Wisconsin Historical Society Press
Third Down and a War to Go: The All-American 1942 Wisconsin Badgers
By Terry Frei
288 pages, 42 b/w photos, 6 x 9"Buy
The 1942 Wisconsin Badgers football team had a host of individual stars, including two-time All-American end Dave Schreiner, fullback Pat Harder, and halfback Elroy "Crazylegs" Hirsch. Their coach was the stubborn and respected Harry Stuhldreher, best known as the one-time quarterback of Notre Dame's Four Horsemen. In the final-fling atmosphere typical on college campuses as the first year of U.S. involvement in World War II was winding down, the Badgers climbed their way up the rankings and ultimately became one of the greatest college football teams of all time.
Stars and benchwarmers alike knew that each game brought them closer to military service. The Badgers scattered into the various branches-and around the world-shortly after the season. Not all were asked to be heroic in battle, but many were, and they answered the challenge. Not all of them returned, and the circumstances of at least one battle death have been shrouded in mystery for six decades.
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Terry Frei is the son of 1942 Badgers guard Jerry Frei, a decorated P-38 fighter pilot who went on to a long coaching career in college football and the National Football League. After Jerry Frei's 2001 death, his son set out on a mission of discovery, wanting to learn about the men in the team picture that hung in a place of honor in his father's den. Through extensive research and interviews with the remaining Badgers, their families, and combat comrades, Terry Frei tells the often heart-wrenching story of this band of brothers, describing their successes and losses both on the football field and in service to their country.
Terry Frei is a reporter and columnist for "The Denver Post" and ESPN.com. A University of Colorado alumnus, he serves as vice chairman of the school's history department advisory board. He is the author of the acclaimed "Horns, Hogs, and Nixon Coming: Texas vs. Arkansas in Dixie's Last Stand." He lives in Denver.
Visit author Terry Frei's website at:
Wisconsin Historical Society Press: What were some of the most surprising things you learned from researching and writing "Third Down and a War to Go"?
Terry Frei: I don't know if it was surprising, but the one thing that struck me was the universality of the college experience. Sure, a lot of things have changed in 62 years, but a lot hasn't.
WHS Press: For this text, there were obvious personal motivations. In what other ways was "Third Down" different than previous projects? Similar?
TF: My previous book, "Horns, Hogs, and Nixon Coming," involved a similar mix of sports, history, politics and narrative journalism. I didn't have such a direct personal connection to that topic, but I developed one. In the case of "Third Down," it was there from the start and was a primary motivational factor, and it offset the fact that many of the principals were deceased when I began the project. The Vietnam War — the subject of much dissent in the nation — was one of the major issues in HHNC. The difference here was that World War II was universally considered a just war that we had to fight.
WHS Press: Explain your motivations for writing about the 1942 Badgers.
TF: My father, Jerry, died in 2001. He coached Hall of Fame players and ended up with a handful of Super Bowl rings, but he had the picture of the 1942 Badgers on his den wall when he died and still sounded like an awestruck teenager when talking about the older stars on that team. My dad also flew 67 missions in a P-38 fighter plane after he entered the service following his sophomore season, then returned to play again in 1946 and '47. And for all the fuss made over the returning veterans in the accounts of the time, you'd have thought they'd been off mowing lawns for three years. Even over the years, his military service was rarely mentioned in any material about him. I knew that others on that team had served and even had died in action. I wanted to find out what it was like to play that season in that final-fling atmosphere and also discover what the others did during and after the war.. In short, I wanted to know about the men in the picture on the wall.
WHS Press: "Third Down" bridges several genres (sports, regional interest, WWII-era history). How does the book appeal to so many readers?
TF: Let's face it, this is both a positive and a negative. "Third Down" can't be typecast. It isn't "a sports book," and the fact is, there are terrific sports books out there, but more mediocre and awful ones. This isn't "a Wisconsin book," either. It's a story about a team that was both unique and typical for its time. The hope is for this to break through as a national book, because it is a story that should resonate and touch hearts from coast to coast. And while some great and well-researched biographies have come out in recent years, "Third Down" combines deep, almost scholarly, archival research with direct interviewing.
