IDAHO vs. USC –The 1920s Series (Part IV)

IN THIS, THE FINAL INSTALLMENT of Marlin Smith's review of the 1920s Idaho-USC series, the '28 and '29 seasons can best be described as "tumultuous" for UI. From the 1928 home victory over UCLA, to the hiring of a USC All-American as Idaho's head coach in 1929, to the blowout loss to the Trojans in the Coliseum to end the series in '29, the end of the decade was much different than the beginning.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Idaho had just come off a stellar 1927 season and a share of the Pacific Coast Conference Championship and had looked fantastic in PCC competition every year since joining the conference in 1922. The mood was good on the Palouse and Idaho was more than competitive.

As you read this final installment by Marlin Smith, it is interesting to note how similar things such as coaching hires, media scrutiny, and pregame hype were in the 1920s compared to what is seen in college athletics today. Expectations were big in Moscow then, and the media did not let the Vandals off the hook as their fortunes would turn at the end of the decade.

Idaho on the move against Stanford

THE 1928 SEASON – Vandals beat UCLA

Idaho sent a delegation of three to the Pacific Coast Conference (PCC) annual winter meeting, this time held in Portland on December 8th, 9th and 10th. Idaho wanted a heavier PCC schedule in 1927. They would get it, and basically everything else that they asked for at the meeting. It's true that Idaho often got the short end of the stick in the PCC, but not this time.

The Vandals were treated like kings.

In addition to getting a schedule that they were pleased with, Idaho was officially recognized by the Pacific Coast Conference as 1927 Football Co-Champions (yes, it's another one of life's little travesties that Idaho doesn't appear to be listed as such in the current PAC-10 record books). It was even agreed that Idaho would get possession of the Schwabacher Trophy, signifying the PCC championship, during the upcoming football season (Stanford and USC would share it in the months prior).

As for the schedule, Idaho would get three games against California members of the PCC in 1928. Conference newcomer UCLA would visit Moscow, while Idaho would go on the road to face Stanford and USC. For what it's worth, a writer in the Argonaut predicted on May 1st, 1928 that "Grid prospects are bright at USC as Howard Jones has a veteran team." Idaho's student newspaper was also optimistic about Idaho's chances in 1928, saying that the football outlook is particularly bright with a favorable schedule and a strong bunch of players returning. Idaho also had a strong bunch of coaches. With the new addition of Ralph F. Hutchison, the Vandals boasted that their coaching staff was filled with All-Americans. In addition to Hutchinson, who starred at quarterback on a Harvard team in 1899 that was considered to be the best in the land, Idaho had Stewart L. Beam for a line coach. Beam had been a first team All-American guard at California in 1924. Of course, head coach Charles Erb had been a first team All-American quarterback at California in 1923. So, Idaho was going into the 1928 season as the defending conference champs with a favorable schedule and an All-Star coaching staff to boot. What could possibly go wrong?

Glenn "Red" Jacoby

Idaho started off the 1928 season with a game against Montana State in Moscow. In a bit of a surprise, they lost 15 to 13 to the Bobcats. To add insult to injury, they looked terrible in the process. As the Argonaut stewed, "The Montana State game is over and it leaves many Idaho backers with a hazy idea of what Vandal success will be this year. Many are critical and probably justly so. The game was terrible, not only from the viewpoint of the spectators, but from the brand of football displayed by both teams. In short, Idaho played very poor from the first whistle to the end. The tackling of the Idaho team was pathetic, and in no way could be contrasted with the tackling of last year's Vandals. The team appeared slow and groggy. In a talk with eight Montana State players, they too were surprised at the tackling and blocking of the team. The pass defense was decidedly weak and on the aerial toss that decided the game three eligible Montana State men were waiting to recover the ball."

