Barabas breaks free
Game of the Day (Day 3)
January 1, 1934
Columbia 7 Stanford 0
Winter, 1934. New York City and the entire country are still mired in the Depression. A spirit of humility rules the day so much that Mayor-elect Fiorello La Guardia wins cheers for promising to ban any more parades for sports teams paid for by the taxpayers.
But like Seabiscuit and boxer James Braddock, an underdog sports team from Morningside Heights would change his mind and provide a bit of good cheer in a very trying time.
I thought I would present the full story of the great Rose Bowl win by providing some excerpts and first person accounts.
The first one comes from the obituary for Cliff Montgomery that appeared a few years ago in Columbia College Today:
On New Year’s Day 1934, the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, pitted Stanford (8–1–1), which had been scored on only four times all season, against Columbia (7–1), which had lost only to Princeton. For the three days before the game, torrential rains soaked the field. “When we arrived the day before the game [after traveling from New York by train], the Rose Bowl looked like a lake,” Cliff Montgomery, the team captain, recalled in a 1981 article in The New York Times. “The players’ benches were floating up and down the sideline like small boats.”
When the rain abated that day, a half-dozen fire departments began drying the field, pumping out 2.5 million gallons of water. But game day brought more rain, a muddy field and a general belief that Stanford, favored by 18 points in part because of a 17-pound-per-man advantage, could run the ball at will.
In the second quarter, with the game scoreless and Columbia in possession on Stanford’s 17-yard line, Montgomery decided it was time for KF-79, a trick play that Coach Lou Little had devised. From the single-wing formation, Montgomery took the snap, and the deception began.
“I thought Stanford would be expecting a play into the line, and KF-79 was designed to fool them,” Montgomery said years later. “We went into a single-wing formation to the right. I took the snap from center and spun. I slipped the ball to Al Barabas ’36, who put it on his left hip and circled out toward their left end. I now faked a handoff to Ed Brominski ’35, who headed toward Stanford’s right. I followed him, and almost the entire Stanford team clawed at Brominski and me. Barabas, by this time, was in the end zone.” Almost a half-century later, Montgomery could still picture the moment when Barabas made it to the Stanford end zone. “Seeing him there was one of the most thrilling sights of my life.”
The extra point made the score 7–0, and neither team could score the rest of the game. By winning the Rose Bowl, Columbia staged what is widely regarded as one of the greatest athletic upsets of the 20th century. Montgomery, a 6-foot, 165-lb. senior, was named MVP of the game, the only bowl appearance in Columbia football history. When the team returned home, New York City’s new mayor, Fiorello H. La Guardia, led a victory parade from Penn Station to Columbia’s campus.
After the Rose Bowl, as Montgomery recalled for USA Today in 2000, “I had a screen test with Warner Brothers. Bert Lahr was in it, and Ginger Rogers. They wanted me to stay and finish college later, but Lou Little talked me into going back and finishing school, which I’m glad he did.”
From Time Magazine:
A New Year's Day rain in southern California ruined a great deal more than the Tournament of Roses pageant at Pasadena. For 30 hours it came down in silvery sheets—eight inches of it in Los Angeles, a whole foot in Pasadena. From fire-scarred hillsides the water spilled down in yellow torrents into every gully, inundating roads, washing away bridges, flooding towns. When the storm subsided, at least 31 persons were dead, scores were missing. In La Crascenta, a 25-ft. wall of water struck a building where the Red Cross was giving first aid, milled the building and its 25 occupants into a dirty mass of debris. But despite this shocking catastrophe, 200,000 Californians turned out for the Tournament. What happened in the Rose Bowl on New Year's Day when Columbia's football team defeated Stanford 7-to-0 did not raise their spirits.
The storm had made the Bowl a lake, drained just in time for the game by three fire engines pumping all night. Even with a soggy field and wet ball as equalizing factors, Stanford started a 2½-to-1 favorite. Pacific Coast fans had been loud in their contempt of Columbia, derisive of Stanford for ever inviting Columbia to play. Easterners who conceded Columbia a chance were regarded as provincials whose enthusiasm had blinded their judgment. One who was not bothered by such talk was Louis Little, the big-framed, booming-voiced coach who in four years at Columbia had built its football stature up from puniness. He worked his team hard for the Rose Bowl game, diligently guarded them from ballyhoo, banked on Stanford's overconfidence.
There was nothing in the final statistics to show why Columbia should have won. The play was in Columbia territory most of the time. Stanford outrushed Columbia 242 yd. to 70 yd., made 16 first downs to Columbia's six. But Stanford made eight fumbles and Columbia recovered four of them. The touchdown came in the second period, when Columbia's Halfback Al Barabas cut around Stanford's right end and loped across the line standing up. Center Newt Wilder kicked the extra point. From then on Columbia's job was to dig into the slime and hold against Stanford's inexhaustible reserves. Columbia not only held, but turned Stanford back from the 1-yd. line where Halfback Ed Brominski scooped up a Stanford fumble. In the last few minutes the rain again helped Columbia. Stanford tried to catch up with a furious forward-passing attack but could not handle the slick ball.