WHS Press: Compare and contrast college football in the 1940s with the present state of the sport.
TF: On the field, the game was just so much different. One platoon and limited substitution. No facemasks and limited padding. Less sophisticated offenses. Fewer coaches. Certainly less showboating and selfish concerns. No official scholarships, though some players were sponsored. But so many things were similar to the game of today, including fan attitudes, second-guessing, and pressure to win.
WHS Press: What was the most challenging aspect of researching and writing this book?
TF: Trying to reconstruct the personalities of men who had died before I could interview them.
WHS Press: You published "Horns, Hogs, and Nixon Coming" with Simon & Schuster. What made you go with a small regional publisher (with a small budget) this time around?
TF: I was very attracted by the idea that the hardback version of this story, which was so personal for me, would be published in a timely manner by a press and overseen by people with an affinity and a passion for the subject matter.
WHS Press: What final message would you like readers to take away from "Third Down"?
TF: The value of sports as a character-building and bonding experience. Corny, but true. Also, that young men and women in the 1940s, who answered the call to serve their country, really aren't that much different than the young men and women of today.
2005 Midwest Independent Publishers Association Midwest Book Awards
Merit Award in the Recreation/Sports Category
Rick Morrissey, "Chicago Tribune"
"Terry Frei has captured the spirit of a different time in this country, a time of faith in school and in country, a time of intense loyalty to teammate and fellow soldier. 'Third Down and a War to Go' tells the story of one University of Wisconsin football team during World War II. But to limit the tale to that is like saying 'Angela's Ashes' is about Ireland. This book brings to life, in shades of black and blue and blood red, the idea that certain things are worth fighting for."
Dan Fouts, Hall of Fame quarterback and ABC sportscaster
"Many times you hear athletes called heroes, and their deeds and accomplishments on the field or court are characterized as courageous. After reading 'Third Down and a War to Go,' I am embarrassed to have ever been thought of as brave or courageous. ... Enjoy this adventure in history, life, and courage and take it from a so-called 'tough guy'" keep the hanky close by."
UW Badger Coach Barry Alvarez
"A great read!"
Neal Rubin, "The Detroit News"
"Impressively researched and reported and powerfully written, 'Third Down and a War to Go' will put you in the huddle, in the front lines, and in a state of profound gratitude — not only to the Badgers and the hundreds of thousands of veterans like them, but to Terry Frei."
Robert B. Rennebohm, Wisconsin end (1942, 1946-7), Marine lieutenant (1943-5), and longtime head of the University of Wisconsin Foundation
"Terry Frei has done a superb job of researching and writing to bring us the true spirit and similarity of our military services, particularly the U.S. Marines, and college football. He vividly follows the 1942 Wisconsin Badgers, who so soon after their gridiron exploits were the losers of life and limb. Events of over 60 years ago seem to have been frozen in time as Frei takes us back to the glory days of so many young Americans."
Jay Greenberg, "The New York Post"
"Tirelessly researched and relentlessly touching. The true allegory of football and war, minus the cliches."
This book feature by Mike Lucas appeared in "The Captial Times" on September 9, 2006
UW football: Hampton part of Lancaster's living legacy
University of Wisconsin senior Zach Hampton feels like he has an extra set of eyes looking over him every time he runs onto the turf at Camp Randall Stadium. It will be no different today when the Badgers host Western Illinois in the home opener and Hampton and his teammates sprint out of the tunnel in the north end of the stadium prior to the opening kickoff. Before reaching the west sidelines, Hampton will routinely turn his attention to the upper deck facade. "I look up there every day," he said.
