LSU’s dominance in track and field can be traced back to the 1933 season when the Tigers won their first national championship at Chicago’s Solider Field under the guidance of legendary head coach Bernie Moore. Next week’s NCAA Outdoor Championships mark the 75th anniversary of that historic victory that helped lay the foundation for one of the elite programs in all of collegiate track and field.
First in a five-part series remembering LSU’s first national champions introduces the men who defeated the favored Trojans from the University of Southern California by the score of 58-54 on the fateful night of June 17, 1933.
Editor’s Note: The information included in this feature was gathered using LSU sports information archives, including official biographies, newspaper articles, The Gumbo and content in the 2008 LSU Track & Field Media Guide.
by Will Stafford
LSU Sports Information
Head Coach Bernie Moore
At the heart of every great team is an even better head coach, and it is only fitting that a man like Bernie Hawthorne Moore was the one to lead LSU to its first national championship in any sport.
Moore, who came to LSU as an assistant football coach in 1928, quickly built one of the nation’s premier track and field programs of the early 20th century after taking over the head duties in 1930. Just four years into his tenure, the Tigers pulled an improbable upset by defeating the USC Trojans by a score of 58-54 to win the team title at the NCAA Championships in 1933.
What’s even more impressive is that the squad accomplished the feat with only five men accounting for all 58 points, including such LSU legends as Nathan “Buddy” Blair, Glenn “Slats” Hardin, Jack Torrance, Al Moreau and Matt Gordy.
The Tigers dominated the sport of track and field in the South during Moore’s 18-year tenure as he led the team to a Southern Conference championship in 1932 before reeling off 12 of 15 SEC championships after the formation of the league in 1933.
His legacy on the track is not only shaped by the championships he won, but the impact he had on the young men who wore the purple and gold. Under Moore’s guidance, LSU athletes set five world records, won eight NCAA titles and collected 29 All-America honors in 18 seasons.
In addition, Hardin developed into the world’s premier 400-meter hurdler with Moore’s coaching as he was an Olympic gold medalist in 1936 while also winning a silver medal in 1932.
When LSU was searching for a new head football coach in 1935, then athletic director T.P. Heard looked no further than Moore to lead the Tigers on the gridiron. After Moore accepted the position, Louisiana senator Huey P. Long promised fans a program with a national reputation and said that “winning that track meet showed me he could handle men.”
The team responded by competing in three straight Sugar Bowls from 1935-37 before winning its first bowl game with a 19-14 victory over the Texas A&M Aggies in the 1943 Orange Bowl.
The Tigers were 83-39-6 in Moore’s 13 seasons as head football coach as he also guided the team to a pair of SEC championships in 1935 and 1936. After leaving his post as LSU’s head coach in football and track in 1947, Moore was appointed commissioner of the SEC in 1948 and served in that capacity for 18 years until his retirement in 1966.
An enduring icon in the state of Louisiana, Moore was inducted into the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame as part of the class of 1963.
For his contributions toward excellence in athletics, the LSU Board of Supervisors voted on Jan. 21, 1971, to name LSU’s outdoor track and field complex after Moore. The Bernie Moore Track Stadium bears his name to this day.
When Moore passed away in 1967, Matt Gordy, then a Houston-based vice president of Pan American Oil, flew to Baton Rouge in his private plane to pick up his four teammates from the Tigers 1933 national championship team. They then flew to Moore’s hometown of Winchester, Tenn., to serve as pallbearers for the coach they loved so deeply.
Nathan “Buddy” Blair
It can be argued that Nathan “Buddy” Blair is one of the greatest all-around athletes in the history of LSU athletics as he was a three-time letterman in track, basketball and baseball from 1933-35.
Blair was one of five Tiger scorers who helped win LSU’s first ever national championship in any sport when the track team brought the title back home to Baton Rouge following the NCAA Championships in 1933. He earned his first of two All-America honors in the javelin throw with a fourth-place finish following a throw of 195-6 ½ during the national meet in Chicago.
Blair not only helped lead the LSU track team to glory in 1933, but he also led the Tigers to the mythical national title on the basketball court in 1935. The team’s triumph is considered “mythical” as there was no NCAA Tournament in place in those days to crown a true champion.
Blair, a native of Sicily Island, La., scored 20 points to lead the Tigers to a come-from-behind 41-37 victory over Pittsburgh in a postseason game in Atlantic City, N.J., to clinch the title.
With his collegiate career coming to a close following the athletic season in 1935, Blair was preparing to train for the decathlon in the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin, Germany, when the lure of professional baseball and playing for the New York Yankees won out.
