The Montlake Boys
By: Richard Linde,
Posted 24 January 2003; updated May 2011
In Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman, “Willy can
only blame himself for not becoming what he wanted to be.”--Craig M. Garrison.
At times I dream of the summertime scene that marks the
Washington campus, of evergreen trees and Gothic buildings. In this dry summer,
sprinklers accompany the light rain that falls and, as the long summer fades to
fall, patches of brown turn to green, under a rainbow of purple and gold. It is my first quarter at
Washington, and I carry a slide rule to class. None of us, the men, dare carry
In that year, 1957, new cars had fins, men’s haircuts had
white walls, the Caddy sported saber spoke wheels and Husky Stadium had half
its jaws. As a peace-time president, Dwight Eisenhower, who had ended the war
in Korea, was trying to hook his drives around that loblolly pine
at Augusta’s seventeenth hole. In October of that year, the Soviet Union
launched Sputnik I, and a new era in technology and scientific development
Likewise, a new era in Husky football was launched, but
nobody really cared, and certainly not in a Sputnik way. Seemingly, Washington
football players were a lollygagging bunch on the practice field, more
interested in girls and having fun than playing football.
In that year, Jim Owens came to Washington from Texas A&M,
where he had been an assistant coach under Paul “Bear” Bryant. Prior to that, he’d
coached under Bryant at Kentucky and joined him at Texas A &M when Bryant took
over as head coach in 1954.
Owens, who was two months shy of thirty years old, said,
“I’m here to stay.”
No one expected the neophyte, clean-cut coach to stay for
long. Everybody in Seattle joked about
Husky coaches, each of them being a metaphor for a guy on his way out. The Dawgs
had finished 5-5 in 1956 and, in their last game at Husky Stadium before Owens’
arrival, had lost to UCLA, 13-9, in front of 27,950 apathetic fans.
Washington players had little tolerance for discipline. In 1955, head coach John Cherberg had failed miserably as a
disciplinarian, and a player revolt forced his ouster. Replacing him, Darrell
Royal jumped ship one year later to herd the Texas Longhorns.
Owens' job appeared Herculean and doomed to failure, much
like the Vanguard Rocket that would topple off its platform and explode before
its launch several months later.
Taking over the
Washington head coaching job in 1957 was akin to replacing the Captain of the
Titanic just after it had struck the iceberg. The crew was mutinous, having
little respect for authority, and the passengers were scurrying for their
lifeboats, leaving the ship in droves.
On Saturdays, the “new”
upper deck at Husky Stadium (dubbed Cassill's castle for AD Harvey Cassill),
was as almost empty and dispirited as the castle of Henry VIII the night after Ann
Boleyn was beheaded.
Besides the miasma that hung over players and coaches, the
slush fund scandal made for more uncertainty. In 1956, Washington was banned
from the Rose Bowl (a two year ban) for its slush-fund scandal, wherein,
boosters had illegally funneled money to players.
Up until the mid-fifties, buying football players was
commonplace, even at Texas A&M. When Bryant first arrived on campus, he
collected $30,000 from boosters, knowing it would buy 2 or 3 good players.
With a glint in one eye and a Will Rogers' smile on his
handsome face, Owens
had a certain self-assurance about him that no one understood. The enigmatic
coach belonged in Hollywood, as a John Wayne incarnate--not in Seattle. Husky
coaches were the bad guys, who, if not hung in effigy by the students, got run
out of town by the alums.
What they didn't know was that the "naive" Owens had been
by a master and was about to embark on a program that would forever change West
What was to follow at Washington had its roots three years
earlier with Bryant at Texas A & M, where Bryant had installed a training
program that resembled a military boot camp.
"You never know how a horse will pull, until you hook
him to a heavy load," Bryant said.
During the summer of 1954, Bryant took 111 boys to
Junction, Texas; ten days later he returned to College Station with 35 real
Most of those who quit lit out late at night, so they
wouldn't have to face Bryant in the morning and tell him they were leaving the
program. They thought they had good reason to quit, for Bryant's conditioning
program was harsh.
