The Vow Boys
Editor's Note: The following article appeared more than a half-century ago in 1952's Great Moments in Stanford Sports. The mighty fine compilation of outstanding essays has been out of print for more than 50 years, but as we approach another high-stakes battle with the Dirty Trojans, The Bootleg feels compelled to call attention to the legendary group that famously vowed never to lose to the University of Southern California….and never did! We managed to obtain permission from the editor, Professor Peter Grothe [AB '53, AM ‘54] to reprint it here for our readers' enjoyment. At The Bootleg, we not only "bow to no program", but we also refuse ever to forget the gridiron glory of righteous victories over SC.
Pete Allen graduated from Stanford in 1936 in the Vow Boys class. After newspaper work and a period in the Air Force, he became editor of the Stanford Alumni Review in 1946. In 1952 he was named Director of Information and Publications at Stanford.
If every team approached its sport the way the "Vow Boys" approached football, the world of athletics might not be going through the wringer the way it is today.
Over emphasis and the "win-at-all-costs" attitude, it is generally agreed, are what have led to the headaches and reform movements that are now underway.
The "Vow Boys" played football for fun. Their practice field antics are legendary. On Saturdays, they played hard and they played to win, but they never forgot that football is a game.
A lot of people, it's true, don't go along with this slant on football. Certainly a lot of men in the coaching profession don't. As a matter of fact, the Vow Boys are probably the only really great team in modem gridiron history that was coached along lines as free and easy as those followed by (Claude E.] "Tiny" Thornhill (the immediate successor to "Pop" Warner as Stanford head coach). It's a cinch none of the top teams today operate that way - which is not a criticism of football coaching, but merely a symptom of the times.
Thornhill's main idea was that the game belonged to the boys. He believed that the players on his teams were at Stanford primarily to get an education. Football was recreation.
His-practice schedules were not timed to the minute. A man was not at a disadvantage if a lab kept him from reporting until four o'clock. He encouraged and even participated in some of the horseplay at practice. When the afternoon drill was over, things ended until the next afternoon. The big, genial coach didn't believe in long evening skull sessions. Nor did he ring a curfew on his players. He figured they were old enough to know when to go to bed.
There is a famous story about the "Vow Boys" which illustrates the whole point.
Dick Hyland, a one-time Card gridiron great whose exploits are referred to elsewhere in this volume, had been needling the "Vow Boys" in his sports column. Dick, who writes for the Los Angeles Times, didn't like this happy-go-lucky business. In the caustic Hyland style, he had been telling the players they were all wrong and that they should take the game more seriously.
The week before the Big Game Dick turned up at practice with Quentin Reynolds, then of Collier's. They were chatting with friends at the edge of the field when suddenly a phalanx of helmeted figures came roaring down on them.
The boys had spotted Hyland and had decided to run a play over him, and, as many of you will recall, it was an awesome sight to see Reynolds, Hamilton, Rouble, and some of the others lead the ball carrier on a wide end sweep.
Somehow, in the melee, Hyland was the only one in the group who got jostled up much.
There is another version of the story which says the players picked up the sportswriter and tossed him over the eight-foot fence which surrounds the practice field. Such a thing could have happened. In any event, the boys made their point, which was: "When you write that way about us, smile!"
The records books are pretty eloquent on the results the "Vow Boys" attained. They were loaded with talent, it is true; but there are many who believe that their freedom from the tensions and overemphasis so common to football had a lot to do with their success on the gridiron.
In view of all this, it is interesting to make a follow-up study, as the psychologists call it, on what some of the "Vow Boys" are doing now. The idea is to see if there has been any carry over from their gridiron experience into later life.
A study of this kind should properly begin with (Robert) "Bones" Hamilton. Bones was the natural leader of the "Vow Boys". The team chose a captain for each game and somehow "Bones" always got the call for the crucial ones.
half was a master at dealing with referees. He had one angle which few people in
the stands knew about. Bobby
bothered considerably by a trick ankle and time-out would be called fairly
frequently to give him a rest. Just as the ref would gather his breath for the
whistle blast that would start up the game again, "Bones" would walk over, drape
his arm on the official's shoulder and launch into a complicated discussion.
Meantime, Grayson would be
picking up valuable minutes of added rest.
"Bones" served as Alumni Director on the Farm until he entered the Navy. After the war he went into automobile selling, was a big success in the Bay Area and now owns the Buick agency in Van Nuys.
James "Monk" Moscrip was probably the biggest cut-up on the team during the week but every Saturday he turned into an All-America end. "Monk" is now vice-president and general manager of Moscrip Mining Co., a coal mining concern in Ohio.
At the other end of the forward wall was Keith Topping. Topping was co-owner and publisher of the Hanford Sentinel. He was in the thick of the South Pacific fighting for 22 months as a Marine combat correspondent. Now he is retired from business because of illness.
Wes Muller, Vow Boy center, is district sales manager out of Denver for American Brake Shoe. Wes was recently elected to the Executive Board of the Stanford Alumni Association and one of his fellow board members is Bob "Horse" Reynolds. Reynolds, an All-America tackle, is vice-president and general manager of KMPC in Los Angeles, the largest independent radio station this side of the Mississippi. During World War II his job was so vital to communications that he was frozen in it by government order.
took such a liking to football that they stayed
with 'it as
guards, Larry Rouble and Woody Adams,
two of these. Woody, incidentally,
president of the Class of '36.
quarterbacks, Frankie Alustiza and
also followed coaching
Bobby Grayson, who was a debater as well as a fullback, is widely known as a radio sports announcer in the Northwest, although his main occupation is owner and manager of a soft water plant and distributor for the Portland area.
Alf Brandin, "Vow Boys" center, returned to Stanford in 1946 as business manager of the University.
Others who are following a career in business are ex-fullback Ray Todd in the Los Angeles area and Bob Black, a guard, who became a sales executive for Kaiser Aluminum in the Cleveland district. One-time end Alex Trompas is co-owner of a thriving club business in San Diego. He has been a big-league handball player, at one time rating in the first ten nationally. Ray Lewis, who was a quarterback, was with Foster & Kleiser, outdoor advertising firm, before accepting a position with the Anglo Bank in Oakland.
Three men from the team are in the professions. "Buck" Van Dellen, halfback, and George Leedy, end, are successful attorneys. Buck is with the legal department of the Western Pacific in San Francisco and George is in Seattle where he has served as president of the Stanford alumni club. Cab Callaway, who took care, of a tackle post, is a physician in San Francisco.
That about completes the list of the "Vow Boys", or the "Laughing Boys"*, as they were sometimes called. It is obvious that as a group they are doing all right - and it is not unreasonable to assume that the ideas and philosophies they picked up while playing football for Stanford have had something to do with their success in later life.
* Note - Interestingly, the term "Laughing Boys" was applied several years later to refer to the Stanford Basketball team during Hank Luisetti's senior year of 1937-38.
Do you have a "premium" subscription to The Bootleg? If not, then you are seriously missing out on all the top Cardinal coverage we provide daily on our award-winning website. Sign up today for the biggest, broadest, and best in Stanford sports coverage with TheBootleg.com (sign-up)!