How Georgia Tech and Tulsa Met in the 1944 Sugar Bowl
There was wide speculation during the week following Tulsa-Tennessee that the Sugar Bowl might be scrapped until the end of the war. Fred Digby doubted anything that severe would be done. “They’ll do whatever Uncle Sam thinks best,” he wrote. “Two years ago the Sugar Bowlers announced their policy would be to carry on unless the government thought it best to call a halt. To date, the government has not asked anything except that ticket sales be confined to the New Orleans area. This was done, and to the letter.”
When the Association met that January, there was no official mention of temporarily suspending the Sugar Bowl other than to refute the idea had substance. President Joseph B. David said, “We held our regular monthly board meeting tonight, and no discussion of the matter was had.”
Selecting bowl teams was a chore in the 1943 football season. The best teams were those whose schools were involved in military training, such as the Navy V-12 program, and those on military bases whose participants were still amateurs. Washington and Southern California, both members of the Pacific Coast Conference, were announced early as the Rose Bowl combatants. The reason for the choices was the travel that would be involved for an Eastern or Southern team.
Iowa Preflight and Southwestern Louisiana Institute, a strong team with a military program, appeared the favorites for on berth in the Sugar Bowl. Georgia Tech, a Navy training school, was the Southeastern Conference champion. It was the choice for the other spot, though badly beaten by No. 1-ranked Notre Dame. Iowa Preflight was eliminated because the Navy had a 48-hour limit on furloughs. The Mid-Winter Sports Association disclosed its pick in late November, Georgia Tech – with the most defeats, three, of any team that had ever competed in the Sugar Bowl – was pitted against the undefeated, once-tied Tulsa.
Receiving and accepting the invitation was a historic occasion for Georgia Tech. It completed Coach Bill Alexander’s circuit through the four major bowls. He had taken Tech to the Rose Bowl (1929), the Orange Bowl (1940), the Cotton Bowl (1943), and now the Sugar. Tech became the first school to complete the cycle.
This would not be the same Tulsa team that competed in New Orleans in 1943, although its roster did carry a couple of familiar names. Maurice “Red” Wade, who had played with Missouri against Fordham in the 1942 Sugar Bowl, was now with Coach Henry Frnka’s Hurricane. Ed Shedlosky, who had played with Fordham in 1942, had also transferred to Tulsa. Only six members were back from the previous Tulsa squad, and 24 of the 40 team members for 1943 were classified 4-F by the draft or had medical discharges. Nine others were 18 years old and expecting draft notices, or under draft age.
Guard Ellis Jones was missing an arm. Another player had one lung. A third had one kidney. Coach Henry Frnka had one athlete who had a large area of scarred tissue, and another who had to play in a special shoe because of a severed Achilles tendon. Red Wade, who suffered an attack of osteomyelitis when he was 13, had back and ankle problems.
This team surprised everyone, including Frnka. Time magazine ran a story on the Hurricane headlined “Rejected, Deferred, Unbeaten.” Embarrassed about ‘Franka’s 4-Fs’, Washington authorities asked for a quiet review of draft physicals.
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.