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The Baker's Dozen
By Richard "Malamute" Linde, 20 November 2002

Through the roaring twenties and a good part of the depression, Husky football fans enjoyed some scintillating moments thanks to Coaches Enoch Bagshaw and Jim Phelan. Way back then, George Wilson, Elmer Tesreau and Chuck Carroll juked, stomped and ran wild on the football field. 

The twenties were an era of jazz, hooch, bobbed hair, Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig. It was a wild, reckless time. On Sundays, mom and dad would pile the kids into the Model T and put the pedal to the metal, on the way to see Herman Brix, an ex-Washington tackle, play Tarzan in the movies. The work week had been shortened to 48 hours and people had time to enjoy college football, along with their cars and Tarzan.

During the late fifties and early sixties, Jim Owens led Washington to more glorious years. And of course, there are the James, Lambright and Neuheisel eras, which extend from 1975 until today.

Husky fans born between 1910 and 1946 have seen it all--the good and the bad.

Their parents, influenced by Hemmingway, Stein and Lawrence, subscribers to Life Magazine, Cosmopolitan and the Saturday Evening Post, read the P-I in the morning and the Times at night, danced to the Boogie on Saturday night and played classical music on their phonographs for their children on Sunday, these children of the depression years, who later fought and lived through two wars, World War II and the Korean War.

As Husky fans--and oldsters now--these "children" have traded Husky happenings over the years, but, ironically, there are forgettable years of Husky football that mirror their early environment. Mention those years to them in polite conversation, and they'll smile back with front teeth showing, as menacing as the grill of a '50 Buick.

Forgettable years? Enough of them to make Tarzan cry: a period extending from 1946 through 1958. Sandwiched between eras when the Huskies shaked and baked, call them the "Baker's Dozen,"  a euphemism for the "dirty dozen plus one." Sure the oldsters were treated to Don Heinrich, Hugh McElhenny and Roland Kirkby, three of the Huskies’ all-time greats--but that was the good news.

(Question: Name the three Husky players who have had their numbers retired? Answer later on.)

During the Baker's Dozen you were a "Temp" if you coached at Washington. Husky football coaches were always finding better jobs back then. Howie Odell (23-25-12, 1948-1952) ended up as a King County Commissioner. “Cowboy” Johnny Cherberg (10-18-2, 1953-1955) became  the Lieutenant Governor of Washington State. Darrell Royal (5-5-0, 1956) left the Dawgs to herd the Long Horns at Texas.

During those 13 lean years, Washington posted a record of 52 wins, 71 losses, and 5 ties. Partly, this was due to the unlimited substitution rule adopted by the NCAA in 1945. After world war II, Washington found it difficult to compete against the talent-rich California teams, and likewise the old Pacific Coast Conference found it hard to compete in the Rose Bowl against the Big Ten, whose schools had a larger population pool to draw from. 

One-platoon football was reestablished in 1953, and it was that rules' change that eventually helped Jim Owens succeed at Washington, where before his predecessors had failed. In 1965, two-platoon football was made part of the rules again, and the Husky fortunes took another nosedive--but not nearly as precipitously as during the Baker's Dozen.

During those 13 years, the Huskies were hit with punitive sanctions, had six different football coaches, and played in games they easily should have won. In some cases, it wasn't one game that went sour, it was one play that went awry--at least, in the minds of the fans.

It occurred in 1950 during a duel that pitted quarterback Don Heinrich against the Cal Bears in Husky stadium. California came to Seattle with 20 straight conference victories under its belt to face one of Washington's better teams. Late in the fourth quarter, with the Rose Bowl at stake for both of them and the Huskies down 14-7, Heinrich called a pass play, the ball on the Bears' two yard line. As the Bremerton Bomber faded back to pass, he was hit from behind, fumbled the ball and Cal's Dick Groger grabbed it and raced to the Husky 15 before he was tackled. The Bears won the game--but lost in the Rose Bowl.

Why did Heinrich call that pass play? That decision has been debated for decades now.

