Strange But True: Mudbath Heroes

Two of the greatest college football players of the 1930s were Gaynell Tinsley and Sammy Baugh. Tinsley, who played for Louisiana State University, was one of the best pass receivers ever to play the game. Baugh, from Texas Christian University, was a great passer who later became an all-pro passer for the Washington Redskins.

On January 1, 1936, Louisiana State and Texas Christian met in the Sugar Bowl. All the experts figured that Baugh would star with his passing, and Tinsley would catch his share of passes. Both players did star in the game, but not in the way the experts thought.

It had begun to rain the day before the game, and it was still raining when the teams began to play. The field looked like a big mudbath. It was not a good day for throwing or receiving passes.

In the second period, Louisiana State made the first serious threat of the day. It had the ball inside the Texas Christian 10-yard line. But four plays into the line fell short. So Baugh’s Texas team took over on downs on its own 2-yard line.

During the 1930s players played all 60 minutes of the game–there were no offensive or defensive specialists. So when Louisiana State lost the ball, Gaynell Tinsley became a defensive end.

Texas Christian lined up in short punt formation. Baugh was far back in his end zone to do the kicking. Tinsley saw an opportunity to block the punt. But Baugh was planning to cross up the defense by throwing a quick pass instead. As Baugh drew back his arm to pass, Tinsley went after him. The end chased the passer all over the muddy end zone. The wet ball squirted out of Baugh’s hand and bounced out of the end zone. Tinsley had forced a safety, so his team led, 2-0.

Early in the third quarter, Texas Christian recovered a fumble on the Louisiana 40-yard line. Once again Baugh decided to gamble on a pass–but not on his own. He took the snap from center and handed off to halfback Jimmy Lawrence. Lawrence threw to end Will Walls, and the play carried to the LSU 17-yard line.

Three running plays didn’t gain much ground. So Baugh called for a field goal. He placed the ball on the 26 and TCU kicker Talden “Tilly” Manton kicked it over the crossbar. TCU led, 3-2.

The game settled down to a muddy duel. Tinsley played a great defensive game. And Baugh’s booming punts kept Louisiana State pinned in its own territory. He punted 14 times that day, averaging 44.6 yards per punt. In the third quarter, playing defense, Baugh intercepted two passes deep in his own territory. Near the end of the game, he broke loose on a 44-yard run, carrying the ball to the Louisiana 2-yard line. But Louisiana put up a tough goal-line stand, and in four running plays Texas lost 9 yards.

The final score was 3-2, and the game came to be known as “the football game with the baseball score.”

Oddly enough, Gaynell Tinsley, one of the best pass catchers in the nation, did very little receiving. But he was probably the best defensive player on the Louisiana State team that day. It was Tinsley who forced the fumble that caused LSU to score its only points of the day.

And Sammy Baugh, considered the best passer in college football, did almost no passing, but his defensive play and his running took Texas Christian to victory.

From Strange But True Sports Stories by Howard Liss. Illustrations by Joe Mathieu.

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