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January 1, 1918: The 1918 Rose Bowl
As had occurred every year since 1890, New Year’s Day 1918 in Pasadena began with the Tournament of Roses Parade. Of course, the 1918 parade differed from previous years because the country was at war. War had come in 1898 as well, but the Spanish-American war lasted only three months and was over well before the 1899 parade.
By New Year’s Day 1918, two million American men were under arms and more than double that number would come under arms during 1918, so the Tournament chose “Patriots Day” as its theme for the 1918 parade. The floats were adorned with flowers that displayed American flags, Red Cross logos, or were configured as artillery pieces or the newly-developed British tank.
Following the parade, some of the crowd filtered down to Tournament Park for the fourth playing of a football game associated with the Tournament of Roses. The game featured the two best football teams on the West Coast: the Marines from the Mare Island training base in the San Francisco area and the Army’s 91st Division from Camp Lewis, near Tacoma. Almost all the players were former or future college stars who had volunteered for or been drafted into the services. All were training for war and expected to be sent overseas in the coming months, “so this was the last battle (they) would fight in the name of sport.”
Before a capacity crowd of 25,000, the teams took the field and readied themselves for the two o’clock kickoff. The University of Oregon was represented by nine players, four on the Marine side and five playing for the Army. Utah, Utah State, Washington State, and Minnesota each had two players dressed for one team or the other. Washington State’s Frederick Hunter, at 31 years old, was the senior player on the field while Willamette University’s, Raymond MacRae, was nearly as old and the most educated, having completed medical school and was practicing as a radiologist in the Army’s Medical Corps.
It was an old-time football game played during a period in which offenses often struggled to move the ball, so it was not uncommon to punt on first down, hoping to gain a field position advantage. The Marines scored first with a second-quarter field goal, but Camp Lewis answered with a touchdown run by Dick Romney (Mitt Romney’s second cousin once removed). Following the kickoff, the Marines bounced back with a long drive of their own, ending with a Walter Brown touchdown on a sweep to the right. After missing the extra point, Mare Island took a 9-7 lead that held until halftime.
Nowadays, halftime in a football stadium is filled with the sounds of marching bands or the latest pop star, but college marching bands did not enter the picture until the 1920s when men with military band experience helped popularize marching bands in the nation’s high schools and colleges. Instead, the 1918 Rose Bowl halftime featured a crowd-pleasing game of pushball contested by two local military teams.
Partway through the third quarter, Camp Lewis threatened again, moving the ball inside the Marine twenty, but a fourth-down fumble ended the drive. After an exchange of punts, the Marines overpowered the Camp Lewis defense with a nineteen-play drive that ended with a Hollis Huntington touchdown run. Keith Ambrose later added a second field goal for the Marines to finish the scoring and Camp Lewis for a 19-7 Mare Island victory.
Following the game, the players returned to their camps and continued training for war. Over the next eleven months, some were transferred to other camps for specialized training and a number entered three-month officer or six-month pilot training programs. Of the seventeen players that dressed for Mare Island in the 1918 Rose Bowl, nine served in Europe during WWI, three saw action in the Banana Wars, and six saw action or commanded troops in action during WWII and the Korean War. Two would be killed in accidents as Marine aviators in the early 1920s, while five would retire as Marine generals.
For Camp Lewis, fourteen of the twenty-four Rose Bowl players served in France and/or Belgium during WWI. One died in action and two were wounded during the Meuse-Argonne Offensive later in the year. Three others who played for Mare Island or Camp Lewis during the 1917 season, but did not dress for the Rose Bowl, also died in action during the war, while eleven were wounded.
To honor their sacrifices and remind ourselves of critical events from a century ago, we’ll follow the men from the 1918 and 1919 Rose Bowl teams with periodic Today in History posts throughout 2018.
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