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UC Davis Magazine

Volume 27 · Number 3 · Spring 2010


Tales of Davis vs. Cal in the 1930s

by Dave Jones

UC Davis vs. CAL

1932: Bears 20, Aggies 6
1933: Bears 39, Aggies 0
1934: Bears 54, Aggies 0
1935: Bears 47, Aggies 0
1936: Bears 39, Aggies 0
1937: Bears 14, Aggies 0
1938: Bears 48, Aggies 0
1939: a question mark...

UC Davis and Cal records and newspaper accounts give the Bears a 32–14 win, while UC Davis’ El Rodeo yearbook gives the Aggies a 14-12 win.

Total scoring over 8 years: Bears 293 (or 273) Aggies 20

2010: 2 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 4, Memorial Stadium, UC Berkeley

In the eight Aggie-Bear games, 1932–39, the Aggies scored in only two, the first and the last.

The Aggies’ first and only score in the 1932 game may have been the most dramatic of the series, with the Davis Enterprise reporting that the fans rose to their feet as they watched the pigskin tumble in and out of different players’ hands.

It was so confusing, in fact, that the Enterprise and El Rodeo yearbook credited different players for the score. It happened in the second half, with the Aggies trailing 13–0.

Here is how the Enterprise reported it: “(Russ) Sweet (the quarterback) did not cross the goal line himself, but he can well forget any disappointment over this, for when he threw Mills that pass, it did just as much good. As Russ tossed the ball over the center of the line and within one foot of the goal, the stands rose, for that elusive object was knocked from hand to hand until it looked as if neither team wanted it.

“Arnold Mills did, though, and when it had gone the rounds and finally reached this anxious gentleman, he grabbed it convulsively and proceeded to take it where it would do the most good.”

El Rodeo saw it this way: “Late in the third quarter Carl Frazer grabbed a pass from Sweet and stepped across the California goal line for the much desired score.”

The official “Report of Student Manager” said this: “Arnold Mills received a pass from Sweet over the center of the line and ran some 3 yards for a touchdown.”

The extra-point kick went wide, “but the Aggies had scored on a team of (Coach Bill) Ingram’s picked troops,” said the Enterprise, “and the Golden Bear was a surprised and chagrined old grizzly.”

“The fray ended with the score of 20 to 6 in favor of the Bears, but the Aggies had put up a brave and surprising battle, bringing home with them the praise of all who witnessed the conflict and the name of being a bunch of fighting, tearing Mustangs.”

Aggie’s kicking ‘won much praise’

The Aggies did not score in the ensuing six years, 1933 to 38 — making that touchdown in the first game all the more surprising.

In an article before the 1937 game, the Enterprise said: “No one seriously believes the Aggies will take the Golden Bears, particularly the way the Bears are going this season. But then, there is always the hope the unexpected might happen.”

By the time the Aggies went to Memorial Stadium on Oct. 16, 1937, the Bears were 3–0 overall, having defeated St. Mary’s, Oregon State and Washington State.

The Aggies, for their part, “succeeded in holding the potential Pacific Coast top team to 14 points,” the Enterprise reported.

“A perfect football play executed after the opening kickoff gave the Bears a seven-point lead that they had to fight to hold for the entire first half. Superior kicking of the Aggies fullback, Al Serpa, won much praise from the people in attendance at the game.”

The Bears ended the day’s doubleheader with a 14–0 win over the Aggies and a 20-0 win over College of the Pacific.

After that, the Bears won four more and played Washington to a scoreless tie. Altogether, the Bears racked up 10 wins, no losses and one tie, a Pacific Coast Conference title with six wins, no losses and one tie — and a 13–0 Rose Bowl victory over Alabama. (That was Cal’s fourth of eight appearances in the Rose Bowl, the last one in 1959.)

‘It probably won’t be victory’

The expectations were no higher the next year, 1938, when an Enterprise writer opined the day before the game that the Aggies’ chances against Cal were “too terrific to contemplate.”

“Maybe there is something to gain by it, but whatever it is, it probably won’t be victory,” the article stated.

Still, the writer was hopeful. A year earlier, the writer recalled, after Cal scored a touchdown on the opening kickoff, the Aggies “settled down to play some wonderful football.” The writer then told how Aggie veterans Howard McSweeney, Fred Frick, Al Serpa, Ralph Westfall, Lin Beechinor and “Stubby” Gardiner promised to play a similar “brand of ball” the next day.

And then the writer turned even more optimistic: “When the boys go to Berkeley, they will scratch Johnny Silva’s name off the injury list, and great things are expected from the shifty back. Silva teaming up with hard-running Stubby Gardiner should give the Bears at Berkeley something to worry about.

“Either of these boys is apt to get loose, and in addition to this the Bears will have to watch Al Serpa in the punting and passing department.”

Alas, it was not to be. “Aggies Fall Before Bear Onslaught” read the front-page headline in the next week’s Enterprise.

