Claude "Little Monk" Simons
Induction Year: 1969
One month before the first Sugar Bowl Classic, Claude “Little Monk” Simons of Tulane University suffered a broken collarbone after a game-winning punt return against LSU. Coach Glenn “Pop” Warner’s Temple Owls were matched against Tulane in the Sugar Bowl on Jan. 1, 1935.
Warner said his sophomore fullback, Dave Smuckler, was “better than Jim Thorpe,” and Smuckler helped the Owls jump off to a 14-0 lead. Then Simons worked his kick return magic again.
Tulane quarterback Johnny McDaniel took the kickoff following Temple’s second touchdown at the 10-yard line.
After running a few yards, he flipped a lateral to Simons – who was running in the opposite direction. Simons appeared to be hemmed up along the sideline, but reserve fullback Stanley Lodrigues wiped out a Temple defender with a crushing block.
“No one laid a hand on me,” Simons recalled later. The 85-yard run resulted in Simons’ 11th touchdown of the season, and gave Tulane’s morale a much-needed boost. “You could feel the life it gave us when Monk scored,” assistant coach Lester Lautenschlaeger said. “I don’t think any of our players thought we couldn’t go on to win the game.”
Actually, none of the Tulane players were eager to play the game until Lautenschlaeger made an impassioned plea to their sense of honor and civic pride. The first vote was a unanimous verdict to decline the offer.
Then the players offered to pay if they were each paid $150. After a third Lautenschlaeger speech, they agreed to play for glory (wristwatches). In the second half, the Green Wave went upstairs for two touchdowns, with Dick Hardy on the receiving end of both passes.
Howard “Bucky” Bryan, a product of Shreveport’s Byrd High, threw the first one, and Barney Mintz launched the second – a pass that was tipped by Temple halfback Horace Mowrey into the hands of Hardy. That broke a 14-14 tie and provided the winning margin in Tulane’s 20-14 victory.
Simons, son of long-time Tulane football trainer (and coach of the basketball and boxing teams) “Monk” Simons, led the Green Wave to a 9-1 record and a No. 13 national ranking. “Little Monk” returned to Tulane as head basketball coach and assistant football coach in 1938, and was the head football coach for four years during World War II.
The Green Wave beat Southern California 27-13 in his first game and whipped LSU 27-0 in 1943, but his overall record was 13-17-1 as Tulane President Dr. Rugus Harris started a de-emphasis movement.
Simons later became a successful businessman. He served as president of the Sugar Bowl, and was inducted into the National Foundation Hall of Fame. Simons starred at Newman High in New Orleans before he went to Tulane. He became one of the first Tulane athletes to win varsity letters in four sports, prompting “Pie” Defour to label him “a man for all seasons.”
He was named to the all-time Tulane team as a defensive back and was as second team selection on offense.
An All-American selection in 1934, he was both an outstanding running back and a tremendous blocker. In the 1934 season opener, Simons established himself as the big play man when he ran for one touchdown and passed to Hardy for another in a 14-0 victory over Auburn. He had 114 yards rushing in the game. A week later, he had 117 yards – getting nearly half of them on a 57-yard run that set up Tulane’s final touchdown in 28-12 win over Florida.
Then he scored all seven points in a 7-6 squeaker past Georgia, getting the touchdown on a 32-yard run. The margin of victory in that game was a Georgia extra point attempt that bounced off the goal post. Georgia Tech coach Bill Alexander said Simons’ 42-yard touchdown run was the turning point in Tulane’s 20-12 victory over the Yellow Jackets. A week later, his one-yard touchdown run helped the Wave roll past Ole Miss 15-0.
Tulane got its come-uppance in a trip to New York City, dropping a 20-6 decision to a Colgate team that displayed a razzle-dazzle offense (with as many as seven players handling the ball on one play). Tulane coach Ted Cox added Colgate’s laterals on kick returns to his team’s repertoire later in the season – a move that would pay dividends against LSU and Temple.
Back in Louisiana, Simons scored another touchdown in the Green Wave’s 32-0 rout of Sewanee. That set the stage for a showdown with LSU, which carried an 18-game unbeaten streak into that game. With both teams unbeaten in SEC play, a share of the SEC championship (Alabama, with Millard “Dixie” Howell passing to ends Don Hutson and Paul “Bear” Bryant, also had an unbeaten season, capped by a Rose Bowl victory) and a berth in the first Sugar Bowl awaited the winner. LSU, led by Abe Mickal, was protecting a five-point lead in the final minutes of play when Bertis Yates punted to Bryan.
He lateraled to Simons, who was crossing behind him, and “Little Monk” raced 55 yards to the game-winning touchdown – suffering the broke collarbone when he was tackled by Jess Fatheree in the end zone. As he crossed the goal line, Simons’ mother fainted in the stands.
While the Green Wave’s victory was dramatic, it was well-earned. Tulane out-gained Bernie Moore’s Tigers 263 yards to 164, and rolled up 12 first downs to only four for the Tigers.
When Simons was named to several All-American teams, Mintz recalled a preseason stroll across the campus. Simons turned to his teammate and said, “Barney, I’m going to make All-American this year.” The kid who practically grew up on the Tulane campus made that prediction come true.