A Football Band of Brothers
Sept. 17, 2007
By W. Thomas Porter
This article is the third of four 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 chronicle the team's rise from ashes to roses and a national championship.
In 1960, the Huskies returned the entire starting lineup from the Rose Bowl victory plus ten other lettermen who saw considerable action as part of the alternate unit. Because of their success in 1959 -- the first conference title since 1936 and Washington's first Rose Bowl victory (a 44-8 thrashing of Wisconsin in the 1960 Rose Bowl), they would have a bullseye on their backs. Owens felt the 1960 team wasn't as strong as the 1959 squad because the alternate unit was not as capable as the previous version.
Third-ranked in the pre-season polls, Washington rolled over its first two opponents with ease. The Huskies simply crushed the College of Pacific 55-6. It was the highest point total for a Washington team since it scored 120 points in a shut out of Whitman College in 1919. The following week, Washington stomped Idaho 41-12.
One of the opponents' scouts in the high perches of the stadium during the Idaho game was Navy's assistant coach, Steve Belicheck, whose son Bill was cavorting as a youngster at Navy practices and beginning to accumulate his football knowledge. As the New England Patriots' head coach, Bill would lead the Patriots to three Super Bowl victories in 2001, 2002, and 2004. Father Belicheck felt the Huskies had played the game 'under wraps.' He added, 'Last year we played Syracuse (the national champion) and this year we got Washington. I'd rather play Syracuse. You know what they're going to do. You don't know what this team (Washington) is going to do.' His Navy team would find out.
The 17th-ranked Midshipmen came into town led by Joe Bellino, the finest running back in the nation. Bellino would become the 1960 Heisman winner. Although this was a non-conference contest, it had a greater build up than one to decide the conference title.
Navy, along with Army, were perennial top-ranked teams in the 1950's and 1960's. The service academies -- Army, Navy, and the Air Force Academy, which opened in 1955 -- were respected and admired for their mission and for the commitment and discipline of their students. The teams and their supporters always seemed to do things with a measure of class and elan.
Bill Stern, one of the most famous sportscasters in the land, came to town to broadcast the game over the national Mutual network. 'Washington is one of the most-talked-(about) teams in the country,' Stern said. 'If the Huskies can beat Navy and their great halfback Joe Bellino, it will add a lot to the prestige of Jim Owens' team.'
Sports Illustrated, the then fledging sports weekly magazine, whetted the appetites of gridiron followers with a cover photo of Bob Schloredt and a featured story about the All-American quarterback and the success of the Husky program. Schloredt was the first Husky player on the SI cover. The only other one to be similarly shown would be Sonny Sixkiller in 1971.
Washington was favored by 13 points, largely on the strength of the Huskies' alternate unit, deemed to be far stronger than Navy's second unit.
The then largest crowd to see a Husky home game -- 57, 379 -- got their five dollars worth. Washington's famed first team won the game statistically. They held Navy to 69 yards on the ground -- Bellino got 53 of them -- and 138 in the air. Washington rushed for 193 and completed 6 of 10 passes for 82 yards. The key, as usual, was turnovers. Washington fumbled four times and lost three. On a Husky punting situation late in the final period, a bobbled low pass from center gave Navy field position to kick the winning field goal and to send them back to Annapolis with a 15-14 victory.
In 1959, Washington's seven starting linemen -- Lee Folkins, Kurt Gegner, Chuck Allen, Roy McKasson, Bill Kinnune, Barry Bullard, and John Meyers -- were named the 'Sturdy Seven.' None of them played less than 333 minutes out of a total of 600 for the regular season. In 1960, injuries began to severely impact the line. Meyers suffered an ankle injury early in the season. Allen had a groin injury and Bullard suffered a severe injury in the Navy game. He got hit with a come-back block on his knee. 'From then on, I was not able to play much. They would tape my body from my hip to my ankle. They would spray on a substance so the tape would stick to my legs. When the tape stretched, it would pull the skin off and I was bloody from the hip down.'
