Kenny vs Grenny Highlights Historic 1939 UCLA vs USC Clash

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(Associated Press photo – The Milwaukee Journal, December 10, 1939) …… USC Trojans star quarterback GRENVILLE LANSDELL (center clutching football) is tackled after a short gain by UCLA fullback / linebacker BILL OVERLIN as the Bruins’ consensus All-America left halfback KENNY WASHINGTON (# 13) arrives on the scene during the titanic Pacifc Coast Conference clash witnessed by the sellout crowd of 103,300 spectators at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on the second Saturday of December in 1939.
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During the week leading up to historic UCLA BRUINS vs USC TROJANS contest in early December of 1939, there certainly was no shortage of storylines for the contemporary sports writers to expand upon in all the various newspapers. The Trojans’ irresistible strength at the line of scrimmage would be forced reckon with the Bruins’ blinding speed in the backfield. The staying power of UCLA’s top shelf players would be severely tested by USC’s tremendous overall depth in this pre-World War II era of limited substitution.

Perhaps the most intriguing match-up of the landmark UCLA vs USC game was that of the two field generals for the respective sides, Bruins left halfback KENNY WASHINGTON and Trojans quarterback GRENVILLE LANSDELL, each of whom had already been named First Team All-Pacific Coast in both 1938 as well as in 1939.

Although Lansdell was always listed as a quarterback in accordance with the Trojans’ offensive terminology, the simple fact was this position, that of the team’s primary ball-handler on virtually every play, was the equivalent of the UCLA left halfback in USC’s version of the standard Carlisle Single Wing formation. Therefore, it is extremely relevant to directly compare the offensive statistics of Lansdell with those of his counterpart for the Bruins, the prolific Washington. Over the course of their respective three-year collegiate careers, both Los Angeles-based ball-handlers amassed impressive rushing and passing statistics that consistently ranked Lansdell and Washington among the best of all other backfield players in the country.

career rushing (1937-1939)
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1,915 yards … 4.2 avg … 14 tds … Kenny WASHINGTON, UCLA
1,621 yards … 4.6 avg … 18 tds … Grenville LANSDELL, USC

It is fair to point out that Lansdell carried the ball from scrimmage roughly one hundred times less than Washington during his three seasons because it was routine practice for USC head coach HOWARD JONES to regularly rotate three and sometimes four quarterbacks in any given game in order to thoroughly wear opponents down. But, by the very same token, it is also important to note that, by playing far fewer minutes per game than the “Kingfish” (and, thus, not having to expend as much energy chasing and tackling runners on defense), “Grenny” had the distinct advantage being able to carry the football with far fresher legs as a result of having chances to rest on the sidelines over the course of any given contest. Perhaps even more pertinent, as well, is the fact that, with Trojans such as two-time All-America guard HARRY SMITH and a host of other All-Pacific Coast caliber linemen constantly on hand to open holes, Lansdell clearly benefited from higher quality blocking over the course of his collegiate career than did UCLA’s Washington.

career passing (1937-1939)
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1,268 yards ….. 92/228 att-comp … 14 tds … Kenny WASHINGTON, UCLA
1,247 yards … 114/260 att-comp ….. 8 tds … Grenville LANSDELL, USC

Even before having played his first collegiate game for UCLA as a sophomore in 1937, Kenny Washington had been advertised as a rocket-armed passer and the product of Abraham Lincoln High School in Los Angeles did not disappoint. Kingfish cemented that reputation in the last game of his sophomore campaign by throwing two long touchdown passes to right halfback HAL HIRSHON in the fourth quarter of the Bruins’ intra-city battle with USC that year. The second of those spectacular scoring strikes to Hirshon was a Herculean heave that traveled 62 yards in the air — this was thought to be the eighth-longest forward pass completion in collegiate football history up to that point in time.

As a senior in 1939, Washington connected with first-year UCLA right halfback JACKIE ROBINSON for another memorable long-distance touchdown toss in the Bruins’ fifth game of the season against the Oregon Ducks. The so-called “Miracle Eye” camera photos documented that, this time, Washington’s pass went 52 yards in the air before being hauled in by the speedy Robinson. Twenty years later, in a speech given to the Football Writers Association in Chicago just before the beginning of the 1959 NCAA campaign, United State Vice President RICHARD M. NIXON stated that this particular Washington-to-Robinson touchdown was “the best executed play I ever saw.”