In such a way, then, Hampton will make "eye" contact with Dave Schreiner, whose mug shot is on the facade, along with the mugs of Elroy (Crazylegs) Hirsch, Allan Shafer and Pat Richter. The UW has already retired the uniform numbers of Schreiner (No. 80), Hirsch (No. 40), and Shafer (No. 83). And it will also do so with Richter (No. 88). To better recognize each individual, a formal presentation will be made during a string of games stretching from Oct. 7 (Schreiner) to Nov. 4 (Richter). Until then, the names and numbers will be covered up on the faade, which already bears tributes to Ron Dayne, No. 33; and Alan Ameche, No. 35.
What makes all of this significant to Hampton, a fifth-year senior from Lancaster, is the fact that Schreiner, a consensus All-American, also hailed from Lancaster, the Grant County seat and an historic community in the rolling hills of southwestern Wisconsin. Schreiner and Hadley Mark Hoskins, another Lancaster native, were members of the 1942 Badgers, who finished with an 8-1-1 record. Adding to their legend, Schreiner, an end, and Hoskins, the right halfback, were known as the "Touchdown Twins."
LANCASTER - Down here there is an 83-year-old grandmother who bought a book about football a few years ago. She knows it from cover to cover. There is a laundry lady who works at least two nights every week so she may sit at her radio and listen to the broadcasts of the Badger games Saturday afternoon.
The little kids down here don't play cowboy and Indian. They never have played cops and robbers and now they don't even play MacArthur or Jimmy Doolittle. The little kids down here are almost evenly divided: half of them play Dave Schreiner and the other half Hadley Mark Hoskins ... and then they shift around.
The preceding graphs appeared under a Roy L. Matson byline in the Wisconsin State Journal. The story ran on Nov. 28, 1942, and it chronicled the lives of Schreiner and Hoskins and their impact on the good people of Lancaster.
"They packed the dining tables set up in the gymnasium, 350 strong, and they blocked the doors and peered in the windows and leaned over the wire-fenced gallery from above," Matson wrote of the turnout to celebrate their accomplishments.
"They're All-American to all the rest of the world," said O.F. Christenson, who was the toastmaster for the banquet. "They're all Lancaster to us. Because best of all we can say about them: They never got too big for Lancaster."
Such is the spell.
"I'll be on the Internet, going through some Badger talk rooms," Zach Hampton said, "and sometimes the topic will come up from the book 'Third Down and A War to Go' and the author, Terry Frei, will join in. Usually the conversation is about Schreiner and Hoskins. I definitely enjoyed the book."
Most would, if they haven't.
It's a terrific read thanks to the skills and painstaking research of Frei, an engaging storyteller and respected sportswriter for the Denver Post, whose dad, Jerry, was his link to the '42 Badgers. Earlier this week, I asked for Frei's perspective on Schreiner.
"Along with his fellow 'A' Company lieutenant, tackle Bob Baumann, he was killed in combat and cheated out of what certainly would have been an influential and productive adulthood in Wisconsin," Frei wrote back, adding that his book provided "some answers to the 60-year-old mystery and misunderstandings about how he died. But that's secondary."
Frei continued, "The one overlooked aspect of all of this, I think, is that Schreiner also can be considered a symbol of all the Badgers and their fellow Wisconsin students who answered the call to serve in World War II, whether they returned alive or not."
As such, Schreiner's number and name on the upper deck faade, to Frei's thinking, "also is representing Bob Baumann, Dave Donnellan (third string tackle, Bronze Star, Battle of the Bulge), Jerry Frei (67 combat missions in P-38) and all the other '42 Badgers who served, plus all the other students of their generation who put aside their books and diplomas and went off to serve."
That is a legacy that has not been lost on Hampton. "It's pretty exciting for the whole town, I think," he said of the UW physically recognizing Schreiner's memory in Camp Randall Stadium. "And it definitely means something to me. It's an honor to have him up there (the faade) and to be kind of looking down on a guy like myself from Lancaster."
