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Today's Tidbit... The First College Team To Fly To A Game
The aviation world advanced tremendously during WWI as planes grew sturdier, faster, and larger. Those advances leaked over to the civilian sector after the war, along with a desire by the military to promote flying by civilians to ensure a steady supply of trained pilots. Government agencies joined the game by advocating for taxpayer-funded airports to support the flying craze, ensuring their communities would not be left out if heavier-than-air flight took off as expected.
There were, of course, skeptics in the general public who did not see the value of air travel, but those folks slowly changed their minds as flying enthusiasts performed one demonstration after another of the advantages of flight.
One demonstration occurred in April 1921 when the Army scheduled an air race between an airplane and three carrier pigeons from Portland to San Francisco. Piloting the plane was Maj. Henry "Hap" Arnold, who had been taught to fly by the Wright Brothers, and would later direct the strategic bombing campaigns in Europe and Japan during WWII. Oregon's Governor, Ben Olcott was a passenger in the plane. Flying under perfect conditions, the plane reached San Francisco in six-and-one-half hours, while the first pigeon showed up the following morning.
The airplane-pigeon race has nothing to do with football. Still, it serves as a reminder that numerous technological and other developments were needed before air travel was thought sufficiently safe for football teams to fly to their games rather than taking the train. It did not take long. A handful of military football teams from aviation training centers flew to games during WWI and the 1920s. Still, the University of New Mexico was the first college team to fly to a game when they boarded two Transcontinental Air Transport (the forerunner of TWA) planes for Los Angeles on October 10, 1929. Actually, the Lobos were the first team to fly half the team to a game since part of the team took the train to LA while the flyers and rail riders switched places on the way back.
Playing Occidental before a Friday-night crowd of 20,000 at the Rose Bowl, the Lobos played under the lights for the first time in school history, while Oxy, who pioneered night games on the West Coast earlier that season, was playing their third such game.
The Lobos struggled with balls flying through the air under the the lights throughout the game, failing to field or dropping all but two punts. They did not fair well in other ways either, as the Eddie Kienholz-led Tigers provided all the fireworks, dominating the Lobos in a 26-0 win.
Some may recall Kienholz from an earlier story when he was the highly successful coach at Long Beach Poly during the Teens. Before and between stints at Poly, he pulled off one of the more interesting sequences in Rose Bowl history as an assistant coach for Washington State in the 1916 Rose Bowl and two years later playing in the 1918 Rose Bowl for Camp Lewis.
Kienholz never turned Occidental into the Flying Tigers, but the ability to fly to games enabled the growth of intersectional games, particularly during the regular season, ultimately allowing West Coast teams to play in the AAFC after WWII.
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