The 1947 Oil Bowl:
"The Game That Was Never Played"

Herman Wedemeyer (#11) dodges George Matthews of Georgia Tech (#12, on ground) on his way to one of St. Mary's trademark lateral plays in front of a shivering crowd at the 1947 Oil Bowl in Houston.


Although it generated a great deal of publicity at the time, the 1947 Oil Bowl has vanished from memory so completely that one frustrated Gaels football expert and collector has dubbed it "the bowl game that was never played."

But no more! Thanks to Brian O'Connor, son of late St. Mary's quarterback Denis O'Connor, a veritable treasure trove of photos and stories about the Houston face-off between St. Mary's and Georgia Tech has once again resurfaced. Below are some of the highlights of that long-ago New Year's Day.

Die-hard fans can download a .zip file of all of the O'Connor Oil Bowl clippings here. (2.1 MB). For some great photos of the Gaels' departure from Oakland and their activities in Houston, see the Photo Gallery here.

Georgia Tech 6-1 [Odds] Over St. Mary's

Oil Bowl Ticket…The game, given a fair shake by the weather, will provide the 31,000 customers a spectacular duel between two artists of opposite talents -- [Paul] Duke, one of football's greatest defensive centers, and the fabulous Wedemeyer, one of the most explosive runners and passers the porker racket has ever known.

Everybody down here has been drooling all week about Wedey and Paul, and the impending clash between the two All-Americans. Houston claims Georgia's Charlie Trippi as the greatest football player it has ever seen, Chas, having performed here last January 1, when his outfit splattered Tulsa in the second Oil Bowl. Houston is quite willing to be shown that squirmin' Herman can do everything Trippi can do, and perhaps a little better.

Football Star Feted at Dinner

Honoring Herman Wedemeyer, All-American halfback, and a group of his teammates from St. Mary's College, Miss Cecilia Brandon of Reeves Drive in Beverly Hills hosted a dinner party at the Seven Oaks Café…The Gaels depart Thursday, December 26, after spending Christmas at home and will work out at Cathedral High, Los Angeles, on Friday morning before boarding the Sunset Special. They get into Houston on Sunday morning, December 29, and will make headquarters at the Texas State Hotel, working out at St. Thomas High before the game.

Phelan Maps Strategy as Gaels Depart
By Alan Ward

Oil Bowl ProgramENROUTE TO HOUSTON WITH THE GALLOPING GAELS, Dec. 27 -- To players on the St. Mary's football team this train trip represents a leisurely joy ride, but to members of the Gael coaching staff it is a period for study and a consideration of grid strategy. …

One of Phelan's players site in on some of the conferences, in which many words are exchanged and scores of diagrams are penciled.

He is Denis O'Connor, small but mighty quarterback for the Gaels, dubbed "a coach on the playing field" and held in complete respect by the St. Mary's coaching staff.

O'Connor, who has another season to play at the Moraga institution of learning and football, is a wily young man with an instinctive football sense and with a leaning toward the daring and the unorthodox.

Much of the success achieved by the Gaels the past couple of seasons is attributable to the generalship of O'Connor. Of course, the talents possessed by Herman Wedemeyer perfectly complemented the O'Connor methods. The same can be said of Spike Cordeiro, a mite of a lad who during the 1945 season added much to the results achieved by the Gaels and whose spectacular running and razzle-dazzle methods made the St. Mary's team popular even in defeat. …

The team spirit is good. The boys are in a more jovial, free-and-easy frame of mind than last year when a few days before Christmas, they started toward New Orleans and a game with the Oklahoma Aggies.

On that occasion the kids were leaving their families at a time when they most wanted to be at home with their loved ones. Christmas comes only once a year, after all.