Hampton has his own story to tell; and it has been a pretty good one, at that. The former walk-on has evolved into a steady contributor on Badger special teams and a reliable backup at any one of four positions: free safety, strong safety and both corners. Some of the novelty, it was suggested, has worn off because he has put distance between himself and those days when he had to pay his own way.
"I've been around here so long that some guys, especially the new guys coming in, don't even know I was a walk-on," Hampton said. "I'll get the question every once in a while from somebody about being a walk-on and they won't believe it because they just thought I was here the whole time as a scholarship player."
Not that he has been affected by his "tendered" status. Or what can be perceived as security. "I still have the same mentality as a walk-on - I have to work harder than the next guy," Hampton said. "It's a great honor to have my scholarship. But I don't take it for granted. As a walk-on, you need the drive to go out there and make plays. Just stepping on the field for a walk-on is a great accomplishment."
And so now that he's on the field more often, more consistently, Hampton was saying that he hasn't lost that drive, a sign that he has been mentored well, particularly by Jimmy Leonhard, the ultimate walk-on model at Wisconsin. Leonhard, who was recently cut by the Buffalo Bills, was a spectator at Wednesday's practice. "He's been an inspiration to me, a good friend also," Hampton said reverently. "I talk to him whenever I get the chance."
In addition to being a stellar free safety, Leonhard was also a momentum-changing punt return specialist, an assignment that Hampton has inherited this season. The temptation is to think that Hampton will take a conservative, safety-first approach. "I'm sure everyone is thinking I'm the sure-handed person who's going to make the right decision," he said. "But I'm not going to call a fair catch unless they tell me. Hit a seam and go. I'm going to take chances and make plays."
He may even cast a glance at the upper deck after he does.
This book feature by Dave McGrath appeared in the "Badger Herald" on Thursday, September 7, 2006
Honor for all ages
Since November 13, 1999, whenever Wisconsin fans walked into Camp Randall Stadium, they could count on seeing one thing.
CAMP RANDALL STADIUM
Stretching across the Camp Randall façade always was the title of the UW's Big Red House and the names of the two Heisman Trophy winners that helped put it on the map in two separate eras.
However, when Badger fans make their first walk of 2006 through the arch on Dayton and Randall streets, past the turnstiles, through the tunnels and into Camp Randall Stadium on Saturday for the first home game of the season, they will notice something different right away.
The presence of four banners stretching across the stadium's façade, hiding something—Wisconsin's football history.
Move over, Alan. Make room, Ron. You're about to have company. And it's about time.
The University of Wisconsin has decided to honor four names that are as much a part of the story that is Wisconsin football as Ameche, Dayne and Barry Alvarez.
During each Big Ten home game this season, the school will induct one more name onto the stadium's façade to join the Heisman winners.
On Oct. 7, when the Badgers take on Northwestern in their conference home opener, Dave Schreiner and his No. 80 will be recognized. The following week, during the Minnesota game, Allan Shafer's No. 83 will join him.
On Oct. 28, Elroy "Crazy Legs" Hirsch and his No. 40 will have his name added to the display for the contest versus Illinois, and one week later, the No. 88 of Pat Richter will anchor the fall additions, as his name is added when Penn State comes to town.
"We felt that they were part of our tradition and we wanted to continue celebrating those traditions of Wisconsin football that we have been focusing on the past two or three years, and we thought this was a good way to continue that tradition," said Vince Sweeney, UW's senior associate athletic director for external communications, who was intimately involved in the decision to add the Badger greats to the façade. "They are part of the Badger lore and were great athletes in their day. We are just celebrating the contributions they have added to our long history of great football here at Wisconsin."
Hirsch and Richter are personalities that are ingrained into the psyches of all Badger fans both young and old.
The inspiring and moving stories of Schreiner and Shafer, however, are a complete mystery to many Badger fans of the younger generation.
"I've heard a little bit about some of the guys. I know, obviously, some of the more heralded guys [Hirsch and Richter], and I heard one of the guys they're retiring is a kid who actually died playing football, but other than that, not too much," said current UW star left tackle Joe Thomas, illustrating the lack of knowledge on some of Wisconsin football's founding personalities.
