Watching Urban Meyer and Ohio State clip the Washington Huskies in the 2019 Rose Bowl reminded me of this classic hoax from 58 years ago. All hail Cal Tech.
WHEN CAL TECH WON THE ROSE BOWL
The Grand Daddy of all Sports Hoaxes
We’ve covered All American running back Johnny Chung and Sidd Finch’s 168 mph heater. But they disappear into the mist compared to the Great Rose Bowl Hoax.
This one was part CIA, part Cat Burglar, part Tony Soprano, part Nerd Supreme, part Gonad Testosterone, part Buddy Flick Heist Caper, part Lock Picker 101, part Ferdinand “The Great Imposter” Demara, and part Bizarro Genius. Is that enough parts? Because my cerebral cortex is fully depleted of analogies.
At any rate these scattered parts coalesced into the Prince of Pranks, the all time king of sports hoaxes.
New Years. 1961. The Rose Bowl is salivating for the Huskies of Washington to grapple with the Golden Gophers of Minnesota. The dogs will snarl, the gophers will dig holes.
And Cal Tech will sulk. As usual, Tech was nowhere to be found, having only a smattering of 1,000 students and a football team that would struggle to score against a junior high eleven.
But a small group of Cal Tech rabble rousers, who later became known as the Fiendish Fourteen, were convinced their hallowed halls were being royally snubbed and dissed by the distinguished Rose Bowl honchos.
After all, the CT campus was barely a swing pass down stream from the Pasadena stadium and they often competed on that turf, although I’m not sure why. The cathedral seats 100 grand and even if the whole Tech alumni and their mommies and daddies and aunts and uncles and nephews and nieces and every dude and dudess they’ve ever talked to since birth burst through the turnstiles the joint would still be as empty as a Jewish stomach on Yom Kippur.
"Get that Sumo dude off my tail"
So once again NBC and the Rose Bowl was devoid of Cal Tech and the FF was as teed off as a rattlesnake who has just realized a sumo wrestler is stepping on his shaker.
A 19-year-old engineering iconoclast named Lyn Hardy was determined to toss a hand grenade of humour into the mix.
Which would eventually garner nary a chuckle from the U of Washington cheer squad, who had created a massive halftime flip card routine that would mesmerize NBC and the 30 million football fans watching. This was their moment of glory.
Lyn Hardy, still grinning 58 years later
Hardy went to work two days before game time. Posing as a reporter from a local high school, he visited three Husky cheerleaders where they were staying in the Long Beach State dorms. “They were very nice guys,” he says. “They talked me through the whole thing and showed me where they kept all the cards.”
Now the Cal Tech subterfuge was in high gear.
***When the cheerleaders left for dinner, Hardy and two Tech buds broke into their room by picking the lock. They quickly confiscated an instruction card and headed back to Pasadena.
***They hired a printer for $30 to duplicate 2,232 cards.
***Then, early on New Year’s Eve, while the cheerleaders were visiting Disneyland, the Cal Tech desperadoes broke into the dorm again and lifted the master instructions. That’s all they needed to roll. These were, after all, engineering students at a high tech college and it didn’t take long for them to break the code.
***Recruiting as many CT students as possible, they altered the 2,232 cards by hand so the seat numbers and instructions would synch perfectly.
***And now the last piece of the jigsaw puzzle. The Hardy Boys trekked to Long Beach for the third time, picked the lock again, replaced the master plan, scooped up the original instruction cards, and left the fakes in their place.
Bob Schloredt, the Huskies main man
Now the fun began.
At halftime in Pasadena the Huskies, led by QB Bob Schloredt, had a 17-0 edge and their cheerleaders and marching band were riding an adrenaline high. The colored cards and instruction sheets had been deposited on the seats in the section reserved for the Washington faithful. When the cheerleaders gave the signal the students held the cards over their head and the images appeared like magic.
There would be 15 in total and the first 11 received roars from the 100,000 in the bowl and instant focus from the 30 mill NBC viewers. So far so good.
But number 12.
This flash card image was supposed to look like a Husky, obviously the Washington mascot. But it had…buck teeth…and round ears. More of a beaver than a husky. More like the mascot of…well, Cal Tech.
Must be a glitch. Carry on, dudes.
Then number 13.
This one would get them back on track. It would spell out HUSKIES. And it did. But backwards. SEIKSUH. What the hell is going on?
Now the cheer squad and the marching band were getting bubbles in their gut. This was not good. No, sir, no way, no how. Just not good. But it had to be some strange mix up because the first 11 were aces. Which is a classic example of the Cal Tech genius.
Okay, fire away. The cheerleaders persevered, giving the signal for number 14. The cards went up, following the explicit instructions right their on their sheets.
And they spelled out CAL TECH. In big, bold black letters on a white background.
The silence was deafening. The band was stunned, the music froze in the air, the cheerleaders stared, unable to comprehend.
And then the laughter rolled through the stadium like a tsunami.
The perplexed band marched off the field and the cheerleaders Deep Sixed the final image, probably wondering if it was a word starting with F. Too bad because it was the American flag and Cal Tech, being good citizens, left it pristine.
