The 1945 UCLA Game:
"Let's Take It Like Men"
That's all -- While Herman Wedemeyer stands, a tired, broken-hearted
football player, Skip Rowland, outstanding UCLA back, scores the last-minute,
The crazy magic carpet ride that had been the 1945 season for Herman
Wedemeyer and the St. Mary's Gaels came to a stunning halt in the old
Los Angeles Coliseum on November 17. The Gaels went into the game heavy
favorites, only to find themselves in the fight of their young lives against
a vastly underrated UCLA team.
Gaels football expert Jerry Rose calls the UCLA game the defining
moment for St. Mary's football. In one fell swoop the Gaels lost their
chance for an undefeated season, their chance at the national championship,
and, they believed at the time, the chance for a bowl bid and Herman's
chance to be named All-American. The fact that the loss may have been
due to the poor officiating at the game added to the heartbreak. Although
the team received a Sugar Bowl bid and went on to a good season in 1946,
the magic of the 1945 dream season was never to be regained.
Thanks to Brian O'Connor, son of late St. Mary's quarterback Denis
O'Connor, for sharing his amazing collection of St. Mary's photos and
clippings on this game. This page presents highlights -- you can
download a .zip file of all of the O'Connor UCLA game clippings here.
(2.1 MB). See the photo gallery for an oversized diagram of one of the
Gaels' trademark razzle-dazzle plays here.
87,000 See Bruins Stun Gaels, 13-7
by Bob Hunter
St. Mary's Galloping Gaels, one-sided favorites to crush and humiliate
the Bruins as they willed, ran head-on into an inspired and fiery UCLA
football team that simply was too hot for them to handle yesterday.
Bruins Upset Gaels 13-7
By Alan Ward
LOS ANGELES COLISEUM, Nov. 17 -- Had the walls of this mighty football
arena collapsed and fallen on the head of the Galloping Gaels of St. Mary's,
the effect on the previously high-rolling, undefeated, untied team could
not have been more stunning than the 13 to 7 defeat they suffered this
afternoon at the hands of the Bruins of UCLA.
Entering their final game of the season, the Gaels were top-heavy favorites
to win a contest which loomed as little more than a work-out for an assured
appearance in one of the country's several January 1 Bowl games.
But today's contest, played before a crowd estimated at 87,000, had not
progressed far before it was evident even to the most optimistic St. Mary's
supporter that not only were the Bruins hot as the proverbial firecracker,
but they had been vastly underrated.
Moraga Bubble: It Didn't Burst -- It Was Hearts
By Pete Bruneau
The mirage of invincibility that was Moraga's has ended. But the bubble
has not burst; it was the hearts of the Gaels that burst open…
It took less than one minute -- the final 48 seconds of the game -- to
transform the Gaels from the champions to the losers; from the top-runners
to the also-rans; from a precarious 7-6 winner to a 13-7 loser in …
The game of the season!
You had to see it, to thrill to its moments that left 87,000 in Los Angeles
Coliseum limp and choking, cheering for their victorious and brilliant
Bruins of UCLA and at the same time for the little band of so-few-men
from Moraga, the beardless youngsters of St. Mary's.
And Wedemeyer, the one who is fleet of foot, and from whose arms were
to come touchdown passes -- yes, what of Wedemeyer?
A tired young man who played on his heart, who was "out" on his feet
and still trying to connect against those powerful, fresh Bruin reserves,
a boy who was decidedly off but played until all the bones and muscles
must have ached.
Yes, Bruins Rowland and Biddle were great. And Wedemeyer? He was ALL-HEART
this day which was dark for the Gaels. For a portrait of Wedemeyer, of
a great young gallant transformed into a picture of a beaten young man,
see page one of this section. It tells the story no words can describe…
Never such a tumultuous finish to a first half, and rip-roaring opening
of a second half with its three kickoffs. It ended, this first half, with
the Bruins ever threatening and the Moragans making desperate tackles
on long-gainers that had the crowd in constant uproar, and with tempers
A great boo swelled up when the Gaels were penalized for unnecessary
roughness in stopping a touchdown-bound Bruin.
No sooner had it subsided when the second half opened with Wedey rattling
off 26 yards on kickoff-return. Both sides offsides. Another kickoff.
Wedey takes it, scoots to his 45, laterals to Busch, who goes to the 50.
Gaels offside, rule the officials.
The house is in an uproar. The players argue. The officials confer. The
man on the field talking to the press row via telephone jabbers away,
"they know the rules…they know the rules…"
Bruins kick off again and Cordeiro this time gets up to the Gael 36.
The Gaels threaten seriously for the last time. Wedey's pass is intercepted
and from then on it's only a question of time. The Gaels fight off threats,
they are aided by some fumbles and interceptions and some breaks. But,
finally, they succumb. That last minute is the heart-breaker.
Spike Cordeiro, five-foot-five Gael halfback, struggles in the grip
of three UCLA linemen.
