Rose Bowl Football Jersey Comes Home
Alumnus donates jersey from 1949 bowl game victory to University Archives
Standing on the sidewalk outside of Ryan Field in a purple Northwestern jacket, 87-year-old Ed Tunnicliff (Communication ’50) looked like an average longtime Wildcat football fan. But Tunnicliff has an indelible place in Northwestern sports history, having scored the winning touchdown in the football team’s 1949 Rose Bowl victory.
The former Wildcat halfback returned to campus Friday to contribute his Rose Bowl game jersey to University Archives. He also took the opportunity to tour the football program’s current facilities, meet with head coach Pat Fitzgerald, revisit the 1949 Rose Bowl trophy and share his memories of an unforgettable era in Northwestern football.
“If you look back through Northwestern’s history, when they had good teams, it was because they had depth,” he said. “When I was there, we had all the veterans coming back from four years of war and then all of the freshmen coming in as well, so we had all kinds of depth, and it made a difference.”
That depth led to the team’s first and only Rose Bowl victory -- an accomplishment that is still heralded by the Northwestern community today. After talking to University archivist Kevin Leonard, Tunnicliff decided to donate one of his most cherished Rose Bowl relics -- the number 15 jersey he wore during the game -- to the university’s collection of historic memorabilia.
Northwestern’s athletic department initially recruited Tunnicliff when he was in high school. World War II interrupted his football aspirations, however, so he finally came to Evanston on the G.I. Bill after serving two years in the Army.
Last week, Tunnicliff explored the current football facilities at Ryan Field, sharing stories as he recognized familiar faces of former teammates on the “Wildcat Greats” wall in the football office. He said the remaining members of the Rose Bowl-winning team are still in frequent contact, and the memories of that historic season are as fresh as ever.
“It was a lot of work, with double practices and getting ready for the game, but even just to be able to play in that game was a tremendous experience by itself,” he said of the Rose Bowl.
Reliving his glory days on the gridiron is even easier now, thanks to a digitization project that has preserved many Wildcat games and posted them for online viewing, including the Rose Bowl victory.
“Back when we were in school, the only time you saw one of our game films was on Monday when the coaches went over it with us,” he said. “It’s so nice because now you get to study it. But it also gives you a chance to be more critical, too.”
Tunnicliff retired from the life insurance business 28 years ago and now spends most of his time fishing in Mountain Home, Ark. He didn’t want to make any predictions about future Rose Bowl appearances, but he has avidly followed the good fortunes of the current Wildcat squad and is hopeful about their future success.
“They’re tremendous,” he said. “I’m just keeping my fingers crossed, especially for next Saturday [Oct. 5] against Ohio State.”
After meeting with Coach Fitzgerald, Tunnicliff summed up what makes Northwestern’s football program special -- both in his day and today.
“The main thing here at Northwestern is academics, as well it should be, and you were expected to do the same thing that any other student did,” he said. “That whole attitude about education being most important just permeates everything and you just feel confident.”
Watch Tunnicliff share more memories from the 1949 Rose Bowl.
Read more about the 1949 Rose Bowl team in this Northwestern magazine feature.