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, game-winning touchdown.


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 That Exploded
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 flaring.

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 was.

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 tossed back.

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

Alibi?

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 scout.

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 effect.

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 were defeated.

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 his eyes.

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 Unsolved
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 speak up.

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.

   
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