CUA Acquires Historic Orange Bowl Football
By John H. Tucker
Worn, cracked and seemingly gasping for its last breath of air, it has the look of an old punching bag with laces stitched on top. Without trademark white stripes orbiting its tips, it sits in a case appearing naked and trite. But beneath the layer of 68-year-old dirt, a small symbol of its prominence emerges. Etched in black ink, just above the Spalding insignia, are the words “Catholic University — Orange Bowl Champions, 1936.”
Thanks to the efforts of CUA’s athletic director, the business initiative of a Miami mayor’s grandson, the goodwill of a Florida auctioneer and the marvels of modern technology, the early-century football now belongs to CUA.
“It’s actually in great shape for its age,” attests Bob Talbot, longtime CUA athletic director and recently appointed senior development officer for CUA’s athletic fund-raising campaign. “It’s surprising, because nothing’s been done to preserve it since the game.”
The game in question took place in Miami on New Year’s Day, 1936. The second annual Orange Bowl Classic featured a south vs. north matchup between the Rebels of the University of Mississippi and the Catholic University Flying Cardinals, who entered the game with a regular-season record of 7-1. Playing in a stadium packed with 12,000 fans, the CUA footballers edged Ole Miss by a score of 20-19 and in doing so helped pioneer a ritual-filled bowl game that is now one of the most anticipated annual athletic events in the country. Ecstatic over their squad’s triumph, Cardinal fans in D.C. managed to sweep up President Franklin Roosevelt on his way to church during a 3,000-person victory parade up Pennsylvania Avenue.
Talbot tells the story of the football: “I got a call this summer from a Florida auction house, EZ Auctions and Shipping, and an auctioneer by the name of Steve Reed indicated that he had the game ball from the 1936 Orange Bowl, and that he thought that it should be in the hands of either Catholic University or Ole Miss. So I asked him to send me a picture of the football, its certification and anything else he had.”
When the documents were faxed in, Talbot became intrigued. He learned that at the end of the ’36 contest, the game ball was signed by members of both teams and presented to Alexander D.H. Fossey, mayor of Miami at the time. Along with old news clips, certificates and photos of Fossey, Talbot received a notarized document, written and signed by Fossey’s grandson, which read as follows:
“I hereby certify that the 1936 Orange Bowl game ball in question is genuine. The ball was presented to my grandfather A.D.H. Fossey, who was the Mayor of Miami in 1936. This ball has been in my family since then and in my personal possession for the past 50 years since my grandfather gave it to me at the age of 16.”
Inspired by the ball’s historic allure, Talbot decided he must make a bid. After discussing the matter with Very Rev. David M. O’Connell, C.M., university president, and with Vice President for Student Life Susan Pervi, the athletic director made an offer of $1,000 — an amount promptly rejected by the football’s owner. After further discussion between owner and auctioneer, a decision was made to put the ball up for bid on eBay, a Web site devoted to online auctioning.
“We decided on a seven-day auction,” Reed continues with the story. “We put a $20,000 reserve on the ball when we listed it on eBay, meaning that unless the reserve was met, we didn’t have to sell it to the highest bidder. In the first day it got six bids and went up to $1,250. That established the value of the ball.”
During the next few days, the bidding war heated up. Talbot offered $1,300 and was quickly countered at $1,400. After a period of waiting and observing “all kinds of hits,” Talbot entered a bid of $1,500 and immediately called Reed, informing the Tampa auctioneer he could go no higher. After a deliberation with the owner, Reed called Talbot back in less than an hour with the word he was yearning to hear: Sold.
The 1935 Catholic University Football Team.
“At first the owner was a little cross [with a final offer of only $1,500], but I wanted to see the ball go to Catholic,” admits Reed, who ultimately persuaded the owner to settle on Talbot’s offer. “I’m not supposed to be biased, but, as I said to Bob, it’s quite obvious to me that Catholic is the ball’s home. You were a class-A school. You won the game. Your athletic department is where the ball belongs.”
Within a week, a check was sent to Florida and the historic pigskin was mailed to Talbot’s home address. It now sits in a glass case on the second floor of the Raymond A. DuFour (athletic) Center.
The money for the deal came from the Cardinal Club, a CUA athletic support group dedicated to the advancement of Catholic University athletics.
The purchase marks the second time CUA has acquired a game ball used in a celebrated gridiron matchup. In the DuFour Center the university also displays the ball used in the 1940 Sun Bowl played between Catholic University and Arizona State in El Paso, Texas, a game that ended in a 0-0 tie.
“The Orange Bowl football is a part of Catholic University’s athletic history,” reflects Talbot. “This acquisition closes a chapter that can’t be forgotten. Grandchildren of the guys who played during the '30s will now see the ball on display. It puts an exclamation mark on a great period of time at Catholic.”
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