Leo Costa

Leo Costa
…so I started kicking and was very fortunate in that I think I kicked for about fifteen minutes and didn't miss one, and Coach Butts said, "Well, he's our kicker."

Transcript of Interview with Leo Costa

Full Interview

Let’s talk a little football. Let’s talk about Coach Butts. Describe him for us. If there was somebody who had never met Coach Butts, how would you describe him?

A little round man. Coach Butts was a fine gentleman. There’s no question of that. Had an awful lot of pressure on him to win, and of course, he did that for quite some time. He was a tough taskmaster, because that’s what he did to himself. When he was playing college football, he would work on Saturday morning in Macon at Mercer, and then go to the football game. He’d go to the stadium and get dressed to play that day. He just couldn’t understand someone not paying the price, which was one of his favorite expressions, to get to be good.

Had to work at it. No pain, no gain.

No pain, no gain. You talk to him.

I actually knew Coach Butts when I was a little bit younger.

Well then, was I telling the truth?

Yes sir. I didn’t ever play football for him, but I understand what you mean. I think the idea was that--what a gentleman, when he was off the field, and when he was on the field, a tough, tough fellow.

Oh, yeah.

There were some other coaches that were coaching when you were in school. Coach J.B. Whitworth – Ears…

Oh yeah. J.B. Whitworth. Ears Whitworth. He’s the one that taught me to keep my head down.

I want you to tell that story.

It’s no story. It’s the truth. He was down at the other end of the field and I was kicking from about the 30 yard line, which I normally didn’t do, and he happened to be looking out that way and I kicked one and he hollered out, “Was that one good?” And I said, “ Yes sir.” He said, “All right, get on the track.” So I got on the track. The quarter mile track was right there because the track field was right by the baseball park where we practiced. And Coach Butts called everybody into the huddle, so I very graciously came off the field and went over to the huddle, and Coach Whitworth said, “Not you, Costa. Get back out there on that track.” So I got on the track and I got off it when 6 o’clock rolled around. I lost 16 pounds that afternoon, and almost got run over on Lumpkin Street that night for parking across the street from the house and getting out of the car and started across, and getting cramps in the back of both of my legs, and couldn’t move.

Why had he sent you to walk on the track?

I was looking up and I wasn’t supposed to look up.

You looked up to see if the ball…

So he said, “From now on, you pick up a silver dollar off the ground,”… which he actually meant a blade of grass, and when I kicked the ball, I would pick up that blade of grass, I didn’t look. Believe me. I didn’t want to go on that track again.

Did you ever see another one?

He said, “You can see the last one, your last year down here.” And I did..

So the last kick you kicked….

…in the Rose Bowl.

Let’s talk about the game, the 1943 Rose Bowl. There’s a wonderful film, do we know who shot that film of the…?

If I had to guess, I would say Buster Birdsong, but I wouldn’t swear to that at all.

It’s a wonderful film that takes in many of the high points of the trip out and back, and…

Well, it had to be somebody that went out with us, but I don’t remember whether Buster was in the service at that time or not. I don’t remember.

You traveled by train. Talk to us from the beginning, from the train on. Where did you get on the train?

We got on the train in Athens.

Was it the Silver Comet? Was that the one you got on?

I don’t think it…we changed locomotives in Inman Yard in Atlanta, so I don’t know what the name of the train was. But, my wife was trying to get on the train to go down to south Georgia. The trains were so packed that she couldn’t get on. Two of them went through, and the station man told her, said “If you are going to get to Atlanta on the train, you better get on this train.” She got on the train with me. The train had no sooner gotten started when Coach Whitworth comes up to me, and he said, “Costa, what’s that lady doing on the train with you? She’s not going to California.” I said, “No sir. They told her if she wanted to get to Atlanta, she’d better get on, so she did.” And they let her off in Inman Yard with one of the trainers that wasn’t going out to California. The Inman Yard was just run over with people, and she got a ride into the station, so she could get down to south Georgia.

Get home?

And then we left.

Now, did…it was just the team? I’m sure there were folks…who traveled with you?

We had two cars, and there had to be a good number of berths used by other people, I don’t know what. Because the scrubs slept two to a berth in the lowers and the stars slept in the uppers alone. And of course, before, we slept in the uppers and the stars slept in the lowers, but not in this case. Can you imagine?

I can’t imagine.

For four days.

You were not rested, then when you arrived.