On this occasion Christmas for virtually all of them was spent where they most wanted to spend it -- not in a big, lonesome hotel on the Gulf of Mexico where strict training measures had to be observed and a fellow couldn't, without shattering the proprieties, yell, "Merry Christmas" down the hostelry's corridors…

Wedemeyer Goes, Too
By Bob Stevens

EN ROUTE TO THE ERL BERL WITH THE GAELS OR, FETCH ME MAH BOOTS 'N' SADDLE, MAW, AH'M GOIN' TO TAIXAS - Dec. 28 - Not a bit disturbed over the nasty old odds that have them 6-1 underdogs, St. Mary's football fellows were determinedly nosing toward Houston tonight and a New Year's day date with Georgia Tech in the Oil Bowl.

It was just one year ago this week that the same group, fathered by Jimmy Phelan, headed in the same direction, for the same purpose….the $$$$ and fame that go with America's late winter madness of bowl participation. It was not a happy New Year for our side, the Oklahoma Aggies spanking it in the Sugar Bowl, 33-13.

But the men from Moraga, spearheaded by the guy all Texas wants to see, fabulous Herman Wedemeyer, are grimly certain nothing like that will happen again. Most of the Gaels are in perfect physical condition and ready to pour thunderous tones from the Bells of St. Mary's. As one of the accompanying party of rooters put it:

"We're going to wreck the Ramblin' Wrecks, son!"

It is obvious that the Wrecks will take plenty of wrecking…The Gaels will unquestionably be one of the "underest" underdogs of all the bowl games next Wednesday. Current odds have them 6-1 on the shorts, and some quote emporiums are accepting even money that the Phelan Phellows drop the duke by 16 points.

Scrambling in the glamor of bowl gold will not be a new experience for either side, though the Georgians are older hands at the business. The Wrecks started cutting capers in New Year's day dances back in '29 when they shaded California in the Rose Bowl, 8-6, in the brawl of the celebrated Roy Reigels reverse. Five times since then have they welcomed new years on the white striped lawns of football fields.

St. Mary's is a comparative neophyte in these bowl fusses, having landed its first bid in 1938, and its second last year. The Gael books, however, are even. They decisioned Texas Tech in the Cotton Bowl, 20-13, under the guiding hand of "Slip" Madigan, and then took it on the lug last January 1st from the Oakie Aggies in a Sugar Bowl that was exceedingly unsugary.

Though our guys and theirs will be battling on the neutral territory of Rice Institute's stadium, a 32,000 capacity arena, deep in the heart of Houston, the Wrecks will be more familiar with the Texas sod. G.T. pulled into Houston today and immediately launched feverish practice sessions in the Rice pit.

The Gaels will have but one workout between here and the land of the 10-gallon hats, yippee, and Hiyo Silvers…The Honorable James Phelan summed up very adequately, the attitude of his charges when he said of the odds:

"They can't be right. If we thought Georgia Tech was that much better than us we wouldn't go. We're going to win."

Gaels Loom Overlay Tomorrow
By Bob Stevens

Jimmy Phelan St. Mary's Players singing before the game
St. Mary's head coach Jimmy Phelan St. Mary's players were known for their singing. O'Connor, Crowe, McPartland, and Wedemeyer are the songbirds before the game.

HOUSTON, Dec. 30 -- Because Georgia Tech can't do what St. Mary's does the best -- pass, people down here are beginning to look at the 6-1 odds favoring the Yellowjackets in Wednesday's Oil Bowl brawl game as one of the greatest overlays of the rapidly expiring season. …

Admittedly, St. Mary's hasn't the forward wall to cope with Tech's, but Hula Herman Wedemeyer can throw a mean football, and the receiving has been adequate…

Wedey, by the way, has been sniffling around the Texas State Hotel lobby, his cold-bitten gullet protected by a white scarf that is prettier than protective. The All-American halfback tackled the thing on the train somewhere between El Paso and here, and Houston's subfreezing weather of 27 degrees isn't helping him any.

But rest easy, chums, Squirmin' Herman is still very much alive. …

Today, the Gaels ran through their last practice session before the New Year's afternoon party in Rice Stadium. Coach Jimmy Phelan, though a little concerned over the mild epidemic of colds, is still confident of victory, and Wedey put another log on the fire of hope by saying, "I think we're ready for our best game."