Although it is just a moment out of Husky lore, that silly play has been forever burned in the memory of the old-timers. Unfortunately, it is a play that takes up as many cells in the brain as the number of bits in an MP3 file. They say that drinking kills neurons. Ha! There isn't a drunken sot among them who will ever forget that play.

It wasn't just the infamous Heinrich pass play fans remember during the era of the Baker's Dozen. Mention the names Torrance, Cassill and Cherberg and they'll give you more tales of woe. Talking about the PCC's record in the Rose Bowl among those fans can stop a conversation in its tracks.

Roscoe "Torchy" Torrance, a Seattle business man and Husky alumnus, was a loveable character whose heart bled purple and gold. Torrance ran a downtown "slush fund," under the auspices of the Washington Advertising Association, which distributed money to Husky players. It was perfectly legal for boosters to pay players in those days. However, Torrance's Association paid them more than the PCC allowed. 

Once the association got into a bidding war for the services of Luther "hit and run" Carr out of Tacoma. The Washington Advertising Association agreed to pay him $150 per month in an effort to keep him at home, countering a cash offer made by UCLA. Illinois upped the ante, agreeing to pay him $200 a month. Eventually,  Carr settled with the Washington Advertising Association for $25 a month less than the Illinois offer. That's the way recruiting was handled in those days. Most everybody did it that way. 

And then there was Harvey Cassill, Washington's athletic director. Fans will tell you that Cassill built the first upper deck in 1950 and that he was a visionary. He brought big time football to Washington, bringing Minnesota and Notre Dame out west. And Washington brought in the "King," Hurrying Hugh McElhenny (1949-1951) out of Compton, the greatest running back in Washington history--according to the senior citizens anyway.

In 1950, a new era in Washington football was launched, spearheaded by Hugh McElhenny's arrival at Washington. His 97-yard touchdown run against Minnesota in 1949 is a seminal moment in Husky history, the recalling of which occupies as many minutes of banter at a senior citizens' get-together as their remembrance of the elegance and refinery of the big band era, when "women were ladies and men were gentlemen."

What could go wrong? Plenty.

For one, the downtown slush fund and an "honest" coach set the new era's launch pad ablaze.

Coach John Cherberg (1953-1955) took full advantage of the slush fund, sending players who had financial troubles to see Torrance, who usually helped them out, in one way or another. 

Cherberg was "a sweet man and great citizen," as one fan who lived through that era wrote me.

But there was another side to Cherberg. At times, he made General Patton look like Gomer Pyle. He was the quintessential disciplinarian. He forced his players to sit upright on the bench. A player couldn't chew on a piece of grass as he sat on the sideline or whistle in the dressing room before a game. The players made fun of him, treating him like a Captain Queeg behind his back. Because Cherberg couldn't get along with his players, a miasma developed between them. In their final act against him, some of the players revolted, threatening not to play--a mutiny that led to his termination. 

After he was fired, Cherberg lassoed the Washington program and reined it in. In 1956, he told the media that Washington players were receiving monthly paychecks from the downtown slush fund, in excess of the allowable amount permitted by the PCC.

Members of the press had known about the slush fund all along, but they treated Cherberg's revelation as a breaking story, which left Torrance twisting in the wind. The friendships Torrance had made with members of the press evaporated into thin air. Ironically, officials from the Seattle P-I and Seattle Times, whose papers vigorously attacked the Washington Advertising Association, had been some of its more significant contributors. 

Harvey Cassill resigned in 1956 after it was disclosed that funds had been diverted from a pro football exhibition to the Washington Advertising Association.

Cherberg's revelation led to a two-year probation for Washington in 1956. It was determined that 27 Washington players received an average of $135 per month, instead of the allowed $75. The PCC banned post-season competition for all of its athletic teams. A domino effect followed in Los Angeles, when UCLA and USC were placed on probation for slush fund irregularities. In part, the harshness of the punishments led to the dissolution of the PCC and the formation of the AAWU (1959-1968), which excluded the so-called "cow colleges" (WSC and OSC) along with Oregon and Idaho. Note that Montana left the old PCC in 1950.

