A Football Band of Brothers
Sept. 3, 2007
By W. Thomas Porter
This article is the first of four parts leading up to the Washington-USC game on September 29. During the half-time of that game, the 1960 Husky team will be celebrated. The articles will chronicle the team's rise from ashes to roses and a national championship.
In 1957, a group of student-athletes entered the University of Washington. As freshmen, they were not eligible to play varsity football so they began their collegiate football on a team that went unbeaten against Northwest opponents.
Some of those players were Chuck Allen, Barry Bullard, Lee Folkins, Kurt Gegner, Bob Hivner, Bill Kinnune, Roy McKasson, Bob Schloredt, and Brent Wooten. They would be joined over the next two years by other key players including Tim Bullard, Pat Claridge, Ben Davidson, George Fleming, Ray Jackson, Joe Jones, Ray Mansfield, Don Mcketa, John Meyers, Charlie Mitchell, and Jim Skaggs. They would be the nucleus of two of the greatest teams in Husky football history.
College football was very different then. There was no Sports Center, no Bowl Coalition Series, no 24-hour sports talk shows. An athlete did not leave a university before he graduated thereby using the university as a farm system for his athletic objectives. There was little or no trash talking. There was no chest thumping, high five's, or end zone celebrations when an athlete made a sack, a touchdown, or some other significant play. Most coaches cared about the academic success of their players, recognizing that very few of them would be successful professional athletes.
It was an era characterized by good sportmanship on the part of the fans, players, and coaches. Fans did not greet opposing teams with loud choruses of boos and profanity laced epitaphs. They recognized that it took two teams to play a game, and the opponent would be greeted enthusiastically when it's players came on the field. Home crowds also cheered the great plays of visiting teams.
There were about 50 players on a team, most playing offense and defense. Some had to work part-time to finance their education. The single ones lived with other students in dormitories and fraternity houses. Some were married and had children.
1957 was also Jim Owens' first year at the Husky head coach. For some of the players on the 1957 varsity, Owens was their third coach in three years. In 1955, Washington had been rocked by a player revolt which led to the firing of coach John Cherberg and the hiring of Darrell Royal in 1956. After the 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.
Owens and his staff brought to Washington a philosophy that included an emphasis on team unity, defense, and tough physical and mental 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 Owens' approach.
On September 10, 1957 about ten days before the season opener with Colorado, Owens was concerned about the physical and mental fitness of his varsity, many members of which had played under three coaches. In the second of two practices that day and with the temperature over 90 degrees, Owens held a four-quarters scrimmage. Disturbed with the play of the first two units, he ordered two more quarters. After reaming the players out, he ordered them down to the two end to end practice fields east of the Pavilion. He lined them up in teams and started punt coverage drills -- these were basically all-out wind sprints down the field.
After about 10 repetitions of these drills, he then ordered all the players to line up on one goal line. Each player took a three point stance and on a whistle, they sprinted about 15 yards up field. Another whistle, another stance, another sprint.
They continued the wind sprints over the entire length of two football fields and back again about 15 times. Some players staggered and fell. Then they crawled and babbled like babies. When what was called the Death March was over, many had severe cramps, seven had to go to the Hospital, all were exhausted. Some who didn't want to pay the price left the program. The coaches also introduced challenge drills where each lineman could challenge a player in the unit above him for his spot on that team. Challenges involving blocking and tackling took place twice a week as the first activity of practice. The drills were vicious. They were excellent motivators to stop players grumbling about playing time. The bad news was that the linemen involved in the drills started each practice with a headache.
The Huskies went 3-6-1 in Owens first season as head coach.
'I can't understand how Washington ever loses. They hit as hard as any team we've played.'
Cal coach Joe Kapp in 1960.
The outstanding players from the 1957 freshmen squad formed the nucleus of the starting 1958 varsity team. These now sophomores had firmly committed to Owens brand of football. Owens called them the youngest team in America. Although they went 3-7, they showed great toughness and tenacity in Columbus against Ohio State, the 1957 national champions. The young spirited Huskies stood up on their hind legs and clawed and scrapped and outgained the Buckeyes 276 yards to 196. A mishandled punt play late the third quarter led to the Buckeye's 12-7 victory.
Later in the season, the Huskies' lost another 12-7 game to Rose Bowl bound California. In a post game interview, Joe Kapp, the Bears quarterback, was prophetic when he said: 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.'
Kapp was right. Over the next two years, the Huskies forged the second best record of a collegiate football team in America -- 20 wins and two losses. Only Mississippi, with 20 victories, one tie, and one loss, had a better resume.
The 1959 Husky football team was loaded with juniors who had gained significant experience in 1958. The Owens-Tipps doctrine of rough, physical, hard-nosed football was paying off. By the start of Owens third season, Washington football was on solid ground. Players who were not willing to play a sometimes painful price had been drummed out or quit. The survivors were coming together as a team. There were no names on the jerseys, no big stars. They were a bunch of guys who liked to play football, who liked to knock their opponents down, and who supported and cared for each other.
The players recognized that the coaches' philosophy and methods of teaching were paying off. They understood the personalities of the various coaches and how each worked to develop individual and team skills to reach outstanding performance. Every coach brought something special to the task.
Football has often been compared to war. Coach Tom Tipps told the players that football is the closest thing to combat they would experience. It is a series of skirmishes in which squad-sized units fight each other. The action begins in the 'trenches.' The quarterback is the 'field general.' He throws 'bombs' into the 'enemy' territory. The linebackers 'blitz' him to prevent his throwing 'bombs.' The defense tries to protect its 'flanks.' The battle is fought in all kinds of weather. A football team, like an army or marine corps squad, functions best when each team member is ready to sacrifice for the success of the unit without any thought of personal gain or loss.
The Huskies who had made it through the grueling practices, challenge drills, and punishing conditioning exercises got through because of an intense determination and commitment to the goals of the coaches and to each other. Like all elite units, they had their unique badges and symbols -- the stronger and bigger necks from isometric exercises, the scars on the nose and forehead from punishing opponents with their helmets.
The result of their shared experience, both on the practice field and in games with tough opponents, was a closeness unknown to all outsiders. Their trust in, and knowledge of, each other was total -- from the purple unit to the black unit. They knew each other's background, where they came from, and what their capabilities were. The linemen knew each other's assignments and their blocking and tackling skills. The backs understood their offensive schemes and defensive responsibilities and how they complemented each other.
Eventually, 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 takes to win battles on the football field. Their success didn't lay so much in having the best talent. The difference was their resolve. They had gone through a lot together.Teammates enjoyed the success of their other brothers. There were no petty jealousies, no bickering. They didn't showboat. There was no sense of ego. Before each game, they picked co-captains in recognition of their team contributions. It was another act of team unity. Carver Gayton summed up. 'There was no one incident that created the unity that brought us together. There were a series of things that took place that bolstered a sense of team. If you take any element out, we would not have been successful. What we had doesn't come along very often.'
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.
Owens' 1959 first unit was an all-junior squad except for sophomore end John Meyers. His alternate unit usually consisted 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.
About Tom Porter
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.email@example.com