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Legends of the forties
Six legends enrolled in a 3-year span
By: Richard Linde, 26 March 2003


Hugh McElhenny as a 49'er. Photo by Frank Rippon

Back in the late forties, the United States was recovering from World War II and the economic effects of rationing and the Great Depression. On this barren landscape, the Washington Husky football team was struggling for an identity.

However, six Huskies were poised to make their mark in the world of sports. During two lean football years, over a span of three years, six-legends-to-be were enrolled at Washington.

In 1947, Arnie Weinmeister played football for Washington and, in 1949, so did Hugh McElhenny, George Bayer, Don Heinrich, Roland Kirkby and Don Coryell.

Legends of the forties,
The Arm, Air and the King,
With Rollicking Rol, Big George, and Arnie,
The glory of their past does ring.

Three of them are enshrined in the College Football Hall of Fame, and two are members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Ironically, led by coaches “Pest” Welch and Howie Odell, the Huskies posted a 6-13-0 record in the combined 1947 and 1949 seasons, when one or more of them were enrolled.

It is remarkable to post such a lackluster record with six legends-to-be in tow; however, Washington’s football teams struggled for wins after World War II--and for well into the fifties until Jim Owens changed the Huskies’ fortunes in the 1959/60 season, culminating it with a win in the 1960 Rose Bowl.

Notably, McElhenny and Heinrich had remarkable college football careers, and Kirkby, winner of the Guy Flaherty Award, is one of the most inspirational Huskies of all time.

With the exception of Kirby, the other five made their mark in later years, one as a college and professional football coach (Coryell), four as pro-football players (McElhenny, Weinmeister, and to a lesser extent Heinrich and Bayer) and one on the PGA golf tour (Bayer). As a New York Giant, Heinrich played in the shadow of QB Chuck Connerly and didn’t see much action on the playing field; however, he is a member of the College Football Hall of Fame. Bayer played six games with the Washington Redskins before a dispute with the owner ended his career.

As a college coach, Coryell invented the “I” formation and contributed to the development of the West Coast Offense, which was refined by Bill Walsh of the San Francisco 49ers. Coryell is the only coach to have won 100 games at both the college and professional levels.

McElhenny and Weinmeister are enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. McElhenny, Heinrich and Coryell have been inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame. The late George Bayer was a successful golfing professional who played on the regular PGA Tour and the Senior PGA tour. Kirkby is one of three Huskies to have had his number retired. Coryell is a 2003 nominee for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

  • Don Coryell (UW defensive back, 1949-1951)

    The history of Don Coryell’s playing career at Washington is obfuscated by conflicting sources. According to the Washington media guide, Coryell played defensive back at Washington in 1949. The UW Columns magazine says that Coryell played defensive back at Washington during the 1951 and 1952 seasons, but it accompanies the story with a photo of Coryell running the football, a photo that poses him as a running back.

    However, his performance as a coach in the college and professional ranks is well documented and undisputed. He is the only coach to win 100 games both in college and professional football.

    Coryell is noted for the wide-open passing attack he developed at San Diego State University and used in the professional ranks. His teams filled the sky with missiles, and there were no Patriots to shoot them down. When he coached the San Diego Chargers, he designed plays that flooded the field with every available receiver, and Bill Walsh at San Francisco picked up on that and refined what later came to be known as the West Coast Offense.

    Ironically, “Air” Coryell invented the “I” formation, a running formation, when he was a running back coach at Wenatchee Junior College. In 1961, the San Diego State Aztecs hired Coryell, who had been an assistant coach at USC, as head coach. He'd previously coached at Whittier.

    Coryell’s record at San Diego State (1961-1972) is 104-18-2. “During his dozen seasons at SDSU, the team posted winning streaks of 31 and 25 games and in only one season did the squad lose more than twice. In 1966 and 1969, the Aztecs completed unbeaten and untied campaigns. San Diego State secured three bowl victories during Coryell's tenure.” [Aztecs].

