1949 Rose Bowl Sidebar: Striking similarities between Voigts, Fitzgerald

Danny Daly

The last time Northwestern won a bowl game, it was led by a fiery young coach who had once starred for the Wildcats as a player. Sound familiar? It should. Bob Voigts, who coached the 1948 squad, wasn’t too different from Pat Fitzgerald.

Both are among the greatest athletes to don the purple and white. Voigts, a tackle, played for NU from 1935-1938 and was an All-American as a senior. Fitzgerald’s career, which spanned from 1993-1996, included a Big Ten title and Rose Bowl berth after his junior season as well as two Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year awards.

They also got an early start as coaches – both Voigts and Fitzgerald were 31 years old when they were hired by their alma mater. Being young helped them relate to their players, particularly in Voigts’ case. Like most of his players, Voights served in World War II and understood what they had gone through.

“He was like one of us,” said Ed Nemeth, a guard who played under Voigts for three seasons. “He was a no-nonsense coach. If you didn’t do the job, you didn’t play – period.”Voigts had a tough-guy reputation, and it was well-earned. During the weeks leading up to the 1949 Rose Bowl, Voigts kept his players from leaving the hotel when they weren’t at practice.

“I can remember him saying, ‘You have fun on Saturdays – you don’t have fun during the week,'” said Gaspar Perricone, a fullback whose NU career coincided with the first four years of Voigts’ tenure. “He was a taskmaster. His nickname was ‘Mutiny,’ and that fit him.”He also wasn’t much for inspirational speeches in the locker room.

“Our coach never gave us a pep talk – he never had to,” Perricone said. He gave us hell and chewed us out, but you never heard something like, ‘Get this one for the Gipper!’ He didn’t have that sort of background.”

But Voigts did have a way of motivating his troops. Before the 1949 Rose Bowl, he told the Cats three things that stuck with them.

“Number one, he said we’re no longer a Northwestern team, we’re a Big Ten team – we’re representing not just Northwestern, but the conference,” said Ed Tunnicliff, a junior on that team. “And then, the day before the game, we went in to the Rose Bowl for the practice and he gathered us all around and said, ‘I want you to turn around and look all around here. Look real good, because I don’t want you looking around tomorrow.’ The other thing he pointed out that was meaningful was, ‘If you lose, it’s a long ride home.'”

Voigts coached at NU for eight years, resigning in 1955 after three consecutive losing seasons. He never managed to match the success of winning the Rose Bowl and finished with a 33-39-1 career record. The school remembers him with Bob Voigts Coach of the Year Award, named in his honor.

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