Other teammates would have to step up and get ready for the Huskies first conference game in Palo Alto against Stanford, led by Dick Norman, one of the top quarterbacks in the nation. After building a 17-10 lead, Washington turned the game into a rout with its punting game. Early in the final period, Schloredt booted the ball to the Stanford 40 where Gary Craig faced four Huskies zeroing in on him. There was no three-yard cushion for the punt returner. The tacklers could just race in near the receiver and blast him right in the chest with the helmet. It was brutal. Craig was either the bravest player on the field or the most foolish when he caught Schloredt's punt. He was instantly bowled over by four Huskies. The ball bounced loose and Dick Dunn recovered it. Kermit Jorgensen, now playing at running back in place of McKeta, hit left end for one. Schloredt threw to Bruce Claridge for 29. Then, the one-eyed wonder rambled straight up the middle for the last ten yards.
The Huskies scored once more with over four minutes remaining to etch the final score at 29-10.
Several of the last six games of the season would put at risk all Husky fans who had heart problems. Some would be admitted to the hospital as the 'cardiac kids' won four of the games by a margin of five points -- three of them involving come-from-behind winning drives late in the fourth quarter.
The first heart stopper was against UCLA in Seattle on October 15. UCLA featured Bill Kilmer, the triple threat tailback in the Bruins' single-wing offense. He had excellent receivers including Jim Johnson, the brother of Bruin alumnus Rafer Johnson, the 1960 Olympic gold medalist in the decathlon.
The first period was scoreless. In the second quarter, Schloredt was injured when he went head hunting. He took aim at UCLA's Earl Smith as Kilmer's pass fell off the Bruin's finger tips. Schloredt was more than a yard away at the moment. Wanting Smith 'to remember me,' he lowered his head and attempted to drive his helmet into Smith's chest. Schloredt flew past his mark, caught Smith's legs with a flying hip and toppled over on his side. His elbow struck the ground first, forcing his shoulder back and fracturing his collar bone. So Bob Hivner, who injured his finger in the opening game of the 1959 season, and was replaced by Schloredt, now had to carry the load. On his first offensive series, he directed a 53-yard drive to the Bruin 19. With time running out in the half, Fleming kicked a 38-yard field goal.
Schloredt was out for the rest of his senior season. Gone were the dreams of another All-America season and a possible Heisman Trophy and more importantly, gone was his chance to lead the Huskies to another Rose Bowl. The only chance for him to play again was if the Huskies won the conference title and got the Rose Bowl bid. The Huskies made a commitment to get him there. The Huskies took the first step by beating the Bruins 10-8.
The Huskies next traveled to Multnomah Stadium in Portland to face the 18th-ranked Oregon State. Against the Beavers, the Huskies needed all their courage, determination, guts, and physical toughness. They battled to a 30-29 victory in one the greatest comebacks in Husky history. They rallied from a 22-7 half-time deficit.
Sophomore Charlie Mitchell returned the second-half kickoff 34 yards. He finished the job on a trap play that gave him room to speed past the Beaver secondary with little more than three minutes gone. The situation called for a two-point attempt to get the Huskies within seven. After a delay-of-game penalty, Hivner set up and found McKeta for the critical two points.
The Huskies gave all of the margin right back several minutes later. With thirty seconds remaining in the third stanza, Washington pulled within six after an 80-yard drive capped off by Fleming's 12-yard scamper. Owens again elected to go for two. This time Hivner hit Folkins for two and Washington trailed 29-23 at the close of the third quarter.
After a change of possession, Washington started its last drive at the Husky 36 with less than nine minutes left. Calm and cool, Hivner called a marvelous mix of plays including his own rollout run into the end zone on third and one.With the score tied, thousands of Husky fans who had journeyed to Portland, crossed their fingers, held their loved ones and anybody else within reach, and took deep breaths as Fleming zeroed in and kicked Washington's 30th point. Fleming then squelched the Beavers' hopes by stealing Baker's last gasp throw and returning it to the Washington 48.
