How Tulane and Temple Met in the 1935 Sugar Bowl The Mid-Winter Sports Association wanted to annually pair the most evenly matched teams, to create the best game possible. Once the Sugar Bowl realized just how far it could reach for quality teams – despite the new Orange Bowl in 1935 and the well-established Rose Bowl – the somewhat popular sentiment for an annual game between the Southeastern and Southwest conference champions or a North-South format quickly evaporated. The Sugar Bowl’s guarantee of $15,000 to the visiting team was a large sum in the midst of the Depression. The “home” team was assured of $12,500, and $2,500 was allotted for the Association’s expenses.
From the start, there were mixed feelings about a conference tie-up, with the SEC being the most logical choice. First, there was the assurance of one corner being filled by a quality team with some familiarity in New Orleans, leaving the Bowl free to concentrate on luring big names from outside the South. On the other hand, if the game was open-ended, it might be possible to pair the most evenly matched teams. This was the route Digby favored and the direction chosen. It was understood, however, that if an area school deserved an invitation, it would be extended.
With the necessary funds deposited in a bank by November 1, the Executive Committee concentrated on the caliber of teams across the country. The Sugar Bowl would not allow the home team a say in selecting its opponent as the Rose Bowl did. After contacting the schools and receiving an agreement, the Sugar Bowl’s final decision was expected on Sunday, December 2. But no announcement was made. The Committee went back into session at 5 p.m. the following day at the New Orleans Athletic Club. At 9:30 p.m. the pairing was official: Tulane and Temple.
Although Temple was largely an unknown quantity to New Orleans, it quickly became apparent the Sugar Bowl had done its homework and that gave it credibility. Temple was coached by Glenn “Pop” Warner, already a legendary figure and the Owls were ranked third nationally in the Williamson Poll. Temple was undefeated, though tied twice, and was considered the “Northern Champion.” Its roster included a sophomore fullback, Dave Smukler, said to be “better than Jim Thorpe” by Warner, who had coached Thorpe at Carlisle Institute. Tulane was the natural attraction for local fans and an obvious choice for home berth. The Green Wave was 13th-ranked, with a 9-1 record, and could be expected to draw several thousand additional fans from the immediate area. Tulane, in many ways, was a godsend to the first Sugar Bowl. It was the popular choice of the Mid-Winter Sports Association and of Fred Digby.
“All New Orleans is anxiously awaiting word and expecting Tulane to be invited…It is inconceivable that Tulane would refuse the invitation since it will offer an opportunity to provide impetus to an event which the entire city is now supporting with an enthusiasm seldom aroused in an athletic event here,” Digby wrote the afternoon of the selections.
Inconceivable or not, Tulane did not want the invitation. School officials did not, players did not. The coaches did. It was later rumored that the Greenies believed they merited Alabama’s Rose Bowl berth, or that they wanted a rematch with Colgate, the only team Tulane failed to defeat in 1934. Neither was the case.
Ted Cox’s first assistant, Lester Lautenschlaeger, said he was told by Esmond Phelps, president of the Tulane board, to call a team meeting and to “have the team vote down the invitation.” Lautenschlaeger would have had no difficulty doing that. His task was to get the team to change its mind on an enterprise the Tulane coaching staff felt could become worthwhile.
Barney Mintz, a junior back on the team, insisted there had been no talk about the Rose Bowl, and it had nothing to do with the Green Wave’s reluctance. “In fact,” he said, “we were surprised they called us in the team meeting. The Sugar Bowl naturally didn’t mean anything to us then. We didn’t know anything about it. They called us in and Lester said, ‘Look, we have an opportunity to go to the Sugar Bowl, which is the first time it’s being held. We think it would be nice, but we’re gonna leave it up to you.’ The vote was basically unanimous against it.”
The coaches apparently had already signaled the Sugar Bowl the bid would be accepted, because they were aghast. “Well, they were shocked,” said Mintz, “because they knew what kind of position they were in. Lester got up again and said, ‘Now look, let’s think it over maybe we didn’t explain it.’ We went through the details that it was a community undertaking, and that Tulane was in a position…and should respond.” A suggestion was made by a player that they be given $150 a man for playing, and was immediately vetoed.”
“We took a vote,” Mintz added, “and I would guess the vote was not quite enough for a majority. We got a few more. Then Lester got up again and made a really impassioned plea, that we were going to embarrass the University and such and such, etc., you know, the usual thing. I don’t know what the vote was, but it was at least one above the majority. We were gonna go out and play.” By then, even Tulane President Dr. Albert Dinwiddie was in favor of it.
There was a chemistry working for the Sugar Bowl now. Certainly Temple, with Warner and Smukler, aroused the curiosity of a large block of fans. The hometown Greenies, boasting a ball carrier the equal of Smukler, Claude “Little Monk” Simons, accounted for another segment of fans. What will never be known is how many of the halfhearted were prodded into attendance by the Item’s sports staff.
Pie Dufour recalled with a chuckle, “Scoop Kennedy and I would leave the office at lunchtime and go over to Maison Blanche ticket office, which was downstairs in the men’s clothing department. Scoop and I would go stand in line to make it look longer. Then we’d get to the window and we’d tell the man, ‘we’re only here stooging.’ After that, we’d leave the line, wait a few minutes, and then go back in line again. We did that for a week or 10 days to try to stimulate business, make people think this was the damndest demand they had ever saw!”
In two days, the Sugar Bowl sold more than $20,000 worth of advance tickets at $3.50 and $1.50 a piece.
Recap excerpted from the book “Sugar Bowl Classic: A History” by Marty Mulé, who covered the game and the organization for decades for the New Orleans Times-Picayune.