Long before the day when helmets had facemasks--when the forward pass was still a revolutionary innovation and football was still second to baseball as the national pasttime--Harvard fielded its first, and only, Rose Bowl team.
That's right, Harvard went to the Rose Bowl, and what seems even more unbelievable, the Crimson won, downing a mighty University of Oregon team, 7-6 on Jan. 1, 1920.
The sixth Rose Bowl game in history emerged as a battle "to prove whether the prowess of western football is a fact or a myth," according to pre-game stories in the Los Angeles Examiner.
The last two eastern teams to play in the Tournament of Roses, Brown and Penn, had been shockingly humiliated by coastal squads, and it was up to Harvard to "make a last, desperate stand against the West."
Certainly the Crimson was a powerful machine, stacking up eight teams and having its unbeaten record marred only by a 10-10 tie with Princeton. Led by lightning halfback "Natick Eddie" Casey, Harvard's only All-American in 1919, the Crimson scored a phenomenal 222 points to their opponents' 13 during the regular campaign. Casey was an exceptional runner and pass receiver.
To top everything off, Harvard had another sparkling halfback in Arnie Horween, who was also a deadly drop-kicker, and a steam-roller substitute fullback in Freddy Church. Captain Bill Murray was a more than reliable passer at quarterback.
It was Casey, Horween, and Church who ultimately spelled the difference that New Year's Day.
Oregon No Pushover
Yet Oregon was no pushover, for it had crushed five teams that year, losing only to an erratic Washington State team by a lone touchdown. Relying more on sheer power than finesse, they promised to push Harvard off the turf.
The Webfoots could boast a second team All-American of their own at quarterback, and Billy Steers was second only to Centre College's immortal Bo McMillin as America's top signal-caller. To offset Horween's kicking skill, Oregon had Skeet Manerud; and fullback Hollis Huntington, already a veteran of two Rose Bowl games, could more than match Church on brute drive.
Nevertheless, it was an optimistic Harvard eleven led by Coach Bob Fisher that arrived in California on Christmas Day--early enough to get in at least a week of practice before the game.
Unused to torrid California temperature, the Crimson worked sluggishly at first. It took the entire week for the men to get used to the excessive heat and to the loss of weight. They had not had any "full speed" hitting since the Yale game in November. Oregon, on the other hand, was playing on home territory, and appeared to be in top condition.
On game day, the confident Web-foots quickly set out to humble the Eastern visitors. Oregon centered its attack in the middle of Harvard's defensive line. Slashing off tackle, both inside and outside, they exploited their weight advantage to push Harvard all over the field for the first quarter.
The Crimson fumbled twice to kill their scoring threats. Steers carried for repeated long gains, and Oregon drove from midfield to the Harvard 15 by the end of the first period.
On the second play after switching goals, the Webfoots scored on Steers's field-goal, but Harvard retaliated with its only touchdown of the game a short time later.
Successful Against Yale
Using the same play that proved so successful against Yale, Murray hit Casey with two quick passes that moved Harvard to the Oregon 23. A penalty put the Crimson ahead five more yards, and Casey carried to the 13.
Then Church, substituting for the injured starter Ralph Horween, ducked around the weak side for the final yards and six points. Arnie Horween yards the conversion that was to be the deciding point.
This time it was Oregon who struck back, tallying a field goal near the end of the half, set up by a Harvard penalty.
But in the third quarter, with Casey and Arnie Horween playing both ways, the fired-up Crimson defensive unit completely throttled the passless Webfoots on the ground. An, Oregon field goal attempt near the end of the quarter fell short.
Yet it was not until the final period that Harvard's defense put away the game. Unable to run on the Crimson, Oregon scratched out yardage, but finally had to try a drop kick to get on the scoreboard.
But Manerud's hurried boot was wide by a foot, and by twelve inches the Crimson squeaked through with its only post season bowl title in Harvard's football history