No, and we got to the train station and no showers for four days, two meals a day because they didn’t want us to get fat. (Laughter) We get to the hotel, the Huntington Hotel in Pasadena, and everybody gets a key and starts heading for the room and before we could even get there, they round us up and have a meeting. We were told we were there to win a ball game, and if you think you’re here for anything else, come see me when this meeting’s over and I’ll give you your fare back to Georgia. (Laughter)

Wanted you to understand what it was about?

Right. And we did. We practiced two a day.

Is that right?

Yes. We were out there before Christmas.

Where did you practice? Not at the stadium.

Out at Cal Tech.

Okay. Well, in the film, there is a beautiful old building. Is that the hotel where you stayed?

Yeah. Huntington.

Beautiful hotel. Interesting to see.

With all the fruit trees out and all.

In January or December. You all got out there at the end of…

We got out there by December 22 or 21.

So you spent Christmas in California?

Oh yes. Right.

And it took four days cross country.

Right.

Two to a berth. Mmm mmm mmm. You were greeted and hosted by many celebrities and folks when you got to California. Talk a little bit about it. I saw Spencer Tracey and Betty Grable and Bob Hope.

Spencer Tracey, I think, was the first one that shows up on that. Betty Grable, Dick Richardson, an attorney from Savannah – he was a tackle at this time, a freshman tackle on the team. Somehow or another, they got together.

Is that right?

Oh yeah. It was as nice as it could be. Dick was a good looking boy, really.

Talk about how the events were. Did they invite you all to a lunch or did you go somewhere for a party or reception?

Oh yes. We went to Paramount Studios and if I’m not mistaken, the gentleman in charge of the studio at that time was a Tech graduate. But they were delightful to us. We had a luncheon out there and they had run the stars out to meet us. Susan Hayward and Alan Ladd and just any number of them.

I heard Alan Ladd wasn’t but 5 feet tall?

Oh yeah. Alan was. Mickey Rooney wasn’t 5 feet tall. As a matter of fact, Bill Godwin reached over and picked Mickey Rooney up by his shirt collar one day and just held him up in the air.

Spencer Tracey, Betty Grable, Bob Hope, William Bendix?

Yeah. William Bendix was there. I had a program of the luncheon autographed by all of those people and it was sold at a silent auction at the function that they have here after the season is over. The program autographed by all but two of the players and that autograph thing, brought about $4500 to the program.

That’s wonderful. We didn’t get it for the library, huh?

(Laughter)

How about Rita Hayworth?

Rita Hayworth. As I said, Rita Hayworth was on the Super Chief and two of the players found out that she was on there, and they went over there and forcefully were introduced to her.

I saw, in the film it looked like she was signing some autographs.

Oh yeah. She came out to the hotel because that happened in Albuquerque. Yeah, where they first met Susan [meant Rita]. She came out to the hotel to show that there was no hard feelings of any kind.

She looked like there were no hard feelings. Did I see Bing Crosby?

No, we didn’t see Crosby. Kay Kyser, and as a matter of fact, you’ll see Kay Kyser in the film, because…

Maybe that was who it was.

Dancing back and forth, throwing his hat on the ground and picking it up.

Right.

That’s Kay Kyser.

Now he was from the state of Georgia, isn’t he?

North Carolina, I think. And I think he went to North Carolina.

Well, the film showed the streets of LA, Grauman’s Chinese, and it did a wonderful job, and then it showed the game. Let’s talk about the game a little bit.

Let me make a statement before it starts. Trippi told me not too long ago that he talked to Coach Butts one day after he came back and was coaching for Coach Butts. He asked Coach Butts, “Why don’t we kick more field goals?” And Coach Butts said, “Well, you can’t win ball games with field goals. I want touchdowns. If I can’t get a touchdown, I want to leave them way down there so they have a long way to go to score on me.” But, in this ball game, the score would have never been 9 to 0 with a kicker like Couteau that we’ve got or had. It would have been at least 27 to I would say about 9. We would have kicked field goals all afternoon long. We were down on the goal line. We fumbled on the goal line one time.

it looked like to me that you all moved the ball, I think it was 25 first downs and to…

To their five.

Yes. You ran up and down the field all day.

That’s right.

That’s an interesting philosophy. What would…

Well, we kicked one field goal the whole time I was at Georgia, and Sinkwich kicked it, and he called the play in the huddle on the field and Kimsey told him – it was Kimsey’s senior year – Kimsey told him, “Coach Butt’s going to kill you.” (Laughter) Because it was a field goal. And Frank kicked it and made it.

