How TCU and LSU Met in the 1936 Sugar Bowl
Duck Hunting and Slingin’ SammyMary Frances Digby remembered her husband Fred coming home the night of January I, 1935, in a quiet, contemplative mood. “He was very happy,” she recalled with a smile. “After a while, he just looked up and said it had been a dream come true.”
Almost as soon as the dream of a Sugar Bowl became a reality, it began to build momentum and expand. It was Bill Keefe, noting that general admission tickets weren’t put on sale until the day of the game (which put a strain on ticket sellers and forced 2,000 fans away), who called for a 5,000-seat increase of Tulane Stadium. That bit of crusading a couple of days after the Tulane-Temple game must have caused Digby, one of the acknowledged founders of the Sugar Bowl, some slight amusement.
Both the Times-Picayune and the States had given the first Sugar Bowl events as much coverage as the Item. The pull of all three influenced the initial wave of popularity that struck as the football game neared.
A February meeting was held to make plans for the following Sugar Bowl. The Sugar Bowl was left with $10,370.61. Half that total was placed in a sinking fund, along with an unsolicited $12,300 already received from eager guarantors for the 1936 game. The other $5,000 was set aside for expenses the Association might need for the coming year.
Also, the Mid-Winter Sports Association became exclusive in 1935. Membership rolls were closed and limited to the original organizers. They had succeeded beyond anyone’s belief in less than a year. Four hundred and twenty guarantors put up money for the 1936 game.
Everything the Mid-Winter Sports Association touched at that time was just right. A year after Tulane was the natural selection for the inaugural contest, LSU emerged as an obvious choice. The Southeastern Conference champions won nine straight after an opening 10-7 loss to Rice and had a flock of exceptional players. They included Abe Mickal, one of the nation’s best passers, and Gaynell “Cus” Tinsley, considered the best end in the country. The defensive-minded Tigers had allowed three SEC opponents less than 50 yards from scrimmage.
LSU’s probable acceptance was verified belatedly because Athletic Director T.P. Heard returned late from a Tuesday afternoon duck-hunting trip. Heard was asked by a reporter if LSU had a preference of whom it would play. “Our preference is TCU or Nebraska – either would make a great game,” said Heard.
Texas Christian was announced as LSU’s opponent, and the Sugar Bowl may have backed into its stated goal – the best game possible. TCU was ranked fourth in most polls and had a crowd-pleasing attraction in “Slingin'” Sammy Baugh, whose passing skills had set the Southwest ablaze. The Horned Frogs had finished second to Southern Methodist after the pair met in a memorable regular season finale.
The match between TCU and SMU, both with perfect 10-0-0 records, was the first Southwest football game to be aired on a nationwide radio hookup. Matty Bell’s Mustangs had surrendered only three touchdowns while shutting out seven opponcnts. Dutch Meyer’s Horned Frogs averaged three touchdowns a game. This game didn’t stir just fans: writers from across the country showed up as did three coaches on a busman’s holiday – Dana Bible of Neb0raska. Lynn “Pappy” Waldorf of Northwestern and Bernie Bierman of Minnesota. A dramatic 20-14 SMU victory sent the Mustangs to the Rose Bowl, the only Southwest Conference appearance in Pasadena. TCU was more than acceptable to the Sugar Bowl.
More than $40,000 in tickets had been sold before the pairing was announced. Five thousand dollars more came in the day after, and three weeks before the game only a few hundred tickets remained. It was estimated the alphabetical match of LSU-TCU could have drawn 45,000, but the largest crowd to see a sporting event in Louisiana was already assured, despite slightly higher-priced tickets than for the 1935 Sugar Bowl.
The Mid-Winter Sports Association also reached an agreement with the National Broadcasting Company for a coast-to-coast radio hookup. It would immediately precede the Rose Bowl and introduce another estimated 15 million fans to the Sugar Bowl.
Things were going so well it must have been scary at times. The only possible problem could have been the weather. But Warren Miller and Digby ran a check on New Orleans’ New Year’s Day weather the year before for the Tulane-Temple match. Cloudy and cool had been the average reading for decades, and it hadn’t rained on New Year’s in 25 years.
Unfortunately, the great luck for the Association didn’t hold up; it poured the last three days of 1935.
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.