For his part, Coach Erb agreed. The Argonaut said that he was clearly disgusted. "I'm surprised with the showing of my squad. The boys know how to tackle, but for some reason utterly failed to put into practice what they had learned." The next game for Idaho was Gonzaga. As the Argonaut bluntly stated, "Idaho meets Gonzaga Saturday and if they play anywhere near the brand of ball that they played here Saturday, well, it will be hard to explain to the home folks. The Vandals must improve by Saturday or else." Thankfully, Idaho did improve some and managed a tie with Gonzaga by the score of 6 to 6 in front of 6,500 people in Spokane. The Vandals' further eased their fan's concerns with a 26 to 13 win over Whitman. (Whitman had only lost to the Washington Huskies by the score of 7-0 prior to the Idaho game)

If Idaho had a bad team, the word hadn't gotten to the San Francisco bay area yet. Two weeks before Idaho's match-up with Stanford, there was expected to be such a large crowd that Stanford announced they were moving the game away from campus. The Idaho-Stanford game would be played in San Francisco's recently expanded Kezar Stadium. A crowd of 65,000 football fans were expected to watch the Vandals and Cardinal battle, and it would be the first game that Stanford had scheduled to play in the city of San Francisco in 25 years.

The Vandals and their famed pep band would travel to California to face the Stanford Cardinal on Friday, Oct. 19th, 1928. The game had been moved back a day due to the equally huge California-USC game that was to be played that Saturday. It turned out to be a good day – for Idaho's pep band. As was usually the case, Idaho's band was a big hit. In fact, Stanford's 100 piece band yielded the entire halftime to Idaho's 22 talented musicians. They wowed the crowd and played encore-after-encore with a style of music the California crowd seemingly had never heard before. When they finally went back to Idaho's side of the field, the Stanford rooting section gave them a thunderous yell.

As for the Idaho football team, the 1928 Idaho-Stanford contest turned out to be Idaho's Waterloo, at least as far as the Vandals being a marquee draw in the California world of the Pacific Coast Conference. The Vandals were crippled and crushed by Stanford, and stumbled to a 47 to 0 loss. Six Idaho starters went out with injuries and the team was left bewildered when the Cardinal came out in the second half in a "B" formation. See, the first half wasn't that bad. The score was only 7-0 in Stanford's favor at the break. But the Cardinal put in their reserves in the second half and throttled Idaho while playing in a new formation that Idaho wasn't prepared to defend. As the Argonaut described, "A badly bruised and battered Idaho squad, still blinking somewhat from Stanford's barrage of criss-crosses and fake reverses, which defeated them 47-O on Saturday, arrived back in Moscow on Monday to get ready for UCLA."

How bad was the Stanford game for Idaho? Well, the Cardinal had 38 first downs to Idaho's four. Ouch! They also put up 672 yards worth or total offense to the Vandal's 79.

To Idaho's credit, they rebounded against a UCLA team that came into Moscow a bit overconfident. Faced with numerous injuries, Coach Erb was forced to alter his lineup and style of play. As the Argonaut related, "Crippled and without the services of 5 regulars, Idaho's 1928 grid team abandoned percentage football for one afternoon and turned over the confident UCLA team 20 to 6 Saturday afternoon. Idaho unveiled the new "pony" backfield, that did not average 160 lbs to a man, and it did the trick with passes and daring off-tackle plays. Idaho, for the first time this year, resorted to free and loose playing and made a flashy offense that rolled up 402 scrimmage yards."

Now, this game turned out to be important in the annals of Idaho football history because it was the only time that the Vandals have beaten UCLA. However, in 1928 having Idaho beat the newest kid on the PCC block was no big deal. The Vandal faithful were looking forward to their next game, which was the annual clash with rival Washington State. The "Battle of the Palouse" was what was important if you were an Idaho fan.

Prior to the WSC game, Idaho's starters who had been injured in the Stanford game were back and practicing in secrecy on the Moscow campus. Coach Erb was planning a "mystery attack" for the Cougars. The oddsmakers determined the Vandal-Cougar clash to be an even affair. There was the usual big buildup to the game. A Homecoming crowd of over 12,000 would fill the stands at MacLean Field in Moscow in order to see it. So, what did they end up witnessing? The crowd would watch a total Vandal debacle on many fronts. As for the game, Idaho threw five interceptions and two were returned for touchdowns. The statistics weren't that lopsided, but the final score was. The Cougars beat the Vandals 26-0, which didn't sit well with the Idaho faithful.

Also upsetting to some was Idaho's performance in the stands. The contest featured a near riot that started when an Idaho student ran off with a megaphone belonging to one of WSC's yell leaders. He was overtaken and captured near the Idaho stands. Spectators from both sides joined in pursuit and in the melee that followed several rooters caps were stolen from WSC men. Several fights broke out although not all of them were caused by Idaho students. High school students and others not associated with the University got into it. However, the crowd of 12,000 saw the initial incident of the megaphone and blamed everything that followed on the Idaho students. This included the Argonaut which blasted the Idaho student body for being poor sports.

