Big Plays by the Bay No. 4: Stanford’s undefeated “Wow Boys” roll to a Rose Bowl Game triumph
College football has been played in the Bay Area for 133 years with numerous great players and games – plus some remarkable stories that have been forgotten. Bay Area Blitz contributor Mark Purdy has picked the 10 best stories. He will count them down in the monthly newsletter leading up to January’s College Football Playoff National Championship at Levi’s Stadium.
They definitely don’t make football nicknames the way they once did. In 1940, Stanford stunned the Bay Area by following up a miserable 1-7-1 season in 1939 with a perfect 10-0 record and a Rose Bowl Game victory over Nebraska. Witty newspaper writers of the day called them the “Wow Boys” because of the sensational show they rolled out every Saturday.
In truth, the nickname was a play on words, a twist on the “Vow Boys” moniker given to Stanford teams of the early 1930’s when players pledged they would never lose to USC. The “Wow Boys” of 1940 took it to another level. They lost to no one. Their coach was Clark Shaughnessy, who had come west from the University of Chicago with a new toy. He’d taken a supposedly outdated 19th century concept called the “T formation” and revised it into a modern offensive scheme. It featured men in motion, deceptive counter plays and other misdirection. The quarterback lined up beneath the center and took a direct snap before distributing the ball via slick handoffs or play-action passes.
It was a revolutionary development. Just as television would soon replace radio, Shaughnessy’s new “T” offense soon replaced that era’s standard single-wing schemes. But for that magical 1940 season, Stanford had the “T” all to itself. Luckily, Shaughnessy found the perfect man to run it in quarterback Frankie Albert, a clever lefthander who earned All-American honors for his razzle-dazzle. Running backs Hugh Gallarneau and Pete Kmetovic were the other stars as week after week, the Indians (then the school mascot) knocked off foe after foe on the way to a Pacific Coast Conference championship.
The team’s postseason Pasadena trip was another triumph. In Stanford’s 21-13 Rose Bowl Game victory, the offense outgained Nebraska in yardage, 375 to 128. Afterward, Cornhusker Coach Biff Jones said: "Tell Clark Shaughnessy I'll buy him 120 acres of fine corn land if he'll tell me where we can get a Frankie Albert. That kid's got too much pass, too much kick, too much noodle for us.”
Despite the praise, Stanford finished the season ranked a consensus No. 2 behind undefeated Minnesota, although a few lesser-known organizations proclaimed the Indians national champions. Shaughnessy left Stanford just two years later to become Maryland’s head coach. Albert eventually became the 49ers’ quarterback. But decades later, football historians still look back on their 1940 feats and proclaim: Wow.