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July 5, 2011


SCOREBOARD, BABY:  A Story of College Football, Crime and Complicity

By Ken Armstrong and Nick Perry

Authors Armstrong and Perry present themselves as “Investigative Reporters” but are well out of their league when investigating matters of University of Washington football of 100 years ago. A cursory review of their hit piece on Coach Gilmour Dobie shows they even failed on the basics: starting salary (overstated a whopping 150%), his overall record and total points in games. A high school English teacher would demand more but coming from award-winning journalists such negligence is inexcusable.

Sensationalist language is a dead giveaway as to any authors’ agenda: use biting words to dramatize your viewpoint and pull quotes out of context to give the appearance of credibility. Clever tactics writers use to manipulate, never mind that the facts are nowhere to be found.

Coach Dobie is presented as the original perpetrator of the sins to befall modern-day football. The intent being to link the excesses of today’s game to its distant roots. A reader not well informed on early day football could be convinced that the game back then was recklessly out of control. No matter how hard they stretched, Armstrong and Perry fall short of blackballing the game as coached during Dobie’s term. Nowhere do the authors mention two of his most widely reported personal traits of being a brilliant master of psychology and a perfectionist. They use the loaded word “berate” to describe an episode with Wee Coyle, his star quarterback but fail to mention that as of the very first day of practice, Coyle described him as an “angular genius” and stated his brand of leadership led the players to become “as docile as babes in arms.” Coyle wrote profusely over many decades on Coach Dobie, proclaiming him to be one of the greatest contributors to his own building of character.

The investigative reporters failed to disclose that Dobie was a mistreated orphan as a young boy. Here he learned that survival requires fighting for everything you get in life and in order to be heard, talk tough. Locating his orphanage records of 125 years ago requires genuine investigative work. Not the shallow historical fact-finding so evident in Scoreboard, Baby. Without knowledge of this life altering event it is nigh-on impossible to draw conclusions as to this complex man’s nature.

Dobie was football’s first coach to combine physical conditioning with running plays off quickly to wear out the opponent. Surprisingly, Armstrong and Perry fell for a sarcastic Dobie remark where he purportedly disdained the speed of his running backs: “This means they only get to the tacklers all the sooner.” This was a feeble attempt to support the colorful but fanciful claim of his being “Gloomy Gil.” A game-by-game analysis proves that he was actually a contrarian. On easy games when everyone else saw his team blowing out the competition, he predicted disaster. But when he faced a tough opponent with the smart money going against him, he went positive. The Gloomy Gil tag was a caricature loved by sports reporters back then, but today’s reporters who claim to reveal the truth must dig deeper. Scoreboard, Baby research did no better than the reporters who fell for Dobie’s trap set 100 years ago. Rather ironic that his mastery of psychology still ensnares hapless victims after all this time!

The use of charged language was most aggressively exploited by Armstrong and Perry in their expose of Gil Dobie’s 1916 firing by President Suzzallo. They portray Dobie as lacking in “character,” calling up the very words of the president to seal the deal. However, it somehow was never stated that only one year earlier it was Suzzallo who praised Dobie as being the greatest example of a man of character on the campus. He wanted every current and future professor to model his professional behavior after the coach. There was no mention of the huge number of players who for as long as they lived – singled out Gilmour Dobie as being the greatest positive influence in their lives. Such accounts are available to disciplined researchers who delve into the written accounts reported by eye witnesses.

While Dobie clearly wore the black hat, no story is complete without a hero. The authors chose President Suzzallo for this role, a wellspring of honor by their account. No mention is made of Suzzallo’s making a mockery of university policy in carrying out the dismissal. Nor was there even a passing reference to Suzzallo’s failing of character in his demotion of Professor H.L. Meisnest, head of the University German Department, who differed with him over the United States’ entry into World War I.

The high drama behind the undefeated coach’s firing has no shortage of culpable characters. The unseemly mess centers around star tackle, Bill Grimm, who in his own lapse of character cheated on a final history exam shortly before the Big Thanksgiving Game with California. Grimm and six other players were included in President Wilson’s activation of the National Guard in 1916. Since this cut into three weeks of class time, Suzzallo promised all students being called up extra time to sit for finals. But in a huge oversight he never put the plan into practice nor did Armstrong and Perry point this out! To aid in their mission of painting Dobie in the worst possible light they called up an invented character flaw with this quote “the lack of faculty mercy,” and placed it into a make-believe world of their own design. By this wily re-alignment of history the event under examination is twisted into a damning indictment of the coach. Dobie uttered a faculty mercy reference well after his dismissal and his intention was irrefutably clear: he was referring to the fact that Grimm had not been granted Suzzallo’s promised make-up time. As the quote was characterized in Scoreboard, Baby this reference is made out to be a Dobie complaint against academics. In fact, the literature is replete with evidence to show just the opposite. One eye witness who staked his reputation on this before a packed house of Seattle dignitaries was President Suzzallo himself. For this Dobie received a raucous standing ovation. 

Any author worth his or her salt wants to end their story with a zinger. Armstrong and Perry, while failing in research, can tell a story. But one more fitting as fiction. They close with Dobie later coaching at Cornell and to quote them: “He was fired there, too.” In giving them the benefit of the doubt, let’s call this an error. In actuality, Dobie’s last two years of his contract were paid out in full as a show of respect for his tremendous record at Cornell. In the mutual agreement between president and coach, Dobie seamlessly transferred to the position of head coach at Boston College. Hardly deserving of the cold characterization as being “fired.” To sew up their case the authors pull up an old bromide not actually uttered by Dobie but made up years later by revisionists: “You can’t win games with Phi Beta Kappas.” By not doing the hard work of true investigative reporting, this weak effort to support their premise that Dobie downgraded academics falls apart. History trumps careless research once again.

Gilmour Dobie’s scoreboard at Cornell includes his winning two national championships and sharing a third. When Dobie makes a score, somehow Scoreboard, Baby never puts this up on the board. When readers are made aware of just how this  game was played, Dobie wins - journalism loses.

CONTACT: Lynn Borland, lynnb@authorwilliamlynn.com, Tel 310-614-8602

Mr. Borland is the author of the authoritative 2010 biography of Gilmour Dobie, Pursuit of Perfection.


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