Gaels Wear Gloves to Combat Cold, Rain
By Bob Brachman

HOUSTON - Dec. 31. - St. Mary's Gaels will attempt to handling the Georgia Tech Rambling Wreck with kid gloves in the third annual Oil Bowl here tomorrow.

Coach Jimmy Phelan made the revelation (for Pacific Coast consumption only) today, while the Gaels were dodging raindrops in their final workout on the Rice practice field.

Sideliners noticed Herman Wedemeyer wearing the skin tight felt gloves during the drill and figured the Honolulu Lulu was just trying to keep warm in the subfreezing weather.

But when end Henry Van Gieson donned a similar pair, then the coast writers knew it was a James Michael Phelan creation, designed to combat the elements the Weather Bureau has predicted will prevail at Rice Stadium at kickoff time.

St. Mary's Tosses Backfire for Four Tech Scores
By George Wright, Press Sports Staff

Give us some more Georgia Tech and St. Mary's for next New Year's Day, please. But ask the weatherman for a little more cooperation…. The 22,000 (estimated) fans who sat in rain and 34-degree cold -- Oil Bowl officials said they sold 5000 more to fans who preferred a warm fire and radio -- saw enough to convince them the Oil Bowlers know how to match teams….

Herman Wedemeyer, the fine little Hawaiian star of the Coast team, can come back to Houston any time he likes. He's not a [Charlie] Trippi [University of Georgia star] (well, who is?) but he has the speed afoot that could have helped the Gaels more on dry footing.

Flashy Gaels Lost, But You Couldn't Tell It
By John Hollis, Press Sports Staff

After watching the Rambling Wrecks of Georgia Tech give their fighting opponents, the St. Mary's Gaels, a lesson in the fine arts of passing and pass defense which paid off in a 41-19 Oil Bowl victory, we made a quick dash down to the losers' dressing room to catch the reactions of a bunch of guys who had just absorbed a punishing defeat, were behind all the way, but just kept that never-quit spirit, pushed over a last-minute touchdown, and walked off with the sympathy of most of the 22,000 frozen fans.

We expected to witness a scene better suited to a funeral parlor. We didn't know the spirit of the St. Mary's Gaels.

Father Morris, an official from the little school in the Moraga Valley, gave us our first inkling of what to expect. His round, ruddy face was wreathed in smiles as he greeted Tackle Bill McPartland, first man in from the field.

"Where were those prayers, Father?" asked the tall, 215-pounder, considered the best defensive man on the field by most observers. "I said a million of them, boy," smiled the stocky little padre. "They just beat us, that's all." There was no hint of remorse in his voice, just a grudging acceptance of what had happened.

The players quickly began to strip off the wet, cold grid togs, keeping up a running chatter at the same time. Suddenly little Denis O'Connor yelled, "Hey, gang, let's give 'em 'Hail St. Mary's'!" and the room echoed with the notes of the school song as the boys stopped their undressing to give voice…

O'Connor, the sparkplug quarterback who had just turned in an excellent game of vicious tackling, blocking, and outright aggressiveness, then led his mates in lusty salutes to "The Boss," Jim Phelan, and several other players before removing the rest of his gear….

Herman Wedemeyer, who drew the most criticism from observers when he failed to live up to advance notices as to his offensive ability was the same "Weedy" to his mates as Wedemeyer the hero would have been. Shouts of "Oh you Wedemeyer!" and "Where's Weedy?" by his grinning mates indicated they hadn't forgotten the boy whose name was one of the biggest drawing cards offered by the bowl match. "Weedy" took part in all the horseplay with his mates but remained bitter about the outcome of the game. "Just wait! We'll get those guys yet. We'll be back next year!" he said.

Boomerang Passes Tell Sad Story
By Jack Rosenbaum

THAWING OUT IN HOUSTON - Jan. 2 - St. Mary's traveling Gaels will climb aboard a homeward bound train tonight with the applause of 22,000 fans ringing in their frozen ears but that is little solace for 41 to 19 loss to Georgia Tech here yesterday in the Oil (spelled I-C-E) Bowl.

