur shortly after 1940 when Coach Clark Shaughnessy reintroduced
the T-Formation at Stanford and it swept all of football as Frankie
Albert led the Indians to a 21-13 victory over Nebraska in the Rose Bowl
New Year's Day 1941.
Although Lansdell was listed as a quarterback by Jones, he was clearly
a "tailback in the single-wing, taking every snap to run, pass or punt
(the classic triple-threat).
He was also the deep safety in the standard 6-2-2-1 defense of the day
and returned punts. Simply enough, football was another game prior to the
1940 revolution and the monumental interruption of WWII.
There were no free substitution, no facemasks, the helmets were
primitive pieces of thin leather and you could enter and exit only once
Lansdell was the master combination of power runner, passer, punter,
especially adept at the then popular and often employed "quick kick," and
he was a sure tackler and extremely dangerous in the open field returning
"Grenny Lansdell is the best all-around player the Trojans have had in
the history of the university," wrote Hall of Fame sportswriter Braven
Dyer for The Times in 1939, the ultimate bouquet from a journalist who
had just about seen and covered them all up to that point in USC's
Another mark of Jones' Thundering Herds was that he always had three
or four top "quarterbacks" every season and frequently rotated them so
each got a piece of the action.
After the 1939 Trojans routed Stanford, 33-0, losing coach Tiny
Thornhill said, "USC has the best football team in the country. In fact,
USC has the best THREE football teams in the country."
Although Lansdell shared his job with such players as Schindler,
Mickey Anderson, Ollie Day and Doyle Nave during his three varsity
seasons, he was USC's leading ground gainer during the 1938 and 1939 Rose
Bowl seasons and was the team's leading passer all three years in
1937-38-39. He topped 1,000 yards in total offense in '39 (1,221), not
done again for another 10 years until Jim Powers.
It was such a different game in that era that statistics are
relatively meaningless in comparing them with today's numbers. They
didn't even keep punt return, kickoff return or interception stats until
1950, and punting records weren't kept until 1941.
But Lansdell, a Pasadena native out of Pasadena JC, would have been
No. 1 in those categories, too. He had an 83-yard punt return for a
touchdown in 1938 against Ohio State that was the key to Troy's 14-7
victory. His 70-yard TD punt return was USC's only score in a 7-6 loss to
Washington on a rainy day in Seattle that same year. He went 56 yards for
a touchdown with an interception against Oregon State in a 19-7 win over
the contending Beavers in 1939.
Another of his specialites was the coffin corner punt, and he had one
go out on the Duke 1-yard line in the 1939 Rose Bowl.
It was "fourth-stringer" Nave who completed the dramatic late passes
to Al Krueger for the storybook 7-3 triumph over the previously
undefeated, untied and unscored upon Blue Devils that day, but it was
Grenny who hit Bob Peoples with a clutch pass for a first down on the
Duke 34 with two minutes to go that set it all up.
With no specialists and the athletes going both ways, it was tougher
to pick All-American teams in the '30s. There were no wide receivers and
no flankers, just right and left ends. And just 11 "two-way" complete
players to the first team.
Bill Stern's 1939 All-American backfield featured Michigan's Tom
Harmon, UCLA's Kenny Washington and USC's Grenny Lansdell.
Grenny was picked No. 1 by the New York Giants in the 1940 NFL draft,
but got in only one pro season before the war. He soon became Capt.
Lansdell flying for the Army Air Corps, mostly piloting the big
transports moving troops to crucial battle fronts in the Pacific Theater.
After the war, settling down in Newport Beach in 1947 with new bride
Mary, a former Texas beauty queen he first met when she was a flight
attendant on his TWA crew, still Capt. Lansdell, he flew for the airline
until the first signs of his illness in 1978.