Dec. 31, 2013
By John Hirn
It was 65 years ago that second-year head coach Bob Davis took his 1948 Colorado A&M Aggies football team to the Raisin Bowl; the first bowl game in CSU history. The name Raisin Bowl still emits a chuckle from some Ram fans when they hear about it, but the game was as important as any bowl game CSU has ever attended and remains a very relevant part of school history.
The 1948 Colorado A&M roster had some of the greatest football players of the Aggie days, which included future CSU hall of fame inductees Fum McGraw, Dale Dodrill, George Jones, Don "Tuffy" Mullison, Don Straub, Ollie Woods and Jack Christiansen. Along with these great athletes were the legendary Eddie Hanna, Frank Faucett, Keith Thompson, Carl Cox, Don Hoch, Lee Walters, Joe Folsom and quarterback Bob Hainlen. Several of these men were WWII veterans who blended with traditional-aged college men that played in Bob Davis' new "Two-platoon" system.
In two seasons, Bob Davis had turned around a football team at Colorado A & M from a 2-7 record in 1946 when Wagner and Hughes led the squad to an 8-2 record in 1948. This amazing turnaround did not win the conference championship, but it did grab the nation's attention to give the Aggies a Raisin Bowl invitation.
The Aggies' foe for their first ever bowl game came in the form of the Occidental College Tigers. Oxy finished the 1948 season 8-0 and had a formidable rusher in Johnny Trump. The press expected a heavy rushing game with Trump and Hanna the outstanding stars for each team with Colorado A & M the favorite to win by a small margin.
Following the holiday season, the team re-convened on December 26 and took a charter flight to Fresno with a stop in Salt Lake City to pick up Coach Bob Sneddon. Both Ted Davis, team ball boy and son of head coach Bob Davis and halfback/kicker Frank Faucett were on the plane and recounted in 2008 how they came in for a landing as the plane nearly hit electrical wires; which made all on board nervous about their flight onward to California.
Raisin Bowl Queen Jane Leach greeted the Aggies as they got off the plane and was promptly caught by a Fresno Bee photographer kissing Fum McGraw as he and his comrades exited the plane. Rain in Fresno placed a damper on heavy workouts, but a tour of agricultural fields and banquet dinners completed the pre-game excitement
The rain let up just in time for a 2pm kickoff at Ratcliffe Stadium; however the sky remained cloudy and dark during most of the game. The stadium had a capacity of 14,000 seats, but only an estimated 10,000 people showed up due in part to the weather conditions. The Aggies won the coin toss and elected to kick off to the Tigers. The Aggie defense quickly bottled up Johnny Trump in the first quarter and took offensive control in the second.
At the start of the second quarter the game remained scoreless as Bob Hainlen thought he had kicked a field goal only to have it nullified by an Aggie penalty. On the next play he faked another field goal attempt and dropped back to pass as the Tiger defense rushed him. This left Keith Thompson wide open for an easy reception for a touchdown. On the extra point try, Frank Faucett's kick was blocked as Occidental rushed through the Aggie line.
The rest of the second quarter remained a draw until with 35 seconds left before halftime; Eddie Hanna utilized both Fum McGraw and Dale Dodrill's talent to block and ran 71 yards for an amazing touchdown. He broke the all-time rushing touchdown record for the Raisin Bowl and left Oxy stunned. The Aggies went to the locker room with a 13-0 lead.
According to newspapers of the time, the Aggies returned to the field in the second half overconfident. Occidental changed their game plan and abandoned the running of Trump for the arm of quarterback Don Ross. Ross connected on a 17-yard pass to Bill Pearson with 7:16 left in the third quarter for the Tigers' first touchdown. Less than one minute into the fourth quarter, Ross once again passed to Pearson for a touchdown that Aggie defenseman Bill Adamson nearly intercepted.
With Occidental ahead by one point, Eddie Hanna took the ball on the second play after the ensuing kickoff and according to the Denver Post, "took a handoff and cut back to his left after cracking over the line. He collected his blockers in the secondary then beat it down the north sideline, showing increasing distance between his flying heels and the nearest orange clad Tiger." Hanna broke his own Raisin Bowl record with 79 yards in this touchdown run and gave the Aggies a 20-14 lead early in the fourth quarter.
Then a Hollywood ending by the Los Angeles school murdered the chances to finish the Cinderella season with a win. Less than two minutes after Hanna's 79-yard dash, Don Ross threw a 69-yard pass to Occidental's Bob Levin who "chased the pork hide like a centerfielder racing for a fly against the wall." Levin reached up, "snatched the ball out of Jack Christiansen's hands on the Aggie 30, then out-footed Christiansen to the goal line after the Aggie quartermiler nearly brought him down with a shoestring tackle on the 15."
The final touchdown took the heart out of the Aggies as they never got out of their territory for the rest of the game. Bob Davis, his coaches and his players all took the blame for the loss and stated that the long layoff hurt the team's abilities as they lacked the "zip and timing" they had during the regular season.
The team headed back to Colorado January 2 on their chartered airplane only to run into more trouble along the way. The "Blizzard of '49" bore down on the Colorado Front Range and the plane was forced to stop in Rock Springs, Wyoming to re-fuel. The plane weighed too much for the high altitude of Wyoming and 19 men along with Athletic Director Harry Hughes had to be left behind with the equipment. The remaining 21 players flew to Denver as the 19 underclassmen and Hughes took a cold train ride back to Fort Collins.
Coach Bob Davis went on to a 54-33-2 record over nine seasons, is the winningest coach in CSU football history with a .618 percentage and won the 1955 conference championship.
It was not until another second-year head coach, Earle Bruce, won the next bowl game played by the Rams in 1990 and then another second-year head coach, Sonny Lubick, won the next conference championship in 1994. If history can repeat itself, Coach Mac's second year has already provided CSU with some great rebuilding similar to Davis, Bruce and Lubick.
So the Raisin Bowl, 65 years later, still proves its relevance and will always remain an integral part of CSU Football History.
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