This Date in Cardinal Football: 11-11-33
Move over, Mark Harmon. Step aside, John Hopkins. Get in line, Rod Garcia and Mike Langford. Make room for "The Baby-Faced Assassin".
Such was the colorful nickname for Bill Corbus, a top performer for Stanford football in the early 1930s when the Indians became the first team to play in three straight Rose Bowls. In a season where he earned consensus All-American honors as a lineman (the 5-foot-10, 195-pound right guard was widely regarded as the best pulling guard of his era), his two field goals against favored USC were the difference in a landmark victory on this date 75 years ago.
Down went the 2:1 favorite Trojans and their 27-game winning streak after Corbus (No. 19) split the uprights twice in the second half as Stanford won 13-7 at the Los Angeles Coliseum in front of 90,000-plus spectators. Many have long since forgotten that Corbus, the only Stanford player to play all 60 minutes that day, actually missed twice from fairly close range earlier in the fourth quarter before kicking his decisive field goals. Running back Bobby Grayson provided the victors' lone touchdown. Corbus, a senior from Vallejo (Calif.), broke a 7-7 tie with four minutes remaining, booting a field goal from the USC 23 to take a 10-7 lead and later adding a second field goal for insurance just before the final gun. And while it was the lynchpin toward a 1933 Pacific Coast Conference championship, Stanford's first victory against legendary coach Howard Jones and USC since 1927, even more significantly, it made good on a solemn and sacred vow.
The story of the famed "Vow Boys" dates back to the 1932 season. Jones' "Thundering Herd" were 13-0 victors at Stanford Stadium, en route to an unbeaten, untied season and a second straight national championship. Stanford's freshmen were especially sore over the varsity's fifth-straight loss to the Trojans. Frosh team quarterback Frankie Alustiza, the pride of Stockton, promised that he and his classmates would never lose to USC as varsity members. Teammate Robert Hamilton, better known to teammates and peers as "Bones", deemed it a "vow." The two were among nine sophomore starters the following season, the first for head coach C.E. "Tiny" Thornhill who had assumed head coaching responsibility after his mentor Glenn Scobey "Pop" Warner returned east to become the head man at Temple.
The concept of Stanford and USC vying for conference dominance may seem like a fond and distant memory, but these were the Jazz Age-circumstances. The Indians reached the Rose Bowl six times in the 12 seasons between the Ernie Nevers-led squad of 1924 and the Vow Boys' senior year of 1935.
Corbus was a Californian, born and bred, but the Stanford team boasted a geographic mix on its roster of stars that year. Grayson arrived on the Farm from Oregon (Portland's Jefferson High to be exact). Hamilton was born in Pennsylvania. Wearing No. 23 at end was James "Monk" Moscrip, Stanford's fastest player and the pride of Adena, Ohio.
The game was critical to the conference race. Stanford had had a tough time in Seattle, dropping a 6-0 decision to the host Huskies on October 28th. Arriving in Los Angeles in early November was a tired and worn-down Stanford side that was 5-1-1 after shutting out the Olympic Club the previous week. Floodwaters in Salinas delayed the team's train five hours, and the Indians arrived at the stadium, which was a year removed from hosting the 1932 Olympics, just an hour before kickoff. Awaiting them was a Trojan program that would win four national titles between 1925 and 1940. Years before becoming an Oscar-winning film editor (for Disney's Mary Poppins), 5'7" 145-pound quarterback Irvine Eugene "Scooter" (later "Cotton") Warburton enjoyed an All-American season at quarterback for host Southern California (6-0-1).
The Vow Boys went a combined 25-4-2 in their three years on the Stanford varsity. The Indians prevailed on Nov. 11, 1933 thanks to the legwork of Grayson, still remembered as one of the program's all-time best running backs. Hamilton was a force during the game as a lead blocker, paving the way for the first-half touchdown. The vowing varsity never again allowed a point to USC, winning by scores of 16-0 at Stanford Stadium in 1934 and 3-0 at the Coliseum in 1935.
A victory over Cal in the Big Game earned the trip to a rainy and muddy Rose Bowl in Pasadena, where Columbia produced a shocking 7-0 upset victory. The Tribe lost another Rose Bowl on New Year's Day in 1935, finally winning the big one over the SMU Mustangs the following season by the score of 7-6.
Corbus, the hero against USC in 1933 went on to other impressive feats at Stanford. In addition to being named an All-American after both his junior and senior seasons, "The Baby Faced Assassin" somehow managed to serve as Stanford's student body president and to graduate magna cum laude as an economics major. He would enjoy a fine career in business, rising to Vice-Chairman of the A&P grocery store chain. The football field at his high school alma mater (Vallejo High) is named "Corbus Field" after its great star. William Corbus was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1957. It seems that delivering on a vow has its rewards.