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SCANDAL IN THE FIFTIES
Torrance and Cassill carried the torch for Washington
By: Richard Linde, 8 March 2002, updated 12 Jul 2014

“It is my personal belief that no school ever had a better, a harder working, self-sacrificing or squarer guy than the likeable Torchy Torrance.” Dink Templeton, Stanford head coach of track and field (1921-’39)  [Torrance].

The fifties was the era of Elvis, rock and roll, and the sounds of dual-glass packed mufflers rumbling in the night. Back then houses cost half the price of a modern-day Chevrolet, and if you thought you needed a burglar alarm for it, you most likely needed a shrink. 

A drug dealer was a pharmacist; a junkie was a junkman; and coke was served in a glass bottle. Hackers carried slide rules, wrote useful computer programs and read binary. Being congested meant having a cold and being cold meant turning up the heat.  If you could scrape up 60 bucks, you could enroll at the “U”; however, college football players were a bit more expensive. They cost $75 per month in the mid-fifties.

At that time, the Huskies and Seattle Rainiers were the main sports attractions in Seattle. In the forties and fifties youngsters grew up imitating the nasal, high-pitched voice of Leo Lassen, who did the play-by-play for Seattle Rainier baseball games; he functioned in that role for over thirty years, starting in the mid-thirties. “Mmm, Gyselman slides” or “back, back, back and it’s over” were among the many "Leoisms," they mimicked.

Years before, Roscoe C. “Torchy" Torrance--a feisty, diminutive, likeable red head--played baseball for the University of Washington and later became their freshman baseball coach. Still later in his life he functioned as a vice-president for the Seattle Rainiers under Emil Sick, their owner and president. Born in 1899, Torrance enrolled at Washington in 1918 just after Gil Dobie’s remarkable tenure. Torrance graduated from Washington in 1923; during World War II, he served as a marine and was awarded the Bronze medal.

Still an avid Husky fan after World War II, Torrance presided over an organization called the Greater Washington Advertising Association that helped Husky players financially and with jobs. It was perfectly legal to do that in those days, and many an athlete who would have otherwise been unable to attend school was able to graduate from Washington because of the financial help he received. 

In his biography, Torrance wrote this about the association, “I organized a group—mostly of downtown businessmen—with the goal of putting Washington back on the athletic map as well as the academic one. At first we called it the Husky Club, but we soon changed it to Greater Washington Advertising Association…There was nothing devious about our organization. The leading citizens in our community contributed to it, and it was general knowledge to the newspapers because Charles P. Lindeman of the Post Intelligencer and Bill, Jack, and Frank Blevins of the Times all contributed to it…There were 75 or more individuals involved at one time or another. Some gave money; some provided jobs or both.” [Torrance].

Torrance and Harvey Cassill (Washington’s athletic director from 1946-1956) were close friends and visionaries. Cassill, who wanted to put the Huskies on the football map, scheduled Notre Dame in 1948 and 1949 to add some glitz to the Huskies’ schedule. At South Bend, the Irish pummeled the Huskies 46-0 in the first game of the series, and in Seattle the next year, the Huskies, along with some controversial penalties levied against the Irish, held the score down in a 27-7 loss. Because of “biased” officiating, the Irish vowed never to play Washington again, and that didn’t happen again until 1995. Time heals all wounds.

Obviously, the Huskies needed some big time help if they were to compete nationally, especially against midwestern teams. Through 1949 the Huskies had lost 7 straight games to Minnesota in their annual rivalry, a rivalry that featured games that Husky fans yearned to forget.

Torrance decided to do something about the Dawgs’ trials and tribulations and helped lure Hugh McElhenny (Compton, Husky running back, 1949, ’50, ‘51) away from the southland to play for the Huskies. He also helped recruit Don Heinrich (1949, ’50, ‘52), from Bremerton, Washington, to play quarterback.

All of a sudden, Washington had the “King” (McElhenny) and the “Arm” (Heinrich) in the same backfield. Because of injuries to both of them, they only played one year together, McElhenny sitting out most of the 1949 season and Heinrich missing the 1951 season.

Recruiting Hurrin’ Hugh wasn’t easy if you put it in a modern-day context. This season the Huskies battled Los Angeles weatherman Dallas Raines for Lorenzo Booker’s (Port Hueneme) services.  During the recruiting process, Raines put in a phone call to Booker, which was shown on television, and urged him to attend his alma mater Florida State, which is where Booker eventually ended up.

Likewise in 1949, Los Angeles sportscaster Tommy Harmon of Michigan football fame told McElhenny he’d never be able to run in the mud in Seattle. It wasn’t until 1968 that Husky stadium was layered with Astroturf. Ironically, one of McElhenny’s muddiest games was played at the Coliseum against USC on November 18, 1950.

McElhenny was the glitz the Huskies were looking for.