The hard feelings that exist today among fans from rival schools in the Northwest--animosities passed from one generation to the next--can trace their roots back to the era of the Baker's Dozen. Ask any oldster about Oregon's AD and the breakup of the PCC; then there is the tie for the conference championship in 1948 that marked the beginning of the "Border War," fought between Washington and Oregon.

The probation, along with the annual thrashing delivered by the Big Ten in the Rose Bowl, added to the fans’ frustration. During the era of the Baker's Dozen, the old Pacific Coast Conference went 1 for 12 in the Rose Bowl. Fans couldn’t travel east of Moscow--that picturesque berg in Idaho--without being razed about those West Coast sissies. Black and white TV enhanced that image. Oregon State played in the 1957 Rose Bowl wearing black uniforms, which made them appear anemic next to Iowa’s white uniforms.

After playing musical chairs with Odell, Cherberg and the not-so-loyal Royal, Washington searched for a young, naïve football coach, one still wet behind the ears, a guy who would stay at home and turn gray before he left. Along came Jim Owens (a lanky Oklahoman) and the S-word (stability). 

Owens got off to a shaky start, adding his first two years (6-13-1) to the last two of the Baker's Dozen. Ironically, it was Owens' "Death March" that ended the era, but that's another story. Owens went 10-1 in 1959, putting the last nail in the coffin of an era marked by numerous coaching changes and turmoil.

As one of Washington’s greatest football coaches, Owens (99-82-6, 1957-1974) turned the Rose Bowl around, too, by beating Wisconsin 44-8 in the 1960 game. 

All with winning records, Don James, Jim Lambright and Rick Neuheisel followed Owens, just four coaches in a span of 46 years.

Although all of them were vilified at one time in their careers, in retrospect, Torchy Torrance, Johnny Cherberg, Harvey Cassill and Jim Owens laid the foundation for the Husky program that exists today. Toughened and hardened by living through the depression and World War II, they fought through adversity to add some bricks and mortar to the base that carries our program today.

The foundation of hardy fans they created--a measurement of their effort, their bricks and mortar laid so carefully--is still loyal to the school today.

In part, nurtured by the Baker's Dozen, a wary bunch they are, for cautiously optimistic--never pessimistic--these fans have weathered much more than those thirteen years. Each win in Husky lore is a purple-and-gold moment to them, to be treasured a lifetime.

A so-so season this year? So what!! It's the Husky spirit that counts--that C-Dub smile. It hovers over Husky Stadium and smiles down for all to see. Can't you see it? God help you if you can't, they say.

Afterward:

Due to the illness of Howie Odell, Reggie Root, an assistant at Washington, coached the Dawgs during the 1948 season. Hence, there were six different head coaches during the Baker's Dozen (Pest Welch, Reg Root, Howie Odell, John Cherberg, Darrell Royal and Jim Owens).

Herman Brix (Tackle, Tacoma, 1925, ’26, ’27), also an Olympic athlete, played Tarzan in a serial during the mid 1930s. He became better known as Bruce Bennett, and appeared in hundreds of films and TV shows during the 1940s through the 1960s. He is pictured above.

Men made of steel. In the 1924 Rose Bowl game against Navy, Elmer Tesreau, Husky fullback, played with a broken leg, and Les Sherman kicked two conversions despite a broken toe. George Wilson was Washington's power runner in that game.

Without financial aid from the slush fund, many players, such as Luther Carr, who came from poor families would not have made it through Washington, or any university for that matter.

With a glint in his eye, one oldster told me that back in the fifties, he’d have walked 10 miles through the driving rain to get to a Husky football game. “We seemed to lose more than we won, but I went to every game--and I always will. Living through those hard times has made the good times seem all the better,” he added.

 


Answer: Chuck Carroll (2, 1927-28), George Wilson (33, 1923-25), Roland Kirkby (44, 1948-50).


Richard Linde can be reached at malamute@4malamute.com

 


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