In the midst of a Texas drought, Bryant worked his men in
temperatures as high as 114 degrees, while the periodic dust storms that
covered the Texas panhandle obliterated the practice field during the
afternoon. If it could have
rained then, it would have rained mud. But it stayed dry and hot, the air almost too stifling and dusty to
On the practice field, Bryant deprived his players of
water, telling them that drinking water was for sissies. It was just as well,
for thanks to the heat and strenuous workouts, nothing liquid would stay down, let alone anything solid at lunchtime
"It it ain't red, you can play," Smokey, the trainer,
might have told
them. There were no pain killers, anti-inflammatory drugs, acupuncturists, masseuses or tubs of ice to
ease the pain. A player faced the next day's practices and conditioning
exercises cold turkey, with the
proverbial bullet between his teeth.
One player was hospitalized for heat stroke and had to
leave the team. Another, who was cautioned by a doctor not to play because of
bulging disks in his back, continued to play for Bryant.
Bryant, as tough as nails, literally butted heads with a
player after ripping off his helmet, and broke the player's nose.
Many of the players feared Bryant, as did the beat writer
who covered the practices and wrote about them the way Bryant wanted him
One of the survivors of Junction, Jack Pardee, long-time
NFL player and coach, had this to say about Bryant, “Coach
Bryant's major theme was 'Don't be a quitter.' He drummed into us that we can't
quit on ourselves, our teammates, our family and our friends. He said it's easy
to play in the first quarter, but how will you play in the fourth quarter?
Junction was all about preparing for the fourth quarter.”
For many of them, quitting the team meant losing a
scholarship, leaving school and facing disappointed parents, who would lay
awake at night thinking about the small town folk who huddled on the sidewalks
gossiping about their son. In those Texas towns, there wasn't much work for a
young man to do--but, then again, there was always the military draft hovering
over him, waiting to take two years of his life away, allowing him to take cover and escape an embarrassing
At Junction, the assistant coaches, led by Jim Owens,
barked orders like marine drill instructors.
Barely awake in the morning, one player stammered,
"'What are we going to do, Coach Owens, practice in the dark?'"
"'Nah,' Owens said, spitting a stream of Tobacco. 'But
we're going to practice until it gets dark, dumb****.'"
Jim Owens was Bryant's right hand man and confidant. At
Kentucky, Bryant had pointed him out to Husky booster "Torchy" Torrance, telling him "that
fellow will make a great coach for somebody some day."
Torrance told Washington athletic director George Briggs
about the incident, and three years later, the Big Fella came to Montlake, as
head coach of the Washington Huskies.
The Montlake milieu, far different than the barren Texas
must have been a shock to the lanky Oklahoman, for there were no prickly goatheads
on the UW practice field to annoy the players and coaches, just small pools of mud,
patches of green grass and a smattering of rocks, which appeared magically as the
sporadic, light rain washed away
at the field.
At the UW fall camp, on their first day of practice, many of the
players who'd rebelled against John Cherberg's disciplinary measures stood
defiantly, daring Owens to take command. After all, Cherberg had walked off the
proverbial Husky gangplank, Royal had gotten out of Dodge, leaving a 5-5 season behind,
and Owens bore the credentials of a short timer.
Owens had an ace up his sleeve called Junction, and he'd
pull it out, if necessary, to call their bluff. For those who wanted to be
football players, their days of melancholy, lollygagging, and panty raids were
Here in the Emerald City, Owens was surrounded by water,
snow-capped mountains and a verdant sereneness; in return, he would add
starkness, hustle and discipline to the practice field, essentials that had been
missing since the days of Jimmy Phelan, Enoch Bagshaw and Gil Dobie.
During the first two weeks of practice at the UW,
many of the players responded perfunctorily. Besides a lack of depth in the
overall squad, the players had an attitude problem, emboldened by the Cherberg
era and their antipathy for discipline. After one particularly bad practice, one week before the opener with the
Colorado Buffaloes, Owens led his players out of Husky Stadium onto the
The Big Fella had had enough, had seen enough and was ready to
Some of the players snickered as Owens coolly surveyed
them, his head moving slowly from side to side.
