From Sugar Bowl: The First Fifty Years

by Marty Mule
Oxmoor House, Inc.,
Birmingham, 1983

In action at the Sugar Bowl. Wedey is #11.

Oklahoma A&M - St. Mary's
Thursday, January 1, 1946

"I'll be right here for it, too."

A letter from Wallace Wade to [New Orleans sports writer and Sugar Bowl founder] Fred Digby after Duke-Alabama cut short the tale of his Sugar Bowl listening post while in the war. Wade wrote he was involved in military operations on January 1, 1945.

Undefeated Alabama was the southern choice of all the major bowls. Little St. Mary's was embarrassing the Goliaths of California. Army was the best team in the country, and there was talk of the Cadets breaking their bowl ban for a holiday in Pasadena or New Orleans.

Army favored a Rose Bowl invitation but was reluctant to decide before the Navy game. The Sugar Bowl pressured Pasadena to extend an early bid. The Sugar Bowl told Alabama to make up its mind or forget a New Orleans trip. Pasadena, with no answer from Army in the offing, was afraid of coming up empty with both the Cadets and the Tide.

Frank Leahy told Fred Digby, "... I have no interest in St. Mary's, nor is [St. Mary's coach] Jim Phelan more than an acquaintance, but if the Sugar Bowlers invite the Gaels for their game, I am sure they'll give the fans a show such as they've never seen. I'll be right here for it, too." St. Mary's and Oklahoma A&M were extended Sugar Bowl invitations the following day. Both accepted. The undefeated Aggies, Missouri Valley Conference champions, were the nation's best ground offensive team, averaging 287.7 yards a game. St. Mary's, a tiny (enrollment under 300) Christian Brothers school in northern California, ran a sleight-of-hand offense and averaged 170 yards passing. A&M's Bob Fenimore, in the era of Glenn Davis and Doc Blanchard, was the nation's leading rusher [1,641 yards], followed by none other than Hawaiian Hurricane Herman Wedemeyer [1,428 yards] of St. Mary's. Both were first team All-Americans. Oklahoma A&M finished fifth and St. Mary's seventh in the final Associated Press poll, giving New Orleans the only major bowl match-up of the Top 10 teams.

Ticket demand was incredible. Seventy-five thousand fans, the highest Sugar Bowl attendance in its 12 games, were cramped into Tulane stadium. The governor of Oklahoma strolled into Sugar Bowl headquarters a couple of days before the game, spotted President Sam Corenswet and other bowl committeemen, walked over, and said, "Gentlemen, I'm a man of few words. I want tickets." Corenswet replied, "We're men of few words, too, governor. We haven't got any."

Oklahoma A&M 33 - St. Mary's 13
"Too much power - too much speed."


Wedemeyer is #11.

"I remember we went onto the field in just T-shirts and pants with no pads," Herman Wedemeyer recalled years later. "Bob Fenimore and the big Oklahoma A&M team was already out there. The entire stadium was full. How many were there, 72,000? Well, they all laughed at us. We looked like midgets on the field. No wonder people laughed. But that sort of set the stage for what was to come later."

Oklahoma A&M was a team that started seven war veterans, including fullback Jim Reynolds who flew 52 missions over Germany, and tackle Bert Cole who had been shot down over Yugoslavia and spent months among the Chetnicks while making his way back to Allied lines. In contrast, St. Mary's was a lot like Alabama in 1945 with seven 17-year-old starters on a team and an average age of 18 and a half years. Also, A&M, the heaviest team to play in the first 12 Sugar Bowls at a 203-pound average, was man-for-man 15 pounds larger than the Sugar Bowl's youngest-ever team. And St. Mary's was bitten severely by the flu bug four days before.

However, the Gaels fired the opening salvo. Very early in the game, Fenimore punted to Wedemeyer - the 21-year-old Honolulu native. He scampered 10 yards along the sidelines and then lateralled to the trailing Wes Busch. Busch was instantly clear and apparently headed for a touchdown before slipping untouched on the A&M 46. Spike Cordeiro swung wide to the left on the next play, then flipped to Wedemeyer who faded back and waited for Dennis O'Connor to work his way behind Fenimore. O'Connor took the ball at the 10 and scored.

After being penalized for being offsides on a successful onsides kick, the Gaels kicked to Jim Parmer who returned to the 36. The methodical Aggies answered the St. Mary's touchdown in five plays. Fenimore passed to Cecil Haskins at the Gael 45, then flashed around end to the 30. He ran for another yard, then he passed to Haskins to the 1. The receiver fell in with Wedemeyer and Cordeiro hanging on.

Fenimore set things in motion for more points by returning a second quarter punt 15 yards to the St. Mary's 30. Also capable of razzle-dazzle, Oklahoma A&M picked up 11 yards on two Parmer carries. Then Parmer, Nate Wilson, and Fenimore each handled the ball on a one-play series of laterals that Fenimore delivered to the 1. Cutting off right tackle, Fenimore scored.

Not to be outdone, Wedemeyer returned the kickoff to the Gael 34 and then passed to O'Connor at the Aggie 44. He wheeled around right end, cut back to the middle of the field, and pounded out 24 yards before lateralling to guard Carl DeSalvo. The lineman picked up a horde of blockers to escort him the remaining 20 yards. The weary Wedemeyer missed the extra point, leaving St. Mary's behind 14-13. Oklahoma A&M drove to the 9, but that was all the scoring in the first 30 minutes.

"The half ended with us trailing, 14-13," Wedemeyer remembered. "The feeling of the entire stadium had changed. Now, they all seemed to be rooting for St. Mary's."

In the second half, the Gaels drove to the Aggie 27, but Fenimore intercepted a pass at his 20 and returned it 7 yards. Fenimore got off a 60-yard punt that sailed over Cordeiro's head to the 10. Spike returned it to the 22, but St. Mary's was guilty of clipping and was penalized to the 7.

When the Gaels kicked, Fenimore took in the ball at midfield and weaved his way to the 7. Wedemeyer, the last man between runner and goal, brought him down. For three downs the St. Mary's defense staved off the touchdown. On fourth down from a half-yard out, Fenimore slammed in. Don Schultz blocked the PAT, and St. Mary's remained within waving distance, 20-13.

A&M, at last showing superiority over the tiring Gaels, was handed its next opportunity on a freak fourth-quarter play. Wedemeyer slipped while attempting to punt from his 39 and missed the ball completely. Neill Armstrong recovered on the 35. Seven plays later Jim Reynolds went over the goal from the 1.

The Sugar Bowl, heard for the first time over the American Broadcasting Company, was a settled matter. A&M got another touchdown as the horn sounded. The Aggies drove to the 9, but a penalty and a sack placed them back at the 20 in the waning seconds. Reynolds went for more points and threw deep. St. Mary's Paul Crowe batted the ball into the air, seemingly breaking up the game's last play. Alert Aggie reserve back Joe Thomas grabbed the tumbling ball and crossed the goal, making the final score 33-13.

Coach Jim Phelan, after locking the press out of the dressing room for 30 minutes, explained, "Too much power - too much speed. And above all, too much Fenimore."

   
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