“Although the team that administered the severe beating was the Rose Bowl champ … and appears headed for the same honor this season, the Cal Aggies felt humiliated. It was not the score of 48 to 0 that made the Mustang squad feel low, but it was the way in which the California Golden Bears gained their seven touchdowns. Loose tackling and poor football was accountable for more than half of the Bears’ scores.”

Officiating draws criticism

And, 70 years ago, there was even some grumbling about poor officiating.

The Enterprise acknowledged Aggie “blunders,” but also noted: “There was much dissension among the Aggie supporters in regard to the ‘quick whistle’ used by the officials.

“Several times in the first quarter the Bears fumbled, and coach Hickey’s men recovered only to have the referee give the ball back to Cal.

“Finally, the Mustangs got a well deserved break and recovered the ball on the midfield. Bob Emerson called for a pass and Johnny Silva pulled it down for a first down on Cal’s 29-yard line. Another long pass to the goal line was intercepted by ‘Twink’ Frankberg, the Bears’ left half, and he ran the ball up to midfield before Al Serpa knocked him out of bounds. Thus ended the Aggies’ chance for a score and once again the Bear machine started rolling.”

Then, as only the hometown newspaper can do, the writer found a silver lining — crediting the Aggies for giving the Bear reserves a “pounding” that kept them from scoring on Pacific in the second half of the doubleheader.

“The morale of the local boys was raised when they left the dressing room and the Cal team ran roughshod over coach Alonzo Stagg’s College of the Pacific team 39 to 0. The Bears ran up 38 points in the first half before (Coach Leonard “Stub”) Allison called his boys off. Stub pulled (“Vallejo” Vic) Bottari and company out and sent in his reserves, who clearly showed the effect of the pounding given them by Francis, McSweeney and Johnson of the Aggies.”

A coup de grace of sorts

In 1939, the Bears faced “the two strongest squads the valley schools have had in a long time,” the Enterprise said the day before the doubleheader against the Aggie Mustangs and the College of the Pacific Tigers of Stockton.

The writer predicted the Mustang 11 would “put on one whale of a football game tomorrow afternoon. They probably won’t emerge victorious, but they’ll show a lot of people, good, hard, clean American football.”

Officially, the Aggies were going up against the Bears’ second and third strings. But, according to the Enterprise, Cal’s second string that day included many of Coach Allison’s “greats” whom he had demoted just a few days earlier. “These boys, all of whom Allison says should be on the first string, will be out to show the boss the error of his ways,” the Enterprise said.

“In this light, the Aggies will have to fight fire with fire. They can give the Bears an uncomfortable afternoon if they go out determined to do a lot of rocking and socking.”

All that “rocking and socking” gave the Aggies a 14–6 lead at halftime, and Allison responded by sending in his first string to start the second half.

Officially, Cal won the game, 32–14 (though not without some controversy).

The Enterprise noted that the Aggies took comfort in the fact that the College of the Pacific (now known as the University of the Pacific) beat the Bears in their second game of the day, 6–0.

Pacific’s reputation as a “musicians school” made the victory all the more dramatic. In a front-page story, the Sacramento Union declared the COP win a “cataclysmic upset … that rocked the football world.” The Sacramento Bee described it as the “Upset of the Decade,” and the COP coach, the legendary Amos Alonzo Stagg, then 77 years old, as “football’s man of the hour on the Pacific coast.” A United Press correspondent said the win over Cal made Stagg “the logical successor to Harry Houdini.”

In a story that read more like a restaurant review, the Enterprise described the Bears being served the following “order”: a “stinging defeat at the hands of the College of the Pacific and a tough time by the California Mustangs of Davis.”

“It was more than the Ursidae mammal could digest in one afternoon,” declared the writer, adding that “black crepe hangs heavy over the training quarters at Berkeley.”

Then, continuing with the restaurant review: “The first course served Saturday was on a beautiful platter and consisted of boiled Mustang, boiled because of boiling mad Aggies, and when it came to devouring that morsel, the Golden Bear found it so tough it had to resort to its utmost strength to down the morsel. Coach Allison was forced to put in first-string men, and they had to battle.”

Les “Dutch” Heringer, who played for the Aggies in 1939, recalled the Cal game in a 2004 video, Legacy of Aggie Football.

“It was quite a day,” he said. “I can remember the stands were empty when we started the game, and, when we were ahead at halftime, the stands started to fill up.

“I got a big bang out of it,” he said, to think that people would start streaming into the stadium upon hearing that a “little college” was beating up on the great University of California.

The Bears had given up 14 points — and the Aggies left Memorial Stadium with their heads held high as the Davis-Berkeley series went into its long hibernation.

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Dave Jones, associate editor of the faculty-staff newspaper, Dateline UC Davis, is more than willing to disclose that he is a Cal grad. But he is unwilling to say which team he will be rooting for Sept. 4. Nor is he willing to weigh in on the controversy over who won the 1939 Aggies-Bears game.