Aug 24

Countdown to College Football: Throwing It Back to 2004 … and 1931

With kickoff of the 2013 college football season less than a week away, I’ve been spending much of my downtime researching the Pac-12 and all of USC’s opponents for my regular in-season gig over at You can expect to see my annual Pac-12 preview there sometime in the next 72 hours or so, and a preview of next Thursday’s Trojan opener at Hawaii will likely go live there next Wednesday.

I’ve written a lot of football content since 2000, but was reminded of one very special story earlier this summer by some friends from my other professional life. About nine years ago, brothers Joel and Loren Crannell of Moulton Logistics introduced me to one of their family’s elders, a gentleman named Chuck Stump. Mr. Stump passed away last month after one heck of a life. And, as part of that life, he’d acquired a couple of pieces of simply incredible USC memorabilia. During the summer of 2004, at a lunch in the San Fernando Valley, I met Stump, heard his wonderful story and got to see these incredible pieces.

With Stump’s recent passing — and college football just around the corner — I felt it would be great to re-post the story that originally ran on on August 6, 2004. Wherever you are today, Mr. Stump, thank you for sharing your great story. And to Joel and Loren: thanks for the opportunity to meet such a wonderful guy.

Honoring Old Champions Before the Latest Trojan Kickoff

Before Chuck Stump became a World War II paratrooper, he loved USC football — and he’s got the goods to prove it!

Chuck Stump holds his beloved 1932 Rose Bowl game ball in 2004.

Chuck Stump holds his beloved 1932 Rose Bowl game ball in 2004.

“As a young boy, I found it fascinating. They were like true superheroes back then — just like Flash Gordon or Prince Valiant or the Roman and Greek warriors we heard about in school,” says Charles “Chuck” Stump, while clutching a USC game ball from the 1932 Rose Bowl, in which the Trojans upended Tulane, 21-12, to win the school’s second national title. “In that era of the late 1920s through the 1930s, I went with my dad Clark to every game we could down at the Coliseum.”

The octogenarian, who has lived in the San Fernando Valley for more than six decades now, went on to become a hero in his own right — a member of the 11th Airborne from 1943-47. “We were among the first occupation troops in Japan,” Stump says, downplaying his battle wounds that he says were “field dressed” before he went immediately back to work. “I jumped into New Guinea, Luzon and many other areas. We were training for the invasion of Japan before the A-bombs were dropped in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.”

But it was those memories of USC football as a youngster that helped form Stump’s vision of heroism. And, not only does Stump still have that game ball, with a number of autographs from famed Trojans of the day, he also still owns an original version of the “Howard Jones All-American Football” board game, signed by Jones and a couple of Trojan standouts.

“The game is totally different from today’s football,” Stump says, pointing out just how far football has come from the days of running back Gus Shaver to the aerial attack of Matt Leinart. “It’s all the old style plays — all running plays. Passing plays all have a very low chance of success in this game.”

Stump credits his aunt, Laura Hadlock, who worked for the Los Angeles City Parks Department for getting his father access to game tickets. “We had every program from all the games we went to. We met the big players of that era, like Cotton Warburton, and I also met Howard Jones,” Stump adds. “We also went to the ’32 Olympics when they were at the Coliseum. Unfortunately, when I went into the war, my mom was against me joining. While I was gone, she gave away most of the things I had collected from those games.”

Still, his cousin, Frank Hadlock, had access to some USC memorabilia and found the game ball and board game to give to Stump. The ball, which had begun to deteriorate, needed some help. “My dad went over the autographs in India ink, took out the rotted bladder and packed it with paper, and then shellacked the ball to preserve it,”

That football is a truly wondrous piece of memorabilia, featuring hand-written scores of each game in USC’s 10-1 1931 national title season, an etched interlocking “SC” logo, and the autographs of Trojan greats like Orv Mohler, Johnny Baker, Gus Shaver and Tay Brown. The archaic board game is still in excellent condition, considering it’s made of cardboard and many of the game pieces are wood.