And so ended a saga of sweat, blood, tears, and triumph. During the Huskies winning drive, they were waging a war of attrition. At one point, three Beavers were prostrate. They wearily pulled themselves to their feet in a vain effort to meet the desperate Washington charge. Owens was proud of his players. 'A team has to be great to come back like my team did today. The boys kept their poise. We just seemed to know we could pull it out.'
On October 29, the five and one Ducks came to Seattle for another slugfest. After more than 57 minutes, the Ducks were leading the Huskies 6-0. Oregon had scored in the third quarter when Bruce Snyder, who would later coach at California and Arizona State, reached the end zone on a five-yard run. The Ducks failed to make the extra point attempt but got another chance when the Huskies were offside. The second kick was batted down by Ray Mansfield, the sophomore playing like a veteran, who climbed the backs of interior linemen to swat the ball away.
Late in the fourth quarter, Oregon reached the Husky 20. On third and four, Hivner picked off a deflected pass on the Washington five. And then the 'Cardiac Kids' took over. After picking up three first downs, the Huskies faced a fourth and six on the Oregon 47. With less than three minutes to go, the Huskies elected to go for the first down. Hivner threw a short pass to McKeta. Slanting toward the north sideline, the Huskies' spiritual leader appeared to be heading out of bounds. At least that is what Oregon defender, Dave Grayson, and most everyone watching thought. But McKeta had no intention of running out of bounds on his own.
When he caught Hivner's pass, he thought only of driving upfield or being knocked out of bounds. 'I was lucky. I was ready to go out of bounds if Grayson had come after me. I saw I had a step on him and so I turned the corner and ran...I thought sure I would be caught from behind.' He wasn't.
With the game again depending on his toe, Fleming kicked the ball squarely between the uprights. He gave a little jump for joy as he heard the thunderous salvo of cheers, picked up by the late October breeze, echo through the stadium and over Lake Washington.
The key to success in any conference race is what a team does in November. Two conference games remained plus the final one with Washington State. No game was bigger that the Huskies battle with the Trojans. Both stood on top of the Big Five standings.
The Huskies traveled to the Los Angeles Coliseum at almost full strength. Under skies that cried a river, the Huskies took to the mud and rain and crushed the heralded Trojans 34-0. The blowout was a body blow to USC's hope for a Rose Bowl bid. Scoring twice in the first four minutes, the Huskies played tough defense against the Trojan's unimaginative attack and took a 14-0 lead into the intermission. Then, Washington's offensive pressure sent USC reeling and staggering as the Huskies added 20 second half points.
It was the greatest margin of victory for the Huskies in the history of their series with USC, which dated back to 1923. The Huskies climbed to sixth in the polls. Minnesota rose to the top spot after mauling Iowa 27-10. The Hawkeyes were number one the week before.
California was next. The Huskies were healthy again. Even Schloredt suited up for the first time since his injury in the UCLA game. The Washington fans cheered loudly as he sent booming punts far down the field in pre-game warm-ups. It would be the last home game for 20 seniors -- players who had given Husky fans some of the greatest gridiron moments they had ever seen.
The Huskies sent the Homecoming crowd home with rosy thoughts. They beat California 27-7. The game ran according to the script. Two long scoring drives and another keyed by McKasson's interception and his 38-yard run to the Bear four, helped put the Huskies up 27-0. Cal scored late in the fourth quarter. The crowd loved every minute. For once, it was a nice comfortable afternoon for the cardiacs in the crowd.
With a nostalgic sigh, almost 56,000 watched the conquerors disappear into the tunnel. The Husky thankful bid farewell to the seniors after singing the school's Alma Mater and its final ringing refrain 'All Hail! Oh Washington!'