In 1949, at Minnesota, he ran the opening kickoff back 97 yards for a touchdown to stun the powerful Gophers. It was a legendary play in Husky history, a seminal one that would eventually lead to national prominence for them. McElhenny suffered an injury in the game and missed the rest of the season. In 1950, Washington beat Minnesota 28-13 at Seattle and went 8-2-0 for the season.

Did McElhenny take a pay cut to turn pro, as one of his teammates at San Francisco suggested?

According to Torrance’s biography [Torrance], McElhenny was given $7,000 to play for the San Francisco Forty-niners after he left Washington. McElhenny figured he’d earned $10,000 during his stint at Washington if his wife’s salary was combined with the $300 monthly allowance (it’s not clear who wrote him the check) he was paid during the academic year. Hence, he took a pay cut to turn pro.

Nobody ever gave McElhenny a car; however, he urged Torrance to buy Heinrich a ’41 Chevy, and he did. After each game, Torrance gave McElhenny $25 for each touchdown he scored. [Torchy!].

Cassill did his part to bring Washington to national prominence by championing a critical addition to Husky Stadium. He was responsible for building the first upper deck, and it was completed in time for the opener against Kansas in 1950. For those times, it was engineering marvel that featured a cantilevered steel roof and a two-tiered press box that hovered 165 feet above the field. Critics derisively called the expansion “Cassill’s folly” and “Cassill’s castle.” In response, Cassill said he’d build another “castle” on the north side of the field one day. That happened in 1987, but without him. The 1987 expansion of the stadium features the Don James Center, which is a glass enclosed facility that offers a field view for games and serves as a reception center that can host banquets or social events.

Because of the unlimited substitution rule implemented in 1945—the Heinrich and McElhenny years aside—Washington, along with teams from the PCC playing in the Rose Bowl against the population rich Big Ten, found it hard to compete on a national basis. From 1946 through 1958, Washington had six different head football coaches. Among them were Howie Odell (23-25-12, 1948-1952),  “Cowboy” Johnny Cherberg (10-18-2, 1953-1955), and Darrell Royal (5-5-0, 1956).  

After Howie Odell was fired, John Cherberg took over as head football coach. The pressures of being a head coach at Washington in those days were enormous, and Cherberg succumbed to them.

A successful freshman coach at Washington, Cherberg's temper got in his way as head coach due to the stress of the job. Players came to him with grievances concerning his coaching methods, and he would blow his stack. 

At the beginning of the 1955 season, the Washington Advertising Association and John Cherberg were about to collide.

The stage was set by incidents like the one involving the recruitment of Luther "Hit and run" Carr, which led to restrictions placed on the amount of money athletes could receive.

At that time, boosters got into a bidding war for the services of Carr, who played football for Lincoln High School in Tacoma. UCLA boosters offered Carr a cash payment that was matched by the Greater Washington Advertising Association. Boosters at Illinois jumped into the fray and offered Carr $200 a month to play for them. Finally, Carr settled for $175 a month to play for the Huskies.

One of nine children, Carr couldn’t possibly have attended Washington without some outside financial aid. In later years, as a successful Seattle businessman, he credited Torrance for his success, in that he had enabled him to achieve his educational goals. 

Due to incidents like the Carr episode, the Pacific Coast Conference limited the amount of money a player could receive in the mid-fifties. The amount was limited to $75 per month; however, the Greater Washington Advertising Association continued to pay players with a stipend that exceeded that amount.

The 1955 season (5-4-1) was a bitter one for Washington, even though it had two promising quarterbacks in Sandy Ledderman and Bobby Cox. Although winning 14-7, the Huskies fumbled 11 times in their opener against Idaho. Jim Sutherland, an assistant coach under Cherberg, had changed the starting count between the center and quarterback before the game. After that incident, the relationship between Sutherland and Cherberg was strained and they barely talked to one another. During the season, Lederman skipped practice because of lack of playing time, and Cherberg suspended him. Relationships between the players and coaches became more strained as the season progressed.

As a reward for his services, Torrance accompanied the team to Los Angeles for the next to last game of the season against UCLA, which was held on November 12th. During halftime, he gave an emotional, impassioned speech to motivate the team, something he’d done before. Inspired by Torrance, the Huskies gave their all in the second half and led UCLA 17-14 with a minute to go. Saddled with poor field position, the Dawgs gave up a safety so they could punt the ball away. After a good run back, Jim Decker of UCLA kicked a long field goal to win the game for the Bruins, 19-17. [Torrance].

It was a disappointing, upsetting loss for the players, who had fought so valiantly. 

The next week, a delegation of them went to Torrance and complained about Cherberg’s coaching methods; he told them to see Cassill, that he didn’t want to be involved in internal affairs. The next game, the Huskies thrashed the Cougars, 27-7, and seemingly the ship was righted.

