Saturday, December the 9th certainly was one of the most noteworthy dates on the entire American football calendar in 1939, even if there were only three contests involving major college teams on the actual playing schedule, itself.
Off the field, the Associated Press news agency headquartered in New York City named its 15th annual All-America team. Meanwhile, the owners of the ten National Football League clubs met at the Schroeder Hotel in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, to conduct the fifth installment of the annual NFL Draft. On the field, two of the three games on the collegiate football schedule would directly determine which two teams would be appearing in the annual Rose Bowl Game on New Year’s Day.
Off the field in Milwaukee, the Chicago Cardinals were busy making University of Tennessee left halfback GEORGE CAFEGO, a second team All-America selection of the Associated Press in 1939, the very first player chosen at what is historically known as the 1940 NFL Draft. On the field in Knoxville, Cafego, who had already been hampered by a knee injury for much of the season, lasted just four plays against the Auburn Tigers before being forced to the sidelines for the remainder of that afternoon. Despite this setback, a brilliant 40-yard touchdown run in the second quarter by Cafego’s replacement, sophomore left halfback JOHNNY BUTLER, provided the # 2 ranked Volunteers with a 7-0 victory and formally punched the formidable Southeastern Conference champion’s ticket to the Rose Bowl contest in Pasadena.
Back at the Schroeder Hotel, the Cleveland Rams were pleased to have picked Rice University right halfback OLIE CORDILL with the fifth overall selection in the first round of the 1940 NFL Draft. Meanwhile, on the gridiron in Dallas, the triple threat Cordill was also hobbled by injury and would have two of his punts smothered by Southwest Conference rival Southern Methodist University in the second half alone. The second of Cordill’s blocked kicks was returned for the fourth quarter touchdown which enabled the Mustangs to complete a 13-6 triumph over the visiting Owls in come-from-behind fashion.
In Milwaukee, the defending champion New York Giants closed out the first round of the 1940 NFL Draft by nabbing University of Southern California quarterback GRENVILLE LANSDELL with the tenth overall selection. This after Lansdell had been cited by the Associated Press as Third Team All-America for the 1939 NCAA season. Out on the left coast in front of a record crowd at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, Lansdell, who was known to be nursing an injury to his passing hand, fumbled the ball away only yards from the goal line and had a pass intercepted on the UCLA 10-yard line shortly thereafter in a first quarter that saw USC otherwise dominate.
Towards the end of the first half at the Memorial Coliseum, the Trojans sent on third-string quarterback DOYLE NAVE, the senior out of Manual Arts High School in Los Angeles. Earlier in the day, it was Nave whom the Detroit Lions had made the sixth overall player to be chosen in the first round of the NFL Draft back at the Schroeder Hotel. Neither of USC’s two highly regarded quarterbacks were able to put any points on the scoreboard, however, as the the underdog Bruins battled the nation’s # 3 ranked team to a scoreless draw in this de facto Pacific Coast Conference championship game but, nonetheless, the result did not prevent the Trojans from returning to the Rose Bowl for the second consecutive season.
Only one of the eleven players named First Team All-America by the Associated Press in 1939, left halfback BANKS MCFADDEN of Clemson University, was among the first ten players chosen in the first round of the 1940 National Football League Draft. Part of this can be explained by the fact that only five of the AP’s First Team All-America selections in 1939 were seniors. Furthermore, the top priority of many NFL teams proved to be a backfield player who could pass the football capably.