Cigar Bowl Star...Buddy Strauss
By Jim Joanos
Another college football season approaches. The first game is over a month away but already talk has begun about which bowl game Florida State may play at the end of the season. Hopes are high among some that it might be the Fiesta Bowl where the national championship will be decided. Others would be happy to see a return to the Orange or the Sugar Bowl. All would be surprised, even shocked, if the team did not make it to a bowl game at the end of the season. After all, the team has gone to bowl games for twenty consecutive years. But it has not always been this way. In the early days, bowl appearances were scarce. FSU's first bowl game was a big deal.
The Fourth Annual Cigar Bowl
On January 2, 1950, the Cigar Bowl pre-game festivities in Tampa featured a giant Cigar Box from which emerged a beautiful queen. In the game the Florida State Seminoles emerged from a fledgling football program to one with a bright future. Following that game, Florida State University and its fans would look forward to the time when the team could play and compete with the best in college football. No longer would competition among the small college powers of the country be enough to satisfy their desires.
On the field that day before the 14,000 fans in attendance, Florida State, pummeled its opponent, small college powerhouse Wofford College of Spartanburg, South Carolina, 19 to 6. Wofford had entered the game sporting a 1949 season record of 11 and 0, and not having lost a game in over two years. Pre-game predictions from the experts had Wofford winning by at least two touchdowns and as much as thirty-five points. Wofford had been rated higher than a number of well established major college programs including Colorado, Maryland, and Arizona. The Dixie Conference champion Seminoles had gone 8 and 1 during the season but were expected to put up very little resistance to the Wofford juggernaut.
The game started out as expected when with only about two minutes into the game, Wofford blocked a punt and took it in for a touchdown. Few suspected that Wofford would not score again. It was all FSU, the remainder of the game.
Tallahassee Democrat Sports Editor wrote about it the next day: "Honed to a razor sharpness and practically breathing fire, Coach Don Veller's Seminoles methodically took Wofford's unbeaten football dynasty apart brick by brick, and buried the Terriers under the wreckage."
A number of Seminoles starred that day. Wyatt "Red" Parish scored two of the Florida State touchdowns on reverses. Other offensive stars included end Norman Eubanks who made a super catch, backs Whitey Unquhart and Ken MacLean who ran well, and linemen Captain Hugh Adams, Jerry Morrical, Ted Hewitt and Dub Kendrick who opened some big holes. Bo Manuel had a very important 63 yard punt that penned Wofford deep. On defense, Guard Bill Dawkins and Tackle Loren "Duke" Maltby, both had great games as well as Morrical, Vic Szcepanik, Joe Marcus, and Bill Dawkins who made a big interception.
The undisputed brightest FSU star of the day, however, was Fullback-Defensive End Theo "Buddy" Strauss who sparkled on both sides of the ball. On offense, Strauss led all ball carriers in compiling 132 yards rushing and another 20 passing in completing two of four attempts. His total offense of 152 yards was more than the 139 yards gained by the entire Wofford team.
On defense, Strauss slammed through the line over and over again making big play after big play. Before the game FSU coaches had learned something about the Wofford offense from newspaper clippings. The tail back was the team's main threat. FSU Coach Don Veller and his assistants designed a special over shifting defense in an attempt to stop the gifted tailback. The scheme depended upon a defensive end getting through the line quickly and disrupting the backfield situation before the action could develop. In pregame preparations, the coaching staff chose Strauss to play that most important left defensive end position. The strategy worked to perfection and that defensive plan has been credited as a main reason for the FSU success that day in Tampa. Strauss remembers making numerous tackles simply because Wofford did not expect anybody to be lined up as he was.
One of Strauss' favorite memories of the game was being used as a decoy on the last touchdown that FSU scored. He got the ball, spun and handed it off to Red Parish and then dove into the line as if he still had the ball. Strauss was knocked down and several opposing players piled on. In the meantime, Parish, with little resistance, ran for the touchdown.
Strauss had the caps on a couple of his teeth knocked out during the game. After the game, he was too tired to eat at the bowl banquet. He, nevertheless, remembers how disappointed the team was when the bowl committee presented them with little toy footballs as keepsakes of the game instead of the watches that they expected to receive. Many years later at their team reunion in the year 2000, FSU presented them with watches commemorating their victory in that first ever FSU bowl game.
A Tallahassee native
Strauss, from Tallahassee, had been a three sport letterman at the city's Leon High School. When he graduated from high school, the nation was in the midst of World War II. Along with most of his male classmates, he entered military service. He chose the Navy. After initial processing, he was sent to a Navy program at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill. During his stay in Chapel Hill, it was not football season, but Buddy did participate and lettered as a UNC wrestler. Later he was sent to a pre-flight program at the University of Georgia. At that station, in his off duty time, he played a year on the Navy program's football team. The team included a number of players who had played college football before entering the military.
