“Squirmin’ Herman Wedemeyer, the hula-hipped hurricane from Hawaiʻi, contributed a remarkable chapter to the lore of West Coast football in 1945 when he sparked St. Mary’s undernourished teenagers to a successful season and a trip to the Sugar Bowl.” (McCarty)
Wedemeyer (Wedey,) born May 20, 1924 in Hilo, “led St Louis College (now St Louis School) to Interscholastic League of Honolulu football titles in 1941 and 1942. He turned down scholarship offers from Notre Dame and Ohio State to attend St. Mary’s.” (Masuoka)
Located in rural Moraga, California, St Mary’s College is a small Catholic liberal arts college. When World War II broke out, St Mary’s (an all-male school) lost almost all of their students to military duty.
In the 1943 season, only 20 students showed up to play on the team, and of those, only 3 weren’t going to be in the military by the fall. So the coach decided to put together a team of players who were all freshmen, as they would be 17, and too young to be drafted into the military.
Although they lost their first game (that they were expected to lose,) seventeen-year-old Wedemeyer was “the most sensational discovery to come over the horizon since the Santa Maria… California won the ball game but Herman Wedemeyer won the hearts of every man, woman, and child present.”
Grantland Rice, sportswriting’s dean, said that Wedemeyer was “the only back I’ve seen in many years who could handle (running, passing, blocking, tackling and kicking) with poise and grace thrown in….His reflexes are far quicker than anything I’ve seen on a football team in many, many years.”
His speed and turn-on-a-dime agility on the field earned him the nicknames “Squirmin’ Herman,” “The Flyin’ Hawaiian,” “The Hawaiian Centipede” and “The Waikiki Wonder.” (Barracuda Magazine)
In 1944, St. Mary’s had to do without Wedemeyer, as he enlisted in the Merchant Marines. The Gaels only scheduled five games that season, and minus Wedemeyer, they lost every one of them.
Wedemeyer, at only 5’ 10” and 164-pounds, returned to the team for the 1945 season (which began shortly after the end of WWII), but St Mary’s enrollment was still under 100 students. The team once again showed promise, even though they were the youngest college team ever put together. (Barracuda Magazine)
The highlight of the season was the 26-0 trouncing of USC. Little St Mary’s went on to capture the Pacific Coast title – and played in the Sugar Bowl against the undefeated Oklahoma A&M. (St Mary’s lost that game.)
Wedemeyer was the first from Hawaiʻi player to be named to the All-American first team. He was also selected to play for the West in the annual Shrine game, the first freshman ever so honored. Sportswriter Rice noted, “Herman Wedemeyer is the greatest athlete in the country.”
Wedemeyer was a first-round draft pick of the Los Angeles Dons of the All-America Football Conference (AAFC) in 1947 (and played with fellow Hawaiian, free agent Johnny Naumu.)
The AAFC was an upstart challenger to the then-25-year-old NFL; the Dons were supported-by-the-stars, Don Ameche was president and minority owners included Bing Crosby, Bob Hope, Pat O’Brien and others.
The Dons were the first professional football team to play a regular season game in Los Angeles, beating the rival Los Angeles Rams of the National Football League by two weeks. (LA Times)
Wedemeyer played one year with the Dons and later played for the Baltimore Colts, but an injury cut short his career. He had a short stint in professional minor league baseball.
Returning to Hawaiʻi, Wedemeyer became a businessman. He was elected to the Honolulu City Council in 1968. In 1970, he was elected/reelected to the Hawaiʻi House of Representatives.
From 1971 to 1980, Wedemeyer appeared in “Hawaii Five-O,” playing Edward D “Duke” Lukela. (Masuoka) Wedemeyer died January 25, 1999 in Honolulu (aged 74.)