December 7 Put 1941 Rose Bowl Snub In Perspective

Texas was supposed to play in the 1941 Rose Bowl, as head coach Mack Brown mentioned Sunday, but "something happened" that kept the Longhorns from participating. This is what happened, although the world-changing events of December 7 quickly put football into its proper perspective.

Heading into the seventh game of what was a watershed year for the program, Texas stood undefeated and ranked No. 1 nationally following impressive wins over Oklahoma, Arkansas, LSU and Colorado. Next up was a contest against a Baylor team that had just lost 48-0 to Texas A&M. The Horns had outscored their previous opponents, 230-27, including three shutouts, and would be featured the following week on the cover of Life magazine (to this day the only collegiate team so honored).

The national cover boys were considered one of the finest ensembles of college football players of that era, if not the finest. So dominant and renowned was this Longhorn squad that one Waco sports writer predicted that Baylor would lose 50-0 only if Texas played its third string.

The final verdict: a 7-7 tie in which Texas’ only score was a 10-yard drive following a Baylor shanked punt. So shocking was the outcome that, eight years later, the Associated Press labeled it the biggest upset in any sport in Texas during the first half of the 20th century.

Still reeling from the tie, Texas fell the following Saturday against TCU, 14-7, when the Horned Frogs scored on a pass during the final 10 seconds. Now, the Horns faced a trip to undefeated and No. 2 Texas A&M where Texas had not won since 1923.

Desperate to end the 18-year drought at College Station, a group of Texas fans consulted an Austin fortuneteller who instructed them to burn red candles to break the jinx. To this day, UT students gather the week of the A&M game for the annual Hex Rally: a tradition that began with the 1941 road trip to College Station.

Probably more motivated by consecutive setbacks, Texas smothered the Aggies 23-0, and they would not lose again to their in-state rival for a decade. Even though the Horns had a remaining home game against Oregon, the Horns were so convinced of a Rose Bowl berth that the school turned down an Orange Bowl invitation. Here’s what happened:

Just before the Texas game, Oregon dropped a 12-7 decision to Oregon State late in the fourth quarter. As such, Rose Bowl officials opposed a match between Oregon State and a team that could lose to the team that lost to Oregon State. Instead of Texas, they picked Duke and moved the game from California to Durham, North Carolina, out of concern that Japan might bomb any large gathering on the West Coast.

Following the snub, a livid Longhorn team crushed Oregon 71-7 in Austin on December 6 to finish No. 4 nationally in the final AP rankings. But less than 20 hours after the final whistle, Japanese aircraft launched their offensive 230 miles north of Oahu and bore down on the U.S. naval station at Pearl Harbor.

And in the eyes of Texas, the frustration over the loss of a Rose Bowl date would be forever replaced by the date that will live in infamy. Guard Chal Daniel*, one of four Longhorn All-Americans on that 1941 squad, would die in the crash of an Army trainer plane in 1943.

Now, 63 years later, the Longhorns play in a stadium whose very name honors Texans who paid the ultimate sacrifice for their country. They also prepare, at last, for the Rose Bowl game that was within the team’s grasp decades ago when they play Michigan for the first time in Texas’ first-ever BCS Bowl at 3:30 p.m., January 1, in Pasadena, California.

*The original version of this story misidentified Chal Daniel as Jack Crain.

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