Football at Duke
The war ended in 1945 and Strauss was soon released. Thanks to one of his buddies on the pre-flight team, Strauss was invited to Duke University to play football for the Blue Devils and famed Coach Wallace Wade. The friend had played for Duke before military duty and told Wade of Strauss' talents as a football player. At the time, Duke was among the elite of college football. Strauss had a good 1946 season at Duke, lettered, and looked forward to some more good seasons. Unfortunately, that all changed in 1947 when he was injured in an automobile accident and required to drop out of school.
Back home to Florida State
By the Fall of 1948, Strauss was ready to go back to school. By this time, Florida State had become co-educational and was fielding a football team. Strauss was attracted to the idea of staying in his hometown of Tallahassee, playing football, and completing his college education. It did not hurt that FSU had twenty five hundred female students compared to six hundred men.
Buddy entered FSU at the same time that Don Veller became the school's new head football coach. In that second year of modern day football, FSU would win seven games, lose only one and become champion of the newly formed Dixie Conference, a group of small southern colleges that did not give athletic scholarships. Despite a nagging knee injury, Strauss made a major contribution to the team in his first season at FSU. During the year, he rushed for 423 yards, second on the team, and scored three touchdowns.
Three college letterman
When he was announced as one of the twenty-eight letter winners at the team banquet on December 14, 1948, at Tallahassee's Country Club, Strauss had become an athletic letter winner at three different universities: North Carolina, Duke and FSU. All three, ironically, would in time become members of the Atlantic Coast Conference and compete against one another.
The 1949 season
The 1949 season started out well for both Florida State and Strauss. In the opening game at Centennial Field, FSU beat Whiting Field, a Navy team, 74-0. The 74 points continues to this day as the most points ever scored in a game by the FSU team. In the game, Strauss gained 93 yards. Whiting Field's total offense for the day was 82 yards.
In the second game of the 1949 season at Mississippi College, Strauss ran for 161 yards, setting a school record that would not be broken until 1977 when Larry Key rushed for 170 yards against Auburn. FSU then beat Erskine 26 to 7 and followed that with a 6 to 0 victory over Sewanee. In the fifth game of the season, FSU beat Stetson handily 33 to 14. The Stetson game played in Jacksonville was the first ever FSU football game to be televised. The game was made available live in the Jacksonville area by a local television station.
The Seminoles were rolling but then endured a most unexpected loss. FSU went to Selma, Alabama, to play Livingston State coached by Vaughn Mancha. Mancha would later serve FSU as an assistant football coach and even later as athletic director. The start of the game had to be delayed because there were no referees. The organizers of the game had forgotten to designate someone to make arrangements for game officials. Referees had to be recruited from the fans who had come to see the game. Reports differ on who they were. One story is that they were some high school referees who had come to see the game. Others, including Mancha, say that Mancha prevailed upon some of his old teammates from playing days at the University of Alabama who had come to see his team play to officiate. In any event, an unexpected officiating crew called the game. Eventually the game began. FSU played its worst game of the season and lost 13 to 6. Veller has never blamed the loss on officiating although that cannot be said for some of FSU's fans. Following Livingston State, FSU went on to complete the regular season with wins over Millsaps (40-0), Tampa (34-7), and Troy State (20-0). The team finished with an eight and one record and again won the Dixie Conference. After the Tampa game and before playing Troy, the team was invited to play in the Tampa Cigar Bowl.
After the Cigar Bowl, although Strauss had another year of eligibility and had been elected to be the Alternate Captain of the team, he chose to take a heavy load of classes and graduate. At that time, graduates could not continue to play on the team. Strauss thus completed his two years of football at FSU. In his two years, he had run for 1,170 yards, a record which lasted for seven years until it was broken by Lee Corso.
Once a Nole, Always a Nole
Although FSU was the fourth university that Strauss attended, FSU immediately became and continues to be number one is his heart. In 1950, Buddy's father, Alex, bought FSU season tickets in order to help build Campbell Stadium. In time Buddy took over those tickets and has continued to purchase them each year, making the Strauss family among a very few who have had season tickets throughout the history of Campbell Stadium. This year will make fifty-three years in a row. Strauss attends FSU home games religiously. Daughter, Julie Bettinger, says that when he watches FSU play, he re-lives the game "and seems to feel every block and tackle". He keeps up with the down and yardage and knew exactly when Larry Key broke his running record well before it was announced on the public address. "He lives for FSU football" and "truly loves the game".
After college, Strauss became a very successful Tallahassee business man. He began in business by selling electrical appliances and later shifted to real estate. He had met his wife, June, when they were both FSU students. They married a month after his graduation. They have six grown children, four of whom attended and received degrees from Florida State. They have sixteen grandchildren. Daughter Julie says that while growing up in the Strauss family, all Saturdays in the fall "revolved around FSU football". Both, June and Buddy, have been generous with their time and resources in regard to Florida State. June has been active in the FSU Alumni Association and even served a year as its National Chairman. Buddy has served on numerous FSU committees.
In 1980, Buddy Strauss was inducted into the Florida State University Sports Hall of Fame in recognition of his accomplishments as an FSU player. Coach Veller and others believe that Buddy is among a handful of the very best football players that have ever played for FSU. He was a bruising blocker, a hard charging runner, could catch, had good speed, and could throw accurate passes.