That was an interesting philosophy, no field goals, though. You were playing in Rose Bowl Stadium, which of course is the home stadium for the team that you were playing, the Bruins, so they had that advantage and 93,000 people in attendance there. They have a huge crowd. We don’t seat 93 yet, do we? We have 92 something here. Close.

Right at 93.

So you-all were 10-1, excuse me…us, we, the Dawgs were 10-1.

We.

The Bruins were 7-3. Describe what it feels like to walk on the field at the Rose Bowl.

Well, you drive up to the Rose Bowl and you have no idea that it’s as large as it is if you haven’t seen it before. Because it is down in a hole, and well, you’ve seen those tubes entering into the stadium. That’s ground level outside, so it’s down in there. And of course, the seats are well balanced out as far as being able to see. The field was a great field. This film showed the grass had been burnt and all that, but I don’t remember that at all. I remembered it as being a beautiful green like we have at Sanford Stadium. As a matter of fact, I thought it was equal to Sanford Stadium or the Cotton Bowl, either one, as far as the field was concerned.

So a beautiful physical facility?

Yes.

All those fans, and even the film captured some of that flash card business, choreography, which is just amazing.

Of course, we didn’t have too many fans out there.

Right.

Couldn’t get there unless they was already there in the service. As you know, they had played the Rose Bowl the year before in North Carolina.

At Duke.

At Duke.

Concern about the, I guess, the Japanese…?

Well, they had had some bombs floated over that did detonate up in the northwestern states.

But we were more comfortable by this time?

As a matter of fact, they didn’t even have the Rose Bowl parade.

When you all went? Is that right?

Mm hmm. They didn’t have the parade.

Concern for safety there.

Did you know about the Rose Bowl? It started in 1903 and they had a football game that year. Then, the next few years up to 1915, they had chariot races.

Is that right?

Yes. That’s right.

Like in Ben Hur?

Yeah. (Laughs)

Those folks in California…I know that in this game, Mr. Sinkwich was injured, not injured in the game, I’m sorry, but came with a…

He left Athens with one ankle Achilles tendon and got the other one hurt out there in a scrimmage. Both totally unnecessary, tackled out of bounds in both cases by the same player.

Whose name will not be mentioned?

You don’t want to know that.

Good.

He was not a regular by any stretch. He knew better than to hit Frank head on.

But, Charley [Trippi] had to play a lot of football that day and had a breakout game, didn’t he?

He did. I never will forget his first punt. Bob Waterfield had punted and it was a terrific punt, and the fans just thought it was great and really applauded him wholeheartedly. Then we had to punt, and Trippi kicked one at least 15 yards longer than Waterfield had, and they went nuts. He played a magnificent game. Well, he did all season. He is on the all time Rose Bowl team.

I think I read that he was voted Rose Bowl MVP retroactively. In 1953 they evidently went back and did that, so he had a breakout game. I think the record I saw was 130 yards and something like 25 carries, but in the film you can see. We move up and down the field almost at will. We just don’t cross the goal line until the fourth quarter. Talk to us about, is it Willard Boyd?

Willard Boyd, Red Boyd. In those days, you punted from 10 yards back from the line of scrimmage as opposed to 15 yards today. Why both punts weren’t blocked, I don’t know, but it wasn’t a customary thing. But, you snap the ball back 10 yards. It’s a good sized snap. But at the time, we couldn’t pick the ball up and throw it like they do now. We had to drag it along the ground and snap it. So, 15 yards would have been a real push for those days, but they kicked with one step, and today they kick almost at the line of scrimmage from 15 yards back, but it was …

So he blocked Bob Waterfield’s punt?

He blocked Waterfield’s punt out of bounds, knocked it out of the end zone, which, of course, gave us two points. Had we recovered it in the end zone, it would have been a touchdown.

Okay, so we had a safety there and this was at the beginning first part of the fourth quarter.

Yeah, it was in the fourth quarter.

Then, tell us about that last score.

Clyde Erhart intercepted a pass and made a nice run of it back to say around the 20 yard line. Then, Trippi got it down to close to the goal line, and he put Sinkwich back in, and put Sinkwich in at fullback. Frank got it across, and I mean he just did get it across, believe me he did, but it was a touchdown. So the score then was 8-0 and I kicked the extra point and it made it 9. The announcer was inebriated and there was a penalty on the kick. They were off sides, and they gave us the choice of kicking again or taking the point. So he announced over the radio, that UCLA was penalized the point, that the kick was no good, that they gave us a point because of that penalty. And you can’t penalize anybody a point in football.

He was inebriated!

He was!

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