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The year Mare Island Marines rescued the Rose Bowl

For football fans, today's 100th Rose Bowl game may invite memories of notable match-ups over the years. But they could be forgiven for overlooking two wartime games in which Vallejo's naval base sent Marines to do battle on the gridiron in Pasadena.

The year was 1917. World War I was heating up, and college football almost vanished as most players rushed to enlist. In the midst of the crisis, many people simply thought the game would be canceled.

But Uncle Sam came to the rescue, insuring the uninterrupted continuance of the blossoming series.

While finding college teams to compete posed a problem, Uncle Sam helped mobilize a gridiron contest between military teams, which at the time included many of the nation's top collegiate players.

One team consisted of Marines stationed at Vallejo's former Mare Island naval base. The other hailed from the Army base at Camp Lewis, Wash. As it turned out, both squads featured a number of players from Oregon, which defeated Penn in the previous Rose Bowl.

According to a Dec. 26, 1917 article in the Vallejo Evening Chronicle, the Camp Lewis soldiers were entirely confident that their team would make short work of the Mare Island bunch. But Mare Island won 19 to 7 on New Year's Day, in front of thousands of fans.

In an effort to support the war effort, $5,000 from the game's receipts was donated to the Red Cross.

Later, as plans for the 1919 game proceeded, focus once again fell on what the Armed Forces had to offer, since the country was still mobilized.

In the West, an unscored-upon Mare Island team bested several other service teams to win a second trip to Pasadena. Coached by William H. "Lone Star" Dietz, that year's team included Washington State halfbacks Dick Hanley and Benton "Biff" Bangs.

East of the Rockies, the champion military team was from the Great Lakes Naval Training Station, outside Chicago. Its roster featured several notable players of the era, including Northwestern halfback Paddy Driscoll as well as George Halas and Jimmy Conzelman, who later coached the Chicago Bears and Chicago Cardinals, respectively, to professional championships.

On a crisp New Year's Day, 1919, Great Lakes harassed the Marines, beating the Mare Island team 17 to 0.

According to Rube Samuelsen's 1951 book, "The Rose Bowl Game," the game's 25,000 onlookers paid almost as much attention to a mongrel pup that frolicked on and off the field as to the game itself.

"In trying to respond to the thousands of whistles, the dog nearly wrecked his nervous system," Samuelsen wrote. "But he tried. And valiantly."

It would be the last of the Rose Bowl's service games. As the military demobilized, collegiate football returned bigger than ever. But Mare Island's place in the history of "The Granddaddy of Them All" had been etched.

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