On The ’39 USC Trojans

A pair of juniors named Second Team All-America by the United Press in December of 1938 cause the unbeaten and untied Duke Blue Devils all kinds of problems as USC first string quarterback GRENVILLE LANSDELL (# 78) follows the block of 218-pound left guard HARRY SMITH (# 70) during the 1939 Rose Bowl Game played in Pasadena on New Year’s Day.

Having concluded the previous campaign with the respectable record of nine wins against two losses which included the dramatic Rose Bowl victory over a powerful Duke University team who had not surrendered one single point during the regular season, it was widely expected that the traditionally strong UNIVERSITY of SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA TROJANS under the capable stewardship of the highly experienced HOWARD JONES would, in fact, be serious contenders for the mythical national championship title in 1939.

Although three Trojans had been taken in the annual National Football League Draft for the very first time in school history, the graduation losses really were not all that heavy in the grand scheme of things. Two players who had been named Second Team All-America by the United Press in 1938, “triple-threat” quarterback GRENVILLE LANSDELL and titanic left guard HARRY SMITH, spearheaded a group of six returning starters whom USC were counting upon in 1939. Additionally, because it had always been the policy of the legendary Jones to regularly rotate large numbers of players in and out of any given game, the Trojans had an abundance of returning lettermen on hand, as well.

USC were strengthened even by further by the return of accomplished quarterback AMBROSE SCHINDLER, the redshirt senior from San Diego who, two years earlier in 1937, had topped the Trojans with both 599 yards rushing (4.5 avg) and nine total touchdowns scored — this sort of production made “Amblin’ Amby” a Second Team All-Pacific Coast selection of both the Associated Press and United Press that season but a severe ankle injury forced Schindler to sit out the entire 1938 NCAA campaign.

Of course, it was the all-important quarterback position around which the offensive attack revolved in the Trojans’ version of the Single Wing formation and USC were very well stocked in the fall of 1939; for a distinct change of pace from Lansdell (6’0″ 187 lbs) and Schindler (5’9″ 186 lbs), Jones could always call upon the services of DOYLE NAVE (5’11” 180 lbs), the homegrown senior from Manual Arts High School in Los Angeles who had rallied the Trojans to victory late in the fourth quarter of the Rose Bowl Game against the highly regarded Blue Devils by completing four consecutive passes.

On the whole, the Trojans’ three-headed quarterback monster thrived during the 1939 NCAA season of the careful supervision of Jones, USC’s very own mad scientist, if one will :

QBs – Lansdell & Schindler & Nave, USC ………… 1,337 yards
FB – John Polanski, Wake Forest ………………………. 882 yards
LHB – Tom Harmon, Michigan ………………………….. 868 yards
LHB – Kenny Washington, UCLA ………………………. 812 yards

USC Trojans third-string quarterback DOYLE NAVE (# 40), the so-called passing specialist who had five touchdown tosses in his collegiate career before becoming the sixth overall player taken at the 1940 National Football League Draft when chosen in the first round by the Detroit Lions, dives across the goal line to complete a 12-yard touchdown run against the University of Illinois Fighting Illini in the second quarter of the inter-regional contest at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on October 14, 1939.

As far as USC’s offensive system was concerned in the late 1930s, the only other positional player in the backfield aside from the quarterback to carry the football from scrimmage on a regular basis was the fullback. The Trojans made good use of the so-called “spinner” tactic, an offensive play which featured the fullback, who always lined up in the backfield next to and slightly in front of the quarterback. After taking the direct snap from center and then faking a handoff to the right halfback looping back around on a reverse around the left end while executing a 360-degree “spin” move, the fullback then embarked on a run straight up the middle.

Competition for a place at fullback on the ’39 USC squad was especially fierce in 1939 with four different players having first-string experience all vying for their share of time on the field. ANGELO PECCIANTI (5’11” 180 lbs), the redshirt senior from Alhambra High School in Martinez who had started USC’s first four games as a sophomore in 1936 and two more games as a junior in 1938, was hampered by knee injuries all throughout his collegiate career. And BILL SANGSTER, the somewhat undersized (5’9″ 170 lbs) senior from San Gabriel who led the Trojans in pass receptions as a sophomore in 1937 before starting USC’s final seven games as a junior in 1938, scored his second career touchdown on a short run against the Washington State Cougars in the Trojans’ second game of the 1939 campaign but appeared sparingly thereafter and ended the season with just 37 yards rushing on only eleven carries (3.4 avg).

