The Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum is marking its centennial, celebrating the storied history of a stadium that will host an unprecedented third Summer Olympics in 2028. Famous for the graceful peristyle end that echoes the arches of the Colosseum in Rome, the vast stadium also has hosted two Super Bowls and a World Series, John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr. and Pope John Paul II, the Rolling Stones and Bruce Springsteen, and all of USC football’s eight Heisman Trophy winners.
Pomona College has a small part in all that history, but a notable one: On October 6, 1923, Pomona played USC in the first varsity college football game ever played on the Coliseum field.
“Trojans and Sagehens Dedicate Coliseum Today,” read the Los Angeles Times headline that Saturday. Bleacher seats were $1, Los Angeles fans were instructed to take streetcar lines to the game, and a special train car traveled from Claremont to the Coliseum. The Student Life gave driving instructions that did not include the then-unimaginable 10 Freeway: “Go to Pomona, thence to Los Angeles over Valley boulevard. Proceed to Figueroa and then south to Exposition Park. Stadium is on west side of grounds.”
Pomona’s student body president, Ranney C. Draper 1925 P’60—the father of Pomona College Trustee Emeritus Ranney E. Draper ’60—not only played in the game, but “introduced a new wrinkle yesterday when he appeared at the University of Southern California during chapel period and expressed the belief that, while the Trojans have a fair sort of football team, Pomona will clean them today,” according to an unidentified newspaper clipping that spelled his first name as Rammey.
The Pomona quarterback was Earl J. Merritt 1925 P’39, already known as ‘Fuzz’ or variations thereof, who would go on to coach the Sagehens from 1935 to 1958 and for whom Pomona-Pitzer’s stadium, Merritt Field, is named. The Times called him “a quarterback who looked like the best signal-yelper in Southern California last year on the Freshman squad.”
A TSL preview of the game written by George W. Savage 1925 displayed the colorful style of the sportswriters of the era: “Led by Captain ‘Herb’ Mooney, ten fighting-mad Sagehens, who have eaten horseradish for the last month in order to ‘horse’ the Trojans, will trot onto the fresh green turf of the nation’s largest stadium, prepared to meet all the wiles [Trojan Coach Gus] Henderson and his men have concocted, all the power and weight U.S.C. possesses, and ready to do their stuff as one of the two picked teams chosen to combat in dedication of the newest temple to the great American collegiate game.”
Mooney, the aforementioned team captain, would go on to become a doctor and round out his own personal Sagehen 11. His alumni record reads: Mooney Sr., Herbert 1924 P’55 P’57 P’59 P’65 P’77 GP’82 GP’86 GP’04 GP’07 GP’13.
The game itself was a disappointment for the Sagehens.
“Trojans Trim Pomona, 23 to 7, Before 25,000 Fans at the Coliseum,” the Times headline read. “The U.S.C. Trojan swallowed the Pomona Sagehen, 23 to 7, yesterday but found the gravel-fed bird from Claremont entirely too tough for easy digestion.”
USC, of course, would go on to become a football powerhouse, claiming 11 national championships, and Pomona would settle comfortably into NCAA Division III. All told, Pomona and USC met 21 times on the gridiron. The Sagehens won four games—in 1899, 1900, 1901 and 1914—tied four others and lost 13. The last meeting was in 1925, two years after the teams’ Coliseum debut, when an 80-0 Pomona loss relegated the series to history.