In the spring of 1936, Blair signed a $2,000 contract to play shortstop with the Yankees. He had two excellent seasons in the low minors and was being groomed to take over at shortstop for Frank Crosetti when he suffered a severe knee injury during a stint with the Newark Bears of the International League. He spent the first two weeks of the 1941 season with the Yankees but never saw the field before being sent down to Kansas City.
Despite his struggles to make the squad in New York, Blair caught the eye of legendary manager Connie Mack of the Philadelphia Athletics, who acquired the infielder in a trade in 1941.
Blair, a 32-year-old rookie, was the team’s regular third baseman in 1942, appearing in 137 games and averaging .279 with five home runs and 66 RBI. His 1942 contract of $5,000 was the most he ever earned playing professional baseball. It was his only season in the big leagues.
Blair is truly a sports legend in the state of Louisiana and was elected to the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame in 1981. He was promptly inducted into the LSU Athletics Hall of Fame as part of the school’s inaugural class in 1937.
Glenn “Slats” Hardin
There is no denying the extraordinary talent of former LSU star sprinter and hurdler Glenn “Slats” Hardin, who proved to be the main cog in the Tigers’ first national championship in 1933.
The native of Greenwood, Miss., scored 20 points with wins in the 440-yard run and 220-yard low hurdles at the NCAA Championship meet in Chicago to lead LSU to a thrilling 58-54 victory over the powerful and favored Trojans of the University of Southern California.
Hardin was the undeniable star of the meet as he set a new NCAA record of 47.1 seconds to win the 440-yard run before breaking the recognized world record in the 220-yard low hurdles with a winning time of 22.9. He followed the heroics of his sophomore season by successfully defending his NCAA titles in both events during the national meet in 1934.
Hardin was even more impressive in Southeastern Conference competition as he led LSU to three consecutive league titles from 1933-35.
He guided the Tigers to their first ever SEC track championship by winning the individual 440 and 220-yard low hurdles, while also running on the winning mile relay team. He then swept 440 and 220 hurdle championships the following two years.
Hardin’s dominance in the sprints and hurdles was not limited to NCAA competition. He was unable to compete on the LSU track team as a freshman in 1932, but he did compete as a member of the United States Olympic team at the Olympic Games in Los Angeles.
Hardin teamed with fellow LSU track star Sid Bowman on the U.S. squad and made it to the 400-hurdle finals, coming up short of victory but setting a world record of 52.0 in defeat. Gold medalist Bob Tisdall of Ireland knocked down a hurdle during his race, an error that disqualified a performance from world-record consideration in those days.
Hardin lowered the world record in the 400 hurdles to 50.6 at a meet in Stockholm, Sweden, in 1934, a mark that would stand for the next 19 years.
Four years after winning a silver medal in 1932, Hardin avenged his defeat in the 400 hurdles at the infamous 1936 Olympic Games in Nazi controlled Berlin, Germany, as he competed alongside teammate Jack Torrance and future Tiger Billy Brown. He took victory over Canada’s John Loaring and became the first Tiger to ever win an Olympic gold medal.
Hardin was inducted into the USA Track & Field Hall of Fame in 1978 as his biography on the USATF’s official website, www.usatf.org, calls him “the world’s most dominant 400m hurdler in the 1930s.” He was also inducted into the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame in 1962.
He wrapped up his brilliant LSU career in 1935 as a four-time NCAA champion, six-time SEC champion and six-time All-American, and is still considered by many pundits as the greatest track and field athlete to ever wear the purple and gold to this day.
A 6-foot-5, 265-pound giant of his day, Jack Torrance was the world’s premier shot putter in the early days of track and field in the United States.
His then world-record heave of 52 feet, 10 inches won his first of two NCAA titles in the shot put in 1933, while he added a third-place finish in the discus with a throw of 147-10 at the NCAAs to help lead LSU to its first national title over Southern Cal at Chicago’s Soldier Field.
Torrance repeated his performance a year later when he broke his own world record with a 54-6 9/16 toss to win his second straight NCAA title in the event. He went on to break the record twice more in 1934 with his best throw of the season being 57-1.
Known worldwide as “Baby Jack,” Torrance won three consecutive U.S. Outdoor championships from 1933-35 before donning the uniform for Team USA at the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin, Germany. He made the trip with teammate Glenn “Slats” Hardin and future Tiger Billy Brown, and finished fifth in the shot put in the only Olympic appearance of his illustrious career.
