Grenny Lansdell

John Hall

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

each quarter.

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

football lifetime.

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.

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