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1939: Pitchin' Paul Takes Gotham (Part Two)

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For other seasons, go here.

Part One

In Part One, Mizzou had their high expectations knocked down a bit after a disappointing shutout loss to Ohio State, then bounced back with an easy win over Wash U.  Today, Mizzou starts conference play.

October 21: Kansas State (3-0) at Missouri (2-1)

Under Bo McMillan, K-State had built a pretty competitive program from 1928-33, winning 8 games in 1931 (almost making the Rose Bowl) and 6 in 1933 (almost winning the Big Six).

Before 1934, McMillan left for Indiana (I told you the Big Ten was more prestigious then) and K-State chose between two men for his replacement: Lynn "Pappy" Waldorf and...Don Faurot.  They chose Waldorf (WHEW).  Waldorf had gone 34-10-7 in five seasons at Oklahoma A&M and smoked through the Big Six in 1934.  After a 2-2-1 start, the Wildcats smoked through the Big Six, won a conference title and went 7-2-1.  Great hire!  Only...Waldorf then left for Northwestern (Big Ten, ahem).  With Faurot scooped up by Missouri after 1934, KSU was left with Wesley "Cowboy" Fry, who, well, wasn't Pappy Waldorf.

(God, nicknames were great in the 1930s.)

Pappy!  After Northwestern, Pappy moved to Berkeley, where he led Cal to three straight Rose Bowls and got himself a statue.

Call it the Curse of Pappy--when Waldorf left after his one season in Manhattan, KSU didn't have another winning season until 1953, a span of 19 years.  (And for that matter, after 13 wins in 1953-54, they wouldn't have another winning season until they went 6-5 in 1970.)

Fry entered the 1939 season with a 14-16-6 record over four seasons, and though they had started 3-0 in 1939, the nice start had come against Fort Hays State, Marquette (!), and Colorado, the 1939 equivalent of basically Eastern Kentucky, Syracuse, and Colorado State.  The Wildcats were ready for a fight against Missouri, however.  They would actually outgain Mizzou, 261-248, holding Paul Christman to only seven completions.

An early Mizzou fumble set KSU up with great field position at Mizzou's 36, and they drove to the Mizzou 4, but what would end up being a crucial goalline stand got the ball back for Mizzou, and they drove for a field goal.  The score remained 3-0 into the second half, when Mizzou pulled out the ol' hook and ladder for a touchdown.  Christman passed to Bob Orf, who lateraled to Bud.  That play always works.  KSU struck late to make the score 9-7, but that was it.  The events of the first quarter--the Mizzou goalline stand and FG--made the difference in a rugged game.

Missouri 9, Kansas State 7
Today's Equivalent: Missouri 13, Kansas State 10

October 28: Missouri (3-1) at Iowa State (1-4)

Okay, back to the games we do know about.  After a tight win over an iffy K-State team, Mizzou went to Ames to face what was a downright terrible Iowa State team.  After beating Coe (??), 19-0, in the season opener, ISU had been outscored 37-7 in four losses.  They had no offense, and that didn't really change on October 28.

In front of a Homecoming crowd of 12,000, Mizzou played without Paul Christman and Bill Cunningham for the first half due to minor injuries, but it couldn't have been easier.  Myron Counsil scored early, Ron King scored late (on a pass from Dan Wager), and Mizzou rolled up a 21-0 second-quarter lead.  ISU briefly made it interesting when they recovered a Counsil fumble at the MU 8 and scored a couple of plays later.

ISU played lively in the second half, but they failed in two fourth-quarter redzone chances.  First, Christman intercepted a pass to end one drive, and then another drive was shut down on downs.  In the end, despite no offense in the second half, this was an easy one for the Tigers.

Missouri 21, Iowa State 6
Today's Equivalent: Missouri 31, Iowa State 10


November 4: #10 Nebraska (4-0-1) at Missouri (4-1)

For all intents and purposes, Nebraska was the Big Six's team of the 1930s.  Since 1924, the Huskers had lost more than three games in a season only three times, and since the Big Six's inception in 1928, they had won eight of a possible eleven conference titles.  In their third season under Lawrence "Biff" Jones, they were on a hot 4-0-1 start and were ranked in the Top 10.

One season earlier, in 1938, Don Faurot's Tigers had ended a ten-game winless streak (0-8-2) against Nebraska by upsetting a rather mediocre Husker team in Lincoln, 13-10, riding the arm of Paul Christman.  Apparently that gave Pitchin' Paul a bit of confidence as Nebraska came to town on the first Saturday in November. Bob Broeg, take it away:

The morning of the game, as always in those days, Faurot's team gathered at Harris's Cafe for peaches, tea, and toast, the traditional pregame meal.  Christman, accompanied by other Catholics on the squad, straggled in from Mass.  At the Columbia Tribune next door he stopped in, tapped me on the shoulder at my Associated Press typewriter and, cupping a backhand to his mouth, he grinned and stage-whispered:

"I'll give you a scoop, kid.  I'll pass those bums out of the stadium by the half."

