How Fordham and Missouri Met in the 1942 Sugar Bowl
Picking the 1941 bowl teams was more of a guessing game than in the preceding few years. Mississippi State and Alabama were the logical SEC candidates; Texas A&M and Texas were the best bets from the Southwest Conference. A late-season loss to Vanderbilt eliminated Alabama. Mississippi State, the conference champion, had a game left with San Francisco after the pairings were to be announced. The Sugar Bowl was afraid to take a chance on the Bulldogs. Neither SEC team finished in the Associated Press Top 10. A similar situation occurred in the Southwest Conference. When the Longhorns upset the Aggies, the Sugar Bowl became interested, but was nervous about inviting Texas due to a late game.
Late Saturday, November 30, the Associated Press ran a story indicating that sixth-ranked Fordham would play in the Rose Bowl opposite Oregon State. But later the Sugar Bowl announced the Fordham Rams would play seventh-ranked Missouri. For the first time, New Orleans had a game without an SEC or SWC team. Public reaction was unfavorable at first, but on New Year’s Day the Sugar Bowl was the only game with two Top 10 teams.
The champion of the Third Army and the Pensacola (Florida) Fliers, champions of the Eighth Naval District, were scheduled to meet in Tulane Stadium on January 3, 1942, in a service championship game approved by the War and Navy departments. The day after the announcement was made, however, the front page headline crowning the ominous global news read: “Japs Call Home 2 Attaches From U.S.” Less than 24 hours later, the Japanese Empire attacked United States Navy and Army installations at Pearl Harbor. There would be no service championship game in 1942.
The war brought an immediate change in the suddenly inconsequential world of college football. Because California was believed to be a danger zone, the military demanded that the Rose Bowl and the East-West Shrine game be relocated. The Tournament of Roses shifted its game to Durham, North Carolina, home of Duke University. The Shrine game was also relocated to New Orleans. Tulane Stadium would be the site of the January 3 East-West Shrine game.
Some foresaw an offensive circus in the 1942 Sugar Bowl. Fordham, a 6-to-5 favorite, had a rock-like defense and a swirling passing game. Ram statistics indicated they had a knack for the big play. The Tigers, with a strong split-T offense and a dynamic backfield, were the nation’s best ground-gaining team, averaging 307.7 yards per game. The Tigers’ coach Don Faurot said an opening loss to Ohio State led to revamping the offense. “The Ohio State game sold me on the split-T,” he said. “We ran 30 single-wing plays and averaged 10 yards per carry.”
Ram Coach Jim Crowley planned to counteract the split-T with a Rockne defense, the Box-and-Seven, a seven-man line. This would allow the Rams ends and linebackers to “wait” for a play to unfold while the guards and tackles rushed. “If the seven-and-box made coaches stop using the T-formation a dozen years ago,” Crowley assessed, “it should do it again.”
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.