Sunday, December 22, 2002

For Xavier, the Salad was more than just an appetizer


Nearly 53 years ago, Muskies played in long-forgotten bowl

By Ryan Ernst
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Xavier University might be undefeated in football since 1973, but its crowning moment came more than 50 years ago.

Times were different in the program's heyday, before the school dropped the sport nearly 30 years ago. The school was all male; the soccer field was a football stadium; the helmets came without facemasks; and most of the players were former servicemen going to college on the G.I. Bill.

The game was running, blocking and tackling - not much more and so much more at the same time, according to the players. There were no television contracts, no corporate tie-ins, no BCS implications and a shortage of office pools. There were bowl games, however.

And on New Year's Day 1950, the tiny Catholic university on Victory Parkway got in on the action by beating Arizona State 33-21 in the Salad Bowl - one of a dozen main bowls of the era. Played in Tempe, Ariz., the game was the precursor to the Fiesta Bowl, this season's national title game.

For the players, the week of the bowl was a once-in-a-program opportunity, and they treated it as one.

"That was a fun-loving crowd, but not the best behaved," said lineman Jim Murphy, an Elder grad who still lives on the west side. "There were plenty of parties. We didn't miss out on any fun. But it probably wasn't the right kind of fun. (The coaches) would have bed checks all week and no one would be in bed because they all snuck out."

In Florida, Murphy's linemate, Tom Ballaban, is still having fun thinking about that week.

"Yeah, they'd come around on bed checks and a lot of guys would sneak out, but Murph and I would study our playbooks and we wouldn't do that," Ballaban said, joking.

Kidding aside, there's one fact on which all the members of the '49 team agree.

"We sure had some ballplayers: Bob Finnell, (George) Gilmartin and Jack Hoffman and Tom Duff and (John) Martinkovic," halfback Jim Liber said, as though reading roll call. "It was a close-knit bunch, and we could play some ball."

Unlike Ballaban, Liber isn't telling tales. Seven members of the team have been inducted into Xavier's 83-member Hall of Fame. Six were drafted to play in the NFL. Hoffman and Martinkovic had sustained careers in the league with the Bears and Packers, respectively.

Others, however, realized that playing on an undersized college team didn't prepare one for the bodies in the NFL.

"I weighed 180 and played on the line," Ballaban said. "I could have been a water boy in the pros, but the water boys weighed 185. And the managers, they weighed 190."

Those who didn't go onto the pro ranks still witnessed greatness that season. The Musketeers beat Woody Hayes' Miami team 27-19 on Oct. 8. The following week, they roughed up senior running back Don Shula in a 21-7 win over John Carroll. On Nov. 5, they lost their only game of their 10-1 season, 21-7, to Kentucky and coach Paul "Bear" Bryant. They rebounded the following week to upend Pro Football Hall of Fame coach Sid Gillman's University of Cincinnati team 20-14.

In that era of legendary coaching characters, Xavier's head man, Ed Kluska, was anything but.

Liber: "You might say he lacked personality."

Ballaban: "He wouldn't smile unless the sun shined for a week and he won three games in a row."

Kluska's demeanor reflected the era's prevailing attitude about football. He had former soldiers and ran his team accordingly. Before discipline was a coaching buzzword, it meant all-day, no-water practices in the summer heat. Coaches expected more of their players.

"(Today's players) make a tackle and they go up into the stands to get their mom and dad to have a parade with them," Ballaban said.

It's the kind of play that came into vogue after the XU program ran out of money - another source of lament for the '49 team.

"It was a big shock to me, but I kept my mouth shut," Murphy said. "It hurt. It hurt all of us when they cut the program."

It's often a subject at annual reunions for XU football players, the last of which drew 11 from the Salad Bowl team. Some have even proposed staging a Salad Bowl reunion at the Fiesta Bowl.

"A lot of the guys say they're in the fourth quarter, ya know," Ballaban said. "I'm in overtime, so I wish we would get together out there sometime."

BCS millions, players hot-dogging, enough pads on one player to keep an entire army safe?

The reunion sounds like a great idea. Maybe this time they could sneak out on the game.

E-mail rernst@enquirer.com

Bowled over

With the Insight.com Bowl dropping its suffix for 2002, the college bowl season will be without a game featuring .com in the title for the first time in five years. Like so many Internet millions, more than 50 bowl games have disappeared over the years. Among them ...

Bluebonnet Bowl

Splitting time between Rice Stadium and the Astrodome in Houston from 1959-1987, this sissy-sounding game finally ended when organizers failed to come up with a corporate sponsor. Wonder why?

California Bowl

This game featured a MAC (Mid-American Conference) against WAC (Western Athletic Conference) showdown from 1981-91. The most bizarre outcome came in 1984 when UNLV, led by Ickey Woods and Randall Cunningham, beat Toledo 30-13 but later forfeited for using ineligible players. The outcome came one year before rap impresario Marion "Suge" Knight joined the UNLV program as a defensive lineman.

Gotham Bowl

"Holy doomed football game, Batman!" This New York City bowl, which lasted only from 1961-62, lost $100,000 in its first go-round, and a newspaper strike plagued the second one - a U. of Miami-Nebraska matchup. Attendance for the two games combined was less than 15,000. There's a reason they play these games in places with nice weather.

Pineapple Bowl

Played from 1940-52, this was the first of many bowls designed to get the Hawaii Rainbow Warriors a taste of the postseason.

Poulan

Weedeater Bowl

The competition, the pageantry of, uh, weedeaters? If the Rose Bowl is the "granddaddy of them all," this bowl, now called the Independence Bowl, was the drunk uncle.

Glass Bowl

Can't get into a bowl? Make one up. That's what Toledo did from 1946-49, winning the first three installments while playing the likes of Bates (Maine), New Hampshire and Oklahoma City. After losing to Cincinnati 33-13 in 1949, the Rockets took their ball and went home.

Ice Bowl

Played in Fairbanks, Alaska, from 1949-52, somehow this bowl never caught on.




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