Weak with joy, Coach Little managed to sputter into a radio microphone: "If there's a happier man in this world, he must be in Heaven."
From Various Sources:
The 1934 Rose Bowl, played on January 1, 1934, was the 20th Rose Bowl Game. The Columbia Lions defeated the Stanford Indians 7-0. Cliff Montgomery, the Columbia quarterback, was named the Rose Bowl Player Of The Game when the award was created in 1953 and selections were made retroactively. At 35,000, it has the lowest attendance in the Rose Bowl game since the Rose Bowl Stadium was built in 1922. This was one of the few rainy New Year's day celebrations in Pasadena, California. Rain three days before had turned the Rose Bowl stadium into a small lake.
In the previous 1932 season, the "Thundering Herd" of the USC Trojans, led by Howard Jones, defeated Stanford 13-0 on the way to a second consecutive national championship and victory in the 1933 Rose Bowl. Stanford player Frankie Alustiza proclaimed “They Will never do that to our team. We will never lose to the Trojans.” A few minutes later, another member of the team proclaimed, “Let’s make that a vow.” The press reported on the vow, but it was forgotten until the next fall when facing USC, they were suddenly called upon to make good upon it. On November 11, in Los Angeles, USC (6-0-1) hosted Stanford (5-1-1). The Trojans suffered their first defeat in 27 games, losing 13-7, in a game that ultimately decided the Pacific Coast Conference championship. Thus, the Stanford class of 1936 became the "Vow Boys".
For the three days before the game, torrential rains soaked the field. “When we arrived the day before the game [after traveling from New York by train], the Rose Bowl looked like a lake,” Montgomery, the team captain, recalled in a 1981 article in The New York Times. The Pasadena fire department pumped out the stadium. But, the day was uncharacteristically rainy for Southern California, and the muddy field rendered the game scoreless going into the second quarter. At that time, and with the ball on the Stanford 17-yard line, Columbia quarterback Cliff Montgomery '34 executed a trick play called KF-79. During the play, he spun and slipped the ball to Al Barabas '36, and then faked a hand-off to Ed Brominski '35, who ran in the opposite direction. While the Indians went for Montgomery and Brominski, Barabas successfully ran around the defense to score for the Lions. Stanford "Vow Boys" Bobby Grayson (152 yards on 28 carries), end Monk Moscript, lineman Bob Reynolds and other stars cannot overcome the margin as mishaps ruin Stanford's chances. Columbia ended up winning the game, 7-0, capping one of the biggest upsets in Rose Bowl history. The win also cemented Lou Little's reputation at Columbia as the Lions' greatest coach of the 20th century.
The "Vow Boys", the Stanford class of 1936, never did lose to USC, defeating them again in 1934 16-0, and in 1935 3-0. The 1933 Michigan Wolverines team, who tied for first in the Big Ten conference with Minnesota on a 0-0 tie between the two teams, was voted the 1933 national champion. USC, who had won the previous two years, and who finished the season 10-1-1 was denied a third consecutive national championship.
Sports Illustrated recently called the Lions win over Stanford #90 on its list of 100 top moments in college football history:
LIONS IN WINTER
Pasadena, Calif. | Jan.1, 1934
Columbia got the invitation for the 1934 Rose Bowl only after Army and Duke lost their season finales. Stanford's vaunted Vow Boys awaited. The Lions, aided by a muddy field, used a conservative plan and a beautiful trick play. Al Barabas scored on a 17-yard reverse in the second quarter, and the Lions defense, repelling six Indian drives within the 20, made the 7-0 lead stand.
The Lions made a grand tour of the country on their return trip home. Local papers in Denver and Pittsburgh reported on their stopovers in those towns and the crowds that came to see them.
January 1, 1934: Columbia 7, Stanford 0
The talk leading up to the game didn't give the Lions much of a chance; but it's not surprising that most thought Columbia didn't have a shot. When the Lions received Stanford's invitation to play the game, Columbia administrators believed it was simply a ruse.
Once the teams hit the field, however, the joke was on Stanford. After days of torrential rains in Southern California, the field was nearly underwater when the teams met. The horrendous conditions sunk Stanford's powerful offense, leaving Columbia with a chance to snatch the one-score victory.
In the second quarter, with the ball on the Stanford 17, the Lions ran a trick play that displayed their brains more than their brawn. Quarterback Cliff Montgomery handed the ball off to fullback Al Barabas while making it seem as though the play was going to the other side of the field. The play worked perfectly, and Barabas went nearly unnoticed into the end zone.
Former New York Evening Journal writer, Bill Corum helped put the contest into historic perspective.
"This game, more than any other in college history, convinced the country that no section, and no team, really owns the game."