    Coryell was the driving force in moving San Diego State from NCAA Division II to NCAA Division I status, which occurred in 1969.

    As head coach of the San Diego Chargers (1978-1986), Coryell and his quarterback Dan Fouts brought a passing attack to the NFL, the likes of which had never been seen. His teams changed their passing formations each week to confound their opponents. After a three-step drop, Fouts was a genius at dumping the ball off quickly, knowing the position of his targets on every play, as if directed by a Global Positioning Satellite.

    Coryell’s stratagem and genius brought three of his players admission to the Pro Football Hall of Fame:  QB Dan Fouts, tight end Kellen Winslow and wide receiver Charlie Joiner.  

    Before coaching the Chargers, Coryell coached the St. Louis Cardinals from 1973-1977 and posted a 42-27-1 record. His overall professional record is 111-83-1.

    Ironically, Coryell, a defensive back at Washington, gave birth to the West Coast Offense, a variation of which is used by today's Huskies.

    Coryell was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame on August 13, 1999 in South Bend, Indiana. He is a 2003 nominee for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He was inducted into the Husky Hall of Fame on October 20, 2000.

  •  
  • Arnie Weinmeister (UW DT/OT, FB, End; 6-4, 235; 1941-’42, 1946-’47)

    Weinmeister played football for Washington in 1941 and 1942. After a tour in the Army during World War II, he enrolled at Washington in 1946. During his career at Washington, he played offensive tackle, defensive tackle, fullback and end. Because of his speed and versatility, he played defensive tackle in the professional ranks.

    As a fullback, Weinmeister played in one of Washington’s most memorable games, when, in 1946, Coach Jim Phelan of the Saint Mary’s Gaels returned to Husky Stadium to seek revenge, so history says, for being fired from his coaching job at Washington. His Gaels were led by Squirmin’ Herman Wedemeyer. In that game, Weinmeister rumbled for 56 yards to set up his own touchdown plunge of one yard. Phelan had his revenge with a 24-20 victory over the Dawgs.

    Weinmeister played in the 1948 East/West Shrine game and played for the College All Stars at Soldiers Field (Chicago) against the defending NFL champion Chicago Cardinals.

    Weinmeister was inducted in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1984. He played for the New York Yankees (1948, AAFC), the Brooklyn-New York Yankees (1949, AAFC) and the New York Giants (1950-1954). He was Rookie of the Year in 1948.

    Weinmeister was all-AFFC in 1949 and All-NFL in 1950-1953. He was named to four Pro Bowls.  He was Seattle’s Man of the Year in Sports in 1953, and was enshrined in the Husky Hall of Fame in 1982.

    He was born in Rhein, Saskatchewan, Canada.

     

  • Hugh McElhenny (1949-1951)

    Considering his accomplishments as a collegiate and professional football player, McElhenny is easily the greatest runner in Husky history. No other running back at Washington carries his credentials, and there have been some great ones.

    Hurrying Hugh’s running style was unique. One publication described it this way, “He was the kind of runner who could make more magic, write more stories and paint bigger pictures in the span of five yards than practically anybody else could do in 30, 40, or 50 yards…In all the history of football, perhaps only Red Grange before McElhenny and Gayle Sayers after him made open-field running such a spectacle.” [100].

    Clad in Husky storm gear and after faking a handoff to Roland Kirkby, Hurricane Hugh raced the opening kickoff back 97 yards for a touchdown against the Minnesota Golden Gophers in Minneapolis during the second game of the 1949 season. His lightening gallop--a seminal run in Husky history--shocked the partisan crowd, electrified Husky fans and stamped “Washington” boldly on the map.

    Although he played in only twenty-eight games for the Huskies, McElhenny still holds many Husky records. Players who played in more games than he did were able to break some of them. However, he returned a punt 100 yards against USC in 1951, which is still a record and ties an NCAA record.

