Big Plays by the Bay No. 9: St. Mary's College Gives the "Slip" to an Entire Nation
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 and will count them down in the monthly newsletter leading up to January’s College Football Playoff National Championship.
[RELATED: Big Plays By The Bay:1 | Big Plays By The Bay:2 | Big Plays By The Bay:3 |Big Plays By The Bay: No. 4 | Big Plays By The Bay: No. 5 | Big Plays By The Bay: No. 6 | Big Plays By The Bay: No. 7 | Big Plays By The Bay: No. 8 | Big Plays By The Bay: No. 10]
The 1920’s were glory days for Northern California college football. The game was played by seven Bay Area schools – Cal, Stanford, University of San Francisco, St. Mary’s College, San Jose State, Santa Clara University and College of the Pacific (which was located in San Jose until the 1923 move to Stockton) – and fervor for the sport was high. Crowds flocked to see their favorite teams and players.
But no local football personality was more flamboyant than St. Mary’s coach Edward “Slip” Madigan, a self-made and self-promoting character’s character. If he were alive today, he would be a Kardashian.
Madigan, a former Notre Dame lineman, moved west at age 25 and seized an opportunity. The St. Mary’s football program was in shambles after suffering a 127-0 loss to Cal in the final game of the 1921 season. Madigan, with square-chinned flair, promised St. Mary’s administrators that he could turn things around if they hired him as head coach.
They did. And he did. Madigan recruited 60 new players and installed the Notre Dame offense. By 1927, the Gaels were a dominant team possessing victories over USC, UCLA, Cal and Stanford. The coach hosted a “Slip Madigan” radio show. He spun out juicy quotes for newspapermen. In 1930, chasing national exposure, “Slip” took St. Mary’s via train to New York City for a matchup against powerful Fordham. Madigan threw a big pregame party for the Big Apple media and invited such dignitaries as Babe Ruth and Mayor Jimmy Walker. The next day, St. Mary’s dropped a 20-12 defeat on Fordham and drew headlines coast to coast.
Madigan wasn’t done. After the 1938 season, he coaxed the Cotton Bowl into inviting his 5-2 team to Dallas and scored a 20-13 upset over previously undefeated Texas Tech. With Madigan’s contract giving him most of the ticket revenue, the St. Mary’s administration grew wary of football taking over the school and dismissed “Slip” the following year, to much campus discontent. Madigan left St. Mary’s with a 117-45-12 overall record, then coached Iowa for two seasons before retiring. He’s a College Football Hall of Famer.
To be sure, St. Mary’s had other fleeting football highlights. In 1945, running back “Squirmin” Herman Wedemeyer finished fourth in Heisman Trophy balloting and led the Gaels to the Sugar Bowl where they lost, 33-13, to Oklahoma A&M. But the Gaels never came close to matching the Madigan era. The St. Mary’s football program folded in 1951, then returned as Division II program in 1967 before being permanently dropped in 2004.
Somewhere, “Slip” is still weeping about that.