After the game in an opinion piece called "Idaho Apologizes", the Argonaut had this to say after describing the events of the near riot. "Washington State's sportsmanship shows up Idaho to poor advantage. Members of the Idaho team had nothing but praise for the clean way in which WSC played. They say the Cougars played a hard game of ball, but fair. When Sammy Perkins was carried off the field, Teddy Rohwer, quarterback and captain of the WSC team, telephoned the infirmary after the game to learn the extent of his injuries."

For the record, Idaho's Perkins had been knocked out cold for 15 minutes but otherwise wasn't seriously injured. Coach Erb, however, wouldn't recover from the hit that the Cougars had given the Vandals nearly as easily. The Cougars did have reason to be concerned about Perkin's health though. 1928 was actually a "better" year in that only six college football players from around the country were killed in action.

The Idaho team recovered from the Washington State loss well enough to go over to Missoula and hand a poor Montana team a 21 to 6 loss. This did little to help Idaho's perceived chances in the Vandals' next game, which would be USC. Even the Argonaut would say that Idaho had little hope. To make matters worse for the underdog Vandals, the Idaho team came down with the flu and Coach Erb would have only 19 men to face the mighty Trojans. To be sure, most people figured that Idaho would get soundly beaten by the powerful Trojan team that would go on to win the 1928 National Championship. This perception evidently caused a lot of people to stay home because the contest drew a measly 10,000 fans to the Los Angeles Coliseum, which was USC's lowest attended game of the year. This was a far cry from the big crowds that used to turn out when the Vandals battled USC. However, more people should have gone to see the ballgame because the Vandals would come to play.

Vandals battle USC in L.A. Memorial Coliseum

In one of the great performances ever put forth by a Vandal team, Idaho's undermanned unit held USC to a scoreless first half. This game was heavy in trench warfare, and Idaho held the Trojans on downs three times when they were in scoring position. For their part, the Vandals threatened to score twice in the first half, which ended in a 0-0 tie.

In the second half, the Trojan's reserve halfbacks would get the upper hand. Still, Idaho fought. For instance, Idaho completed 10 out of 14 passes for 139 yards on the day. Also, USC would end up with 212 total yards of offense to Idaho's 159. Idaho's Big Bill Kershisnik ran so hard when he scored for Idaho that he pushed the Trojans defensive front 6 yards across the goal line. It wouldn't be enough however, and USC would win the game by a 28-7 margin. Nevertheless, Idaho had once again impressed the Los Angeles area fans and media.

After the USC game, the annual PCC meetings commenced in December and Idaho once again would come away pleased. According to Coach Erb, "the feeling toward Idaho at the meeting was the very best." The Vandals would again get 5 PCC games to play on their schedule, including a game against Southern California. The game would be played in Los Angeles, but the Trojans had offered to come to Moscow, even giving Idaho the choice of dates. Idaho turned them down, evidently so they could make more money in Los Angeles.

Now, this writer cringes at the thought of what hosting the defending National Champions in Moscow could have done for the long-term fortunes of Vandal football. It's yet another example of how Idaho has made some poor decisions over the years that prevented them from being as big-time as they should have been. But, that's another story for another time.

The fact of the matter is that USC was willing to travel to Moscow in 1929 but Idaho said no. As for why USC made the offer, according to Coach Erb, "The clean, hard game that the Idaho team played against the Trojans was the reason given by the USC authorities for their offer." It's unfortunate that Idaho didn't take them up on it, as the Vandals would find out later in the 1929 season. Not finding a way to make hosting the defending National Champions "work out" in Moscow could only lead to bad karma.

When Coach Erb arrived back in Moscow after the PCC meetings, he was confronted with a barrage of rumors saying that he had resigned. He proclaimed to not have any idea where people were getting this information and denied it completely. His exact quote was "I have not resigned as head football coach, and the rumors in the newspaper articles to that effect are all wrong. I can't understand such publicity and I don't know how it originated."

He would soon find out!

