Coronavirus has clouded the future of college football, forcing fans and reporters alike to look back into the sport’s past. After months of watching and reliving games from recent memory, reporters have dug even deeper into the first successful era of Kentucky football with Bear Bryant leading the way in the late 40s and early 50s.
Bryant’s success at Kentucky was unprecedented and has yet to be replicated, but not every move he made in Lexington was the right one. While digging through historical archives, Cats Illustrated’s Justin Rowland unearthed an unusual article. Just days after Kentucky won the 1952 Cotton Bowl, capping off three straight seasons that ended in the Orange, Sugar and Cotton Bowls, respectively, Bryant announced a dramatic shift in the program’s philosophy. The Wildcats would no longer recruit out of state players.
Once I stopped asking why reporters used the term “grid” so often to describe football, I asked the question, “Why on Earth would you try to fix something that isn’t broken?” After all, most of the stars from Bryant’s bowl-bound squads were from Pennsylvania and Ohio. Bryant effectively cut off his nose to spite his face at the height of his power, akin to Teddy Roosevelt announcing he wouldn’t run for a second term the day after he was elected President.
Mark Story answered this confusing question in a 2010 story for the Herald-Leader. Even though Bryant assumed all responsibilities for the decision, it was made as critics from around the country questioned the Wildcats’ “win at all cost” culture that produced a point-shaving scandal on Adolph Rupp’s basketball team. Regardless of the motives behind Bryant’s idealistic recruiting philosophy (or if it was actually a policy put in place by the school’s president), it may have still worked out for the Wildcats if Louisville native Paul Hornung decided to stay and play for UK instead of taking his talents to South Bend, where he would eventually win the 1956 Heisman Trophy for Notre Dame.
It’s safe to say the in-state recruiting restriction was a catastrophe that crippled the upstart program for generations.
Before Bryant implemented the recruiting restriction, Bill Mosely left the state of Alabama to play football at the University of Kentucky. After lettering for UK in 1942, Mosely joined the military to fight in World War II. Before returning to Lexington to complete his collegiate career, he put on some pads at another school.
Mark Story detailed Mosely’s time at New Mexico as he helped the Lobos win the Sun Bowl under the pseudonym Dick Moser. His two touchdown receptions in the come from behind victory over Denver were a Sun Bowl record until 2009. Mosely only spent one season playing as Moser, using the alias while still an active duty member of the military to preserve his eligibility at Kentucky.
Upon returning to Lexington, Bryant had turned the Wildcats into a fine-tuned machine. Mosely served as a team captain on the 1947 squad that won the Great Lakes Bowl, the first postseason victory for Bryant and the University of Kentucky.