Fenenbock’s Unfulfilled UCLA Bruins Potential

With his back to the camera at the very bottom of this particular ‘staged action shot’ specifically designed for consumption in contemporary newspapers circa 1939, tossing the football into the rather populous group of UCLA players is Bruins second string left halfback CHUCK FENENBOCK (# 45), who later went on to play no less than nine seasons of professional football in no fewer than four different quality, respectable leagues.

On the basis of the potential that Fenenbock had demonstrated as a sophomore during his first full term of varsity competition at the collegiate level in 1938, it is difficult not to label the production put forth by the highly recruited player from northern California during the UCLA Bruins’ rather successful 1939 NCAA campaign as something of an major disappointment. Now, it is a fact that KENNY WASHINGTON, the would be consensus All-America selection who happened to rank above Fenenbock on the UCLA depth chart at the left halfback position, hardly ever left the field of play during the Bruins’ first ever undefeated season, particularly during the latter half of the schedule – when the school’s chances at a first ever appearance in the lucrative Rose Bowl contest on New Year’s Day just kept on getting better and better as the weeks went by. And it is also true that the native of Pittsburg had a few different injury issues to cope with that fall, the first of which arose after Fenenbock absorbed a blow to the head during UCLA’s third game of that season, the 14-14 draw with the Stanford Indians on the road in Palo Alto on October 14th.

But it also accurate to cite the fact that Fenenbock, who, as a direct result of the specific substitution strategy that UCLA head coach Babe Horrell used at the beginning of the season, formally went into the history books as the Bruins’ starting left halfback for their first three games of the 1939 NCAA campaign, actually also had plenty of opportunities to sparkle all throughout his junior term, too. Fenenbock, for example, logged plenty of playing time at the right halfback position during games against both the California Golden Bears as well as the nationally-ranked Santa Clara Broncos, the same two mid-term encounters that regular first string right halfback JACKIE ROBINSON missed on account of injury. Coincidentally enough, Fenenbock’s 1939 season high total of 33 net yards (5.5 yards per carry) came in the November 4th contest versus the Big Brothers from Berkeley.

Less than one month later, Fenenbock threw the one and only touchdown pass of his collegiate career on behalf of the Bruins during UCLA’s lopsided 27-7 win over the Washington State Cougars in the Thursday night tilt that was played on November 30th. It certainly seems odd to associate a career total of just one touchdown toss at the collegiate level with the same player who was the leading passer for a pretty good Detroit Lions team that posted a 7-3 record during the 1945 National Football League season, but, indeed, such is the case. As it was, on the ninth of April in 1940, the UCLA school newspaper published an article stating that “Charles Fenenbock was declared ineligible by the faculty and will not be able to play for the Bruins football team next year.”

It had all been so promising for Fenenbock when first arriving on the varsity scene for the UCLA Bruins in 1938. To start the season, the highly regarded sophomore from Pittsburg beat out the far more experienced senior IZZY CANTOR for the second string halfback slot on the depth chart and then picked up 22 yards on seven carries during the victory opposite the visiting Iowa Hawkeyes in UCLA’s opener. Fenenbock went on to log ten rushing attempts in each of the two triumphs over the Washington Huskies as well as the Idaho Vandals, respectively, before scoring the first touchdown of his NCAA career on a spectacular 80-yard romp against the Oregon State Beavers.

Then, Fenenbock simply exploded during the very first post season contest that the UCLA Bruins ever played in, the fourth and final installment of the annual Poi Bowl (renamed Pineapple Bowl in 1940) game that was played in Honolulu on January 2, 1939. Aside from 131 net yards and one touchdown rushing on only 13 attempts, the sophomore second string left halfback also contributed another 167 all-purpose yards running back punts, a kickoff and an interception. Fenenbock’s individual highlights from the Bruins’ blowout 32-7 of the Hawaii Rainbows included a 65-yard kickoff return as well as a 52-yard excursion with a pass that he pilfered.

However, it all ended so abruptly. Tom Sawyer, author of the “Southern Branch” blog that also writes about the early history of UCLA football, once asked aloud why Bruins head coach Babe Horrell posted the dismal won-loss record of 1-9 in 1940 only one season removed from the impressive 6-0-4 mark that he had registered during his first year at the helm in Westwood. It is the opinion of this blog that, while there were several influential forces hard at work, there should be no doubt that Fenenbock’s failure to appear for his senior season was a critical factor involved with this particular nosedive from the UCLA Bruins — but that would be an entirely different story best served by a separate blog article on still yet another day.

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