A Football Band of Brothers: Part 2
Forging the University of Washington's First National Championship
In Part 1, we mentioned that Husky football reached a very low point when the program was put on probation for two years in 1956, for zealous boosters directly paying players more than the Pacific Coast Conference PCC) allowed. California, UCLA, and USC were also placed on probation for the same infractions. George Briggs was hired as the new Athletic Director to clean up the mess. He hired Darrell Royal as the new head football coach, and after a 5-5 season in 1956, Royal resigned to take his dream job at Texas. Briggs then hired Jim Owens. In Owens' first season, the Huskies went 3-6-1 and in 1958, a mostly sophomore team recorded three wins and seven losses.
In the fall of 1959, West Coast football was entering a new phase. The Pacific Coast Conference went out of existence in the summer. The Athletic Association of Western Universities -- dubbed the Big Five -- was formed to replace the PCC. However, its exclusive hold on the Rose Bowl bid did not become effective until the 1960 season. The 1959 western representative to the Rose Bowl would be the team with the best record among the nine schools in the defunct PCC. One of the favorites for the conference title was USC who was put on an additional two year probation effective January 7, 1959, thereby eliminating its chance to go to Pasadena. California could not go either because a PCC rule did not allow its teams to have repeat appearances in the Rose Bowl.
The Big Ten conference, after humiliating PCC contenders in 12 of the 13 games played after a pact was formed in 1946, decided in the summer of 1959 not to renew its part of the contract with the Rose Bowl. It authorized individual members of the conference to accept, at their discretion, any Rose Bowl invitation. Thus, the AAWU could decide to invite an opponent from anywhere in the land including the Big Ten.
The 1959 Husky football team was loaded with juniors who had gained significant experience in 1958. Owens' first unit would be an all-junior squad except for sophomore end John Meyers. His alternate unit would usually consist of four seniors, five juniors, and two sophomores. The players realized that the coaches were driving them to become a group of warriors and a band of brothers committed to do whatever it took to win battles on the football field. Their success did not result from having the best talent but from their resolve and their belief that they could never lose.
They started the season winning their first four games and outscoring the opponents 123 points to 8. On October 17, they faced seventh ranked USC in Husky Stadium.
With only one upper deck in Husky Stadium at that time, a record crowd of almost 54,500 watched a classic matchup featuring power football, stirring defense, momentum shifts and victory in the balance until the final seconds. The Huskies took the lead 15-14 with about 10 minutes left. USC then engineered a nine play drive which covered 80 yards to regain the lead 22-15. The Huskies drove to the Trojan 17 on their final drive which ended with an intercepted pass and a USC victory.
Washington would win its last five games with shutouts over Cal and Washington State in the final two games to close out the season with a 9-1 record, a conference title -- the first for the Huskies since 1936 -- and a trip to the Rose Bowl.
They faced heavily favored Wisconsin in the 1960 Rose Bowl. During the 13 prior Rose Bowl match ups between the Big Ten and the Pacific Coast Conference champions since the end of WWII, the Big Ten teams had won twelve. Clearly, West Coast football lacked respectability in the late 1950's.
Washington put the Rose Bowl game away in the first quarter. They went up 17-0 before Wisconsin had a first down. Right before the first half ended, 1959 All-America quarterback Bob Schloredt passed to end Lee Folkins who made one of the greatest touchdown catches in Rose Bowl history -- stretched flat out to catch the ball -- to put the Huskies up 24-8.
They opened the second half with a punishing ground game. Fullback Ray Jackson ran the ball over right tackle for 47 of the 66 yards and scored from the two yard line. George Fleming and Schloredt were named Co-Mvps. Fleming racked up 272 all-purpose yards and kicked one field goal and five conversions. It was Washington's first Rose Bowl victory -- the Huskies had played in Pasadena four times before.
Shortly after the game was over, Bud Wilkinson, the outstanding coach of many Oklahoma national championship teams, telephoned Owens, his former player and told him that "It would be hard to find a club anywhere, any time, that played a 60-minute period any better than Washington did today."
In 1959, the Huskies had committed to do whatever it took to win battles on the football field. In 1960 that commitment was redoubled to overcome injuries to six of the starting linemen and a regular season ending injury to Schloredt. Others stepped up to complete another 9-1 season. Washington's only loss was to Navy 15-14 -- on a last second field goal that cleared the cross bar by the length of a salmon. The midshipmen were led by Heisman winner, Joe Bellino. Navy would finish fourth in the regular season polls.
Washington would then go on to win their last seven games, four of them by the margin of five points. They were called the Cardiac Kids since they sent several fans to the hospital with heart problems because of their comeback victories.
