Since '32 blizzard, Baltimore cool to college bowls

January 09, 2000|By JOHN STEADMAN

Enthusiasm was rampant, anticipation building from the city hall office of then-Mayor Howard Jackson to the most casual of football fans. Baltimore was going to have its own identity in the postseason bowl game sun but, alas, it turned out to be snow.

And too much of it.

A crowd of 50,000 was expected to see the inaugural North-South college all-star game to be played at then-Municipal Stadium, which later became, on the same site, Memorial Stadium. The event, as appealing as it seemed in the planning stage, couldn't compete against a devastating sucker-punch that came out of the northeast. A blizzard.

It's a chapter in Baltimore's sports past that deals with how difficult it can be to go one-on-one with the vagaries of nature. The well-publicized game of Dec. 10, 1932, went on as scheduled. Players had been invited to Baltimore from what were then some of the most renowned college teams this side of the Texas border. The coaches were Dr. Jock Sutherland of Pitt, heading the North, and Dick Harlow of another power, Western Maryland College, who was in charge of the South. Both Sutherland and Harlow were to earn national prominence and were later elected to the College Football Hall of Fame.

An impressive mix of playing talent had been recruited. The roster included representatives of Yale, Penn, Temple, Geneva, Lafayette, Brown, Davis-Elkins, Mississippi, Vanderbilt, Kentucky, Tulane, Centenary, Loyola of Baltimore, Maryland and Marshall.

Also Dartmouth, Princeton, William and Mary, Villanova, New York University, Duquesne, Gettysburg, West Virginia, Washington and Jefferson, Western Maryland, Catholic University, St. Thomas and, not to be overlooked, dear old New River State.

Mayor Jackson wanted it to be such a success, since Baltimore was the sponsor, he "urged" various city departments to buy tickets and, in fact, each was given a quota. The Bureau of Sewers disposed of 112 of its 114 tickets but, hopefully, not via the Back River Treatment Plant. The Bureau of Water Supply found it could only sell 11 of its allotment of 135. Embarrassing.

All was in readiness for the kickoff of what sounded as if it could be a major attraction. The New York Times assigned Allison Danzig, its leading football writer, to cover the proceedings. When the unexpected storm struck, bringing heavy snow, the stadium suddenly took on the look of Lake Placid or Snow Valley. The Fire Department Marching Band was to entertain, but its instruments were freezing. For them, it was almost the same as holding a frozen water line at a general alarm fire. Nothing was coming out -- not a drop or, in this case, nary a note.

The players had difficulty moving. Both touchdowns were tainted, but that's the way it can be on days of snow and rain. Cliff Aultman of Geneva College intercepted a lateral out of the air and skidded 17 yards for the North score, but the conversion by Bob Chase of Brown never got up.

Late in the game, Romney Hunter of Marshall College blocked a punt and recovered in the end zone. Touchdown. Ed Meade of William and Mary (or was it Guy Turnbow of Mississippi, because old newspaper accounts differ) kicked the point as the frozen hands of Al Woods of Maryland caught the snap and put the ball in position. It was a 7-6 South win as the wind howled and a paid crowd of 1,723 hardly realized it was a part of history witnessing the first and last North-South bowl game in Baltimore, more north on this day than it was south.

Conditions were so difficult that the final periods were reduced to 10 minutes. The South gained 44 yards rushing but lost 57; the North produced 68 but gave up 10. The South passed three times, the North five. Each team punted 13 times, but the opposition let the ball roll, minimizing a muff or a fumble. First downs were scarce -- three for the South, two for the North.

The game's hero didn't even play. That was Lou Shecter, who was the director of this hoped-for extravaganza that was originally intended to be an annual presentation. He had the wisdom to invest in a snow-rain insurance policy that paid $10,000. So instead of serious red ink in the middle of the Great Depression, the final auditing showed the city turned a profit of $2,645 for a fund to help the unemployed. Hallelujah and praise Lou Shecter.

The North-South game found a different home for its future, the Orange Bowl in Miami, until the proliferation of postseason bowls, there and in other places, caused it to quietly go away. Lack of a national television contract in 1974 finally put it out of business. Too bad. Now it's only a memory of what started in Baltimore on a day when a sneak snowstorm that lasted eight hours obliterated the yard lines and turned the field into a precarious ice slide.

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