Eighth Annual Sugar Bowl Classic ~ January 1, 1942
For a locale that boosted its mild winter weather to tourists, this was becoming monotonous: heavy rains again affected the Sugar Bowl.
It come down New Year's Eve, and just before kickoff it began to drizzle again as clouds darkened the field.
Missouri in particular wasn't too concerned about rain because the Tigers had won several games on wet fields during the season. "We were good mudders," said Harry Ice, a 157-pound quarterback. Ice had touchdown runs of 90, 76, 57, 21 and 16 yards during the season and still finished second on his team to Maurice "Red" Wade, who averaged 6.6 yards a carry.
The rain would cripple the Fordham air game, however.
By the time the game's first possession ended a driving rain swept over Tulane Stadium. Ice said of his first punt return, "It was raining so hard, you couldn't see the ball until it was coming down and right on you."
When the Tigers punted again, from their own 31, there was a low snap. Rams' tackle Alex Santilli fired in on substitute kicker Don Greenwood and caught the punt in the chest. The ball bounced crazily back toward the goal line. Fordham end Stanley Ritinski heard the "whomp" of leather against Santilli's soggy jersey and "just reacted to the situation."
Ritinsky chased and finally corralled the ball by diving on it in the end zone, then slid off the field. Subsequent photographs indicated Ritinski had control of the ball before he went out, but the referee ruled otherwise and credited Fordham with a safety instead of a touchdown. Coach Jim Crowley said a player on the sidelines turned to him and cracked, "Coach, two's enough. Don't pour it on."
The two points meant different things to different players. Ice said it didn't mean a thing a thing to him at the time. "No bother," Ice recalled. "We had been outplaying them, and had every reason to expect that to continue." Tiger back Bob Steuber had the same reaction. Ritinsky said he was "just so thrilled to get anything on the board...we felt we had enough defense to hold them."
Missouri showed its vaunted ground game the next time it got the ball. Ice took a lateral and seemed to break clear almost instantly. "I made a critical mistake," he said. "I cut toward the sideline instead of the middle of the field." That decision allowed Joe Sabasteanski to barely catch Harry's arm from behind 34 yards upstream at the Rams' 47 when he seemed headed to the end zone.
"When Harry went down," Steuber laughed, "I swear he looked like a powerboat sliding across the field."
Missouri never did score then, and later failed on a fourth-and-two at midfield.
Junking their famed split T, the desperate Tigers went to a single-wing, and Ice in the last minutes passed them downfield. Perhaps saving the game, Santilli threw a Tiger for a five-yard loss.
The field goal unit readied for its chance to pull victory out of the quagmire. Ice knelt to hold for Steuber at the 35. The ball was snapped. Steuber got his foot onto it, and the ball sailed straight toward the goal.
Steuber and Ice began jumping up and down, hugging each other.
But the ball seemed to die, dipping just under the crossbar, and it was signaled no good. Then the Tigers began to wonder about the cost of the five-yard loss Santilli inflicted just a minute earlier.
Ice steadfastly maintained the field goal was good. Steuber said, "It looked good, but, heck, the official had the best look at it and he said no, and that's the way it was."
Fordham, the passing team, had won a Sugar Bowl without completing a pass. However, it was the weather that got most of the press. United Press reporter Henry McLenmore wrote: "At the end of the game, the field was ready for stocking with trout and bream, and tarpon were reported to be leaping in the end zone."
Another writer quipped, "Last time I looked up I saw a Fordham player penalized for doing the Australian Crawl."
Dallas was about to change the look of New Year's football - it had always urged a tie-up with the SWC. The Cotton Bowl had lost two stellar Southwest Conference teams, Texas Christian and Texas A&M, to the Sugar for the 1939 and 1940 bowl games. The Cotton Bowl got the SWC champion Aggies in the 1942 game only because the Rose and Sugar didn't extend invitations. Both Texas A&M and Texas were worthy bowl teams for the 1942 games, but A&M's 1941 loss to the Longhorns and a later Texas game made the Sugar Bowl back off.
Until then there was some division among the Southwest Conference officials about whether a tie-up was in the league's best interests. Two of the staunchest opponents had been Coach Dana Bible of Texas and Coach Homer Norton of Texas A&M. However, when those coaches and their schools felt snubbed by the other bowls, they began to listen more attentively to the Cotton Bowl offer.
Fred Digby assessed, "When the Rose Bowlers passed up the Aggies and Longhorns, the Dallas scribes took it as an insult to the Southwest Conference football and blasted the Pasadena promoters. That done, they turned their guns on the Sugar Bowl and fired away. Thus the way was paved for a change in attitude by Texas A&M and Texas and the tie-up that is ahead."
So, the Cotton Bowl became the holiday nesting spot of the Southwest Conference champion. It has been a wonderful merger and in many ways the best of the bowl tie-ups.
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.