Traverse City Record-Eagle

Archive: Monday

December 16, 2013

Dennis Chase: Back to Pasadena — 60 years later

Sixty years ago, when he was 19-year old sophomore at Michigan State, Sam Mitchell and four of his friends packed a car and drove more than 2,000 miles non-stop to California.

Destination: Pasadena.

Mitchell and his friends were avid Spartan football fans, and even though they had little money in their pockets, the school's first Rose Bowl appearance was just too important to pass up.

In a couple weeks, Mitchell, a Traverse City real estate agent, will return to Pasadena to cheer on his Spartans for a second time.

"Sixty years to the day," he said.

And he's hoping for the same result. Michigan State rallied from a two-touchdown deficit to beat UCLA 28-20 in the 1954 clash.

"It was an exciting game," Mitchell recalled. "That was when we had the Pony Backfield. All those guys made a name for themselves. They were all about 175 pounds, but they were fast. Billy Wells broke some big plays."

Wells, in fact, was the game's MVP. He scored two touchdowns, returning a punt 62 yards for a fourth quarter score to seal the win.

The Pony Backfield included Tom Yewcic (5-11, 172) at quarterback, Wells (5-9, 175) and LeRoy Bolden (5-7, 157) at the halfbacks and Evan Slonac (5-8, 170) at fullback.

"When the Spartans lined up for photographs yesterday, everyone in the backfield except for Tom Yewcic seemed to be standing in a hole," quipped a West Coast writer before the game.

Mitchell and his buddies had a great view of the game, too. They had seats near the 50, about halfway up the stands behind the Michigan State bench. Actor Bob Hope sat a few rows behind them.

"How we were so lucky to get those great seats, I don't know," Mitchell said. "Today, those seats are going for $3,000 (and up).

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