Where there's smoke there's usually some fire. When Idaho students returned from Christmas break, they received the news that Charles Erb was out as the Idaho coach. His resignation would officially take place on September 1st, 1929, prior to the start of the football season. In the paper, Erb made a brief statement complimentary to the University of Idaho but otherwise made no public comment regarding his "resignation." The result of all this was that Idaho would be looking for a new head coach to lead the team during the 1929 season. Obviously, the Vandals would be looking for a winner.

Charles Erb may have ignored it, but the fact was that there had been much speculation regarding his future at Idaho for weeks. The most talked about replacement for him was none other than Robert L. "Matty" Mathews, who was still popular at Idaho and viewed by many as the best coach that the Vandals had ever had. Mathews had left St. Louis the previous year and was back in the Northwest. He had been in attendance at the Idaho-WSC game, which no doubt stoked the fires of his return. However, Idaho official Irving W. Jones said that no deal had been made and that there were a large number of applications coming in from all over the country for the position, particularly from the west.

For his part, Charlie Erb remained a class act and whatever the reasons were for the Idaho administration to make their move it wasn't because of any problem between Erb and the team. In fact, the members of the Vandal team got together and purchased parting gifts for the coaching staff. They surprised their former coach at his home one Sunday and presented him with a nice black Gladstone traveling bag. Idaho's assistant coaches received a leather billfold from their former players. Coach Erb seemed moved by the gesture. "No matter who is football coach next fall, I hope you men will give him the same fine cooperation and backing that you've given me. Never have I seen such wonderful team spirit as has been displayed in my three years at Idaho."

The search process went on, and so did the great speculation regarding who the next coach would be. One tidbit that leaked out is that Harry Trotter, the track coach at California, had been approached by Idaho earlier in the fall about being the new Vandal coach. But, he declined because Coach Erb had been a former pupil of his. So, Idaho's President Kelly had been on the trail of a new coach for longer than most people had thought. He was still taking his time. In his words, "I am taking a long time in making the selection in the hopes that Idaho can obtain a coach of which everyone will be proud. I have recommendations from individuals in all parts of the country."

Finally, on February 28th the University of Idaho announced the name of their new head football coach and athletic director. His name was Leo B. Calland, otherwise known as "Lucky Leo." Calland would come to Idaho from the University of Southern California, where he played and coached. His most recent duties for the Trojans had been coaching the freshmen football team, being the head men's basketball coach, and the director of intramural affairs.

Idaho names Leo B. "Lucky" Calland, right, Idaho Head Football Coach, 1929.

Among those praising Leo Calland and recommending him for the Idaho job were R.B. Von Kleinsmid, the president of USC, W.O. Hunter, the director of athletics at USC, Howard Jones, the head football coach at USC, William H. Spaulding, the head football coach at UCLA, and Elmer C. Henderson, USC's former head football coach who Calland had played under. (Henderson was now coaching at Tulsa) So, Leo came well recommended from those in Southern California! Even USC professors got into it. Professor Hugh Willett, chairman of the faculty committee on athletics at Southern California had this to say. "I cannot speak too highly of Calland as a man, as a coach, and a physical director. He possesses an outstanding character and personality."

The Argonaut gushed over the selection of Calland, saying "Idaho's campus buzzed with excitement last night over appointment of a new head football coach and athletic director, Leo B. Calland, a Californian who comes to the Gem State with the highest possible recommendations. He was respected and admired by thousands on the Southern California campus, and will continue so at Idaho."

Yes, Leo did appear to be lucky indeed. He was the USC football captain and an All-American guard for the Trojans in 1922, the year that USC beat Penn State 14-3 in the first intersectional contest that they had ever played. After graduation, he coached the Trojan freshman football team and they beat California and Stanford in the same year for the first time in history. From there, he moved to Whittier College and made a name for himself coaching and administrating various sports. USC asked him back and in his first year as the head basketball coach the Trojans won the PCC for the first time. According to a Trojan source, "He lifted basketball at Southern California out of the dreary depths of defeat to the highest possible point of success in a single year."

Oh, and when he returned to coach freshman football at USC they beat Stanford and California in the same year for the second time in history. So, as you can see, Lucky Leo seemed to have a magic touch. At the age of 28, he would be in charge of not only football at Idaho, but all of Vandal athletics.

The Galloping Swede - Idaho's "Galloping Swede" was Waldermar "Pete" Pederson, and he was part of Idaho's "Pony Backfield" of that era. The Pony Backfield was essentially a downsized attack made up of small, light, and fast athletes. Pederson chose to play without headgear, an optional piece of equipment back in the day.

