Third Annual Sugar Bowl Classic ~ January 1, 1937
#9 Santa Clara 21 (Final: 8-1)
#2 LSU 14 (Final: 9-1-1)
How Santa Clara and LSU Met in the 1937 Sugar Bowl
The uniform of this squally day should have included galoshes. Luckily for Santa Clara, Buck Shaw knew where to go to dry things out.
Incredibly, it poured for the second consecutive time on New Year’s Eve and continued until just before kickoff. Shaw’s team got off to a fast start, but he looked at their soaked, mudcaked togs and cleats practically overflowing with water and, after spotting some familiar faces in the stands, did some fast thinking. He came up with the best strategic move of the afternoon.
But that would have to wait a while.
In a game that was anything but an artistic success, Shaw’s best defense may have been the favored Tigers themselves. LSU, which would suffer the most from the weather because of its vaunted passing attack, would turn the ball over an astounding 10 times with six lost fumbles and four interceptions. The only thing that seemed to keep things close was Santa Clara, which had six turnovers itself, four lost fumbles and two interceptions.
Things went bad for LSU from the very start: Nello Falaschi took the opening kickoff at the Santa Clara 17 and returned it to the Bronco 41. Pat Coffee, LSU’s best passer, made the tackle but was jarred on the play. He put in only nine minutes the rest of the game. After the Tigers punted from a foot away from their own goal, Santa Clara was in front to stay on a 27-yard pass play from Falaschi to Manny Gomez. Seven minutes after that, the Sugar Bowl was put on ice with a 30-yard fourth-and-nine scoring play from Bruno Pellegrini to Norman Finney.
Eleven minutes after kickoff, the outcome seemed as obvious as the mounds of mud on the uniforms. The best gauge of what was happening wasn’t just a glance at the scoreboard. One of the country’s most efficient offenses was being dismantled. LSU went 25 minutes without making a first-down. Shaw had trusted center Phil Dougherty to keep LSU off-balance with defensive calls, and the 180-pound junior performed flawlessly.
End Gus Tinsley put LSU back in the hunt late in the second quarter when he caught a 10-yard pass from Bill Crass, then, seeing the right side overloaded with defenders, reversed field, picked up a convoy and went the distance. The 50-yard play cut the difference to 14-7 at intermission.
Halftime is when Shaw showed his cunning. Early in the game, when he spotted coaches from Loyola University, whose campus was just blocks away, among the crowd, he sent an assistant over to talk to them.
“When we got to the dressing room,” recalled tackle Al Wolff, “there were dozens of shoes sent over by Loyola, just scattered around the floor. The coaches said, “Find a pair that fits and put ‘em on.’ Then we changed into our practice uniforms for the second half and we were ready to play again.”
After an interception, the Broncos’ Frank “Mississippi” Smith, who grew up in Picayune, Miss., 60 miles from Tulane Stadium, tried an end around from the LSU 4. With two defenders zeroing in, he tossed the ball straight up in the air. Falaschi somehow snagged the loose ball and crashed in the end zone. The PAT snap was botched, but Falaschi dug the ball out of the mud and passed to Smith for a successful conversion, still one point in those days.
With just minutes to go the fourth quarter, LSU blocked a Santa Clara kick and Crass speared Rocky Reed on the dead run for a six-yard touchdown. LSU’s fate, however, was sealed.
It added some excitement to a finish radio listeners didn’t hear. NBC cut to the Rose Bowl with about two minutes to go. “A lot of people in northern California were furious,” Wolff said. “My mother said it seemed forever before it was announced that Santa Clara had won.”
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.