There maybe no bigger sports icon in Saint Mary's history than Slip Madigan, and now his accomplishments are on display at the Oakland Museum as a part of the Smithsonian's traveling sports exhibition "Sports: Breaking Records, Breaking Barriers."
Madigan put Saint Mary's football on the map during his 19 years as head coach of a program that suffered a 126-0 loss to Cal in its final game before Madigan's arrival in 1921.
"I asked my dad when he felt happiest or like he had achieved the most as a coach," Slip's son Ed Madigan said. "I thought he would say it was after one of his biggest wins, but he told me it was when they only lost 26-0 to Cal his first year at Saint Mary's. He said, â€˜We shaved a hundred points off those guys.'"
Madigan's era saw many significant victories. In 1930, Madigan and the Gaels, accompanied by more than 150 alumni, traveled via 16-car train â€“ dubbed "the longest bar in the world" by New York papers â€“ for a game versus Fordham. The Gaels were a heavy underdog versus a national powerhouse that had won 16 consecutive games dating back to 1928.
After trailing 12-0 at halftime, the Gaels stormed back for a 20-12 victory that established California schools were on the same level as the East Coast teams, which had been considered far superior.
"It was the punch-drunk Jack Dempsey staggering back to knock out Jack Sharkey," wrote Ed Frayne, the sports editor for the New York American in 1930, of the Gaels' second half rally. "It was amazing, stupefying, dumbfounding, an uphill fight so fast and spectacular that it left 40,000 spectators breathless with excitement. It was the most thrilling game I've seen in this part of the country in years and years."
Madigan won over 70 percent of his games at Saint Mary's, leading the Gaels to a Cotton Bowl victory in 1938 over Texas Tech. The display at the Oakland Museum will focus on not only Madigan's numerical accomplishments, but also his impact on the Bay Area as a whole.
"My dad was quite the promoter," Ed Madigan said. "He was a colorful man who loved his players. More than anything he was a great teacher."
"Sports: Breaking Records, Breaking Barriers" also features athletes who made a positive impact through sports and beyond such as Babe Ruth, Jackie Robinson, Mia Hamm and Oakland native, basketball legend Bill Russell.
The display runs from Sept. 23, 2006 to Jan. 7, 2007 at the Oakland Museum, located on 10th and Oak streets.
"Obviously, this is a great honor for my family," Ed Madigan said. "I'm sure my father would be very proud."
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