The Blue Devils’ famed “Iron Dukes”, with co-captains Dan Hill and Eric Tipton leading the way, entered the Rose Bowl having completed the regular season unbeaten, untied and unscored upon, but Southern Cal ruined that perfect season in the final minute of Duke’s first bowl appearance.
Coach Wallace Wade said, “I hated to see the boys lose it when they played such a great game. We did well as long as they used only two teams, but when they put in those third and fourth teams, they were too much for us.”
But Duke probably won more national fans that day than they would have had they won. Bill Stern’s NBC radio broadcast went into homes here and abroad and millions of fans mourned with the Blue Devil faithful.
The game itself rocked back and forth for three quarters, mostly a punting duel between Granny Lansdell and Mickey Anderson of the Trojans and Tipton of the Blue Devils.
Late in the third quarter, Lansdell booted one to George McAfee who returned it 26 yards to the Trojan 49, and two plays later, McAfee took a pass from Tipton and went to the USC 25.
After Roger Robinson, Tipton and Bob O’Mara had picked up nine yards in three rushes, Tony Ruffa booted a field goal and Duke led, 3-0, with just a minute played in the fourth quarter.
With seven minutes remaining in the game, a Duke fumble gave the Trojans the ball on the Blue Devil 10-yard line, but three plays later they were back at the 15-yard line and then missed a 24-yard field goal attempt.
It looked like Duke had it, but with two minutes to go and the Trojans on the Duke 35, coach Howard Jones sent in Doyle Nave, their number four quarterback. He simply completed three straight passes to Al Krueger, their number two left end, with the clincher coming from the 16-yard line.
But the game was not over. On the very last play, Tipton threw a forward pass to McAfee who went 17 yards to the Trojan 40-yard line where the final Trojan caught him.
USC’s winning touchdown ended Duke’s defensive domination after the Blue Devils had held opponents scoreless in the previous nine games.
Anthony J. McKevlin, sports editor of the Raleigh News & Observer reported that “the fans who jammed the huge Rose Bowl got more than they expected. They were treated to a football battle worthy of the setting. Long will they talk about this game, and always the talk of the great play of the Blue Devils will be words of praise.”
The Duke starting lineup included Bolo Perdue (left end), Frank Ribar (left tackle), Fred Yorke (left guard), Hill (center), Allen Johnson (right guard), Bob Haas (right tackle), Bill Bailey (right end), Bob Spangler (quarterback), Willard Eaves (left halfback), Tipton (right halfback) and O’Mara (fullback).
The Blue Devils became one of just three teams since 1920 to go through the regular season unbeaten, untied and unscored upon, joining Colgate in 1932 and Tennessee in 1939.