June 24, 1998
SEATTLE - Don McKeta, who helped Washington win bask-to-back Rose Bowl football games in 1960-61, will be honored this week by the All-American Football Foundation. The Husky halfback will be inducted into the foundation's "Unsung Heroes" category at the organization's Banquet of Champions XII Thursday night at the MGM Grand Hotel in Las Vegas.
In addition to McKeta, Wisconsin's Tom Weisner, Oregon's Dan Garza and USC's Jim Callanan will be recognized as Unsung Hero Award winners. Former Husky running back Hugh McElhenny will also be honored at the banquet with the organization's Golden Anniversary All-American Award.
McKeta, the only player in the history of the Husky football program to win consecutive Flaherty inspirational awards, will be recognized for his contribution to the success of those Husky teams while playing in the shadow of more celebrated teammates. His "play it from the heart" approach was the rallying cry for UW teams that went 20-2 in the 1959 and 1960 seasons.
McKeta was a game captain when the Huskies won in Pasadena, crushing Wisconsin, 44-8, in the 1960 Rose Bowl and surprising No. 1-ranked Minnesota, 17-7, a year later. Those two victories ended the Big 10 Conferences's domination of the Rose Bowl and returned West Coast football to national respectability.
"Don was the unsung hero and team leader who, more than any other player, set the example of 'total commitment and performance beyond talent' that became the cornerstone of the Husky tradition," said Rick Redman, a Husky All-American in 1963-64 and a Hall-of-Fame member.
McKeta, who lives in Seattle and now works as a consultant for a construction company, was a Husky assistant with coach Jim Owens after completing his playing career as a Husky. The All-American Football Foundation award caught him by surprise.
"I'd never even thought about the Hall of Fame thing until a few months ago when Chuck Carroll told me about the 'unsung hero' catergory," McKeta said. "It's a great honor for me, especially after all those years."
Carroll, a UW All-American in 1928 and one of only two Huskies to have their football jersey numbers retired, was joined in nominating McKeta for the national honor by Redman, former running great Hugh McElhenny, Washington head coaches, past and present, Jim Owens, Don James and Jim Lambright, and media members who followed McKeta as a player.
"Don's leadership was an intergral part of the team's two Rose Bowl victories." Lambright said. "He set forth an incredible example to those around him, with the strength of hos character. He more than any other player, turned the Husky program around and changed PAC-10 football."
Owens recalled McKeta's role in clinching the second Rose Bowl trip with a come-from-behind victory over Washington State in Spokane. In the first half, McKeta left the game with a deep gash in his leg that required eight stitches. "Even though he had a painful leg injury, he was in on our final drive for a touchdown," Owens said. "Then he caught the two-point conversion pass for the 8-7 victory over the Cougars."
McElhenny pointed out how McKeta's unselfish approach to the game and his all-around talents perfectly fit the one-platoon style of the early 1960's. "He probably was not the most gifted athlete but had a huge heart and was willing to sacrifice personal glory and recognition and made the team's success his No. 1 priority.
"Don lacked blazing speed or great size but he inspired his teammates and helped them reach great heights. He is truly an unsung player deserving of this award."
Added Owens: "Being selected as a co-captain and voted the inspirational award by his teammates on two of the best teams to ever represent the University of Washington speaks to their respect for Don's leadership and undeniable will to win."