“There was never any intent to make the world’s greatest prank,” says Lyndon Hardy, who is 77 now and a respected physicist. "There's a fine line but I think we stayed on the right side of it. It could have been obscenities or something in very poor taste, but we didn't do that. So I'm proud of that — we acted responsibly and nobody got hurt."
Then he reflects, “There was a lot of luck. What were the chances of pulling that off? I'd say zip. But you don't know that when you're young.”
Hardy, who has written three sci-fi books, adds, "As you mature you get more conservative. Life starts hitting you with brick walls. If I was approached tomorrow and someone asked if I’d do this I’d say it was crazy. But here we were, 19, and committing felonies.”
Then he laughs. "I hope the statute of limitations has run out."
And, oh, yeh, the Huskies took the 1961 Rose Bowl crown 17-7. Urban Meyer wasn't there.
Dave Empey has developed five major league
players, including Yankees ace James Paxton
and Ryan Dempster, who dominated the hill
for 16 MLB seasons, was an all-star twice, and
won a World Series ring with the Red Sox.
Plus Rowan Wick, who was called up by the
Padres in September and then traded to the Cubs.
Dave has coached 19 pro players, 11 members of the
Canadian national junior team, and more than
100 collegiate athletes.
As a sports writer with the Vancouver Sun
Dave interviewed home run king Roger Maris,
iconic heavyweight champ Rocky Marciano,
legendary sprinter Jesse Owens, Hall of Fame
pitcher Bob Lemon, classic daredevil Evel
Knievel, and NHL hard rock Tiger Williams.
Dave has covered almost ever sport you can
name, including baseball, football, basketball,
soccer, hockey, horse racing, lacrosse, boxing,
hang gliding, swimming, figure skating, rugby,
track and field, tennis, curling, and skiing.
In Kelowna he sat next to Billy Schumacher,
the greatest hydroplane driver of all time, as
they blistered through three laps at 150 mph.
"That ride with Billy was a lot of fun," he says.
Dave also managed and produced an album for
the rock band "Paul Anthony and The Invasion.
Ryan and Dave in Las Vegas
REDUX--The Grand Daddy of all Sports Hoaxes
My Buddy, Duke's Coach K
The Golden Age of Morneau and Dempster
The Pendulum Swings West
Jupiter's Win at Any Cost Jackasses
A Tale of Two Trades
The 800 Grand Party to End all Parties
Bring On the Sloth Triplets
The Insanity of Tommy John for 15-year-olds
Is Icing Good for a Pitcher's Arm?
What has Hockey got to do with this?
Koufax versus Kershaw
The Greatest Pitcher Who Ever Lived
"Just Play the Game"
The Spirit of Billy The Kid
One Bad Pitch
"The Players All Love Him"
The Mick's 600-foot Rocket Shots
Innocent Until Proven Guilty
The Lethal Weapon No One Uses
The Ineffable Ernest Hemingway
The Incompetence of MLB Coaches
Alabama and Ole Miss Never to be Found
The Bringer of Drizzle
Rowan Wick called up to the Padres
What is wrong with human beings?
The Dempster Slider
"I Gotta Go"
The Rock Star on the South Side
Flamethrower Michael Kopech
The Inane Babble of the Media
Rocky and the Nerds
Moneyball, the Farce
Killer Koepke and The Assassin
THE PITCHING PACKAGE (2)
Simplify, Simplify, Simplify
SEE HOW EASILY YOU CAN THROW HARD
Protecting Your Arm
The Road to Velocity
LOAD--Lead with your Hip
Throw through the Catcher
"White Lightning" at 110 mph
Johnny Chung, the Celestial Comet
THE PITCHING PACKAGE (1)
The Catch 22 of Relief Pitchers
Shadow Boxing Your Delivery
Balance Like a Gymnast
A Controlled Knee Raise
The Gold of Coil and Go
Lefthander's Pickoff Move
Stealing Against a Lefthander
Sidd Finch and his 168 mph Fastball
What Utter (Bleeping) Nonsense
Selects Rev Up for Canada Cup
Hands as Deep as an Oil Well
Hitters: Forget the Useless Knee Raise
The Terror of The Dreaded Shift
"Knock Somebody Down"
The Cougars are prowling once again
Wind Sprints--Fast Twitch Endurance
Playing Shortstop on a Donkey
What Are Scouts Looking For?
A Cure for Betances
The Six Foot Basketball League
Thank You, Aaron Judge
Sweet, Sweet, Sweet Caroline
Baseball Players--Tough as Marshmallows
We Are All Unique
Sale Shovels Horse Manure
The INCREDIBLE shrinking Strike Zone
How Many Rings are on the Wrong Fingers?
The Cure for Sorearms?
The Saga of Showalter and Bonds
The Tragedy of Brien Taylor
Blue Jays: No Standards, No Discipline
James Paxton--The Blueprint for a No-Hitter
"Play it Loud"
The Sportsnet Cheerleaders
The Blaze Turn Up the Heat
Tyler O'Neill and his Magnum Guns
Back Foot Pivot
Giancarlo, Are You Listening?
The Virus Invading the MLB Cyberworld
Are the Sox an Australian Cricket Team?
Using Ted's Head for BP
It's a RELAY, Buck, Not a Cut
Pillar Didn't Steal Home
Eating for Explosive Energy
The Magic of Man City
March Madness and You
Much more in the January 2017 Archives