THE 1929 SEASON – Blowout loss in Los Angeles

When Leo Calland was introduced as the new Idaho coach, he had this to say. "Ever since Idaho joined the Pacific Coast Conference in 1922, I have watched those fighting groups of Vandals, particularly when they played on California soil. If Idaho continues to hold that same spirit which has always characterized her California playing, we can have a winning team." For the most part, Calland didn't have much to say though as spring football approached. Everyone wanted to know what his style of play would be. He laughed and said that "it's more of a conglomeration" of basic lineups that Howard Jones used and what he called "Calland Specials" that have worked out the best in his experience. Calland continued to be low key as the 1929 football season approached. He was quoted as saying "I hope that Montana State sends over a tough bunch again this year. We want to know early in the season what we have and the Bobcat game will give us an opportunity to shed some light on the subject."

The Argonaut had a more positive outlook. The Idaho student newspaper proclaimed that Vandal gridiron prospects were the best that they had been in years with plenty of talent and depth available. The team would be lighter than they had been during the past few years, averaging less than 185 lbs per man, but quicker. It was also reported that most of the sportswriters on the coast had Idaho down as the dark horse in the conference. For his part, Calland said that Idaho would specialize in offense since that was the best defense. He also seemed pleased with the way the team was developing during the first week of fall practice. They only had two weeks of practice to prepare for a tough Montana State team that was coming to Moscow to open the Idaho season for the fourth year in a row. A lot of people really didn't know what to expect. Would Idaho be ready?

The optimistic Argonaut had predicted a 21-7 win over Montana State. Remember, the Vandals had lost to the Bobcats the year before. Well, the Argonaut was wrong. Idaho totally dominated Montana State in 1929 and won by the score of 39-6. The only downside is that Idaho suffered a couple of key injuries.

Next on the Vandal schedule was Whitman. The Vandals routed the Missionaries 41 to 7. You'd think that the Vandals would be happy. They weren't. As the Argonaut reported, "Gloom has descended on the Vandal camp following the injury of a few first string men and several reserves." Worse, a surprisingly strong Montana team was coming into town. In their most recent game, they had played the Washington Huskies to a 6 to 6 tie. The Idaho camp was very worried. They shouldn't have been. The Vandals held Montana to only 2 first downs and won decisively, 19-0.

Next up for the high flying Vandals was a couple of trips down to Oregon to play both Oregon and Oregon State. The Argonaut billed the first game against the Webfoots as a "classic battle between two fairly even teams, which might decide the 1929 football supremacy of the Northwest." They went on to say "Some of the best football games ever witnessed in the Pacific Northwest have been provided by the Oregon and Idaho elevens. The scoreless ties of 1923 and 1927 were notable exhibitions of football on the part of both teams. This year's contest between the two teams promises to uphold the tradition of Oregon-Idaho history for thrilling games." The headlines "Fight On Old Idaho!" were written in the Argonaut as "the silver and gold horde" got ready to invade the state of Oregon.

"Going to Portland?" was the question asked all around campus prior to the Oregon game. The Vandals were traveling in force to the battle to be played on Multnomah Field. The team would leave the Union Pacific train station to the sounds of "Here We Have Idaho" after a huge pep rally for a sendoff. It was called "one of the most enthusiastic ever given to a departing Idaho team." But, somewhere along the way to the City of Roses, Lucky Leo's luck would run out.

The game, played before a crowd of 18,962 fans, started out well for Idaho as the Vandals scored first. Then, the Oregon offense under the direction of their "Flying Dutchman" QB named Johnny Kitzmiller took to the air and Idaho had no answer. The final score would be Oregon 34 and Idaho 7. It was a bad loss to be sure, but Idaho remained optimistic. In fact, they had 9 first downs in the game compared to Oregon's 4. And, they had outrun the Webfoots 191 yards to 88. From the Idaho perspective, they still had a good team, they just had to fix their pass defense. Therefore, the Vandals spent all of their practice time during the coming week on pass defense and went into the game in Corvallis against Oregon State confident of a win.