"He's out of here in two years," one of them whispered.
"Hell, no, he'll pull a Royal on us."
Owens paused just long enough to show them he was serious.
"Okay, let's run some sprints, men."
Most of them were too tired to run, having just
scrimmaged. Owens lined them up on the goal line and they began running in
15-yard bursts. They'd line up in a three-point stance, run until Owens blew
the whistle, and line up in a three-point stance again; they ran from one end
of the field to the other and back again. Then up and back again.
Seattle reporters stood dumbstruck as Owens and his
assistants, Tom Tipps, Chesty Walker, and Bert Clark, urged the players to
continue. Although Owens didn't line up in a three-point stance, he ran
backwards with the players.
They formed a a V-shaped wedge as they ran, those too
tired to continue falling back along the flanks.
"My leg's hurting, I can't run anymore," a player yelled
"Had enough?" Owens responded.
"No," a fifth stringer replied.
"Shut up," several others retorted.
The reporters had seen nothing like it before--oh, maybe,
in a war movie about boot camp training and such, but not on a football field.
One reporter dubbed the Husky practice he witnessed that day, the "Death March."
"Owens destroyed the team that day. He broke the spirit of players and he lost their
cooperation. A lot of them felt he had been unfair," one player told Seattle
sportswriter Dick Rockne.
During the practice that preceded the Death March, the
same player lay prostrate near the sideline and refused to get up. Having a
charley horse, he feigned to pass out.
"Run the next play towards him," Owens ordered the team.
And sure enough, the player rolled off the field before he was trampled over.
Behind the background of the Death March, the scene was set for what would transpire two
years later. The NCAA’s limited-substitution rule was in effect (one platoon
football), and Owens had
brought in an outstanding freshman team, led by Bob Schloredt, the one-eyed
quarterback from Gresham, Oregon.
A pre-dental student, Schloredt attracted a lot of
attention at Washington because of his athleticism and academics.
I remember reporters bursting into my physics lab to
photograph Schloredt as he stood by the equipment he’d set up
for a lab experiment. The flash bulbs that popped off that day supplied the
energy for the lightning that struck the Husky football program two years
Later, on a cold, cloudy day, I watched Schloredt lead
the freshmen team to a rout of the Coubabes, the freshmen team from Washington State College.
On the varsity practice field, Owens’ Death March
continued to flourish, the 15-yard sprints, the 80-yard gassers and the endless punt drills.
One badly dehydrated
player was taken to a hospital for intravenous fluids; eventually he
returned to the team.
After certain heated practices, to cool enmities built
over time, players and coaches alike would brawl, participating, unknowingly,
in a preview of the mud-soaked free-for-all that would follow years later, in Clint Eastwood's movie, “Heart Break Ridge.”
During many of the practices, the youthful, raw-boned
Owens continued to lead his team in the sprints, running backwards with them as they
navigated the field, in
short bursts of sustained energy. Some of the men would fall flat on their faces, too
weak and exhausted to continue. Taking the players to the point of where they
think they can do no more is “when you find out what guys really want to play
ball,” Owens told a reporter.
The dispirited ones, each as bedraggled as any of Bryant's
Junction boys, bolted the team, feeling that
Owens had been unfair to them.
The ones who stayed with the team learned a powerful
lesson: That strength of mind builds a certain confidence in oneself that can
overcome any physical limitation, imaginary or real. Once you quit at
something, it is so much easier to quit the next time the opportunity arises,
Owens told them--especially so in the fourth quarter.
Like Bryant's men who survived the "Death March" at Junction,
Owens' survivors at Montlake were not quitters.
To boost the morale of those who stayed, Owens allowed
linemen to challenge other linemen, to strive for a higher position in squad
status. For example, a second-team guard might challenge a first-team guard for
a starting role.
This, the “challenge system,” started out with two
tackling dummies placed two yards apart. Starting out in a three-point stance,
the challenger tried to block his opponent back to create a hole for
an imaginary running back, sufficient enough for him to gain at least ten
yards. He had three attempts to do that. After switching roles, the process was repeated.