JACK BANTA, the 187-pounder who later went on to play six seasons in the National Football League for the Washington Redskins, Philadelphia Eagles and Los Angeles Rams, had three rushing touchdowns as a sophomore for USC in 1938, including the game-winner in the fourth quarter of the clash with the then # 3 ranked University of California Golden Bears. It was the homegrown junior from Black Foxe Academy in Los Angeles who had also scored the Trojans’ first touchdown in the landslide 42-7 win over cross-town rival UCLA the previous season, as well. Continued good form enabled Banta to maintain a stranglehold on the second-string fullback spot in 1939.

BOB PEOPLES, the 190-pounder who started two games as a sophomore for USC in 1938, was an ever-present in the Trojans first-string unit as a junior the next term. The native of Oklahoma City led the defending Rose Bowl champions in 1939 with 16 pass receptions while also finishing second on the team in total yards from scrimmage after gaining a combined 396 rushing and receiving. Interestingly enough, Peoples was named Honorable Mention All-America by both the Associated Press and United Press in 1939 — this shortly after being cited as Honorable Mention All-Pacific Coast by the Associated Press but not the United Press.

Eighty percent of the time, either Peoples (284:35) or Banta (219:50) occupied the fullback position for the Trojans in 1939.

742 yards … 4.8 avg … 9 td … QB – Grenville LANSDELL
390 yards … 4.5 avg … 3 td … QB – Ambrose SCHINDLER
268 yards … 4.5 avg …. 1 td … FB – Bob PEOPLES
205 yards … 3.7 avg …. 2 td … QB – Doyle NAVE
175 yards …. 4.0 avg … 0 td … FB – Jack BANTA

USC were quarterbacked by either Lansdell (281:00), Schindler (158:25) or Nave (145:05) for all but fifteen and a half minutes of the six hundred total minutes which comprised the Trojans’ ten games during the ’39 NCAA season.

USC Trojans first-string quarterback GRENVILLE LANSDELL (# 78) carries the football against the University of California Golden Bears during the Pacific Coast Conference game at Memorial Stadium in Berkeley on October 28, 1939; Lansdell, the two-time All-America honoree whom the New York Giants made the 10th overall player picked when choosing in the first round of the 1940 NFL Draft, threw a 15-yard touchdown pass to Trojans right end Bob Winslow and also scored on a 55-yard gallop in this contest as USC whitewashed Cal 26-0.

For the most part, the primary roles of the left and right halfback in the USC offensive system of the late 1930s were to function as blockers and pass receivers although the Trojans were known to occasionally use their right halback on a reverse run around the left end.

It was as a result of superior blocking and reliable pass catching skills, to go along with standout play at linebacker on the defensive side of the football, that the NEA Sports Syndicate selected USC left halfback BOB HOFFMAN as a First Team All-Pacific Coast choice in 1938. The 190-pound senior from Montebello was easily the Trojans’ most experienced varsity player in 1939, having started nine out of USC’s ten games as a sophomore two years earlier and nine out of the Trojans’ eleven games as a junior. It was a 45-yard pass reception by Hoffman, who had paced USC with 11 catches in 1938, late in the fourth quarter of the critical contest against the Washington Huskies on the first Saturday of December in 1939 which directly led to the winning touchdown that formally set up the de facto Pacific Coast Conference championship game opposite the rival UCLA Bruins the following week.

Often noted for durability in the contemporary press all throughout his career, it was Hoffman who also accumulated the most time on the field (388:30) out of all the Trojans’ talented backfield players in 1939.

Second-string left halfback was USC team captain JOE SHELL, the 200-pound senior from San Diego who started four games during his collegiate career for the Trojans. It was the physical Shell who provided what ultimately proved to be the winning points in USC’s dramatic 19-13 triumph over UCLA in 1937 by catching a 20-yard touchdown pass from fellow sophomore Grenny Lansdell early in the fourth quarter. It was also Shell, however, who was the Trojans’ defensive back that was badly beaten by Bruins right halfback HAL HIRSHON on the famous 73-yard touchdown pass from KENNY WASHINGTON later towards the conclusion of that heart-stopping contest.

