The stakes couldn’t have been bigger and the outcome of the 1939 Rose Bowl made history when an unlikely hero, Doyle Nave, came off the bench to score the winning touchdown for the University of Southern California Trojans.
USC had been favored to win the Rose Bowl against Duke in the 25th annual Rose Bowl game. However, the Blue Devils were not about to roll over for the Trojans.
The tension was high after three scoreless quarters. Suddenly, Duke gained the momentum and the lead with a 23-yard field goal early in the fourth quarter that gave Duke a 3-0 advantage.
USC assistant coach, Joe Wilensky, was reportedly overheard taking a phone call on the bench from Sam Barry, a senior assistant in the press box at the Rose Bowl advising Wilensky to “Send in Nave.”
The message from the press box was passed on to Coach Jones who then spoke to his inexperienced quarterback.
As Doyle Nave later remembered, “I was sitting about three seats from Jones on the bench, and he said to me, Doyle, I’m thinking about putting you in. Get the ball to Krueger. He’s the best end we have for getting open.”
Nave entered the game in the last 2 minutes with first and 15 from the Duke 39 yard line. Surprisingly, Nave threw four straight passes to “Antelope” Al Krueger and scored the winning touchdown for USC with just one minute on the clock.
The incredible touchdown marked the first points scored against the Blue Devils during the entire 1938 season. Jubilant USC teammates carried both Doyle Nave and Al Krueger off the field to the locker room elated at winning the Rose Bowl 7-3.
Following Krueger’s game-winning touchdown, Nick Pappas, then an assistant freshman coach, noticed that there were no assistant coaches sitting in the press box – they were all on the sideline of the field. Pappas spoke to Joe Wilensky about the “call from the press box” saying, “Joe, you faked that phone call.”
Wilensky admitted he had and replied to Pappas, “Yeah. Don’t tell anyone.” It would take a decade before the truth of “the call” which led to the USC victory was revealed.
Nave, once the quarterback with little hope of becoming a team leader, was awarded a letter by the the University athletic department despite not gaining enough time on the field to technically earn one.
Al Krueger later recalled the game as being legendary. He later went on to play for the Washington Redskins. Although Krueger turned pro, he always remembered that 1939 Rose Bowl game and said, “There was no one better than Doyle Nave.”
Doyle Nave, the hero of the 1939 Rose Bowl game, proved his courage and patriotism during WWll, serving as a Naval officer in the South Pacific. Although he had been a first-round draft pick of the Detroit Lions, Nave set his career sights on Hollywood. He was a motion picture cameraman before becoming a union official for the film industry.
Doyle Nave and his wife and three children made their home in Burbank, California. He became a Master Mason and was an active member of Burbank Lodge No. 406, Free and Accepted Masons.