Usually, in this sort of game with the heavy favorite licked, sportswriters
and sports fans toss remarks at each other, regale themselves with derisive
slurs and slap-happy remarks. But there's no toying or joking with courage.
And that's what the Gaels had. They needed it to hold down the surging
Bruins, a great team this day.
This was the game of the season for the Coast. And out of it emerged
the Gaels, not as the greatest of them all, but as the most valiant Gael
team that ever performed in the Coliseum, an undersized team, suddenly
stripped of all its glamor that still refused to fold under a punishing
battering that began before the first half ended, a team which in the
opinion of Trojan Coach Jess Cravath, should have lost by two or three
touchdowns and appeared destined for it in the second half when Bruin
backs, fresh and with ardor, tore off chunks of yardage and passed the
Phelan men almost dizzy, 115 to 110 yards against the passing circus that
But the Gaels did not fold. They fought and they bled.
Maybe they were cocky at the start. They were playing then on the strength
of their press clippings. They scored first, and with brilliance. They
again got to the five-yard mark and instead of slashing through they were
These Bruins were fighting and strong. The Gaels were shocked -- why
was the great Wedemeyer being held to an average of 1.37 yards in this
first half and Cordeiro to 3.75 yards while Rowland was tearing it off
for 7.50 yards a crack?
Phelan must have known what was coming. He had made the Gaels quick kick
and wait for the breaks, as with California teams of yore. It paid off
dividends when a fumbled punt put them in position to score their first
and only tally.
But their strength was waning fast. Long before the first half was over,
the 87,000 knew the top team this day was the Bruins. It would take a
miracle for the Gaels to stop the slashing 17-year-old Gene Rowland and
the 21-year-old Brooks Biddle, and the passes, Ernie Case to Rowland.
The all-Americans were on UCLA's side this sunny afternoon.
They were Rowland and Biddle, the latter reeling off an average yardage
of 10 and Rowland of 5.46.
UCLA's Skip Rowland was unstoppable that long-ago November day.
Wedemeyer's bid for all-American suffered. He averaged only 0.93 in 15
attempts and Cordeiro had 3.75. But Wedemeyer, now the loser, now the
man who was missing tackles, was still the fighter.
With three plays remaining after the Bruins took their deserved lead
on as neat a pass as you'd want, "Wedey" was still pitching. He grabbed
the kickoff and reversed to Cordeiro, who was nailed on the 22. Then Wedey
threw a long one to Paul Crowe, a pass which could have tied the score
or won the game, depending on the conversion.
The ball sailed through. Crowe momentarily seemed to have it, then it
bounced off his chest. Paul threw himself on the ground, dejected, and
87,000 pairs of eyes watched him.
Suddenly he leaped to his feet. Why cry? Wasn't there time for one more
play--perhaps for the golden touchdown? Crowe rushed into the huddle.
They snapped it, with the fire of the Gaels that had conquered Cal, and
Nevada and USC. Wedey again passed to Crowe, who lateraled to Cordeiro,
who was stopped…as the gun ended the game.
The mob poured out on the field, chanting the songs of UCLA and the once-singing
Saints -- tired, weary, dejected -- passed slowly through the tunnel,
not knowing that in the eyes of the crowd they had played their greatest
game, that they had refused to fold and were still champs in that league
where good men of 17 years of age don't give up. They didn't.
Sugar Bowl?? As Gaels Lose 13-7
By Darrell Dreyer
That's one word that isn't in the vocabulary of the young, beardless
kids of a GREAT St. Mary's team. Yes, St. Mary's is still a GREAT football
team. Ask any of the Gaels and they'll all tell you that it was a brilliant
UCLA team that beat them, 1307, and knocked them out of the Sugar Bowl.
Yes, the Sugar Bowl will probably bypass the Gaels now. The kids are
still hopeful of getting a bid, although up to a late hour last night
the New Orleans representative hadn't contacted Jimmy Phelan. And Jimmy
isn't holding his breath waiting for him.
And the manner in which the Bruins pulled the coup d'etat was like a
page from a Frank Merriwell book. For fully 59 minutes and 12 seconds,
a great St. Mary's team that was out on its feet at the finish had staved
off the inevitable. Then came the play that wasn't on the chart of any
It couldn't be, for Quarterback Ernie Case made up the game-winning pass
against San Diego Navy on Sept. 29. And Ernie sprung it on the unsuspecting
Gaels with 48 seconds left…
It was a bitter defeat for the young kids to take. They were crying as
they entered the dressing room and didn't give a darn who saw them. Little
Vic Cuccia, tears streaming down his face, wouldn't be consoled.
Dennis O'Connor was prone on a table, arms across his face, his body
racking with sobs…even attempts of his teammates to cheer him up had no
Coach Jimmy Phelan, visibly affected by O'Connor, leaned over, patted
his shoulders, and said:
"Forget it, kid. You played a wonderful game. We got beat by a better
team. That's no disgrace."