Rewarding both players for their contributions to the history of Wisconsin football serves a dual purpose. Not only will it honor their names and their lives, but it will reintroduce them and their story to the Badger faithful, especially to younger UW fans.
"One of the main reasons to do this is that three of these people have their numbers retired already but most people don't even know about it," Sweeney said. "And we thought we should celebrate it, the fact that they have already been honored."
Indeed, Schreiner, along with Shafer and Hirsch, has already had his number retired long ago—in 1945 to be exact.
Wisconsin War Hero
Dave Schreiner was one of the greatest football players ever to set foot onto the Camp Randall turf. Twice, he earned All-American honors at end, played both ways and was eventually a top choice in the NFL Draft.
Midway through his senior season, when he was named the Big Ten's Most Valuable Player, he caught a UW-record 3 touchdown passes in a single quarter, against rival Marquette. Making the feat even more amazing—which speaks to Schreiner's dominance on the field—was the fact that Wisconsin rarely threw the ball at that time. For example, between 1946 and 1948, soon after Schreiner's departure, the leading passers for UW tallied only five passing touchdowns.
But what made Schreiner famous was his beastly blocking up front.
"He was a two-time all-American at end, and in that era, it meant to catch attention like that, he pretty much shut down one side of the line defensively," said Terry Frei, author of the book "Third Down and a War to Go," which documents Schreiner's story along with that of his teammates from the 1942 season.
Schreiner, who was a teammate of Hirsch's, played football at one of the most difficult times in American history: during the onset of World War II.
Long before the United States ever entered the war, when Schreiner was still in high school, the soon-to-be Wisconsin icon had thoughts of joining the armed forces to combat what he saw as a national, and maybe even global, threat from the Nazis.
"He was fooling around with the idea, even before Pearl Harbor, of dropping out of school and becoming a naval pilot, because he said it was critical to stop Hitler," Frei said.
Schreiner left a potential life of luxury, or at least comfort, behind and voluntarily joined the Marines, after failing to become a naval pilot due to color blindness.
"He tried to becoming a flyer, but his color blindness scuttled that, and he drank all kinds of curatives to try and pass the test, but he couldn't, so he ended up with the Marines," Frei related.
The two-time all-American and No. 11 overall NFL draft choice, he disdained the idea of getting a comfortable job and went straight into officer training school, where he became a lieutenant and was soon sent off to wage war in the Pacific.
Schreiner was wounded in Guam, but that didn't send him home. Soon thereafter, on the island of Okinawa, Schreiner was killed in the very final hours of the battle, and according to Frei, was probably ambushed in a fake Japanese surrender.
The amazing story of patriotism and sacrifice that follows Schreiner makes his name on the wall especially meaningful, as he isn't just representing himself, but all the fallen UW alums from World War II.
"He will be up there on two different levels. [He stands for] what he alone did and what he represents as a great football player and a great young man, but also he stands to represent his teammates and his generation," Frei explained. "I look at it like Dave Schreiner was the team co-captain and on that wall he will be the captain of multiple thousands of Wisconsin students of his generation who went and served in World War II. I think if he's listening to me now he's nodding his head in agreement that he is representing a whole lot of people when his name adorns Camp Randall.
"I felt that he was both overdue and well-deserved."
While Schreiner died in battle overseas, Allan Shafer died on the field of play. During a hard-fought conference match-up against Iowa, the freshman quarterback suffered a severe injury. Just hours later, he died in a Madison-area hospital from pulmonary edema, a hemorrhage of the lungs. He was only 17 years old.
His number was almost immediately retired out of respect for the tragedy.
While contemporary fans might not know or understand the impact of Schreiner and Shafer, today's fans are completely aware of the accomplishments of Elroy "Crazy Legs" Hirsch and Pat Richter.