Third-string left halfback for USC figured to be PHIL DUBOSKI (5’10” 185 lbs), the homegrown redshirt senior out of Loyola High School of Los Angeles who had started all nine of the Trojans’ games as a sophomore in 1936 before being bitten by the injury bug; also in the mix was BILL BUNDY, the 200-pound sophomore blocking back who was destined to earn three varsity letters.

Despite the fact that there were more experienced candidates on campus, it was varsity rookie BOBBY ROBERTSON who started all ten games at right halfback for USC in 1939. The speedy redshirt sophomore (5’10” 185 lbs) from Black Foxe Academy in Los Angeles carried the pigskin on the reverse around left end a total of thirty-four times but only netted 54 yards (1.6 avg) from scrimmage. Still, the defensively astute Robertson had the third-highest total of minutes on the field (385:05) out of all the Trojans and turned in what was undoubtedly the most influential play of USC’s entire season.

The understudy at right halfback would be senior JIM SLATTER (6’3″ 195 lbs), the two-year letterwinner from Los Angeles who had been teammates of Trojans quarterback Doyle Nave at Manual Arts High School. Slatter was destined to catch touchdown passes for USC in back-to-back games against Oregon State and Stanford during the 1939 NCAA campaign. Third-stringer would be senior ROY ENGLE (5’10” 177 lbs), the two-year letterwinner from San Diego who, in 1938, had scored the Trojans’ final touchdown during the runaway 42-7 victory over the intra-city adversaries.

Although USC were looking at replacing four members of its front seven from the season before, there was never any doubt that the line of scrimmage would be a place where the Trojans could excel in 1939.

As was the case with the four slots in the backfield, the Trojans were very capably staffed at the two end positions with six lettermen returning to the squad. Senior BOB WINSLOW (6’2″ 195 lbs), the two-year letterwinner from Inglewood who originally transferred in from Modesto Junior College, made a good target at right end. Second-stringer JOHN STONEBRAKER (6’2″ 219 lbs) brought considerable size and a knack for catching touchdown passes to the table; as a junior in 1938, Stonebraker scored on a 23-yard pass reception against the Washington State Cougars and also tallied on a 40-yard catch versus the Oregon Ducks.

It was, indeed, Stonebraker who would snare the late fourth quarter touchdown pass that enabled USC to edge the stubborn Washington Huskies 9-7 in early December of 1939 and ensure that the Trojans would collide with the cross-town rival UCLA Bruins in the battle for the right to appear in the lucrative 1940 Rose Bowl Game at Pasadena.

USC first team right end BOB WINSLOW (# 73), who was named Honorable Mention All-America by the Associated Press, NEA Sports Syndicate and United Press towards the end of his senior season, is powerless to prevent the Notre Dame player from catching a pass during the high-profile inter-regional clash between the # 7 ranked Fighting Irish and the # 4 ranked Trojans in front of 50,000 passionate followers at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend, Indiana, on November 25, 1939 … In the background to the right is USC first team left end BILL FISK (# 50), whom the Associated Press named Second Team All-Pacific Coast as well as Honorable Mention All-America in 1939.

Senior BILL FISK (6’0″ 187 lbs), the two-year letterwinner also out of Alhambra High School in Martinez who hauled in a 38-yard touchdown pass for USC at the expense of the University of the Pacific Tigers in his first varsity contest as a sophomore in 1937, started nine of the Trojans’ eleven games at left end in 1938. Oddly enough, one of USC’s biggest weapons that season had turned out to be Fisk’s deputy. Second-stringer AL KRUEGER (6’0″ 183 lbs), the junior whose nickname derived from the Antelope Valley High School he had attended, caught no less than three touchdown passes during the 1938 NCAA campaign, including the game-winner against the Duke Blue Devils in the dying moments of the 1939 Rose Bowl Game.

It also had been “Antelope Al” who helped break the would-be one-sided UCLA vs USC contest in 1938 wide open by returning an interception 52 yards for a touchdown in the second quarter to give the Trojans their first lead of the game.

