Murakowski's Touchdown Was Legit:
Here's Proof

By Larry LaTourette

With Northwestern taking on Cal for the first time since the 1949 Rose Bowl, there has been a wave of renewed interest in that great game, the only other time that NU and Cal have played.  Cal fans are quick to point out that Bear Coach Pappy Waldorf should have won that game against his former team, and with it the national championship.  Why make that claim?  Because NU's second touchdown in its 20-14 victory was very controversial at the time, and it remains so to this day.

Wildcat Art Murakowski made a drive for the endzone in the second quarter, coming just a couple of feet from the goal line, and setting the 'Cats up with a first and goal.  On the very next play, Murakowski took the handoff and lunged for the goal.  He was wrapped up by Norm Pressley, who managed to jerk the ball loose.  The field judge (it's a truly small world: the official who made the call was Jay Berwanger, the University of Chicago alumnus who won the first Heisman Trophy) called the play a touchdown, and Cal players were outraged.  After the game, the press released the following two photos:

As Cal fans point out, the photos seem to show Murakowski fumbling before he crosses the goal line.  Murakowski claimed that he had already lunged across the goal line before these photos were taken, and that Pressley had dragged him backward, back from the goal, after he had already broken the plane.  Plausible, but is it accurate?

There is film of the Rose Bowl game, and the NU Archives has posted it onto YouTube.  At first glance, the film appears to offer no help in solving the mystery of the Murakowski touchdown.  In fact, when you focus on the play in question, it seems to bolster Cal's claim that Murakowski fumbled before he fell into the endzone.  Here is the play, first at full speed, then at one-third speed:

Making it more difficult to ascertain what happened is the sudden movement of the movie camera a split second after Murakoski breaks the plane; the camera's jerky movement hides the backward motion of Murakowski as Pressley pulls him back. 

Now, let's look, Zapruder-like, at the key frames-- in sequence-- of the moment of the fumble.

First, this frame shows the moment of the touchdown, a split second before the black and white top photo.  This frame is crucial.

The white line is pointing at Murakowski, already over the goal line.  In the foreground is Pressley, grabbing onto Murakowski.  Note the NU and Cal players in front and to the right of Murakowski.  The NU player has his arms in front of the Cal player, but neither yet has his arms up in the air.  Both of these players have their arms raised by the time the top photograph is taken (look at the two players in the far left of the top photo).  The Cal player in this frame has his knees slightly bent, but is not yet falling.  In the top photo, that Cal player's knees are more fully bent, and he is starting to fall backward.  The players' body positions in this frame establish this frame as coming before the top photo.

Frame #2 is nearly the same moment as the black and white top photo.  The NU and Cal players grappling have assumed the positions they have in the top photo: the Cal player's left arm is raised above and between the NU player's arms, and he is falling backward, though with both feet on the ground.  Notice that both Pressley and Murakowski (again indicated by the white line) are over a foot back from where they are in the first frame.

Frame #3: Immediately after the photos.  After jerking Murakowski back and out of the endzone, Pressley has spun him sideways, and then fallen in, with Murakowski, to the endzone.  Note the clear view that Berwanger had of the whole play, and he saw the ball break the plane, just as Murakowski claimed, and then get briefly hauled backward.

The press photos certainly appear to have been conclusive, but without these film frames, and the movement they show, the reality of the play eluded fans until now, the very week these two teams meet once again.