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Sport: Frnka’s 4-Fs

3 minute read

The tailback has osteomyelitis. Another back, the team’s best ground-gainer, has a severed Achilles’ tendon. One tackle has two bad knees, another has only one lung. A guard has only one arm. But somehow the team has never been beaten.

Preparing this week for the postseason Sugar Bowl game, Tulsa University’s coach, Henry Frnka (pronounced franka), still had time to look back at the brilliant record of the oddest team in 1943 football. Most of his starting players are 4-Fs or hold Army medical discharges. Of the squad of 41, 24 are physically unfit for military service. (Nine are 17-year-olds or undrafted 18-year-olds.) This collection of cripples and military ineligibles has out-scored opponents 251 to 32. Though they played no top-rank teams, their record of six victories and one tie makes Tulsa the best civilian team of the year.

To Play or Not to Play. Early last fall Coach Frnka debated for a week whether to have a team. Tulsa’s 700 students included no Navy or Marine trainees. Frnka inspected the steel-braced shoe worn by Camp Wilson, ex-Hardin-Simmons (Texas) star, who came to Tulsa straight from two futile months in Army hospitals, where doctors had tried to repair a tendon severed just above the heel. He welcomed back one-armed Ellis Jones, a sure-tackling guard, and whole-bodied Clyde Le Force, triple-threat back deferred to study engineering. He was also glad to see C. B. Stanley, alternate tackle, who has only partial use of one arm due to scar tissue from burns and wears a special arm brace.

Frnka doubled his 1942 orders for adhesive tape, sponges and medicines. Then he started practice.

This Is the Question. How this collection of crippled footballers happened to come to Tulsa, only Frnka can explain, and he will not. Best guesses: 1) Frnka’s brilliant three-year record at T.U. of three defeats, 24 wins, one tie, invitations to the Sun Bowl (1942) and Sugar Bowl (1943); 2) his popularity with hundreds of high-school and college coaches; 3) Tulsa’s rip-roaring support of football.

Most credit for this bricks-without-straw performance goes to Frnka himself, whose own body is as sound as a war bond. A hardworking, soft-spoken Texan, he coached at Texas high schools for nine years, then assisted at Vanderbilt and Temple, went to Tulsa in 1941. In the last two years, his teams have lost but once—to Tennessee, 14-7, in last New Year’s Sugar Bowl.

Typical of Frnka’s football smartness (and luck) is his quick work in preparing for Tulsa’s postseason game on New Year’s Day at New Orleans against Georgia Tech. Powered by sound bodies from the Navy and Marines, Georgia Tech is favored by 13 points. But Tulsa’s cripples already have the jump.

Somehow Frnka learned of the Sugar Bowl selections ahead of time, scouted Georgia Tech in their last scheduled game, when they ripped Georgia 48-0. Georgia Tech coaches did not hear about the Sugar Bowl until after Tulsa’s final season game, did no scouting at all.

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