First, there was a 10-8 win over UCLA. Next a 30-29 win in Multnomah Stadium over Oregon State. Then a 7-6 squeaker over Oregon -- one of most memorable games in Husky Stadium. Oregon was ahead late in the fourth quarter and had driven to Washington's 20 yard line. On third and four, defensive back Bob Hivner picked off a deflected pass on his five. He then turned to his quarterback duties and led the Huskies upfield. On the Oregon 47, the Huskies faced fourth and six with less than three minutes to go.
Then Hivner rolled out and threw a short pass to running back Don McKeta. Slanting toward the north sideline, the Husky warrior appeared to be heading out of bounds. At least that is what Dave Grayson, the Oregon corner back thought. But McKeta had no intention of going out of bounds unless he was knocked there. He thought only of driving up field. When Grayson pulled up, the native of Robertsdale Pennsylvania, turned the corner and ran up the sidelines for the score.
With the game depending on his toe, all-purpose player Mr Fleming -- sometimes called Mr Automatic, kicked the ball squarely between the uprights for the 7-6 victory. He gave a little jump for joy as he heard the thunderous cheers of the crowd, picked up by the late October breeze echo through the stadium and out over the lake.
In the final game of the season, the Huskies eaked out an 8-7 win over the Cougars in very chilly and windy Spokane. In the first half, McKeta suffered a gash in his leg that required 10 stitches to close. No matter, he came back and led all rushers in the second half and caught a two-point conversion pass in the waning moments. Sophomore Charles Mitchell racked up significant yardage on the Huskies' scoring drive starting with a 38-yard kick off return to get Washington into great field position.
With another Conference championship, they faced Minnesota in the 1961 Rose Bowl.
In those days, most of the polls completed their final rankings before the bowl games were played. It was a flawed system because all the evidence was not in. Many of the polls had crowned Minnesota as the number one team in the country -- again before the bowl games were played.
In 1965, probably because of what happened in 1960, all the polls waited until the Bowl games were over to crown a national champion. But no so in 1960.The Huskies convincingly beat the Gophers, 17-7, after building a 17-0 lead in the first half.
The Husky coaches and players believed that the Rose Bowl was the college championship game and when you win a championship match, you get the title.
Two polls -- the Helms Foundation Poll and the Football Writers Poll -- announced their final rankings after the bowl games were completed. The Football Writers selected Mississippi (10 wins, zero losses, and one tie) as its national champion and the Helms Foundation selected Washington (10 wins and one loss).
Jim Owens and his Husky band of brothers had gone from ashes to roses and a national championship and, in the opinion of KOMO sports director, Keith Jackson, had picked up the entire state and region and revitalized it.
I wrote this book -- A Football Band of Brothers -- because it is a compelling story -- not only about athletic teams but for some observations about creating great business units as well.
The coaches and players really believed in the importance of team work. They believed that it took a whole team to get the job done. They believed that everybody was in the battle together.
The coaches recruited players with integrity and character who didn't expect extra or different treatment. Nobody expected anything but hard work.
They made it through grueling practices, challenge drills, and punishing conditioning exercises because of an intense determination and commitment to the goals of the coaches and to each other. The result of their shared experience, both on the practice field and in games with tough opponents, was a closeness unknown to outsiders.
Another reason for writing the book is that I believe that many Husky fans today remember only the great success of the Don James era. But even James, a good friend, understands that the 1959 and 1960 teams laid the foundation for Husky football. They were the ones who turned Husky football around. When you talk about the Husky tradition -- endurance, passion, pride, tenacity, and toughness -- it all started in the late 1950's. Their 20-2 record over a two-year span ranks at the very top level of Husky football.
And the last reason for writing the book was to provide a catalyst to the Athletic Department to properly recognize the 1960 national championship.
UW Athletic Director Todd Turner and his associates have enthusiastically embraced the idea of recognizing the 1960 team and have put together a great plan.
There will be a Legacy Weekend on Sept 28-29. The Football Legends Center will be opened. There will be a dinner to honor the 1960 team. The team will gather together in the "Husky Huddle" in the Dempsey Indoor before the USC game. And during the half-time of the nationally televised game, the team will be recognized with a banner raised with 1960 National Champions emblazoned on it.
Tom Porter has written three books about Husky athletics. He co-authored with Jim Daves The Glory of Washington: The People and Events That Shaped the Husky Athletic Tradition and Husky Stadium: Great Games and Golden Moments. His latest book -- A Football of Band of Brothers: Forging the University of Washington's First National Championship can be purchased from Amazon.com, the Husky Team Shop, the University Book Store, and directly from the publisher -- Trafford Publishing (Trafford.com/06-2420). To order a personally inscribed book for yourself, a family member, or your favorite Husky fan, please contact Porter at BoB.firstname.lastname@example.org