Fifth Annual Sugar Bowl Classic ~
January 2, 1939
#1 TCU 15 (Final: 11-0-0)
#6 Carnegie Tech (Final: 7-2-0)
How TCU and Carnegie Tech Met in the 1939 Sugar Bowl
Kimbrough, 1939 team made its mark as A&M’s best by Robert Cessna for the Bryan-College Station Eagle, 11/1/14
In the late 1930s, “David” of the David and Goliath story was called “Davey.”
The smallest quarterback in the land, at 5-foot-7, was himself a Goliath, the biggest name in college football.
In 1938, O’Brien steered Texas Christian to the No. 1 rung in the sport while leading the nation in passing, which, extremely rare for the time, was TCU’s standard mode of operation. With a physique more befitting a guard, the 150-pound quarterback – the rightful heir to Sammy Baugh – drew back his arm, like “David” with a slingshot, and fired footballs with an accuracy and strength that flabbergasted opponents, fans, and even teammates.
“I know that there were a lot of times that I would go out for a pass and look back for Davey – and I couldn’t see him. Then all of a sudden the ball would come flying out of nowhere – right into my arms,” receiver Don Looney recalled.
They wouldn’t raise eyebrows today, but at a time when five pass attempts a game were a lot for most teams, statistics for 1938 show O’Brien completed 94 of 167 passes for 1,509 yards and 19 touchdowns. He led the nation in passing and in total offense (1,847 yards). The year before, O’Brien ranked second nationally in total offense (1,411 yards) and led the nation in punt returns and passing.
And, while there would be potholes on the road to TCU’s 11th victory of the season, O’Brien would be its linchpin.
Not before, however, Carnegie Tech would give the Horned Frogs a run for their money.
A modest early Tartan drive to midfield caused the Frogs to call timeout to talk things over.
“That was the first time,” Ki Aldrich said, “that anyone made us do that all season, the first time we had to call time to adjust.”
The drive was quickly short-circuited.
After an exchange of punts – including the only one by TCU that afternoon – the Frogs went in for the game’s first points – barely. Connie Sparks went over right guard from the 1, and it took several minutes to unravel the writhing mass at the goal line. Finally the officials signaled touchdown. Sparks got in by an inch.
Shockingly, O’Brien, who kicked 28 extra points during the regular season, missed the PAT.
The Tartans came right back, fooling the Frogs on fourth-and-six at their 36, then from the Frog 37 where Pete Moroz backpedaled almost to midfield, waited for George Muha to work his way past O’Brien, a natural target because of his lack of height, and looped a pass. Muha took it in at the 1 without breaking stride and went over.
Muha’s PAT made the score Tech 7, TCU 6, marking the first time the Frogs were behind all season.
In the first five plays of the second half the Frogs were back in front to stay. From the Tartan 44, O’Brien flung a darter to Durwood Horner, who grabbed it at the 29, wheeled and went the distance untouched.
“And that took care of that,” tackle Allie White said.
Not really. O’Brien again inexplicably missed the PAT, keeping Tech within easy reach.
In the fourth quarter, when the Tartans held the Frogs at the 1, O’Brien kicked a field goal from the 9 to make the margin 15-7 with seven minutes to play.
Considering his PAT attempts, it could be assumed there was some concern about trying the kick, but Aldrich said no. “The extra points were just one of those things,” he said. “Nobody thought Davey couldn’t kick the field goal. We had a lot of confidence in Davey. I don’t think I even thought he wouldn’t make it.”
The excitement wasn’t over. Muha almost broke the ensuing kickoff for a touchdown before Aldrich caught him from behind, and shortly, O’Brien intercepted a pass at the TCU 21 to put a practical end to the fifth Sugar Bowl.
In the end, gutty Carnegie Tech couldn’t cope with the offense of TCU, which finished with a 365-168 edge in total yardage, or with ‘L’il Davey,’ who, despite a less than perfect outing, was the afternoon’s darling with a 17-for-28 passing performance for 225 yards.
As important as anything or anyone, though, TCU left New Orleans as the unquestioned champion of college football because of Aldrich, who nearly didn’t make the trip, and who had an eye-opening 19 tackles (13 unassisted) and an interception.
That, as much as anything, allowed for the favorite to win the Sugar Bowl – for the first time.
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.