The Archivist’s Nook: CUA Goes A Bowling

The 1936 Orange Bowl football
No, this partially deflated football on display at The Catholic University of America (CUA) does not belong to a certain legendary NFL quarterback from New England, but rather this is the ball used by the CUA 1936 Orange Bowl college football champion.

The end of the college football regular season is upon us, and for those who are big supporters of the sport, that means one thing is around the corner: Christmas.

Oh, and the football postseason as well.

For schools in the Football Championship Subdivision (the old 1-AA), Division II, and Division III, this means playoffs. For Football Bowl Subdivision schools (the former 1-A), this means bowl games. These post seasons games have been a part of college football since the early 20th century and, at least theoretically, pit teams with good to outstanding seasons against each other.

While our own CUA Cardinals currently compete in Division III (making the playoffs in 1997-99 and the ECAC Southeast Bowl in 2008), the team played at the upper levels of college football from 1910-1950. In two of those years, the Cardinals played in bowl games that are still around to this day: the 1940 Sun Bowl against Arizona State and, in perhaps the biggest game in CUA history, the 1936 Orange Bowl against the University of Mississippi (Ole Miss). Legendary CUA coach Dutch Bergman led both teams, with the team pulling off a stunning victory in the Orange Bowl against the Southeastern Conference powerhouse Rebels and fighting to a 0-0 tie with the Border Conference representative Sun Devils, who now play in the Pac-12.

The 1936 CUA Football Team
The greatest championship football team in CUA’s history. The Cardinal Yearbook, 1936, p. 120

The 1936 game was set up after the Cardinals put together an impressive 8-1 regular season record in 1935, the only blemish being a 9-6 loss to DePaul. The eight wins included a major win over North Carolina State (8-0), in which Coach Bergman was pitted against another Notre Dame alumnus in NC State Coach Heartley “Hunk” Anderson (click here for more on this story). The Orange Bowl invited the Cardinals to initially play Vanderbilt University; however, the school declined, citing final examinations.

Ole Miss accepted the invitation its SEC competitor declined, and the matchup was set for January 1, 1936. The Cardinals jumped out to a 13-0 lead, before Ole Miss cut the lead to 13-6 before halftime. Catholic would score in the third quarter to make it 20-6, but the Rebels put two touchdowns on the board in the fourth quarter. However, the Ole Miss kicker missed an extra point on the first touchdown they scored, thus providing the one-point victory for CUA. A look at the statistics would lead one to think Ole Miss had won the game; however, the Cardinals won the turnover battle and, more importantly, were ahead when time expired.

CUA’s other great college football team, the 1940 Sun Bowl participants. The Cardinal Yearbook, 1940, p. 69
CUA’s other great college football team, the 1940 Sun Bowl participants. The Cardinal Yearbook, 1940, p. 69

The Cardinals would make one more Division I bowl appearance in 1940, tying Arizona State 0-0 in a defensive struggle. As in 1936, the Cardinals would be beaten in nearly every offensive category, save turnovers (1 to 4) and passing yards (16 to 0). Coach Bergman was quoted as saying to the Associated Press, “Tempe (ASU) is a fast, powerful team, but we didn’t play our top game by any means. I think we are capable of beating Tempe six days out of the week.” As a side note, Bergman’s coaching opponent in the game was former University of Alabama great and one-year member of the Washington Redskins, Dixie Howell.

So Cardinal faithful, if you happen to see the Ole Miss Rebels in a bowl game this year, just remember your boys once whipped theirs on the sands of Miami.

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