A Come-Through Story: The 1924 Big Game
John Breier is a former Stanford Daily sports editor and has written for several Idaho newspapers. Breier explains why a lump comes to the throat of old timers when they recall the 1924 Big Game.
Editor's Note: The Bootleg is proud to present this article as it originally appeared in Editor Peter Grothe's outstanding, but long out-of-print 1952 compilation of essays, Great Moments in Stanford Sports. The Bootleg is profoundly grateful to our longtime friend Mr. Grothe for having given us permission to re-publish these wonderful, long-forgotten articles and open them up to a new generation of Cardinal fans.
Greatest Big Game of All Time?
You pay your money and take your choice, in the minds of the later-day fans. Some will swear by the 1947 21-to-18 great game, while others will back the 1950 7-to-7 tie.
But scratch any old timer who was about in 1924 and you will find an expert on every play of that 20-to-20 game. He will bow to no one and accept no other game when it comes to the greatest of the Stanford- California football series. For sheer excitement that game, dear to the hearts of so many from both sides of the Bay, must take its place among the greatest of all time.
and football were a little different in 1924. The student body
some 2,800 and the ratio
was about 1 to 5. This was
shoulder and hip pads.
Helmets were not required and some players from both sides chose the freedom from headgear.
its first year under the coaching of Glenn S. "Pop" Warner,
the center throwing
motion rather than the present-day
It was a meeting of two undefeated teams and to the winner was to go the right of meeting the Four Horsemen of Notre Dame in the Rose Bowl.
Two great football coaches met that day for the first time. Andy Smith led a team that had gone through 47 games without a loss. Stanford under Warner was riding a seven-game winning streak.
It was the largest crowd to witness a Pacific Coast American football game to that time. Pregame opinion as to the outcome was about evenly divided. The advantage, if any, was given to California, for Norm Cleveland, starting Stanford left halfback, had been declared ineligible three days before the match. He was found to be playing in his fourth year of varsity competition, as he had played two minutes in the Nevada game as a sophomore.
Cleveland's ineligibility coupled with the continued loss of fullback Ernie Nevers from ankle injuries seemed to be a heavy blow to the Cards. Warner was known to have built his system about the kicking and passing of Cleveland. Nevers was not to reach the height of his fame until 1925. He had been out of most of the 1924 games because of injuries. .
California's Memorial Stadium was packed with some 80,000 red-hot football fans on that November 22. Some additional thousands viewed the game from the surrounding hillsides and rooftops.
The tension of this game had been mounting all year. Neither team had met really tough opponents; this was to be the final test of ability, stamina, and determination.
The first quarter was almost a letdown. Both teams featured straight- line plunge, end run, "kick-and-hope-to-put-your-opponent-in-the-hole" football.
Fullback Cliff Hey's running and a pass received by Ted Shipkey on the seven-yard line set up the first score of the game in the second quarter. Little Murray Cuddeback, probably the most maligned player of the year, then booted a three-point field goal from the 18-yard line to put Stanford in the lead, 3 to 0.
had been much criticism of Warner's playing Cuddeback during the season and
starting him in this game. He had made only seven
yards from scrimmage during the three Coast Conference games. Many
Bay Area writers thought he should have been relegated to the reserves.
But it was Cuddeback who marked up the next three points after a fierce exchange of down and punts. This came with a half-minute left in the half and from. the 45-yard line. His place kick put the Cards in front 6 to 0 at the intermission.
California was known as a third-quarter team that year and a third- quarter team they were that day. A drive featuring a 47-yard Jim Dixon to "Tut" Imlay pass started on their 19-yard line and ended up with the ball over the goal line. California led 7 to 6.
a short exchange of punts, California took the ball on the Stanford 42-yard line
and began another march. As the quarter ended,
run the ball to the Stanford
the third play of the
fourth quarter the Bears scored again, Dixon to Imlay for 15 yards and a 14 to 6 score.
It is here that Coach Smith removed Dixon and Imlay from the game.
Under the rules of that day a player could not come back into the game until the next quarter had started. This was the fourth quarter.
But the Bear scoring was not over. A Stanford fumble gave Cal the ball on the Stanford 29-yard line. Four successive line bucks by Griffin took him over and the score stood 20 to 6 with but five minutes remaining in the game. Carlson missed his first conversion of the day. But it did not seem to matter at that time.
Thus the stage was set for one of the greatest comebacks in Stanford athletic history.
It must be remembered that the defense was far ahead of the offense in that era. The forward pass had been in use for years, but had not been developed to the point that a team could be expected to score twice in so short a time. And California was famous for its line play. Walter Camp called "Babe" Horrell the "greatest center in the game today."
It is here that our old-timer will grow a little incoherent, and one must go to the record books for what happened in the next five minutes.
Little-known and little-respected Ed Walker came in for Halfback Jim Kelly and projected himself into the limelight with his surprise passing.
Walker to Fred Solomon to the Cal 15-yard line. A loss of seven yards on an end-around. Captain and All-American Jim Lawson makes 4 yards on the same play.
Then it is Walker to Ted Shipkey behind the goal. Cuddeback scores his seventh point of the game and it is California 20 to Stanford 13. It is about here that Cuddeback is knocked out by a collision with a movie camera. They revive him and the game goes on.
Minutes left and it seems that the Cards must take to the air again. But first they send Hey through the line to draw the Cal defense up. George Bogue comes in for Hey and gets one yard up the middle. Cuddeback passes incomplete.
It was a frenzied and unbelieving stand that then saw Walker go back to throw 20 yards to Cuddeback who ran it over for the marker, 20 to 19.
Two minutes left. Stanford approaches the line for the try for point, the linemen just start to get settled when George Baker, who had met and played equal to Cal's great Horrell, centered the ball back for the kick. The surprised Cuddeback put it squarely between the goal posts and it was 20 to 20.
Asked later why he had centered the ball before his team was set and ready, Baker told Coach Warner,
"Why, Pop, I thought the time would run out on us!"
But the point was made and game tied. At the half it was Stanford's game, in the first of the fourth it was all California's, and at the final gun it was nobody's. But Cal's string of wins over Stanford was over.
"Old Fox" of the East had brought his winning ways to the Farm.
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