The two other letterwinners also on hand at the left end position for USC were GLEN GALVIN (5’11” 180 lbs), the redshirt senior from Huntingdon Park High School in Los Angeles who started three games at fullback for the Trojans as a sophomore in 1936, as well as SALVADOR MENA (6’0″ 190 lbs), the sturdy junior from San Diego. The one promising newcomer was right end BOB JONES (6’0″ 185 lbs), the sophomore product of Black Foxe Academy in Los Angeles who went on to average an even ten minutes per game for USC in 1939. Jones’ total time on the field was fifth-most among the Trojans’ ends behind Fisk (323:50), Winslow (293:50), Stonebraker (252:30) and Krueger (246:05).

It was true that three of the five interior linemen who started the 1939 Rose Bowl Game for USC had graduated but one of the returnees happened to be the dominant figure of the left guard Smith, the monstrous yet mobile 218-pound senior from Ontario who had been named Second Team All-America by the United Press and Third Team All-America by the NEA Sports Syndicate as a junior in 1938. The other veteran first team lineman was HOWARD STOECKER, the 215-pound senior left tackle from Mason City, Iowa, who had started the Trojans’ last five games as a sophomore in 1937 as well as nine of USC’s eleven games as a junior in 1938. Furthermore, two of the three newcomers to the interior line in 1939 had the benefit of previous starting experience.

The new first team right tackle was two-year letterwinner PHIL GASPAR, the 220-pound senior who had started two games for the Trojans as a sophomore in 1937 in addition to one other as a junior the following season. The Los Angeles High School graduate gained extensive experience as a second-stringer in 1938 while also serving as USC’s regular placekicker, as well. As a junior, Gaspar converted 10 of 16 extra point attempts (62.5%) but had a 27-yard field goal attempt blocked by the Washington State Cougars and was considerably wide on a 32-yard field goal try against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish.

200-pound sophomore BOB DE LAUER, yet another impactful Trojans player recruited from San Diego, immediately advanced to second string at right tackle on the depth chart. De Lauer was also a decent placekicker and, in 1939, would put together an early-season streak of at least one extra point in five consecutive games (6 of 10 on all attempts during that stretch) before going down injured. Third-string right tackle would be QUENTIN KLENK, the 208-pound junior from Long Beach who had done fairly well as a placekicker for the 1937 USC freshman football team.

The new first team right guard on the Trojans unbalanced line was BEN SOHN, the massive 225-pound junior from San Diego who started the first two games of his sophomore season in 1938, with the understudies being PETE KALINICH, the 210-pound junior from Waterloo, Iowa, and RAY HALVORSEN, the 205-pound redshirt senior from Hollywood.

USC’s new starting center was slated to be ED DEMPSEY, the 200-pound junior out of Black Foxe Academy in Los Angeles who would end up leading the entire Trojans team in 1939 with almost 410 minutes of playing time on the field. The second-string snapper would be junior CHARLES MORRILL, the 185-pounder from Piedmont who earned his first varsity letter as a sophomore in 1938 by deploying at one of the two guard positions. Providing depth was redshirt senior ALEX ATANASOFF, the 190-pounder who won his first varsity letter for USC in 1937 after transferring from Los Angeles Junior College but was forced to sit out the following season on account of injury.

Two-year letterwinner JOHN THOMASSIN, the 208-pound second team left tackle out of Manual Arts High School in Los Angeles, brought a lot of experience with him off the bench having started two games for USC as a sophomore in 1937 and then another pair of contests as a junior the next term; another valuable reserve was FLOYD PHILLIPS, the 190-pound junior from Jefferson High School in Los Angeles who garnered extensive playing time for the Trojans in 1938 as the regular second team left guard.

1939 USC INTERIOR LINE – playing time (minutes)
409:40 ……………. C – Ed DEMPSEY
352:20 ………….. RG – Ben SOHN
336:05 ………….. RT – Phil GASPAR
333:05 ………….. LG – Harry SMITH
332:50 ………….. LT – Howard STOECKER
290:15 ………….. LT – John THOMASSIN
231:00 ………….. LG – Floyd PHILLIPS
160:35 ……………. C – Charles MORRILL
157:55 ………….. RT – Bob DE LAUER
129:05 ………….. RG – Pete KALINICH


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