Dec. 25, 2010
1952 Team Photo Gallery
MADISON, Wis. -- Fifty-eight years ago in its first Rose Bowl appearance, the Wisconsin Badgers practiced in the cold then sat with starlets in Hollywood and battled defensive juggernaut Southern California.
Wayne Hansen, a 20-year member of the Wisconsin Athletics Development team, has collected a variety of memories about UW's first Rose Bowl from the players' point of view. Hansen contacted nine former members of that first Pasadena-bound team to reminisce about the event. The comparisons and contrasts between today's event and the inaugural Rose Bowl for Wisconsin are noteworthy.
Although tying for the Big Ten Championship with Purdue, it was not known until days later in an announcement made at 10 a.m. that UW found it was the Big Ten representative to the Rose Bowl. Hundreds of students and fans collected outside the capital to celebrate. Governor Kohler was there as well as the band and spirit squad. The buzz in the state was palpable even though the news had to spread via the traditional radio and newspaper media outlets. Only a few homes had television.
"We knew an announcement was going to be made, and when it came out, hundreds of thousands of students jammed the Memorial Union celebrating the announcement.
"Up on the square a few people had put up a stage. Governor Walter Kohler was even there."
While the school began to make preparations, there was also a controversy stirring among the players as to whether the team should go. Several players and an influential figure on the athletic board were opposed to attending bowls. There were only four at the time: Rose, Sugar, Cotton, and Orange. The Big Ten was only eligible for the Rose Bowl.
Several UW senior players consulted with players at Purdue and Illinois who had already been to the Rose Bowl. They described the experience as 'all work and no play,' and said they would never return. The UW players who objected were also concerned about final exams which at that time took place after Christmas break. They met with coach Ivan Williamson and athletic director Guy Sundt and resolved their concerns. The players believe to this day that their Rose Bowl schedule changed dramatically for the better as a result of this controversy.
The team's preparation in the December snow and cold is another major difference from today's bowl planning because there was no Shell or McClain Center. Practicing outside on the north field, hands were chapped and bloody until the team got leather gloves to wear. The team eventually changed their practice location to the Stock Pavilion where there were other obstacles and scents to overcome.
"We were all pleased when we were finally able to find a place to practice indoors," Hansen said. "It was the Stock Pavilion better known as the cow barn and you know why. I mean you knew you were in the cow barn!"
The team flew six or more hours out to Pasadena in a Lockheed prop plane. They arrived two weeks before the event and were met by the Rose Bowl Queen and her court, and Alice of Dairyland and her court. The players were handed oranges as a symbol of California.
They were ushered to the Huntington Hotel, one of the top places to stay in Los Angeles. Although there was daily practice, sometimes two-a-days, and film to watch, they recall having free time to sit by the pool.
"We stayed at the Huntington Hotel, a very classy high-end hotel," Hansen said. "We were very pleased and so impressed. We all remember in the lobby there were a number of extremely well dressed elderly ladies with lots of jewelry playing chess or cards. Over a period of time they came to recognize us as the team from Wisconsin."
The players practiced daily. "At practice, everything was orchestrated, no different from today," Hansen said. " We had days with pads and without pads. We practiced in a public park where they put up temporary canvas fencing for privacy.
"When it came to football is was all business and we worked and watched film. But we had a considerable amount of free time, but organized free time."
With only 50 or so players in the travel party, players were split into groups to tour the town. With Hollywood in its heyday players toured the four movie studios and met tons of stars, many of them from their home state. They also watched the popular Phil Harris Radio Show and later met personally Phil Harris and his wife, actress Alice Faye.
"One day the whole team had lunch at a studio where there was a starlet at every table," Hansen said. "We may not have sat with a name starlet, but a table of four players with a starlet, at our age, that was fun.
"We toured these different studios. We met different movie stars including James Cagney. The players were excited but also a little disappointed to note he had elevator shoes on.
"In general, all the movie stars we met were extremely warm and hospitable. We met Lana Turner, Kathryn Grayson, Hedy Lamarr, Ricardo Montalban. We watched Howard Kiel in the actual production of the movie Calamity Jane.