Like Bryant at Texas A&M, who won just one game his
first year, Owens first two years at
Washington were unsuccessful, his teams going 6-13-1. Two years after Junction, Bryant's Aggies won the Southwest
Conference championship, using the foundation created at Junction for success
on the gridiron.
Each team Owens' 1957/58 teams played against and
lost to knew that it had been in a football game. They fourth-quartered their
opponents. In 1999, during a reunion of
the 1959 team, Emmett Watson (Seattle Post Intelligencer) shared his memory of
those Dawgs. “Players—winning players—were beat up, bruised, exhausted,
sometimes stunned by what they’d been through. Instead of exulting they were
moaning. That’s what the Huskies were doing to teams they lost to.”
The intense rehearsals on the practice field in Owens'
first year at Washington led to a smash hit two years later.
In 1959, a period of thirteen, mostly-bleak years in Husky
football ended. The Huskies finished the regular season with 9 wins,
losing just one game
to a USC team led by the incomparable Willie Wood--the first black to play the quarterback
position in the
Pac-10. Since players went both ways in those days, both Wood and Schloredt
played defensive back as well.
Washington went on to win the 1960 Rose Bowl game, beating
"I punched the air out of his spare tire."
"Okay, over his hole, George, near right, 42 slam on
white, on white, ready break."
As I remember, one of our men drove his
helmet into the gut of that all-American tackle from Wisconsin. Schloredt ran
one of his men over his position, time after time, until, near the shadow of
his own goal line, the lumbering tackle took himself out of the game.
“The coaches taught us to block with our heads,” John
Myers of that Husky team said. ”We were going to break ribs, break noses.”
Few of those Huskies ever taped an injury or took himself out of
a game. "The coaches ridiculed us if we taped ourselves," Myers said.
By winning the 1960 Rose Bowl, Jim Owens also ended 13 years of embarrassment for the old Pacific
Coast Conference (then the AAWU), which had made a regular habit of losing
to the Big Ten in the Rose Bowl, having lost twelve of the previous 13
Hardened by their time under their sun, their era so much
different than ours, "Bear" Bryant, Jim Owens and Tom Tipps
were men who lived through the Great Depression, World War II and the Korean War.
Many of their friends never lived past those wars to achieve any success on the playing
Wrapped in the cushiness of a high-tech milieu, while
emboldened by the successes of the players' coaches of today, those media members so critical of
Owens' and Bryant's alleged "brutality" have no idea of what was taught by the lessons of their period, of what was "needed" to take a team of
losers and cry babies and turn them into winners.
In his later years, Bryant apologized to his men at a reunion for the survivors. Many of them, now
successful in their fields of endeavor, shook his hand and hugged him.
Should Owens apologize to the Montlake boys, or has he? I doubt that any of them would feel an apology was
necessary or even asked for one during the 1999 reunion of the 1959 team. The lessons they
learned from him, as applied to their later lives, most likely more than made
up for any temporary discomfort they felt as student athletes.
Guided by Bear Bryant, Jim Owens stood tall in the saddle, helping his
men become the best they could be. And, they, believing in him,
practiced and conditioned themselves "until dark," in the spirit of Junction
and Montlake, in an era long past...but never forgotten. They, the Montlake
On behalf of those of us who were
first hand witnesses to the results of the Death March, I wish to thank
Bob Hivner, Bob Schloredt, Bill Kinnune, Ray Jackson, Kurt Gegner, Don
McKeta, George Fleming, Lee Folkins, Chuck Allen, Roy McKasson, Barry Bullard,
John Meyers, Jim Skaggs, Joe Jones, Stan Chapple, George Pitt, Ben Davidson,
and all of the others for there outstanding effort and dedication to the team.
"Celebrating 100 Years of Husky Football," Professional Sports
Publication, New York City.
Burke, Roger, "Once a Husky, Always a Husky,
Columbia River Book Company, 2001.
Dent, Jim, "The Junction Boys."
Thomas Dunn Books, An Imprint of St. Martin's Press, 1999.
Rockne, Dick, "Bow Down to Washington," The Strobe Publishers,
Huntsville, Alabama, 1975.
Richard Linde can be contacted at