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 at jmneudec@stmarys-ca.edu.


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 to do?

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"

   
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