I laughed.  Nebraska was favored after beating Bernie Bierman's Minnesota Gophers and Jock Sutherland's Pitt Panthers, both national powers.  Not only that.  One thing the Cornhuskers certainly would look for from Christman was the passing that dazzled them the year before.

As they say, it's not bragging if you back it up.  Nebraska came to town hoping to further their cause for a potential national title.  Instead, they got run off the field (or, if you prefer, passed out of the stadium).  Nebraska was ready for a steady dose of Christman's arm--instead, in front of 18,000 Tiger fans, they got Christman's and Bill Cunningham's legs.  Mizzou ran to set up the pass, and it worked beautifully.  Christman only completed four passes in the first half--for 116 yards and three touchdowns.  From the Nebraska 20, he completed a pass to Bud Orf, who fumbled...and his brother Bob scooped it up for the touchdown.  After NU tied the score at 6-6, Christman found Bob Orf, intentionally this time, for a 60-yard bomb.  Up 13-7 in the second quarter, one play after he had scrambled for a 28-yard gain, Paul rolled left, then threw right, pitching to a wide-open Stillman Rouse for a 20-yard touchdown to put Mizzou up 20-6 at halftime.

Here's a reminder: Nebraska was really, really good in 1939.  After getting whooped by Missouri, they would go on to plow through Kansas, Pittsburgh (in Pennsylvania), and OU to wrap up an otherwise perfect season.  But Mizzou ran (and threw) roughshod over them.  NU could only manage a couple of scoring drives, and they just could not get the ball away from the Tigers.

This was a major step forward for Mizzou.  Not only was it their first ever win over a ranked team (the AP had begun ranking teams in 1936), but after a few games of just getting by on offense--nine points against K-State, none against Iowa State with Christman at QB (they did put up 21 with the backup)--Mizzou was cocky and assertive against the Huskers.  It was a good time for the pieces to come together, as the schedule wasn't going to get any easier.

Missouri 27, Nebraska 13
Today's Equivalent: Missouri 41, Nebraska 20


November 11: Missouri (5-1) at #17 NYU (5-1)

So you're smack in the middle of conference play, and you're doing well.  You're two wins away from your first Big Six title.  You just whooped a Top 10 team.  What better time for a trip to New York??

The scheduling of this matchup could have been inconvenient, but all things considered, it was pretty perfect.  Mizzou had carried the reputation for an explosive offense since the beginning of the season, but only recently had they shown it.  They had scored just 23 points against Ohio State, Wash U., and Kansas State, but their beautiful run-pass mix had killed Iowa State and Nebraska to the tune of 48 points.  The upcoming game at Yankee Stadium was shaping up to be the perfect "Hello, world!" moment if Mizzou could handle the spotlight better than they had when they went to Columbus a month earlier.

In 1939, the NYU Violet, long striving for respectability, were starting to get somewhere.  With widely respected QB Eddie Boell--their leading rusher and passer--and star halfback Al Campanis (yes, that Al Campanis), the Violet, under coach Mal Stevens, started the season 5-1 with at least one solid win--14-13 over Georgia.  Their most impressive effort, actually, came in their lone loss, a 14-7 loss to a pretty solid North Carolina team that would reach as high as #7 in the country in '39.  NYU had crept into the AP rankings at #17 but were still seen as underdogs to the visiting Tigers.  They were also banged up on the line.  But with Boell and a now-healthy Campanis, they thought they would have a shot.

The week of the game, The New York Times ran article after article about Paul Christman and the explosive Missouri offense and whether NYU could stop them.  A sample:

The victory of Missouri over Nebraska and the celebrity of Paul Christman as one of the great passers of 1939 throw the spotlight upon New York University and the game at the Yankee Stadium this week.  Here is one of the prize attractions of the campaign and the opportunity for Dr. Mal Stevens's smart, virile eleven to gain the recognition that its adherents think is well overdue.

Considering this was taking place in "the paper of record," there is no better exposure than that.  (Other than positive post-game press from the NY Times, anyway.)  Plus, needless to say, with the well-hyped game being at Yankee Stadium, major syndicated writers like Grantland Rice would be on hand.  Mizzou had everybody's attention, and it was time for them to dominate.

