The Stanford-USC rivalry has a unique history. In general, USC typically dominated as they were the team loaded with the Heisman winners, the All Americans and national championships. Stanford has usually struggled in this game but there was a time in the 1930’s when Stanford decided to stand up for itself. Known as the “Vow Boys”, they won over the crowd and the respect of the Trojans.
The journey began before those who had made the vow could even participate in a varsity game. On October 24, 1932, the Stanford freshman team watched in disgust as the varsity were handed a 13-0 shellacking at the hands of USC. This was Stanford’s fifth straight loss to USC and people within the program were becoming frustrated. Freshman quarterback Frank Alustiza declared to his fellow teammates “They will never do that to our team. We will never lose to the Trojans.” His teammates took his declaration to heart and began an incredible three year run against their tormentors.
A Vow Kept
The 1933 season was Claude E. "Tiny" Thornhill’s first as Stanford’s head coach and was also David Packard’s senior year. Packard would go on to found computer giant Hewlett-Packard which would become a founding contributor to the rise of Silicon Valley. Thornhill began his career at Stanford with four straight shutouts to State Teacher’s College (now SJSU), UCLA, Santa Clara and Northwestern (a 0-0 tie). Stanford allowed their first points of the years in their fifth week against the University of San Francisco, a 20-13 win. They lost a defensive slugfest against Washington 6-0, but rebounded the following week with a 21-0 win against Olympic Club.
The next game was one of redemption against USC. At the Los Angeles Coliseum, Stanford won a close 13-7 contest, avenging the past five defeats against their tormentors. Inspired by their victory, Stanford went on to go to the Rose Bowl where they would lose 7-0 to Columbia.
Stanford was motivated going into the 1934 season and remained focused on their nemesis all season long. After an early season tie to Santa Clara, Stanford remained undefeated and had only given up a total of just 14 points leading up to their clash against the Trojans. They shut out USC and stormed their way to a second straight Rose Bowl, this time against Alabama. The Crimson Tide controlled the game behind the brilliant play of ends Don Hutson and Bear Bryant, winning convincingly 29-13.
After their second straight loss in the Rose Bowl, the Vow Boys of Stanford were determined to win it all the third time. After a 7-6 loss to UCLA in the season’s third week, Stanford only gave up six points the rest of the season, beating USC 3-0 along the way. They reached the Rose Bowl for a third consecutive season and defeated SMU 7-0 to finally claim the Rose Bowl crown.
Seven members from that 1935 squad were selected in the very first NFL Draft in 1936. Those players were: end Keith Topping (2nd round, Boston Redskins), center Wes Muller (3rd round, Eagles), back Bobby Grayson (3rd round, Pittsburgh Pirates), tackle Bob Reynolds (6th round, Packers), back Bones Hamilton (8th round, Brooklyn Dodgers), end Monk Moscrip (9th round, Brooklyn Dodgers) and tackle Niels Larsen (9th round, Chicago Cardinals). The Stanford freshman football team of 1932 made a simple vow to never lose to USC ever again. Three years later, they were three time conference champions, Rose Bowl champions and well represented in the very first NFL Draft. Some became innovators and fabulously wealthy, all the while motivated by that vow made in 1932. It became a driving force for their lives. It was because of their accomplishments on the fields of glory that they realized that they could accomplish anything they put their minds to.