Skip to content
Link copied to clipboard

Recalling Temple's appearance in the first Sugar Bowl

The two college bands in Tulane Stadium's grandstands that New Year's Day in New Orleans were battling as hard as the combatants in history's first Sugar Bowl.

The two college bands in Tulane Stadium's grandstands that New Year's Day in New Orleans were battling as hard as the combatants in history's first Sugar Bowl.

Temple's musicians spent much of the sunny afternoon of Jan. 1, 1935, playing "Yankee Doodle Dandy," an act of sectional bravado that Tulane's band countered with constant renditions of "Dixie."

The unusual North-South pairing of Temple-Tulane had lent considerable appeal to the inaugural Sugar Bowl, the brainchild of a New Orleans sportswriter and local businessmen.

College football teams didn't travel as far or as frequently then. And, for a variety of reasons, not the least of which was segregation, Deep South teams rarely hosted opponents from the East and Midwest.

Recognizing an easy angle, sportswriters in New Orleans and Philadelphia who knew little about the opposing teams ballyhooed the Civil War angle.

It was good marketing and, as it turned out, good football.

Tulane's 20-14 victory over Temple attracted a better-than-anticipated 22,026 to the nine-year-old stadium, built on a former sugar plantation. That same day in Miami, meanwhile, the first Orange Bowl, which featured an un-hyped North-South pairing of Bucknell and Miami, drew only 3,000 fans.

This Saturday, nearly 77 years later, another Temple football team will find itself in another geographically interesting bowl matchup. Steve Addazio's Owls will take on Wyoming in the Gildan New Mexico Bowl.

But in this era when travel difficulties and regional differences have been virtually eliminated, Temple-Wyoming won't be nearly as exotic as Temple-Tulane in that first Sugar Bowl.

Back then, Owls star Dave Smukler showed up at the postgame party with a cigar in his mouth and wearing both a derby and the gaudy seersucker suit bowl organizers had presented Temple's players.

He looked like either an alien or a befuddled tourist.

"It's a helluva thing," the Newark, N.J.-born fullback said of his strange Southern attire, "to come all the way down here and wind up with a pair of pajamas."

Best team in the East

After decades in which the Rose Bowl had a virtual monopoly on postseason college football, the Sugar, Orange, and Sun Bowls all debuted on Jan. 1, 1935. All three are still around.

Boosterish New Orleans Item sports editor Fred Rigby had long been urging the Delta city to host a bowl game.

"What the little city of Pasadena has done with the Tournament of Roses, New Orleans can do a hundred times better," Digby wrote.

Finally, in 1934, with hometown Tulane's success providing impetus, the Mid-Winter Sports Association of New Orleans was created to do just that. On Dec. 2, its board selected the 8-1 Green Wave and Temple.

The Owls, led by Smukler's bruising running, had gone 7-0-2, outscoring opponents that ranged from Texas A&M to Carnegie-Mellon by a margin of 206-37.

Curiously, their final regular-season game, a 0-0 tie with Bucknell at Temple Stadium on Dec. 1, would provide teams for two of those first-year New Year's bowls, the Sugar and Orange.

Organizers called Temple the "best team in the East" even though the Dickinson Poll - AP's rankings debuted that year but were not widely recognized - had several others rated higher, including Pitt, Navy, Colgate, and Columbia. Colgate, by the way, had handed Tulane its only defeat, 20-6, on Nov. 10.

But Temple had some national sex appeal. Its coach was Glenn "Pop" Warner, already a legend and, at 63, nearing his career's end.

"Naturally, we feel honored to play in the Sugar Bowl and to meet a worthy successor to Pop Warner's long run of successful football teams," Tulane coach Ted Cox said.

In the versatile, 6-foot-1, 212-pound Smukler, the imaginative and innovative Warner had the right man for his double-wing attack.

"He was as great a fullback as Jim Thorpe or Ernie Nevers," said Warner, who had coached both of those future Hall of Famers at Carlisle and Stanford, respectively.

As if on cue, Smukler produced the first points in Sugar Bowl history, completing a first-quarter TD pass to running back Dan Testa, then kicking the extra point. In the second quarter he ran for a score, and Temple led, 14-0.

"Dynamite Dave was a wild bull, a mad elephant, a rip-roaring locomotive, a human battering ram," wrote one typically hyperbolic New Orleans sportswriter. "He was 212 pounds of speed and power who asked nothing more of his own line but that it get out of his way and let him run."

Tulane's comeback began on the ensuing kickoff. Monk Simons, who a month earlier had fractured a shoulder on a game-winning punt return, took it 85 yards for a momentum-shifting touchdown.

"The rest of the team set up a wall, and I simply ran down the sideline," said Simons. "No one laid a hand on me."

With under 3 minutes left, the game was tied at 14 when Tulane sealed the win by scoring on a deflected pass.

The home team's 20-14 victory was both popular and successful. Tickets had gone for $1.50 and $3.50, and each team received a share of $27,800, more than double their guarantees.

Tulane also took home a handsome trophy, a delicately carved, silver wine cooler that had been made in London in 1830.

That trophy is still awarded to the winner of the Sugar Bowl, which was played at Tulane until 1975.

For vanquished Temple, it would be another 44 years before it returned to a postseason game, a win in 1979 at the short-lived Garden State Bowl.

Smukler, a third-team all-American that year, played nine years in the NFL, four with the Eagles.

Warner, who died in 1954, would coach at Temple until 1938, compiling a 31-18-9 record in his last stop.

"We lost to a fine squad," Warner said, "but our boys presented themselves well. Perhaps someday we will return."