They Did It Every Time:
The Saga of the St. Mary Gaels
by Randy Andrada
1987, privately published
Webmaster's introduction: They Did It Every Time is
a wonderful little book--the fairy tale story of St. Mary's,
a small rural Catholic college that rocked the football world,
not just for a game, but for a quarter of a century. From the
1920s to the 1940s, the Moraga, California liberal arts school
was a force to be reckoned with, playing a big-time college football
schedule and regularly participating in bowl games.
Randy Andrada's loving tribute is extremely detailed about
the individual games and players. I will share some of the details
here that will be of the most interest to Herman Wedemeyer fans,
but the entire book is an interesting and delightful recreation
of a by-gone era.
This book is available only through St.
Mary's College and is offered in appreciation for gifts to the
college of $50 or above. For more information, contact John Neudecker
In the Beginning
St. Mary's College football first came to national attention
in the 1920s under the leadership of the legendary coach Edward
"Slip" Madigan. Brought in to save a floundering program,
by 1930, Madigan was hailed as the "new Knute Rockne."
Though the school's enrollment seldom exceeded 500, the Galloping
Gaels of St. Mary's became a nationally known football powerhouse,
hailed for their flashy style. In 1939, St. Mary's won the Cotton
Bowl. In 1940, however, the popular but controversial Madigan
was fired. Soon after, World War II began and St. Mary's all-male
enrollment plummeted. Though St. Mary's determinedly fielded
a 1942 team, it looked like the football program might have to
be abandoned for the duration. What was new coach Jim Phelan
1943: "The Most Sensational Discovery"
The situation had deteriorated even further by 1943. Phelan
lost practically his entire team to the military. Jim had conducted
a spring practice, but with only twenty candidates available,
little could be accomplished. And even out of that twenty only
three were not in the armed services by the fall. Phelan planned
to start an entire lineup of freshmen. All were either seventeen,
and too young for the draft, or 4-F. Few had any more to offer
but determination and enthusiasm. One freshman, however, distinguished
himself from the beginning. His name was Herman Wedemeyer.
Wedemeyer, a 170 pound Hawaiian, demonstrated even then the
ability that would later make him a consensus All-American and
the country's leading sports celebrity. "Wedey" seemed
to be a reincarnation of Frank Merriwell [the wholesome hero
of dime-stores novels, radio, and movie serials who stood for
sportsmanship, family, country, truth, and justice]. He was handsome,
intelligent, polite, witty, modest, disciplined, an accomplished
singer and dancer, and good storyteller. "He was a bartender
one summer in Oakland down at the old Ringside Café. And
he poured a pretty good drink, too," laughed his good friend
Alan Ward. His athletic prowess extended beyond the gridiron.
Some maintain he was more adept at baseball. He could box, play
golf, and swim with authority. He also knew judo and karate.
Wedey exhibited his football ability the first time he stepped
on a college gridiron. St. Mary's entered the 1943 California
game under much the same circumstances as the year before. The
Gaels were 7-1 underdogs. Few expected the all frosh lineup to
score at all. California possessed size, experience, and depth.
St. Mary's could only counter with the untested Hawaiian wonder.
In the second quarter, Wedey took a punt on his own forty,
fooled two Bears so badly that they crashed into each other,
and accelerated down the sidelines where he broke two more tackles.
When it appeared that the Bears were able to tackle him after
a 40 yard return, he casually flipped a lateral to a pursuing
Gael who carried the ball over for a touchdown.
A few minutes later he intercepted a pass with one hand, evaded
several Californians, and again appeared headed for a lengthy
score. Cal dragged him down on about the fifteen, but not before
he again lateralled to an oncoming St. Mary's player who raced
another nine yards.
At the half 7-1 underdog St. Mary's trailed Berkeley 14-12.
The Bears went on to win 27-12, but few cared about the triumph.
Herman was carried off the field by his admirers. The newspaper
plaudits were overwhelming: "Wedemeyer is the most sensational
discovery to come over the horizon since the Santa Maria"
... "Not since Tom Harmon has Memorial Stadium seen anything
like young Wedemeyer...California won the ball game but Herman
Wedemeyer won the hearts of every man, woman, and child present."
Wedemeyer's passing, running, and kicking exploits kept the
Gaels competitive all year... "Squirmin'" Herman earned
post season laurels even as a freshman. He was named a Catholic
College All-American as well as All-Coast. Wedey was also selected
to play for the West in the annual Shrine game, the first freshman
ever so honored. His two touchdown passes enabled the West to
tie the East 13-13.
1944: Merchant Marine
Wedemeyer entered the merchant marine shortly thereafter,
and was unavailable for the 1944 season. Phelan again suited
up anybody who was willing. Without Wedey, his team lacked an
offense. He scheduled five games. All five were defeats.
Go to 1945: "Better Than Gipp"