The 1931 Trojan team, which featured All-Americans Baker, Shaver, Stan Williamson and Erny Pinckert, lost its opening game to St. Mary’s, 13-7, before running off 10 consecutive victories, including shutouts of Oregon State, Oregon, California, Stanford, Montana and Georgia. However, its most memorable triumph was a see-to-believe 16-14 comeback victory over Notre Dame in South Bend on Nov. 21.

Trailing 14-0 to begin the fourth quarter, Mohler’s passing and Shaver’s running narrowed the Irish lead to 14-13, before Baker’s 33-yard field goal with a minute to play sealed a Trojan victory that made national headlines. When the USC team returned to Los Angeles via train, a crowd estimated at 300,000 welcomed the Trojans with a parade through downtown Los Angeles.

It was that kind of passion that Clark and Chuck Stump shared for USC football. When the younger Stump went off to war, his father kept him in touch with Trojan football. “My dad would listen to the games on the radio and chart all the plays for me,” Stump contends. “He used charting paper from the power plants he worked at, and would send me the game charts wherever I was based.”

After returning home and settling down in Van Nuys, Stump started his own trucking company for a time, before becoming a driver. He lost interest in college sports as time went on, citing the down era at USC in the 1940s and 1950s, and excessive changes of coaches and players. “There was just too much jumping around for me,” Stump says. “Back when I was going, you knew Jones would be the coach and the players would be a certain type of man. Things changed and I lost touch.”

Still, Stump revels in those childhood memories of cardinal and gold afternoons in the Coliseum with his father. And the 72-year old football is the greatest reminder of those times for him.

For the rest of us, as we close in on the start of another season of USC football, that football and a story like Chuck Stump’s are a reminder of just how deeply felt and long-lasting is the Trojan tradition.

(Originally published August 6, 2004 on

Jan 22

The Truth and Joe Paterno

I woke up to the news of the death of Penn State football coach Joe Paterno this morning, after an apparently short bout with lung cancer. The announcement – predictably given the news of the past few months – touched off a firestorm of commentary in the media, sports and otherwise, via obituaries, columns and Twitter.

The lead of the New York Times official obit of Paterno got it just about right but caused an outcry from the record-setting coach’s staunchest defenders regarding the inclusion of the sexual abuse controversy that brought an abrupt end to his coaching career in November. Meanwhile, others decried simple mentions of “RIP” on Twitter and Facebook as too much of a wish for a man whose inaction likely resulted in the continuing molestation of young boys by his former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky.

Jerry Sandusky retired from Joe Paterno’s staff in 1999.

When the Sandusky-Penn State story broke in November, I got wrapped up in it more than any “media firestorm” in recent memory. Perhaps it was the explosion of such an apparently huge and deplorable series of crimes committed (both legal and moral) by individuals who had previously built a nearly impeccable record of leadership and accomplishment. To say that Penn State was seen as a beacon of all that was “right” with the world of collegiate athletics prior to this scandal would be a massive understatement.

Watching what happened to the legacy of a man like Paterno in the passing weeks – as he essentially slipped away – was stunning and sad to someone who values the positives that sports can bring to a life. But to say anyone brought this end upon Paterno other than himself would be far from true.

There’s that word – true. Isn’t truth what this story is really all about? What was really true? How can two things at such distant ends of a spectrum of right and wrong about one person essentially both be true? It’s really appropriate, then, that I am reading a fantastic book called “The Night of the Gun” by New York Times columnist David Carr. In the book, Carr – a former drug and alcohol addict who nearly saw his life slip away – uses his vast investigative journalism skills to basically tell the story of his own life, via interviews with those close to him during different parts of it, as well as documents and other tidbits that help him put together a story that will be closest to the “truth” about his life.

