Oct. 11, 2006
By Tom Porter
Special correspondent for GoHuskies.com
Coach Tyrone Willingham and his band of Huskies face the Oregon State Beavers this week on the road to a postseason bid and establishing Washington as a football power once again.
Over fifty years ago, Washington had been rocked by a player revolt which led to the firing of head coach John Cherberg. He went public about a slush fund used by zealous boosters to directly pay players more than the Pacific Coast Conference allowed. Washington's athletic program was put on probation for two years along with Cal, UCLA, and USC.
It was a difficult period for a once proud and successful program. Thirty-one year old George Briggs was hired as the Athletic Director to clean up the mess and hire a new coach. Darrell Royal, a former All-American quarterback at Oklahoma and head coach at Mississippi State, accepted a four-year contract in 1956 and started Husky football on the path to prosperity.
After the 1956 season ended, Royal resigned to take his dream job at the University of Texas, where he forged a very successful career which included three national championships.
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Briggs then hired 29-year old Jim Owens, a teammate of Royal and an All-American end. He had been a top assistant under Bear Bryant at Kentucky and Texas A&M. He was one of the architects of the "Junction Boys," ten days in hell that helped the Aggies win a conference championship three years later.
Owens and his chief assistant coaches -- Tom Tipps and Chesty Walker -- brought a philosophy that included an emphasis on team unity, defense, and tough mental and physical conditioning. The use of the helmet to tackle and block and punish opponents and the willingness to pay the price for success were also primary elements of their approach.
In Owens' first year (1957), the Huskies went 3-6-1. In 1958, a sophomore-laden team played some very close contests. They lost to California 12-7 near the end of a 3-7 season. The Bears, led by quarterback Joe Kapp, won the Pacific Coast Conference title. Cal lost to Iowa in the 1959 Rose Bowl, 38-12. It was the 12th loss by a West Coast team in the 13-year old pact between the Big Ten Conference and the PCC. Clearly the fortunes of West Coast football were at a low point.
Many of the fans in Husky Stadium that day watched the Huskies play the Bears almost to a standoff. Kapp was prophetic in his post-game remarks. "I can't understand how Washington ever loses. They hit as hard as any team we've played. And they're all young guys. In another year, that bunch is going to be hard to beat."
He was right. Over the next two years, the Huskies forged the second-best record in all of collegiate football America -- 20 wins and two losses. Only Mississippi's 20-1-1 record was better. In 1959, the Huskies won the conference title, the first for Washington since 1936, and upset heavily favored Wisconsin in the 1960 Rose Bowl, 44-8. It was Washington's first Rose Bowl victory -- the Huskies had played in Pasadena four times before -- and brought respectability back to West Coast football.
The route to the 1960 Rose Bowl victory culminated in November. Oregon State was the Huskies' first opponent of the month. The Beavers had won the conference title in 1956 and were co-champions with Oregon in 1957. Under coach Tommy Prothro, the Corvallis crew featured a powerful single-wing offense.
Halfback Don McKeta and quarterback Bob Schloredt led the Huskies to a 13-7 win. Schloredt -- who would be selected first-team All-America by the Associated Press at the end of the season -- scored in the second quarter and teamed up with McKeta on a 45-yard scoring strike in the third quarter. By beating Oregon State, the Huskies remained tied for the Rose Bowl bid with Oregon at 7-1. Washington had defeated the Ducks 13-12 the week before. Washington State was at 5-2. USC, the only team to defeat the Huskies, was ineligible for the Rose Bowl because of NCAA violations.
Washington closed out the season with shutout wins over California and Washington State, both by the identical score of 20-0. After the victory over the Cougars in Husky Stadium, Owens was hoisted on the shoulders of some of his players. Grinning from ear to ear, he said, "They didn't have to carry me. I was just floating. Nobody left. The fans were sitting in the stands. The game was over and they didn't want to leave. It was unbelievable." He added, "I knew we were going to get to the Rose Bowl but not that quickly -- and I didn't know it would be that exciting."
Maybe, a Husky victory over the Beavers in 2006 will propel Washington to another bowl game and eventually one in Pasadena.
Tom Porter has co-authored (with Jim Daves) two books on Husky athletics -- The Glory of Washington: The People and Events that Shaped the Husky Athletic Tradition; and Husky Stadium: Great Games and Golden Moments. He has just completed another book, to be published in 2007 -- A Footall Band of Brothers: Forging Washington's First National Championship. Pre-publication orders can be emailed to Tom Porter at firstname.lastname@example.org.