Murakowski's Touchdown Was Legit:
By Larry LaTourette
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
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
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:
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.
#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
#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.