Golden Gaels Swap Tales
By John Grennan
Legendary 1930s SMC football coach Slip Madigan had a reputation for outsmarting opposing coaches. In 1935, a brazen young John Kenny ’37 pulled one over on him.
Before the train with the Gaels and hundreds of fans left for a showdown against Fordham at New York’s Polo Grounds, Kenny snuck aboard. Madigan found the stowaway after a few miles.
“Slip tried to put me off the train in Stockton because I hadn’t paid the fare,” Kenny remembers. “But he never did get my $20.”
Kenny and classmate Ed Sheetz joined more than 80 alumni and friends at the April 13 Golden Reunion for classes graduating more than a half-century ago. The festivities included a screening of “Brickpile to Broadway,” George Clark ’66’s documentary on Gael football’s glory years.
Many of Sheetz and Kenny’s best College memories came from the sidelines of mid-30s football games, where Sheetz was a sousaphone player and Kenny a yell leader.
Kenny remembers the Gaels’ upset of USC in front of 80,000 fans at one of the first college football games at the Los Angeles Coliseum, built for the 1932 Olympics. He also led SMC backers who braved the UC Berkeley crowds at Memorial Stadium for a series of games during the Depression.
Sheetz considered suiting up for the Gaels after playing high school football in Benicia. He opted for the safety of the sousaphone, however, after catching a glimpse of Madigan’s 220-pound linemen practicing on the Chapel lawn.
“It was really dog-eat-dog,” Sheetz said. “Madigan was a terrific recruiter.”
So terrific, Kenny remembers, that the coach wasn’t above a little subterfuge. When one potential Gael was considering Santa Clara because they offered to do his laundry, Madigan pulled a fast one and said Saint Mary’s would do the same.
“He pointed over to the (College’s) Power House smokestack and said, ‘That’s our laundry room over there,’ ” Kenny laughed.
That ruse worked, but some of Madigan’s gimmicks, particularly his zany uniform combinations, fell flat.
“One game, he had the ends wear blue and linemen wear red, but that didn’t work too well,” Sheetz said, noting that opposing defenders could easily color-code eligible Gael receivers.
The Fordham–SMC rivalry that captivated the country and piqued the interest of Babe Ruth and Will Rogers seven decades ago remains fresh for Sheetz and Kenny.
“(Fordham) had the ‘Seven Blocks of Granite’ (offensive line) with Vince Lombardi,” Kenny recalled.
“And Marty Kordick (’35) knocked some of Lombardi’s teeth out in one of those games,” Sheetz added.