However, after the season was over, thirty players visited Cassill and told them they could no longer play for Cherberg. The players’ mutiny, as it was called, was picked up by the Seattle Times and Seattle Post Intelligencer. Charges and counter-charges flew back and forth--with players, coaches and fans being pitted against the other, all of them hurling vitriol. During the turmoil, assistant coach Jim Sutherland was fired and went on to coach at Washington State.

In January 1956, Lee Grosscup and several freshmen from California said they were leaving the team.  “Among their reasons—as reported by columnist Mel Durslag of the Los Angeles Herald Examiner (“Her-Ex”)—were such idiosyncrasies as the coach’s adamant decree against players chewing grass and whistling in the locker room.” [Torrance].

This led to the firing of Cherberg on January 27th and to an investigation of the Greater Washington Advertising Association.

After he was fired Cherberg went on television and said, “I believe I have a solution. I just recommend that the University of Washington operate along the lines prescribed by the PCC regulations.  Just have the boys not looking beyond their coaches and beyond the athletic department for guidance, for help, and for counsel…Could it be I was fired because Torchy Torrance was faced with the possibility of losing control of some of his players. Is it true that some football players are receiving $200 a month—far above the amount approved by the grant-in-aid program?”

Cherberg charged that Torrance was using the slush fund to turn Husky players against him, but according to Torrance that wasn’t true at all.

It was determined that twenty-seven Husky players were receiving sixty dollars more a month than the allowable limit. In the midst of the revelations, Sports Illustrated ran a story entitled, “Boosters mess it up at Washington.” The article (February 20, 1956) said that players were receiving cars and other benefits from boosters and carried the complaint that the men who run the slush fund used their checkbooks to turn Cherberg's players against him.

Torrance said Cherberg sent athletes to him if they were in financial trouble, and that Cherberg was fully aware of the fund. [Rockne].  

In his biography and reminiscences Torrance wrote, "John Cherberg was aware of the fund for many years. He attended our annual breakfast meeting and thanked our contributors profusely for the help they provided. He even borrowed a list of our donors and wrote a special letter of thanks to them at Christmas time."

On May 6, 1956, the PCC banned Washington from sharing Rose Bowl receipts for two years, and made it ineligible for conference titles. UCLA was punished for the Carr incident and USC was placed on probation. In part, the enmities engendered among conference members during this period were responsible for the break up of the PCC in 1959 and formation of the AAWU, a five-team conference made up of Washington, UCLA, USC, California and Stanford.

Three months before the ban, Harvey Cassill resigned his post as AD after it was learned that funds had been diverted from a Pro-football exhibition game to the Greater Washington Advertising Association. He resigned on February 9, 1956. At that time, the Washington Advertising Association  was $9,500 in the red, according to Torrance.  The monies taken to make it solvent were what was left over after the Associated Students of the University of Washington, the two teams, and the Greater Seattle Inc. (the sponsor of the game) received their portions.

Although the local press had known about the slush fund all along, they backstabbed Torrance, treating it as a breaking story. Sports writers, who had been friends with him for years, left him twisting in the wind.

In his biography, Torrance wrote, “The Times came out with stories about the slush fund as if nobody knew about it, and the Blethens had been contributing to it for years. I was terribly disappointed in Royal Brougham whom I had known well since 1919. When The Times started to tear me apart, he did nothing in the P-I to support me, and he didn’t even call to give me a boost when he knew that many things being written were untrue.”

Years later, Cherberg and Torrance shook hands, settling their differences. Cherberg used his popularity to become the Lt. Governor of the State of Washington.

Afterward: Put in perspective, Torchy Torrance did nothing that boosters from other schools across the country didn’t do during this time period. A slush fund was a regular way of life; otherwise, many players from humble backgrounds would never have attended college. This is especially true in Luther Carr’s case. 

Torrance’s close friend, Bob Hope, said of him, “There’s an honesty about Torchy that we learned to admire.” [Torrance].

In 1980, Roscoe Torrance was inducted into the Husky Hall of Fame.

In 1988, Booth Gardner, the Governor of the State of Washington, proclaimed July 6, 1988 as R.C. “Torchy” Torrance day.  Torrance was cited for his fight against polio and birth defects for over 50 years, for his service in two world wars, for being a leader, supporter and inspirer of athletics at all levels, and for his work and leadership in many Seattle organizations.

References:

As an adjunct to my memory, I used these three books to glean and augment some of the facts I’ve presented.

[Farmer]. Farmer, Sam, "Bitter Roses,” An Inside Look at the Washington Huskies’ Turbulent Year," Sagamore Publishing, 1993.

[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.

[Jude]. Jude, Adam, "Obituary: Luther Carr Jr. made name at UW in football and track," 11 July 2014.

[Raley]. Raley, Dan, "Where are they now: Luther Carr," Seattle PI, 22 May 2007.

 

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