If Torrance wasn’t intimidating enough standing in the shot put circle, one can imagine what opposing defenses thought of the behemoth when lining up along the Tigers’ offensive line as a member of the football team. He was a three-time All-SEC selection from 1931-33.
His football career did not stop there as he returned to Solider Field to play for the Chicago Bears for two seasons in 1939-40. He suited up for legendary head coach George Halas in 15 games over a two-year span while making 15 starts. The highlight of his career as a professional football player came in 1940 when he was named to his first and only Pro Bowl.
Torrance, a native of Rayville, La., will forever be remembered for his heroics as he was inducted into the LSU Athletics Hall of Fame in 1937 along with his four teammates who pulled one of the biggest upsets in NCAA track and field history. He was also inducted into the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame as part of the 1961 class.
For a track team to win a national championship with only five men, it takes each athlete performing at their very best to maximize their scoring opportunities to come away victorious.
Al Moreau made the most of his opportunity at the NCAA Championships in 1933 by scoring a total of nine points in the meet with a narrow second-place finish in the high hurdles and a sixth-place effort in the 220-yard low hurdles.
Moreau was edged at the tape in the high hurdles by Stanford star Gus Meier as both men were clocked with a world-record time of 14.2 seconds. Those were the days without a photo finish, and accounts from the meet suggest that the ruling might have been overturned and Moreau awarded the victory had there been a closer look at the finish line.
The native of Marksville, La., wrapped up his All-American career in 1933 after also winning the SEC’s first title in the 120 high hurdles in the inaugural season of the Southeastern Conference.
But Moreau’s devotion to the LSU track and field program did not end with the conclusion of his collegiate career in 1933. He was later named the team’s head coach in 1949 by athletic director T.P. Heard, a position he held for 14 years through the 1963 season. He would go down as one of the premier coaches to head the Tigers as the program thrived under his watchful eye.
While the national championship he won as an athlete remained elusive as a coach, Moreau led the Tigers to eight SEC championships during his tenure, including indoor titles in 1957 and 1963 and outdoor titles in 1951, 1957, 1958, 1959, 1960 and 1963.
Only Bernie Moore has won more SEC championships as coach of the men’s team as he guided the Tigers to 12 SEC Outdoor titles during his 18 seasons at the helm of the program.
Under Moreau’s coaching, LSU athletes won 55 individual SEC titles and 13 relay titles at the conference meet. His star pupil, hurdler Billy Hardin, was also a three-time All-American in the 400 hurdles from 1962-64 and represented LSU and the United States in the event at the 1964 Olympic Games in Tokyo, Japan.
It can be said that Billy Hardin was born to run the intermediate hurdles as his father, Glenn “Slats” Hardin, was a former world-record holder in the 400 hurdles and a teammate of Moreau’s on the Tigers’ 1933 national championship team.
Unlike his teammate Jack Torrance, LSU’s Matt Gordy would have never intimidated any of his competitors when stepping onto the pole vault runway with his lanky 135-pound frame.
But the heart and determination he showed on the night of June 17, 1933, was just what the Tigers needed as his career best 14-foot clearance in the pole vault matched the effort of Southern Cal star William Graber and clinched the national championship for LSU.
Exhausted after more than two hours of vaulting, Gordy collected himself for his final attempt at 14 feet and just did get over the bar to tie Graber for first place in the event. Gordy had never even come close to clearing the 14-foot mark before as he entered the NCAA meet with a lifetime best of 13-6, six inches short of his championship clinching performance.
Accounts of the NCAA meet in 1933 claim that Gordy was already celebrating on his way down to the mat, and his LSU teammates and supporters rushed to greet him following his historic feat. It was the first time that any Southern school had won an NCAA track and field championship in the 12-year history of the meet.
“Just before my winning jump, I looked up to the top of the stadium and saw Coach (Bernie) Moore pacing up and down like an expectant father,” Gordy was quoted as saying in an article on the legendary coach in the Feb. 8, 1971, edition of The Times-Picayune. “I laughed and I guess that really relaxed me.”
Had Gordy not cleared the bar at 14 feet, the Tigers would have tied the Trojans for first place with 55 points apiece as the squads entered the final event of the meet with LSU leading 49-45. Graber would have scored 10 points with the win, while Gordy would have added six points for the Tigers by tying for second place.
To prove his performance was no fluke, Gordy tied East Coast champion Keith Brown of Yale the following week with yet another 14-foot clearance at the National A.A.U. meet.
Like the rest of his teammates on the 1933 squad, Gordy, a native of Abbeville, La., was inducted into the LSU Athletics Hall of Fame as part of the first class in 1937. He was also inducted into the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame in 1985.