    McElhenny earned second team UPI All-Coast honors (third team AP) as a sophomore, then first team UPI and AP All-Coast honors as a junior and senior. By the time he ended his record-breaking career in 1951, McElhenny was a unanimous All-America pick.

    “'He was the darndest animal,'” said UCLA coach Red Sanders. 'He ran around you, through you, and if the situation demanded it, right over you.'” [Daves].

    The King, as he is also called, is a member of the prestigious Pro Football Hall of Fame (inducted in 1970), the College Football Hall of Fame (inducted in 1982) and the Washington Hall of Fame (inaugural group in 1979). He was also selected to the Washington Centennial team in 1990.

    He is also a member of the East-West Shrine Game Hall of Fame, having played in the 1951 classic. He was inducted in January of this year.

    McElhenny was honored as Seattle’s Man of the Year for Sports in 1951.

    Also reference: The untold story of Hugh McElhenny, the king of Montlake

    Here's a link to a video of Hugh's running style, a style that labeled him as the King of broken-field runners.

     

  • Don Heinrich (UW QB, 1949, 50, 52)

    Hailing from Bremerton, Washington, Don Heinrich came to the University of Washington in 1949. He sat out the 1951 season because of a shoulder separation.

    In the same backfield with Roland Kirby and Hugh McElhenny, Heinrich helped Washington post an 8-2 record in 1950, the Huskies’ most successful season within the 13-year period beginning in 1946 and ending in 1958. During those 13 lean years, Washington posted a record of 52 wins, 71 losses, and 5 ties.

    In his first varsity season, 1950, Heinrich was named to the Associated Press All American team. In that year, he completed an NCAA-record 134 passes, with a 60.6 completion percentage. [Daves].

    Heinrich played seven seasons in the National Football league with the New York Giants and the Dallas Cowboys.

    In the lore of Husky history, he participated in one of the most notable pass plays of all time.

    That occurred in 1950 during a duel that pitted quarterback Don Heinrich and the UW 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, with the ball on the Bears' two yard line. As the Heinrich 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.

    His accomplishments at Washington more than offset that one play. In 1952, he again led the nation in passing with 137 completions and finished his Husky career with 4392 yards and 33 touchdowns [Daves].

    Heinrich capped his career by being selected to the College Football Hall of Fame in 1987 and the Husky Hall of Fame in 1981.

    After his playing career ended, Heinrich coached with the Los Angeles Rams, Atlanta Falcons, Pittsburgh Steelers, New Orleans Saints and San Francisco 49ers over a span of 15 seasons.

    Heinrich went on to a successful broadcasting career, mostly as a color man, doing games for the Seattle Seahawks, the 49ers, ESPN, and the Washington Huskies.

    He was chosen as West Sound's Male/Football Athlete of the 20th Century.

    In 1992, Heinrich died of pancreatic cancer at the age of 61. He fought the disease with the courage and dignity he had shown the sports world.

    Four months before his death, Heinrich said he was battling the cancer with everything he had.

    "It's devastating, but I refuse to let it beat me down," he said. "I'm not going to let it beat me down."

    Born in 1930, Heinrich played sandlot football at the age of 10, like most boys growing up in the state of Washington at the time. A natural leader, he drew plays in the sand, with complicated crossing routes and button hooks.

    Don Heinrich will always be remembered as a Husky legend.

  •  
  • Roland Kirkby (RB, 1948, 1949, 1950)

    Roland Kirkby was one of the most underrated members of Washington’s fearsome foursome backfield in 1950. As a senior he was named to the Pacific Coast all-star team by a coaches’ poll. In 1950, Kirkby set a school record with three touchdown pass receptions, a record that has since been tied. In 1948, Kirkby was an honorable All-American as a sophomore.

    As a member of a backfield comprised of Hugh McElhenny, Don Heinrich and Bill Early, Kirkby, known as "Rolicking Rol," gained 380 yards rushing, caught 28 passes for 473 yards and scored 8 TDs in the 1950 season, when he played on a team that may be the best to never have gone to a Rose Bowl; he was the best overall player on the team.

