A Nod to a Season Unsurpassed in WSU History

Oct. 24, 2006

Few people in 1915 would have guessed that from the wheat-covered hills of the Palouse a football team would emerge that has never been matched for its success.

The above passage is the opening to an essay written by WSU supporters Kim and Dean Rieken about the 1915 Washington State University football team, champions of the 1916 Rose Bowl.

Though nearing 91 years since its Rose Bowl victory, the accomplishments of the Cougar team that year is unsurpassed in WSU history.

'They set the mark for every Pac-10 team since,' Kim said. 'We should take pride in them and be proud of their accomplishments.'

Kim Rieken became interested in the story of the 1915 team as a result of her mother-in-law's 90th birthday. Kim, a 1977 WSU alumnae and a history teacher at North Central High School in Spokane, was researching what was in the news at the time of her mother-in-law's birth.

The 1915 Cougars, a team largely comprised of athletes from the state of Washington, and led by head coach William 'Lone Star' Dietz, compiled a 6-0 regular season record. In the Rose Bowl, the Cougar defeated Brown 14-0 in what was the first of the continuous Rose Bowl games.

After writing the article, what did Kim come away with? For her, a couple of things stood out.

'The travesty of the whole situation is that Dietz is not a member of the Hall of Fame,' she said. 'If you look at the newspapers from that time, he truly was an equal to Knute Rockne.

'I wish more Cougars knew about it and appreciated it, Kim said of the 1915 team. 'It would be pretty cool to see something to commemorate them and salute their achievement.'

By Kim and Dean Rieken

Few people in 1915 would have guessed that from the wheat-covered hills of the Palouse a football team would emerge that has never been matched for its success. Their names were Clark, Zimmermann, Bangs, Fishback, Boone, Applequist, Dietz, Haaley, and Durham. They were from Olympia, Davenport, Marcus, Spokane, Seattle, Palouse, Everett, and Wenatchee. They won the Granddaddy of them all in Pasadena on January 1, 1916, becoming the first West Coast team to earn that notch in history.

Someone at Washington State College made a wise choice in selecting William 'Lone Star' Dietz as the new head coach in 1915. He had rather impressive credentials. As a graduate of Carlisle Indian Industrial School, he had been coached by the legendary Glenn S. 'Pop' Warner and played in the backfield along side the greatest athlete of the first half of the 20th Century, Jim Thorpe. Maybe it was the two weeks of preseason conditioning at Liberty Lake that made the difference. It could have been that Dietz made some key position changes. Perhaps it was the single-wing offense. Whatever it was, this team played hard and well together and began to win.

With a record of 6-0, the team was tabbed by the press as 'Dietz's Warriors.' The offense posted 204 points in the fall of 1915. Just 10 points were scored against the defense that season, and the only touchdown by an opponent came from a blocked field goal attempt recovered in the end zone. By today's standards, the defensive line would be considered small; the heights ranged from 5-foot-10 to 6-foot-2, and the heaviest lineman weighed 210 pounds. Yet their determination made these men worthy opponents, not only of every team they faced, but also the best team from the East Coast.

The Tournament of Roses Association announced Washington State as the West Coast representative who would play Brown University from the East Coast. Immediately, Brown was acknowledged as the favorite by 2 to 1 odds. After defeating mighty Yale, most football fans thought 'Dietz's Warriors' would be no contest for Brown or its star freshman left halfback Fritz Pollard. Someone forgot to tell the Cougars.

As they stepped off the train on Christmas Day, it wasn't typical sunny weather. Snow, as well as rain, plagued Southern California that year. The field at Tournament Park was thoroughly soaked on the morning of the game. Almost 10,000 fans paid 50 cents to watch from a bleacher seat. With no radio coverage, telegraphed reports of the game began arriving in Pullman at five minute intervals. After a scoreless first half, Ralph Boone scored the first TD and Carl Dietz the second. A tenacious defense dug in, holding Brown to 99 yards total offense, while the Cougar racked up 329 yards on the ground. There was no question that WSC had the best line and fastest backs, and the most flamboyant coach, who strutted the sidelines wearing a top hat and tails! Final score: WSC 14, Brown 0.

The team was greeted in Pullman by ecstatic students and a snow-covered campus. Classes were canceled. The cheering crowd hoisted the team on their shoulders, carried them to sleds, and more than 400 students pulled them up the hill to campus.

In the years that have followed, no Cougar bowl team has surpassed the accomplishments of the 1916 Tournament of Roses Champions. Three of the players, their coach, and the trainer Fred Bohler are now honored in the WSU Athletic Hall of Fame. As we celebrate the 90th anniversary of this victory, let all Cougar fans remember these sons of Washington State who rose from obscurity in an undefeated season to become the first victorious West Coast team in the history of the Rose Bowl. These were fine young men.

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