Hirsch only played one season at Wisconsin, playing with Schreiner on the great 1942 team that finished 3rd in the AP standings, behind an Ohio State team at No. 1 that they defeated.
Hirsch went on to revolutionize the NFL game for the Los Angeles Rams, collecting 17 touchdown passes in a single season.
But his greatest work for UW was as athletic director, a post he held from 1969 to 1987, where he helped drag the school back to greatness as a very active member in the Badger community, prompting Barry Alvarez to proclaim him the "most loved and influential ambassador for Badger sports."
"Elroy, of course, there is only one," Richter said of his former colleague. "Nationally, internationally, he is his own figure. "Crazy Legs" Hirsch is just synonymous with professional football, or college football.
"Ironically, he was only here for one year from a football standpoint, but certainly as athletic director he was very visible and was a very important part of getting Wisconsin back on track."
Turning things around
Richter, the only member of the group who currently does not have his number retired, is remembered as the man who, along with Alvarez, rescued Wisconsin athletics. It is his appreciation for UW sports as a whole that makes him proud not to be inducted himself, but to be inducted with the group of Badger legends.
"To me, it's a very special thing to have happen, given the others that have had their numbers retired," Richter said. "They all have had a very special place in Wisconsin history and so to be in that company is a great honor."
Richter took over as athletic director in 1989 and stayed on until he was succeeded by Alvarez in 2004. When he first took the job, the former letter-winner in football, basketball and baseball inherited a program that was over a million dollars in debt. When he left, Camp Randall Stadium was finishing up a $100-plus million renovation. Simply stated, he turned the department around and brought pride back to the program.
For his part, he is just happy to enjoy the fruits of his labor and the upcoming celebration.
"I've always been a big believer that it is obviously very nice to have these things happen while you're still around to enjoy it," Richter stated. "Those others who are up there are no longer around to enjoy it, and that is unfortunate."
Richter is excited about many facets of the upcoming ceremony, and he remembers fondly when Ron Dayne received the same honor in 1999.
"I was part of when we did it for Ron Dayne, and we did it for the game after he broke the record," Richter recalled. "I was standing right next to him, and then all of sudden, "poof," there it is: the name, the number. And to see just how pleased he was for that to happen, certainly was largely daunting.
"Just being in front of the big crowd at Camp Randall, which should be there for the Penn State game, should be a lot of fun."
The memories live on
With their enshrinement in Camp Randall, many of the untold stories surrounding these Badger legends will be told, both now and forever, as they physically become part of the program that they have come to define spiritually over the course of their lives.
"When you can elbow the person next to you and say, 'Let me tell you about Dave Schreiner,' I think that is an important contribution," Frei said. "When that happens when his name is put up there, I think that is an important facet of this honor."
With the constant reminder at Camp Randall, these UW legends will never be forgotten, and now their fantastic stories will live on beyond their mortality.
"Something is going to be at that stadium long after you are gone," Richter said. "And so it is part of that tradition. So it is very, very rewarding and humbling."
This book feature by Dwight Chapin appeared in the "San Francisco Chronicle" on Wednesday, October 27, 2004
Frei's life revealed by his son
Those who have been around the sports scene more than a decade or two might remember Jerry Frei, who coached Dan Fouts at the University of Oregon when the Pac-10 was still the Pac-8, and who then was a longtime NFL assistant coach and scout with the Broncos, Buccaneers and Bears.
Frei, who died in 2001, was a remarkable man in a lot of ways, especially in how he treated his players, during an era when dictatorial head coaches such as Bear Bryant and Woody Hayes were the norm in college football.
"Jerry was more than a coach," Fouts said after Frei's death. "He was a friend and a man I could look up to. At that time (in the Pac-8), Oregon was kind of an off-Broadway version of UC Berkeley. Things got pretty crazy on campus. But he was always so nonjudgmental. He was willing to treat us all as individual, mature young men."
Frei also had a past. He had been a P-38 reconnaissance pilot who flew 67 combat missions during World War II, but, like many men of his generation, he rarely talked about his wartime experiences.