    Kirkby was a tenth round draft choice of the Los Angeles Rams in 1951.

    Kirby, number 44, is one of three Huskies to have had his number retired, joining Chuck Carroll and George Wilson in that regard.

  • Being the best overall player on a team dominated by Heinrich and McElhenny and having his number retired, both qualify Roland Kirkby as a Husky legend.

  • George Bayer (OT, 6-foot-5, 230; 1946, 1947, 1948, 1949)

    George Bayer played right tackle under Coaches Pest Welch and Howard Odell at Washington. He was born in Bremerton, Washington on September 15, 1925.

    Although the Husky teams that Bayer played for had a combined 13-24 record, he played in the 1949 East West Shrine game and was drafted in the twentieth round by the Washington Redskins. In 1949, Bayer, as a senior, opened holes for Husky legend Hugh McElhenny, who played in 8 games and averaged 4.4 yards per carry in his inaugural season at Washington.

    Bayer played in just 6 games for the Redskins because of a disagreement with its owner.  "'He would come out of the stands and make substitutions,' Bayer told The Sun of Bremerton in an interview in 2000. 'I thought the coach or someone sitting on the bench was supposed to do that.'" [AP].

    Bayer began playing professional golf when he was 29 years old. He was known for his booming drives that traveled over 300 yards, this back in an era of low-tech golf equipment. In that era, heads for woods were either made of laminated maple or cut from a solid block of persimmon wood. Players used three-piece wound balls made of balata rubber that were known for their spin characteristics rather than for their boring tendencies. Although golf clubs were much less forgiving in his time, Bayer, who was extraordinarily large for a PGA professional, won the 1957 Canadian Open, 1958 Mayfair Inn Open and 1960 St. Petersburg Open.

    Bayer finished third in the 1963 PGA championship, his best finish in a major championship. He earned $428,862 on the PGA and Senior PGA tours before retiring from regular competition in 1997.

    The six-foot-five Bayer made his mark in professional golf at a time when golf discriminated against the tall player because of its low-tech equipment. Because of that and because of his football career at Washington, he is well-qualified as a Husky legend.

    ----------------------------------------------------------------

Table 1. Hugh McElhenny's record at Washington [gohuskies]

Year Games Net Yards Average TDs
1949 8 456 4.4 2
1950 10 1107 6.2 12
1951 10 936 5.5 13
Totals 28 2499 5.5 27

 

 

Table 2. Washington players/coaches in the College Football Hall of Fame and the year of enshrinement.

 

Chuck Carroll, 1964
Don Coryell, 1999
Gil Dobie, 1951
Don Heinrich, 1987
Don James, 1997
Vic Markov, 1976
Hugh McElhenny, 1981
Jim Phelan, 1973
Rick Redman, 1995
Darrel Royal, 1983
Bob Schloredt, 1989
Paul Schwegler, 1967
Max Starcevich, 1990
George Wilson, 1951

 

References:

[Torrance]. Torrance, Roscoe with Bob Karolevitz, "Torchy!, The Biography and Reminiscences of Roscoe C. Torrance," Dakota Homestead Publishers, 1988.

[Rockne]. Rockne, Dick, “Bow Down to Washington,” The Strode Publishers, Huntsville, Alabama, 1975.

[Daves] Daves, Jim; Porter Thomas W., “The Glory of Washington,” Sports Publishing Incorporated, 2001.

[100].100 Years of Husky Football,” Professional Sports Publications, New York City, New York.

[gohuskies]. www.gohuskies.com, The Official Website for the Washington Huskies.

[AP]. AP report, “George Bayer, 77; golfer was known for potent drives,” Boston Globe, March 20, 2003.

[Stark]. Stark, Chuck, “Bremerton native Bayer passes away,” The SunLink, 20 March 2003.

[Aztecs].  “Coryell Enters College Football Hall of Fame Tomorrow,” The official site of the San Diego State Athletics, 12 August 1999.

 

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