Indicative of his tendency to throw the ball downfield, Washington’s favorite target all throughout his career was big WOODY STRODE, the reliable left end named honorable mention All-America by the Associated Press in both 1938 and 1939 who averaged an impressive 27.0 yards on five touchdown receptions during his three varsity seasons for UCLA.

In direct contrast to his Westwood counterpart, Grenny Lansdell was very much a short to medium range passer who often targeted one of his three backfield mates in the flat. Although Lansdell led USC in passing yards for three consecutive seasons from 1937 thru 1939, it was always teammate DOYLE NAVE who was actually considered to be the Trojans’ best throwing quarterback during this same time period. Nave, who came off the bench late in the fourth quarter of the 1939 Rose Bowl Game and produced the touchdown pass which defeated unbeaten and untied Duke University, would be the sixth overall player chosen when picked by the Detroit Lions in the first round of the 1940 National Football League Draft — Lansdell was tenth player selected when tabbed by the New York Giants.

Very much a reflection of Lansdell’s passing tendencies was the fact that it was a backfield player who paced USC in receptions during each of his three seasons :

1937 … 10 rec … 125 yrd … 12.5 avg … FB – Bill SANGSTER
1938 … 11 rec … 112 yrd … 10.2 avg … HB – Bob HOFFMAN
1939 … 16 rec … 128 yrd ….. 8.0 avg … FB – Bob PEOPLES

One very positive by-product of this less dramatic passing style was that the Pasadena Junior College transfer who was a Second Team All-America selection of both the United Press and the NEA Sports Syndicate in 1938 just did not turn the football over very often. Indeed, the would-be USC Hall of Fame inductee tossed only 12 interceptions in 260 career pass attempts (4.62%) and had a noticeably lower percentage than Washington’s (10.96%). Lansdell did have two passes picked off by the Blue Devils in the 1939 Rose Bowl Game that the Trojans rallied to win 7-3 on the strength of four straight pass completions from Nave, the seldom-used junior who was the fourth different USC quarterback to be sent in against Duke.

Although a competent safety in USC’s 6-2-2-1 defensive formation, Lansdell was nowhere close to being the dominant force on the other side of the football that Washington was. The tireless Bruins star thought absolutely nothing of playing the full 60 minutes and was consistently cited by the contemporary press for being involved on a great number of tackles game in and game out. As events ultimately unfolded in the 1939 UCLA vs USC contest, Washington intercepted a long pass downfield by Lansdell on the Bruins 10-yard line to kill a Trojans threat in the first quarter.

Of course, the two seniors, Lansdell and Washington, were going head to head for third time in their respective collegiate careers when the # 3 ranked Trojans and # 9 ranked Bruins met at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum to decide which of the two unbeaten teams would be appearing at the 1940 Rose Bowl Game in Pasadena. Lansdell had run for two touchdowns and passed for another when USC were barely able to fend off late-charging UCLA 19-13 in 1937. A year later, Washington connected with Strode for a touchdown to give the Bruins an early lead in the first quarter but an second quarter interception returned 52 yards for six points by second-string left end AL KRUEGER (the very same player who went on to catch the winning touchdown pass in the 1939 Rose Bowl Game) sparked the Trojans to a runaway 42-7 triumph.

Even before UCLA and USC squared off in 1939, the sportswriters who comprised the ‘national media’ and other fooball experts on who sat on the selection committees had, for the most part, made up their collective minds on the question of who had been the more influential player that season, Kenny Washington or Grenny Lansdell.

Five major organizations (the International News Service, the United Press, The Sun newspaper of New York, NEA Sports Syndicate and Collier’s magazine) had already announced their choices for their respective All-America teams. The All-America selections of two more highly respected entities (the Associated Press and Newsweek magazine) appeared in the local newspapers across the country on the same day that the Bruins collided with the Trojans. And the overall results were unmistakably clear.

The clearly underrated Washington was honored as Second Team All-America by every major organization listed above with the exception of Collier’s magazine, who traditionally named a single squad of eleven players, whereas, by comparison, Lansdell was ‘only’ cited on the Second Team of Newsweek and the Third Team of the Associated Press.

(One day after the monster UCLA – USC clash in front of a record-breaking number of spectators, Lansdell was lauded as First Team All-America by the Central Press Association in a poll of more than sixty captains of major college football teams; Washington was a Third Team nominee).

The obvious question of why UCLA’s Kenny Washington, who led the entire nation in total offense with 1,371 rushing & passing yards, was not named First Team All-America in 1939 by at least one major organization will be addressed by this blog soon enough.

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