In 2000, when his health was deteriorating, his son Terry, a Denver Post sports columnist who also has worked for the Portland Oregonian, Sporting News and ESPN.com, decided to change that a bit by writing about his dad's service in a column preceding Veterans Day.
It turned into much more than simply a column.
For the younger Frei, it became a belated voyage of discovery into his dad's life, and a welcome, if brief, link between them.
"I included in the preface that I considered my father a representative of his generation," Frei said, "and I closed with the thought that we hadn't sufficiently thanked World War II veterans. It was sincere ... and in my case, long overdue. The response was heartening. Many wrote to me, politely telling me that my father had been too modest in downplaying his own ability as a flyer and minimizing the dangers he had faced."
Sometime after his dad's death, Frei saw a picture in his mother's apartment of the 1942 University of Wisconsin football team on which Jerry Frei had played.
"I kept looking at it, reading the names and matching them with faces, marveling at how young all of them looked," Terry Frei said. "Finally, I decided I wanted to know more about what it was like for the players to go through their 1942 season (which ended 8-1-1), knowing that they, like so many of their contemporaries, soon would be in another uniform, risking their lives for their country."
Frei began an extended search into the lives of those onetime Wisconsin Badgers, their season, their fates in the war, their later lives.
The result is "Third Down and a War to Go" (Wisconsin Historical Society Press, $26.95), a book that not only makes you keep reading, but makes you care.
There are a couple of familiar names here. All-time great Elroy "Crazylegs" Hirsch was one of the stars of that '42 team, as was Pat Harder, a fine pro fullback in the late 1940s and early 1950s who became a 17-year NFL official.
There are other, lesser-known but memorable characters, too, such as the boys from tiny Lancaster, Wis., Mark Hoskins and Dave Schreiner, who would become an All-America end and almost certainly would have been a pro football star if he hadn't been killed on Okinawa, one of two '42 Badgers to perish in the war.
Frei paints a vivid portrait, too, of Wisconsin head coach Harry Stuhldreher, one of the famed Four Horsemen of Notre Dame.
The last chapter in Frei's book, "Lives and Deaths," details what happened to everyone from that squad, and by the time you get there, you really want to know about them.
It's that kind of book, relatively modest in intent but rich in fabric and execution.
This feature by Adam Mertz appeared in "The Capital Times" on Friday, April 8, 2005
Football and War from the Trenches
In late 1944, nearly two years after helping the University of Wisconsin football team to one of the finest seasons in school history, Dave Schreiner and Mark "Had" Hoskins finally got their chance to play in a bowl game.
Schreiner was one of the stars of the Football Classic, contested on Christmas Eve on a coral-laden clearing in Guadalcanal during a break in action in the Pacific theater. Two months earlier, his childhood buddy from Lancaster had been named MVP of the Kriegie Bowl—the title is a shortened version of the German term for prisoner of war—at the stalag where he was held for 10 months after his B-17 was shot down on a bombing run over Hungary.
Of all the traits of the World War II generation, perhaps the most impressive some 60 years later is the ability to make do, no matter the circumstances, and with little ceremony at that.
That theme echoes throughout author Terry Frei's thoroughly researched and ardently objective book "Third Down and a War to Go," a chronicle of the 1942 Badgers' rapid transition from carefree college clashes against Notre Dame and Minnesota to battling Nazi Germany and imperial Japan.
Inspired by a conversation with his father, Jerry, a guard on that team, Frei, a Denver Post and ESPN reporter, interviewed dozens of surviving players and the servicemen who fought with them, and pored through the pages of Madison's two daily newspapers for lively background.
In stripping away patriotic embellishment from the group's obvious sacrifices, Frei created a work sure to register with history buffs and intrigue even those sports fans not typically mindful of a team whose highlights can't be bought on DVD.