Correction: it was time for Pitchin' Paul to dominate.

Early on, though, this was a battle.  Mizzou struck first with an effortless 67-yard opening drive for a score.  Christman completed a 23-yard pass on the game's first play, and then Bill Cunningham took over.  Christman scored off-tackle from the 2, and after a missed PAT, it was 6-0 Missouri.

The Violet, however, immediately struck back.  NYU ate up much of the late portion of the first quarter and the early part of the second in marching 72 yards for a touchdown and a 7-6 lead.

Mizzou kept marching forward, with miscues the only thing getting in their way.  Following NYU's TD, they advanced to the Violet 14 but missed a field goal (if you couldn't tell, kicking was quite the dicey proposition 70 years ago).  They advance again to the 14 on the final play of the half, but a desperation pass by Christman was picked off.  NYU was no longer able to move the ball on offense, but they maintained a tight 7-6 lead at halftime.

With the way the Mizzou offense was rolling, though, it was just a matter of time until they took the lead.  Early in the third quarter, they made their move.  On a drive spearheaded once again by Cunningham and just one pass, Mizzou advanced to the NYU 15 when Christman scored on a gorgeous cut-back run, avoiding just about every Violet defender at one point or another.  From Bob Broeg:

The second touchdown, a 15-yard run by Christman, made Pitchin' Paul look downright nimble as he zigzagged through a broken field.  The truth is, blocking was so good on the play that every NYU player was knocked down--at least once.

Mizzou linemen teased Christman about that one throughout the following week, asking Faurot or Bengtson to rerun the film of the play in which they outdid themselves.

The 10-play touchdown drive gave Mizzou a 13-7 lead.  And by this point, NYU had completely ground to a halt on offense.  Boell would finish the game 4-for-12 with three interceptions (one by Christman himself).  NYU managed to pin Mizzou deep a couple of times, and one time it led to the play that left observers as awestruck as any play made in the game.

With Mizzou pinned at its 7 and Christman deep in shotgun/punt formation (they were basically the same thing in those days), everybody assumed a kick was coming.  It was just what you did in 1939.  Take no chances, and whatever you do, don't attempt a pass out of your endzone!  Well, pass was exactly what Christman did; not only that, but he completed it for 16 yards, stunning the crowd.  It should be clear by now that, while the attempts and yards are not at all impressive by today's standards, nobody did what Paul Christman did in those days.  He finished the game 12-for-25 for 149 yards, 1 TD, and 1 INT (the desperation heave in Q2).

Still, though, Mizzou was advancing without scoring.  When the final quarter began, the Tigers were still up only 6.  Even though NYU was staggered on offense, one big play could make the difference in the game.  That play came when Clarence Hydron intercepted Boell and returned the pick back to the NYU 21.  After the ground game worked a first down to the Violet 10, it was Christman's arm that would seal the game.  Ron King would run a perfect right corner route, and Christman hit him in the hands.  King, falling down, bobbled the ball briefly before securing it for the clinching points.  Mizzou was up 20-7.

Smelling blood, Mizzou's defense attacked.  They would set the offense up with two more scoring chances.  Christman picked off a pass and led Mizzou to the NYU 9 before turning the ball over on downs.  Then, they would get to the 10 before missing another field goal.  After a 43-yard punt return by Dick Gale, they would even advance again to the NYU 1 with the second-string before mercifully allowing the clock to run out.

Mizzou had dominated and won easily, and the only thing that anybody could notice was that the score could have been so much worse.  If not for the near misses, this could have been 44-7.  They advanced into NYU's redzone countless times, while Boell and the NYU offense never again moved past the MU 47 after the opening drive.  In the end, they doubled NYU up with 326 total yards to the Violet's 166.

At the end of the day, Christman had accounted for 149 passing yards, 54 rushing yards, a touchdown pass, two touchdown runs, an interception, and two booming punts.  If Heisman campaigns were run then as they are now, the string of publicity stemming from this one game would have put the statue in Pitchin' Paul's hands.  With the nation's attention, he had played brilliantly, and Mizzou announced to the world that they were one of the best, and hottest, football teams in the country.

Predictably, the post-game NY Times article said it best:

Football's Dizzy Dean, the ebullient Paul Christman of Missouri, pitched a gorgeous game at the Yankee Stadium yesterday.  The big blond junior neglected to take his press notices into the fray with him but he did not need them.  Before the fascinated gaze of a gathering of 50,000 he passed and ran NYU into a 20-7 defeat.


Missouri 20, New York 7
Today's Equivalent: Missouri 34, New York 10


Next up: #5 OU comes to town.  Winner wins the Big Six.