Carr often opens chapters with quotes from famous writers that have some sort of relevance to the upcoming information. One of those quotes couldn’t be more fitting to the story of Paterno and how different people are reacting to the news of his death:

“The truth is rarely pure and never simple.” – Oscar Wilde

An Irishman who pondered truth.


Truth: Paterno won 409 games, more than any other NCAA Division I football coach.

Truth: Paterno’s success on the field and his commitment to improving the educational capabilities of Penn State are the two biggest reasons the school has become what it is today – a rare highly-regarded state school in a part of the country (the Northeast) where state schools are usually given short shrift.

Truth: Paterno turned out a series of exceptional graduates in his 46 seasons as head coach, both on and off the field.

Truth: Paterno was a family man, loyal to his wife Sue, his five children and numerous grandchildren. Sue and all five of his kids attended Penn State.

Truth: Paterno maintained an everyman image in secluded Happy Valley, making him both a larger-than-life hero as well as just a friendly “average Joe” (pardon the pun) to those closest to him – both in the community and in the local media.

However …

Truth: Grand jury testimony given in the investigation of a 2002 incident involving Sandusky and a boy in the Penn State locker room showed Paterno’s efforts to seek out the truth and protect those most innocent among us (children) woefully and shockingly lacking from a moral, if not necessarily a legal, standpoint.

Truth: Paterno held so much power in State College that it’s essentially accepted that he laughed off the president of the university and athletic director when they tried to force him to retire in 2004, following a series of poor seasons.

Truth: That overwhelming power vacuum in remote, sheltered Happy Valley and his lack of action in the 2002 Sandusky incident must call into question Paterno’s knowledge and action during the Penn State police’s prior investigation of Sandusky in 1998 and Sandusky’s then supposed “retirement” following the 1999 season. How could a man with the power Paterno wielded in State College NOT have known about the Penn State police investigation of a man who’d been a key part of his staff for more than two decades? And just why did Sandusky “retire” in 1999, when all indications had been that he was the heir apparent to Paterno?

Truth: Paterno was hounded by rumors of improper intervention when Penn State players found themselves either in legal or scholastic trouble in recent seasons since the Sandusky investigation came to light. In the past, most would have written those rumors off as the bitter recriminations of those who may have felt “wronged” by Paterno or Penn State. Now?

So what is the ultimate truth of the story of Joe Paterno? His many great qualities, his incredible commitment to education, his loyalty to Penn State, his concept of what he called “the Grand Experiment” – success with honor – and how he and generations of Penn State players lived up to it … are those things enough to overcome the indubitably horrific choices he made in the Sandusky matter? Where is the balance? What truth wins out?

Of all the things I read about Paterno’s death today, this piece by Gregg Doyel of – one of Paterno and Penn State’s most outspoken critics since November – really hit home. Joe Paterno was a man. He was not the god many Penn State fans – many football fans – seemed to idolize him as. Nor is he the personification of evil that many people – people who are understandably angered by his lack of moral action and leadership in perhaps the greatest test of his life – would believe.

David Carr investigated his life’s own truths.

He was as fallible as you or me. He was as fallible as a writer like Carr, whose self-investigation hits home with me. Trust me, after the past couple years of my own life, I know what it’s like to feel fallible, to wish you’d done more, to suffer from guilt – but also to understand that those things aren’t the complete truth of your own life. Carr finds in his book that he is, in fact, a drug dealer, a drug addict, a general fuck-up. But he also finds that he is a committed father, a spectacular investigator, an excellent writer. All of those truths are a part of Carr the man.

And … all of the truths you have read about Paterno are part of him. You can laud Paterno for the massive achievements for the bulk of his life, while also maintaining high levels of anger, shocked disbelief and a complete loss of respect for this one massive mistake that will (and should) color his legacy forever. Mostly, today, you can mourn for his family and friends at their loss, while also mourning for the children whose lives were likely irreparably harmed by his inaction.

“The truth is rarely pure and never simple.” And there are few things truer than that.