The experts gave only a slight nod to the Beavers. But, the dam broke for Idaho in the game and Oregon State ran wild. They would end up with 330 yards of offense to Idaho's 62 yards. The Vandals would come away from the game with a lot of injuries but no points. Oregon State had handed Idaho a crushing 27-0 conference defeat.

Idaho advances the ball at Oregon State, 1929.

How were the Idaho fans taking this turn of events? The answer is not well. When the team returned from the Oregon game, only 3 or 4 students were at the station to greet the team. It was reported that they gave half-hearted glances at the players who "had the nerve to lose to Oregon." This reception upset some on campus who wanted the team to get a warm welcome when they returned no matter whether they had won or lost. So, there was a movement on campus to give the team a bigger welcome after the Oregon State loss. But, only three members of the pep band and 12 to 15 students bothered to show up when the team arrived at the station. The band members tried to strike up a few strains of the fight song but soon gave up. The Argonaut said that "it was far from noble and humiliating to the team." The team didn't have much time to wallow in self-pity though. The Idaho-Washington State game was next.

Hope has always sprung eternal for the Vandals in their ancient rivalry with the Cougars. The 1929 game would be no exception to this rule. The Vandals had some real reasons to cheer up about their chances. They had two weeks to prepare for the game and all but one starter would be back in the lineup. This led to the belief that the Idaho team that had won their first three games would show up and beat the Cougars. Also, WSC did have a game the week before the Idaho game. It turned out to be a tough 9 to 0 win over Oregon State. So, the Vandals felt that they had the advantage since they were rested. As usual, the festivities prior to the WSC game were in full swing and a parade and "giant" pep rally took place. The Argonaut admitted that Washington State was favored in the game. Yet, they also had these words to say which tend to cause a smile in the year 2007. "Washington State has every advantage as far as dope is concerned. However, the Idaho-WSC game is a game that dope may not affect and frequently doesn't."

Prior to the game, the headlines told the story. They were "Idaho's Vandals Gunning For Cougars Tomorrow", "Vicious Elevens Strain At Leash; Excitement Reigns" and "Gigantic Rally Marks The Eve Of Cougars Doom." All of this optimism prior to the 32nd "Battle of the Palouse" wasn't all for naught. At halftime, the game stood at Idaho 7 and Washington State 7. But, at the start of the second half the clouds blackened and a cold drizzly rain began to fall. This was fitting because a parade of WSC reserves came at Idaho in full force and the second half would be a dark one for the Vandals. The final score turned out to be Washington State 41 and Idaho 7. Each team would end up with fifteen first downs. WSC out-gained Idaho 345 yards to 215 years. Nevertheless, the scoreboard told the tale. Idaho had been trounced by their rivals.

This time the Argonaut didn't have such nice things to say about the Cougars as far as sportsmanship goes! They admitted that both Idaho and WSC students were to blame when the cap stealing turned into several minor brawls that were in progress just outside the stands before the final gun went off. But, they couldn't forgive WSC for how they treated an Idaho yell leader. They said "The WSC crowd was foolhardy in the extreme. One of Idaho's yell leaders, trusting to the gentlemanly conduct of the Cougar man, attempted to walk from the field to the special train with a young lady. Taking advantage of the unprotected situation, a score or more of our WSC friends jumped on him, grabbed his megaphone, and almost got away with his jacket." For their part though, the members of the Idaho pep band were good sports. They performed at the game in flashy new yellow jackets, silver colored trousers and military style caps. As usual, they played the Idaho songs to the Vandal section. Then, as was written in the Argonaut "The Idaho pep band, in a sudden flare of sportsmanship, marched across the field and played the Cougar war song "Fight, Fight, Fight For Washington State!"

By now, you might be thinking that things just couldn't get any worse for Coach Calland in his inaugural season with the Vandals. Well, they did! One of the things that make college football so interesting is all of the subplots that are often imbedded into the game. Now, you might remember that we last left Idaho's ex-coach "Matty" Mathews when he was trying to get the Vandal job back after he had returned from St. Louis. But, Idaho chose not to hire him. So, where did Mathews end up? As luck would have it for Leo Calland, he landed just up the road and became the head coach of the Gonzaga Bulldogs. Furthermore, he'd be leading Gonzaga into Moscow to take on the Vandals in Idaho's homecoming game. Yes, he had something to prove and the Argonaut said that "Matty would give plenty to beat Idaho." For his part, Coach Calland sensed the importance of this game. According to the Argonaut, "Aided by a battery of flood lights and a ‘ghost' ball, Coach Leo Calland and his assistants have been working long after dark each evening in preparation for the invasion of Gonzaga's horde led by R.L. "Matty" Mathews, former Vandal coach and producer of the great Idaho elevens of the 1924 and 1925 seasons." Whatever Calland cooked up under the lights, it wouldn't be enough.

