Bob Voigts: 1947-1954

Click on any of the images below for an enlargement...

Alex Sarkisian profile from Northwestern program

Team photograph, 1948

Students celebrate the Wildcats' Rose Bowl bid, 1948

Daily Northwestern, November 23, 1948

Chicago Herald American, November 22, 1948

Northwestern vs. University of California Rose Bowl program, 1949

Daily Northwestern, February 4, 1955


Bob Voigts was only 31 when he took the reins of the Northwestern football team, bringing a host of other ex-players with him to fill assistant positions. Voigts' first-year team was stacked with talent, but stumbled through a 3-6 season, including huge losses to Minnesota, Michigan, and Wisconsin. The most interesting game of their year turned out to be a one-point loss to Ohio State, in which last minute penalties threw away what should have been a solid win. The story was documented by Howard Roberts and published in a book called The Big Nine:

With a minute and 47 seconds to go, Northwestern was leading, 6-0, on Frank Aschenbrenner's touchdown in the first minute of the fourth quarter, and had stopped the Buckeyes on the Wildcat one-yard line.

Jim Farrar, on the first play after the ball changed hands, sneaked to the five. Northwestern was put back to the one-yard line for taking too much time, then Ohio was penalized five for offside. On the next play Northwestern was offside and back went the ball to the one-yard line. There were 55 seconds left when the Wildcats were offside once more, but this time the penalty was declined. That cost Northwestern a down. Farrar, on another quarterback sneak, went to the eight-yard line where, with fourth down and 43 second to go, Ohio called time.

When play was resumed Tom Worthington punted to Bob Demmel on the Wildcat 24. A pass, Pandel Savic to Demmel, was complete on the 13. Savic passed again and Worthington intercepted. At this point the band marched onto the field, thinking the game was over. But no! A Northwestern player, being replaced by a substitute, had not reached the sideline before the ball was snapped, so Northwestern had too many players on the field. That called for a five yard penalty.

Thirteen seconds remained and the ball was on the eight-yard line. Ollie Cline was stopped on a plunge but again Northwestern was offside and the ball was placed three yards from the goal. Then Savic passed to Jim Clark in the end zone for a touchdown and a 6-6 tie.

Ohio's place-kicking specialist, Emil Moldea, was called from the bench and, with Savic holding, swung his foot. Don Stonesifer, Wildcat end, blocked the kick, but for the umpteenth time Northwestern was offside and Moldea got a chance to try again. This time his kick was perfect. Ohio had won, 7-6.

Voigts' first season certainly was not impressive, so little was expected from the 1948 team. The team, however, gained a distinction which only one other Northwestern squad has even come close to equalling -- they won the Rose Bowl.

The team's key players included Art Murakowski (fullback) and Frank Aschenbrenner (halfback), who accomplished a good deal of the team's scoring; Ed Tunnicliff and Tom Worthington (halfbacks), Don Burson (quarterback), and captain Alex Sarkisian (center). Their 8-2 season, by game:

Northwestern 19 -- UCLA 0. Burson passes to Zuravleff for one touchdown, Murakowski scores on a run, and Perricone run over 50 yards for another touchdown.

Northwestern 21 -- Purdue 0. Touchdowns by Burson, Tunnicliff, and Worthington. The Wildcats' defense shuts Purdue down so thoroughly that they cannot complete a single pass.

Northwestern 19 -- Minnesota 16. Minnesota goes to a 16-0 lead in the first 10 minutes, all of their points coming from Wildcat fumbles. Northwestern brings the score to 19-16 before halftime, and the second half is scoreless.

Northwestern 0 -- Michigan 28

Northwestern 48 -- Syracuse 0

Northwestern 21 -- Ohio State 7

Northwestern 16 -- Wisconsin 7

Northwestern 7 -- Notre Dame 12. For the first time in the 1948 season, Notre Dame temporarily trails an opponent.

Northwestern 20 -- Illinois 7. The game on which Northwestern's Rose Bowl hopes are pinned. The Wildcats score three touchdowns in the game's first half; Aschenbrenner runs 22 yards for one, Burson passes 23 for another, and "PeeWee" Day recovers a fumble, which Chuck Hagmann carries 65 yards to score.

Northwestern's campus went wild even before the official Rose Bowl invitation came. From the Chicago Herald American:

Evanston's dignity was tossed for a heavy loss as 8,000 Northwestern students swarmed into Fountain Square, tied traffic in knots and took over.

Jumping the gun on the 11 a.m. appointment of the Wildcats as the Big Nine's Rose Bowl football representatives, the undergrads gave no thought to classes.

They came downtown in a mighty, boisterous parade, afoot and by car, many carrying odds and ends from the recent homecoming celebration.

They sang, cheered, and cavorted. It was all spontaneous, which increased the fun. Charles Wright, head of the student governing board, had ordered pickets to insure that nobody went to classes.