Playing in four degrees below zero weather, our gang put on a dazzling, daring display of lateral pass crazy football. It was nice to watch except that completion of the play generally found a white-shirted Georgia player in possession.

A Georgia Tech assistant coach confided before the game that Coach Bobby Dodd held out for St. Mary's -- and no other team -- as an Oil Bowl opponent. Yesterday, we saw the reason. If ever a team was thoroughly scouted it was St. Mary's in this post-season classic.

The Gaels threw 23 passes. Eight of them were completed smack into the waiting arms of Georgia players. It seemed every time St. Mary's threw the ball there were at least three Tech players and only one Gael on the reception committee.

As if that wasn't discouraging enough, the Gaels lost the slippery ball four times on fumbles.

The folks came out to see Squirmin' Herman Wedemeyer. They saw him in his worst offensive performance of the season. Wedey himself was unhappy about the entire game.

"I let the team down," he said. "The cold didn't bother me as much as the slippery field. I couldn't seem to hold my footing at all."

Trippi Wasn't Here, but He Had Something to Do With Tech Victory
By Bob Flynn, Press Staff Writer

The boys from Georgia Tech were paid off yesterday for their work on a defense against Charlie Trippi's passing.

It was a delayed payment because the great Georgia back sparked his team to a 35 to 7 victory over the Rambling Wreck in their last game of the season. Yesterday, however, the same defense, working a little better because of the added experience, bottled up the highly touted Herman Wedemeyer's passes to score a 41 to 19 victory.

"I guess the boys felt as though they had been through the mill after that Georgia game and that no one else could touch that performance of Trippi's," said Coach Bobby Dodd as his team trotted back on the field for the second half with a 27 to 7 lead. "Wedemeyer is a good back but he does not compare to Trippi."

Phelan in N.Y. to Line Up '47 Sked As Gaels Choo-Choo Homeward
By Jack Rosenbaum

HOMEWARD BOUND WITHOUT REGRET - Jan. 3 - If plans of Coach Jimmy Phelan materialize, little St. Mary's College will be the most widely-traveled football team in the nation in 1947…

Incidentally, Phelan laughs off any suggestion that he won't be coaching at Morago next year. "I have four more years to go on my very satisfactory contract," he says. "I'll be at St. Mary's next year -- and so will a young fellow named Herman Wedemeyer."…

Wedemeyer probably gave the tipoff on his 1947 plans when he exclaimed in the dressing room after the game, "It will be a lot different next year when Spike [Cordeiro] is back with us."…

Counting the Oil Bowl, the Gaels drew close to 500,000 clients this season, one of the top drawing cards among the nation's football elevens.

Sports Ray
by Ray Schwartz

January 4, 1946 - There was some solace for the St. Mary's footballers this morning as they put into this city [Los Angeles] on the Sunset Limited. Whatever depression resulted from the Oil Bowl loss to Georgia Tech could not be shared with the Los Angeles residents, who are most disheartened at the Rose Bowl outcome….

But the writer himself is not as remote from the scene as the cold type finally served before the subscriber at a nickel a copy. He associates with the athlete, the coach, the rabid rooters. That's his livelihood and only supreme numbness could keep him from being emotionally influenced by those around him. For no other reason…a scribe traveling with the Gaels, say, will suddenly become a wild-eyed rooter when away from home. If he were in the Kezar Stadium press box, the same man would sit placidly lest he disturb the dignity of his profession at labor.

There are seven of us now concluding the latest Gael trek We got the virus of enthusiasm during the days aboard the train, and collared everyone who would listen in Houston--and let them know in no uncertain terms that Herman Wedemeyer was the greatest football player in the United States and possessions. Unfortunately Wedemeyer had a terrible day on offense--though Wedey later alleged it was his best game of defense. Probably the slow field, the new surroundings, and the bitterly cold weather had something to do with it. But the fact remains that Wedemeyer was just another guy named Herman against Georgia Tech.

I am convinced as much as before that Wedey is the best player I have ever seen. That he made us writers look like rabid sophomores is unfortunate. But we don't feel let down, just a little sorry for the citizens of Houston.

They really don't know what they missed.

   
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