The first half of the book establishes the principal characters and the "swell" atmosphere of the day, to borrow some period terminology, while detailing an 8-1-1 season in which the Badgers were deemed mythical national champions by the Helms Foundation.
With the war heightening, the majority of the players were sent overseas to fight on the front lines, and Frei follows them relentlessly in the book's second half, focusing mainly on Schreiner and Hoskins. It's a logical choice, given their long friendship, their disparate assignments and Schreiner's status as an All-American, not to mention the wealth of available historical material on him at the Grant County library named in his honor.
Then there's the controversial nature of and conflicting reports about Schreiner's death, which occurred in the closing days of major combat on Okinawa in 1945. Although Frei was unable to clear up that mystery, he succeeded in framing the impact of the loss of the respected commander and football legend on his friends and charges. It was all too reminiscent of the emotion that poured out when former NFL safety Pat Tillman was killed last year in Afghanistan.
Football terminology borrows heavily from war—battle, trenches, sack, to name a few—and the comparisons have become cliché. Associating the topics but not their gravity was a welcome twist. Either half of the book would have stood alone, but together they do supreme justice to a group all too soon gone, all too easily forgotten.
This book feature by Andy Baggot appeared in the "Wisconsin State Journal" on Friday, September 3, 2004
Badgers' Greatest Generation
I would have read "Third Down and a War To Go" even if the book didn't involve people I have known and admired through the years.
I have long been drawn to the subject of U.S. history, specifically the 1940s, '50s and early '60s. I have come to believe that the two greatest displays of grace and courage in our lifetimes came from those Americans who fought for their country in war and those who fought for humanity in the pursuit of civil rights.
We are humbly, deeply and forever in their debt.
"Third Down and a War To Go" is particularly intriguing to those of us with an interest in the University of Wisconsin and its football program.
The book tells the story of the 1942 Badgers, a legendary outfit that received national acclaim before many of its members were summoned for duty in World War II. It went 8-1-1 and finished third in The Associated Press poll. Seven of its members have been enshrined in the UW Hall of Fame—Pat Harder, Elroy Hirsch, Fred Negus, John Roberts, Dave Schreiner, Harry Stuhldreher and Guy Sundt—with an eighth on the way in ceremonies today.
Bob Rennebohm, 81, was an end on that fabled team. The Madison resident, a former executive director and president of the UW Foundation, said he will be inducted with the same attitude as those who went before him. That is, as an extension of his old teammates.
"That was a close-knit team, as you can imagine," he said.
They lived in a time when playing college football meant you needed a part-time job to make ends meet.
They lived in a time when national rankings were new and regarded as frivolous.
They lived in a time when a coach such as Stuhldreher was an unquestioned pillar of authority.
They lived in a time when dropping out of school to enlist in the Armed Forces was an uncomplicated decision.
Two members of that 1942 team—Schreiner and Bob Baumann—were killed in action. Schreiner's No.80 is one of four uniform numbers retired by the school.
Some were prisoners of war. Some flew combat missions as fighter pilots. Some, but not all, returned to college to resume their football careers three years after serving in combat.
Despite being scattered all over the country, Rennebohm said the 1942 team stayed close with reunions. "We're getting awfully small," he said.
I've made the acquaintance of several men associated with the book. Hirsch and Otto Breitenbach were UW Athletic Department administrators. Roberts is the former executive director of the WIAA.
Tom Butler, whose memories as a UW student are prominent in the book, was a columnist and writer for the State Journal.
I had lunch last summer with the author, Denver Post columnist Terry Frei, who was in Madison doing research on the book. His late father, Jerry, was born in Stoughton and was a member of the 1942 team. I got to know Terry when we covered the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary. He's good people.
Rennebohm won't get the most attention at today's induction ceremony. NBA star Michael Finley will.
But if you read "Third Down and a War to Go," you will have a greater appreciation for Rennebohm and his honorable companions.
The lesson of the book?
"The best description of the thing," Rennebohm said, "is I think it showed what real patriotism was as experienced by those of us in that generation."