But O'Connor wouldn't be consoled. He couldn't believe that the Gaels
None of the boys hid their disappointment. It took Herman Wedemeyer,
who was held to but a net gain of 11 yards, and a great football player,
to yell to the kids:
"Come on, fellows, no sense crying over spilt milk…let's take it like
men…Come on, let's start singing" … And sing the Gaels did. All of them.
"That a boy, Wedey," said Phelan. "Pep 'em up." And the tears came to
Chips from the Blarney Stone
By Dan McGuire
By Sharon and Bonnie McGuire -- Has anyone seen our old man?
The big lug hasn't shown around the house since the final score of the
St. Mary's-UCLA game was announced. Mom did receive a mysterious phone
call from him late Saturday night. All she could make out was this:
"I'll be home for Christmas."
We figure that means he won't be sitting in the press box at New Orleans
New Year's day.
Mystery of Gaels' Vanishing Third Down Still
By Bill Leiser
The question of the lost third down remained unsolved at the Football
Writers meeting in Press Club's Library yesterday.
We did not bring up this little matter, which probably was the football
game itself, in Sunday or Monday stories because we wanted to make a further
check. It was brought up Monday in the rival morning daily, in expert
fashion, too, so we can be accused of digging up an alibi because of our
admitted enthusiasm for Herman Wedemeyer & Co.
The score was 7 to 6, my friends, with less than five minutes to play,
and St. Mary's had the football because Harvey Adair had recovered Skip
Rowland's fumble on the Gael 44 yard line.
Wedey threw an incomplete and next tossed to Cordeiro for eight yards,
crossing midfield by two. Third down and two to go. A very nice position.
In fact, the very best.
But the loud speaker announced fourth down, and the box said fourth down.
Captain O'Connor protested to the referee, but no go. The St. Mary's bench
stood up in protest. Nobody in the press box could understand it. But
fourth down it was, and Wedemeyer had to punt rather than try for another
first down or touchdown.
We trust the FBI in Los Angeles can investigate and tell us what happened
to the third down. In three days since the game was played we haven't
been able to find out. And Vic Kelley of the UCLA staff who's here for
the week doesn't know, either.
The officials just made a mistake, but how all of 'em made it and no
one of 'em caught it we don't know.
Wedey might easily have made two yards and another first down. He might
have passed to a touchdown.
The least he could have done was to take up 60 seconds for the huddle,
the running of a play, and another huddle for the fourth down kick.
And UCLA, you may remember, won the game with 50 seconds to go, marching
all the way AFTER Wedemeyer was required to punt on "fourth down," with
no third down in the record.
Coach James Phelan said yesterday, "UCLA was a sharp, well coached, and
ready football team Saturday. We have no squawks. They were the better
team. I fell that they have a good chance to win their two remaining conference
games (California and Southern California.)
"We played three games in 14 days, traveling to all of them. That didn't
help the youngsters.
"The game was rough and tough, but clean. Two of the Bruins carried our
injured Ed Ryan up the steps to our dressing room. Skip Rowland and several
others came over after the game to talk. Several put their arms around
several of our kids and said they were sorry they had to beat us…."
Gaels Mad; UCLA Pictures to Be Shown
By Bud Spencer
It is fortunate for the public and press that officials in the UCLA-St.
Mary's game denied Quarterback Dennis O'Connor protested the lost down,
or questioned the scoreboard that said: "Fourth and two," when it was
third and two. It has made Jimmy Phelan and the Gaels mad, and they will
show the pictures to the press, usually denied under Conference rules.
I said it once and I'll say it again, that the Gaels were given the works
by the officials in this game, by foul, by unfairness, or by plain incompetency….
To Clear the Confusion,
Somebody Should Explain St. Mary's Missing Third Down
By Bill Leiser
The missing third down is a subject on which UCLA authorities should
The sports writers have all reviewed their notes and have checked the
situation thoroughly and have printed that St. Mary's was required to
punt, because of officials' orders declaring fourth down, when no third
down had been registered. Many have written to tell that the radio announcer
called it third down, with no explanation of why Herman Wedemeyer punted
in a situation in which he could probably have won the game by keeping
possession of the football through one more play.
We shall not review that last-minute story again.
However, the public is entitled to know the facts. Are the writers right,
or did they all overlook something? St. Mary's has the pictures, and Coach
James Phelan is undoubtedly in position to reveal the facts, but it would
not be becoming for him to do so.
We think it's up to Vic Schmidt, acting commissioner of the Pacific Coast
Conference. He appointed the officials. He can view the moving pictures
and discover the truth. Either he should vindicate his men with a statement
of where that third down went to or he should forthright admit they all
made a mistake and took the down away from St. Mary's.
If Schmidt doesn't do it, then UCLA authorities should, in good grace
and good sportsmanship, make a public statement as to just what the pictures
show. If it's true, as all of us believe, that the officials pulled an
All-American boot and actually forgot the third down, then UCLA will look
a lot bigger if her authorities just plain admit the fact and send a "sorry"
note to St. Mary's.