With a perfect conference record and a season sweep of the California schools -- the first time in Husky football history -- there was little doubt that Washington was going to have a repeat appearance in Pasadena. Particularly pleased was Schloredt. He flexed his mended shoulder and promised he'd be ready for the Rose Bowl. 'There's no cast, no bandage -- there's nothing on it but imagination.'
As always, Owens and his players were focused on the next and last game of the regular season -- this one with archrival Washington State in Spokane's Memorial Stadium. The Cougars featured quarterback Mel Melin, who led the nation in total offense, and sophomore receiver Hugh Campbell. He was nearing national records for both receptions and receiving yardage. Washington State had the best passing game in the nation.
Before about 29,000 fans braving a very chilly day made colder by a bitter south wind, the Huskies returned to their heart pounding ways. Shades of night were falling as Owens' invincibles reached way down once again and won by a whisker. The first three periods were scoreless. On a field strewn with sawdust to temper the muddy spots, the Cougars jammed the middle to combat Washington's traps and forced the Huskies outside. They trusted the soggy field to slow Fleming and Mitchell. The Huskies' line and secondary tried to defend the Cougars' aerial game.
It was a scoreless game until four into the fourth period when Campbell (who broke the national records during the game) dropped to his knees to craddle a short pass in the end zone. Melin's kick found the mark and now it was up to the Huskies.
Early in the second period, McKeta suffered a gaping gash in his right leg. The players were wearing mud cleats which were about an inch and a half long. At the end of the cleat was a piece of metal that capped the rubber cleat. It had a very sharp tip. That tip on the cleat of one of the Cougar tacklers ripped into McKeta's leg. He collapsed in pain as he was trying to walk off the field to the locker room. Two Husky reserves had to lift the Washington warrior and pack him off. With ten stitches in a leg wrapped with bandages, McKeta came back for the second half. All he did was to lead all ground gainers with 56 yards -- 67 for the game -- and display once again his courage and commitment to play from the heart.
None of his yards were more important than on Washington's scoring drive. It started with Mitchell receiving the kickoff and galloping for 38 yards before Bylan's touchdown saving tackle knocked the speedy sophomore down on the Cougar 47. With Kermit Jorgensen at the helm, the Husky ship moved slowly down the watery passage. Except for a six-yard toss to McKeta for a first down on the 25, the remaining 15 plays were all just straight ahead tests of strength and conditioning and an incredible will-to-win. Jones, Jorgensen, McKeta, and Mitchell repeatedly mushed over the tackles and wings to the Cougar 11.
From the 11, Jorgensen went back to pass and then cut back over the middle for nine yards. On the next play, the Renton redhead dropped the ball while trying to stuff it in Jones' belly but recovered on the three. Jones clutched the ball on the next play and dove over right guard to within inches to set up Jorgensen's sneak. Washington was now within one.
No Husky fan doubted that Owens would go for two. The crowd stood tensely under the arc lights in dwindling daylight as Hivner came in to execute a short version of the Utah special. McKeta forgot about the pain and pressure and slid off the left side and was all alone as he tucked Hivner's pass safely into his chest for the 8-7 victory.
The Husky locker room was subdued. The coaches and players knew they had played in a very tough game and had high praise for their in-state rival. With another late winning drive down Cardiac Canyon, Coach Tipps couldn't take much more. 'This team will be the death of me yet. We had it when we needed it. Just like we have all year.' Owens felt the season had been more satisfying than the year before. 'We were under more of a handicap this year. Every school was pointing for us, particularly the schools from the Northwest.' The margin of victory in each of those three games was one point.
McKeta, gingerly stepping on his injured leg, was among the last to reach the shower room. His heavily taped leg was mute evidence of the rage of battle. This courageous Husky, who seemed to thrive in the toughest moments of the mayhem of football, finally emerged to get dressed. 'Does it hurt?' inquired a well-wisher who had wondered into the locker room. 'Nothing hurts now,' McKeta said quietly, 'Nothing.'
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