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Football: Bowl to remember - the undefeated 1943 team avenges only tie in 1944 bowl 12/15/11

Tim Buckley, Daily Advertiser, Dec. 15, 2011

NEW ORLEANS — By now, most UL fans awaiting Saturday night's New Orleans Bowl are well aware of the Ragin' Cajuns' last postseason appearance — in the well-chronicled 1970 Grantland Rice Bowl, against Tennessee State at Baton Rouge.

But what about their first?

That would be the 1944 Oil Bowl in Houston, played on New Year's Day at what was known then as Public School Stadium and what is commonly referred to now as Robertson Stadium.

It pitted UL, known then as the Southwestern Louisiana Institute (SLI) Bulldogs, against Arkansas A&M, now an NCAA Division II program known as the University of Arkansas at Monticello.

Attendance was 12,000, the program cost 25 cents, SLI won 24-7 and — well — things were different back then.

The world was at war.

But SLI — a World War II V-12 Navy/Marine Corps College Training Program school — was loaded with transfer players/prospective military officers from other schools as a result, including several from Rice, LSU and Tulsa.

Coach Louis Whitman's club went 4-0-1 in 1943, beating Fort Benning (Ga.), Southwestern (Texas) in a war-relief fundraiser and Lake Charles Army Air Field, upsetting Randolph Field (Texas) in what he Associated Press report at the time called "a driving rain," and playing Arkansas A&M to a muddy 20-20 tie in Memphis.

According to bowl historian Mark Bolding's website mmbolding.com , with excerpts taken from Bernie McCarty's "The Southwest meets the Institute, 1943," "Texas coach Dana X. Bible stated he wasn't interested in playing SLI, which is why Randolph Field, and not the Bulldogs, were invited to the Cotton Bowl."

Furthermore, "SLI had a lock on the Sugar Bowl if it defeated Randolph Field. ... But Tulsa, the other candidate, insisted a choice be made prior to the SLI-Randolph tilt, and the bowl committee decided Tulsa was the safer choice."

So the Bulldogs wound up at Robertson Stadium, which was completed in 1942, which is current home to the University of Houston and which has hosted everything from AFL title games in the early 1960s involving the old Houston Oilers to MLS soccer games and even a couple East-West Shrine Games in the 2000s.

According to the Bolding site, AP's pregame report from Houston read, "The mighty offensive machines of Arkansas A and M and the Southwestern Louisiana Institute — their lineups studded with former Southwest Conference grid greats — collide here today in the first Oil Bowl game. "» SLI relies on speed and passing with Alvin Dark, an All-American of Louisiana State University as the No. 1 runner and passer."

And kicker and punter, too.

Dark, nicknamed "Blackie" and "The Swamp Fox", was drafted by the NFL's Philadelphia Eagles in 1945.

But after serving in Asia during the war he wound up playing for six Major League Baseball teams from 1946-60 (the Boston Braves, New York Giants, St. Louis Cardinals, Chicago Cubs, Philadelphia Phillies and Milwaukee Braves) and managing several others from 1961-77 (the San Francisco Giants, Kansas City Athletics, Cleveland Indians, Oakland Athletics and San Diego Padres).

About to turn 90 years old in January, Dark was a three-time All-Star in 1951, '52 and '54 while with the New York Giants, and won World Series titles with as both a player (in '54 with the Giants) and a manager (in '74 with the Oakland A's).

According to UL's "History & Record Book," Dark's '43 Bulldogs — "what many consider to be 'The Best Team in Louisiana history" — faced the Boll Weevils "under the same rainy, foggy and muddy as the earlier meeting" in Memphis.

"I say that no team, and I put the emphasis on Notre Dame, could have beaten us that day," Whitman, the SLI coach, said after the win.

From the UL report on the game:

"(SLI) struck in the first quarter when Dark returned (a) punt 24 yards down to the AAM 21 yard-line

"Following an offsides penalty and a first down run by Dark, Dark then split the uprights from 16 yards to give the (Bulldogs) a 3-0 lead.

"(The Bulldogs) upped their lead to 10-0 just two possessions later. Moe Richmond made a sensational leaping catch between two defenders for a 12-yard score from Dark.

"The (Boll Weevils) scored on their first possession of the second half to cut the (Bulldogs) lead to 10-7. A running into the kicker penalty on the (Bulldogs) helped extend the AAM 64-yard drive that ended in a 27 yard touchdown pass from (Charley) Gray to (All-American) Bill Cromer.

"Dark pinned the (Boll Weevils) deep in their own territory with a 48-yard punt and then returned the ensuing AAM kick 15-yards to Cajuns 33 yard-line. Back-to-back first down runs by Bob Pillow and Dark set-up a seven-yard touchdown plunge by Pillow to give the (Bulldogs) back their 10-point cushion.

"Another excellent punt by Dark led to a short field for the Cajuns offense and another touchdown. Runs by Dark and Vincent Buckley set-up a 10-yard touchdown run by Dark to complete the scoring."

The Oil Bowl was not held in 1945 because of the war, and once it resumed in '46 only two more games were played — a Georgia win over Tulsa, and a Georgia Tech victory over St. Mary's.

Athletic Network Footnote: Click here for the photo gallery of the 1943 Football team, which includes information on the 1944 Oil Bowl played on Jan. 1, 1944.

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