"And in particular we had fun meeting movie stars who came from Wisconsin. We had lunch with them. Don Ameche, Alan's (Ameche the UW running back) uncle from Kenosha; Fredric March from my hometown of Racine; Dennis Morgan and Spencer Tracey from Milwaukee."
Milwaukee native Fred McMurray approached George (Steinmetz) in the hotel lobby and said he needed 10 tickets for the game and would pay $100 per ticket. The Rose Bowl ticket's actual cost was $5.48 including tax. Each player was issued six tickets with none of the restrictions today's players have regarding their sale. Steinmetz found four other tickets for McMurray and was in awe of holding that much money in his hands before he shared it with his other teammates.
Although select players met with the media frequently there were no media events like those staged for today's teams. Disneyland was not yet built and there was no Lawry's Beef Bowl dinner. The players did have a dinner with their opponent USC on Christmas Eve.
"Christmas Eve they had a party for us at the Biltmore Hotel for both teams," Hansen said. "Bob Hope was the master of ceremonies. Mr. Hope did an outstanding job as MC. It was a blast. George Simkowski played the accordion so the coaches rented an accordion for him and he played and Bob Hope led the group in singing Jingle Bells. "
As the game approached, there was one other outing for the players and that was to see the floats being made for the Rose Bowl Parade.
With the Korean War going on, there was a float for every service unit in the parade. George (Simkowski) and Jim (Temp) were Marines and were admiring that float when the colonel in charge asked if they would like their picture taken on the float. They climbed up for the photo and had one of the best memories of their trip to Pasadena."
The game day schedule has been unchanged since the Rose Bowl began. The kickoff is at 2 p.m. Pacific time. The sun sets over the beautiful nearby mountains, and the Badgers faced a tough opponent. In 1953 it was fourth-ranked USC with the No. 1 defense in the nation. But behind then-sophomore Alan Ameche, the Badgers rolled up more yards in rushing and passing then any opponent that season. But USC prevailed 7-0.
"The game was very physical," Hansen said. "We didn't wear facemasks. There was always a certain amount of punching that went on. And a couple of Southern Cal players had to leave the game because of that (caught punching). We outgained them on the ground, in the air, all statistics we outgained them.
"They had the No. 1 defensive team of the year, and we had the most yards that were ever run against them that day. Alan Ameche alone had like 140 yards, and that was really unusual in those days. He was only a sophomore. We had another sophomore who was an All-American, Don Voss. He had a serious knee injury during the game (second quarter). He never got back in the game and never played another game in his entire career. "
Hansen recognized the Badger fans that came by train and automobile to support the team. He said that very few flew to California. "The dress code was different in those days. There was no sea of red, no 'Camp Randall West.' Without the big licensing deals and businesses like Bucky's Locker Room, there was very little fan clothing. Men wore sport coats and hats to the games and women wore dressy clothes often with a white mum and red 'W' on it."
Even without the dominance of UW fans wearing red, playing before 100,500 people was a memorable site. One player remarked they could not get over how wonderful the card section was and how it represented the colors for both teams.
That first Rose Bowl may have been a loss for the Badgers, but they played well and were proud representatives of the Big Ten Conference. It seemed all was in place to return the next year with Ameche coming back as a junior and a nucleus of talent returning. But it would be seven more years before the Badgers made it back to Pasadena.
On Jan. 1 in Pasadena, just the seventh UW team will walk the same tunnel into history to face TCU for the Rose Bowl. What advice would those 1953 team members give today's team?
Hansen spoke for his teammates, "It's a once in a lifetime experience. Tend to business, do the best you can, enjoy every minute of it while you can. Because memories like this will last, obviously for us, a lifetime."
1952 Team Photo Gallery
Contributors: Wayne Hansen, who had a 30-plus year career in business and retired in Madison, has spent the past 20 years working with UW Athletics in development. He contacted nine other teammates from the 1952 team who all assisted in providing information for this article. They include: Mark Hoegh, Bill Hutchinson, Bob Lamphere, Gary Messner, Kenton Peters, Hal Rebholz, George Simkowski, George Steinmetz, Jim Temp
Written by Tamara J. Flarup, UW Athletic Communications