But the pickets weren't needed. Faculty members got wind of the plans and classrooms were closed for the day.

From the Daily Northwestern:

Conservative Northwestern literally stood on its head in a 24-hour Rose Bowl celebration.

The festivities were marked by parades, a student "strike," pep rallies, a dance, open houses, no classes and excursions to West Campus.

"It was the biggest thing that has ever happened to Northwestern," said Rusty Hoefle, junior pep commissioner ...

Groups serenaded the South Quads at intervals throughout Sunday night and before dawn yesterday morning.

Even President Franklyn B. Snyder was guest at a midnight serenade, during which a "no school" sign was tacked on his front door.

When a cloudy morning broke on campus yesterday, it saw about 1,000 pledges blockading all campus entrances with signs telling everyone "No School ... California, Here We Come! ..."

More than 3,000 students paraded through Evanston behind the band. Nearly 500 more boarded "L" trains and invaded the Loop where they conducted a snake dance through Marshall Field's.

The most dramatic circumstance of the 1949 Rose Bowl, however, was the coaching matchup -- Bob Voigts was up against Lynn "Pappy" Waldorf, who had left Northwestern only 2 years earlier, and who had coached Voigts himself to All-American honors in 1938.

The game was played in front of 92,000 spectators on New Year's Day, 1949. Several minutes into the first quarter, Frank Aschenbrenner ran 73 yards for Northwestern's first touchdown -- the longest ever (at that point) in Rose Bowl history. At the kickoff, however, California fullback Jackie Jensen ran 63 yards for a touchdown.

Northwestern drove the ball back to the 2-yard line, from which Art Murakowski forced his way into the endzone, fumbling as he entered. Officials ruled that he had the ball in his possession as he crossed the goal line, but the call gave California fans something to gripe about after the loss. The point-after was missed, and the score at halftime was 13-7.

Jensen was injured early in the second half, making Northwestern's lead seem even more solid. California still managed to mount a 56-yard drive for a second touchdown, tying the game -- a successful kick put them up by one point.

California continued its attack, driving deeper and deeper into Wildcat territory. After a few successful defenses and exchanged punts, the Wildcats found themselves on their own 12-yard line, with under 3 minutes remaining in the game. Aschenbrenner passed to Stonesifer on the 30, the only pass completed by the Wildcats in the game. Perricone ran for 14 yards, and a five yard California penality took the Wildcats even deeper into Bear territory. Then Tunnicliff, on a trick play that had him taking the ball directly from Sarkisian, ran 45 yards for the winning touchdown. The Bears mounted a last-minute passing drive, but an interception by "PeeWee" Day put an end to their hopes. Paulison wrote:

Moments later the goal posts came tumbling down as frenzied Northwestern students began to celebrate what Leo Fischer, sports editor of the Chicago Herald American, termed, "The most thrilling victory in Wildcat history."

Sarkisian later told the following story of his coach and the post-game celebration:

After the Rose Bowl victory the photographers asked Coach to pose with me holding the football used in the game. I was still in my wet, soiled uniform and I told the coach not to put his arm around me as it would soil his suit. He looked at me and said, 'I can always get a new suit but I'll never get another football team like this one.'"

The following season was a difficult one for the Wildcats, as most of their graduation losses were key men -- the highlight of their 4-5 season was a win over Michigan, which ended a Wolverine winning streak which had been running since 1946. At the end of the year (after a 9-7 upset at Illinois), the majority of the Rose Bowl team graduated, leaving the Wildcats short on experience.

The 1950 team did not do as badly as expected, however -- they went 6-3 overall, 3-3 in their conference. Don Stonesifer became the team's captain; Dick Flowers took Burson's quarterback position, and Chuck Hagmann, an end on the 48 team, returned after a year's absence, becoming the team's MVP.

The last four seasons of Voigts' career saw a gradual disintegration of the team. The 1951 Wildcats went 5-4, a respectable winning record; the following year, they fell to 2-6-1; in 1953, they went 3-6 without winning a single conference game; and during Voigts' last year, they fell to 2-7.

Voigts resigned in 1955, after his failure to produce wins began to draw criticism from various quarters. From the Daily Northwestern:

Bob Voigts, whose coaching fortunes reached a peak with his 1949 Rose Bowl victory and have declined steadily since, resigned yesterday after eight years as Northwestern's head football coach.

The resignation came as a surprise to the student body ... some sources say that Voigts quit because of pressure by the N-Men's group and other alumni ...

In his resignation, Voigts said:

"There has been criticism of my coaching at Northwestern, and for the good of the university I have handed in my resignation effective immediately. I have enjoyed my work at Northwestern and regret leaving the fine group of boys on the squad. I appreciate the splendid cooperation given me by the athletic alumni and my staff."

The 1955 team, coached by Lou Saban, performed miserably, going 0-8-1 overall.

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