It wasn't that Idaho didn't try. There was a homecoming rally that almost every member of the Idaho student body attended. At the big bonfire, flames would shoot 60 feet into the air. Even Idaho's Governor H.C. Baldridge attended the rally prior to the game. The game itself was expected to be attended by over 10,000 fans. So, Idaho's rookie coach was in a tough position too as he led the Vandals against Idaho's own legendary coach. He no doubt wanted to show everyone that he was the right choice for the Idaho job. He didn't succeed. In what had to have been a devastating blow to Coach Calland, the Argonaut started off their post-game article with these words. "Matty" Mathews' Gonzaga Bulldogs outsmarted the Vandals Saturday." Ouch! Yes, Matty had come up with a few tricks to get the victory for his Gonzaga team. The final score was Gonzaga 20, Idaho 14.

But, hey, at least Coach Calland could always go home. The only problem was that this time he'd be going home to face his old team, the Southern California Trojans. The 1929 Idaho-USC game would be billed as "Master verses Pupil." The problem for the pupil was that the master, Howard Jones, had one heck of a team. The defending National Champions had only lost two games on the season. Nibs Price's California team had beaten the Trojans 15 to 7. Then, the week before the Idaho game, USC had lost a very tough game to Notre Dame, 13-12. So, the Trojans were no doubt in a foul mood when the Vandals came to town.

USC on the attack in 1929.

In front of 20,000 Los Angeles fans, the Trojans would show no mercy. There's just not much to say about a game in which one team scores 72 points and the other scores 0. Yet, that's what happened. When the Vandals walked off the Los Angeles Coliseum turf on November 23rd, 1929, they had suffered the worst loss in Idaho's football history.

The following week Idaho would bounce back, as the Vandals always do.

On the return trip, they stopped in Pocatello for a game against the University of Idaho's Southern Branch. There had been "considerable agitation" in Southern Idaho for the Vandals to go down and play a game there, so Coach Calland decided to oblige. In a game full of fanfare, the Vandals took out their frustrations on an overmatched Tiger squad by the score of 41 to 7. The strange game was played in front of 3,000 fans, many of whom cheered for both teams.

After the season was over, Idaho's Gordon "Spec" Diehl matched the feat of his brother when he played in the East-West All-Star game in San Francisco.

However, none of these small achievements could take away the sting of what had transpired earlier in the Vandal season. Getting soundly defeated by their Northwest rivals was a real blow. Then, those 72 points that USC scored on Idaho had a lasting effect on the Vandals' psyche and willingness to venture into the California PCC world. Yes, Idaho would return to Los Angeles in 1930 to face UCLA, losing 20 to 6. Nevertheless, the crushing defeat by the Trojans in 1929 helped turn the Vandal swagger of old into a more tepid attitude that questioned the wisdom of Idaho trying to compete against the very best in the college football world.

Idaho would compete as a member of PCC until the league fell apart in 1959, but they would play the California schools only thirteen more times after their loss to USC in 1929, winning only one contest over Stanford by the score of 19 to 16 in 1947. The Vandals would never challenge the Trojans on the football field again as a PCC member.


[Prior to Idaho's 38-10 defeat at USC in 2007], it had been 78 years since Idaho last walked off the Los Angeles Coliseum field in a bitter defeat after a game against USC, a lifetime to most people. The college football "dopesters" of the 1920s and the college football gurus of today's world would certainly agree that Idaho doesn't have a ghost of a chance in the game. They might be right.

However, should the ball for some unknown reason bounce Idaho's way more often than the pundits predict, keep in mind the spirit of the Idaho boys of the 1920s, who battled the Trojans hard and expected to win, yet never did. The Vandals have been there before, and somewhere in that vast stadium the ghosts of Idaho's football past might be lurking still, waiting for one more chance to show what they can do on the national stage.

Maclean Field on the campus of the University of Idaho, west bleachers, 1930.

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