1960 Huskies recognized as champs, at last
It's the kind of self-deprecating joke commonly told when former athletes gather to revel in past glory. "The older we get, the better we...
Seattle Times staff reporter
Back to 1960-61The 1960 Huskies beat Minnesota in the Rose Bowl, but not in the major polls. So which team was the real national champion?
UW, ranked No. 1 by Helms Foundation in a postseason vote
Minnesota, ranked No. 1 by AP and UPI in the final regular-season vote
Mississippi, ranked No. 1 by the Football Writers Association of America in a postseason vote
It's the kind of self-deprecating joke commonly told when former athletes gather to revel in past glory.
"The older we get, the better we were," former Washington Husky Chuck Allen said the other day.
Only in the case of Allen and the rest of his 1960 Huskies teammates, they literally are getting better — at least in the opinion of their former school.
Almost 47 years after they played their last game together, the players from that 1960 team will be recognized as national champions by UW this weekend. The team will be honored with a banquet on Friday night — 37 players and coach Jim Owens are expected to attend — and again at halftime of the UW-USC game on Saturday. A flag signifying the team as national champs will be unfurled, and the current Huskies will wear throwback uniforms modeled on the 1960 team.
The Huskies finished 10-1 that season and beat No. 1-ranked Minnesota in the Rose Bowl, 17-7. But it was an era when most of the major polls concluded with the end of the regular season, with bowl games regarded mostly as a reward for a good season and not the continuation of it.
Minnesota, rated No. 1 in both the final regular-season AP and UPI polls, is generally considered the national champion for that season even though it finished 8-2 after its loss to UW.
However, one of the few polls to conduct a postseason vote, the Helms Foundation, chose the Huskies (another, the Football Writers Association of America, selected a 10-0-1 Mississippi team).
The vote has long been mentioned in the school's football media guide. But, for reasons no one is quite sure of, the team has never been recognized by UW as a national champion.
Bob Schloredt, who was one of the quarterbacks for the 1960 team, said local newspapers wrote about the team making a case for itself as national titlists but that it was simply a different era then.
"I think most of us felt we were national champs after we won that game because we beat the No. 1 team and we were in the top five or six at the time, and the other teams ahead of us had worse records and didn't have as good a two years as we did," he said, referring to the team's 20-2 mark over the 1959 and '60 seasons. "So we felt we were national champs. But we never got a big award ceremony or anything like that. But they didn't do a lot of those things in those days, so what can you say?"
Huskies athletic director Todd Turner, who arrived in 2004, said he initially began thinking of honoring the team a year or so ago at the urging of Tom Porter, a longtime Huskies fan who was the national chair of the school's Campaign for the Student Athlete and an author of three books about UW sports. Porter was working at the time on his recently released book, "A Football Band of Brothers" about the 1960 team.
"He felt it was something we should consider and he was right," Turner said. "It's about celebrating a significant moment in our past and we don't do enough of that, so every opportunity we have to acknowledge things like that we should take advantage."
Some have questioned whether UW is revising history a bit by claiming a national title based on what is these days a little-known poll — the Helms Foundation was an athletic foundation based in Los Angeles that assembled a panel of experts to name national champs for football and basketball before dissolving in 1982.
But other schools have made similar moves in recent years. Washington State last year recognized its 1917 men's basketball team for being named national titlists by the Helms Foundation.
Schloredt said "no one's cried" over the fact that official school recognition hasn't come before now. But now that's it here, the players are understandably pleased.
"We always felt like we had a great team and would have beaten anyone in the country," Owens wrote in an e-mail in response to a question from The Times this week. "The way the season ended up, we felt like we were deserving of any recognition that came our way. But the No. 1 ranking was already decided. It was a different system then. We're very proud of what we accomplished and honored that the university is celebrating what we've felt all along ... that we were the best team in the country that year."
Owens turned 80 in March and splits his time between Walla Walla and Montana, according to his son, Steve.
And in some ways, the long-delayed celebration might be fitting for a team that had to fight for everything.
"We weren't the most talented team, though we had a lot of talent," said halfback George Fleming. "We weren't the fastest and we weren't the biggest. But we were a team. We had a team concept, and we weren't hung up on statistics. We were very sound physically, whether it was blocking or tackling, and we were in better condition than most of the teams. And the major theme to me was that we never gave up."
The seniors on the 1960 team were part of Owens' first recruiting class when he took over in 1957. Owens was the team's third coach in three years, a former assistant for Bear Bryant at Texas A&M and Kentucky who was known for his hardnosed ways. Owens replaced Darrel Royal, who spent one year at UW before leaving for Texas. Royal had been hired in the wake of a slush-fund controversy that put the school on two years' probation. Porter calls it "maybe the low point" of UW football history.
Owens and his staff spent two years grooming a talented bunch of young recruits, such as Schloredt, Allen, halfback Don McKeta and tackle Bill Kinnune, all of whom played both ways in the era before two-platoon football.
The team stressed an offense based around the option running game, hard-nosed defense and special teams, especially the punting game. Schloredt, the team's punter, said UW averaged about 10 yards more in net punting than its opponents, often working its way into scoring position simply by playing defense and punting a few times.
The group broke through as juniors, leading UW to a 10-1 season and an astonishing 44-8 Rose Bowl win over Wisconsin. But there was no dispute over the national title that year as Syracuse went 11-0, including a win over Texas in the Cotton Bowl.
Players remember the 1960 season as actually being filled with more adversity than 1959.
"We were coming back as defending [conference] champs, so everyone brought their A game," Fleming said.
There were also a number of injuries, including one that knocked out Schloredt for much of the year. The Huskies began the 1960 season ranked No. 3 but fell to No. 12 after a one-point loss to Navy in Week 3. They slowly climbed back up the polls by winning their last seven regular-season games, three by one point, including 8-7 in the Apple Cup when UW scored on a touchdown and a two-point conversion late in the game.
Players remember Minnesota seeming overconfident heading into the Rose Bowl — the Huskies were ranked No. 6 going into the game. The Huskies took advantage to build an early 17-0 lead and held on to their second straight win in Pasadena, victories that helped regain respectability for football on the West Coast after years of Big Ten domination of the Rose Bowl.
"They lifted not only the city of Seattle but the whole state," recalled broadcaster Keith Jackson, who at the time worked in Seattle and hosted a weekly coaches show with Owens that outdrew the Huntley-Brinkley report. "They made the whole state college-football conscious."
Said Fleming: "It's a really great thing that we are finally being recognized as being a national champion for what it has meant to Husky football in the past and what it will in the future. Quite naturally, we would have liked to have seen it happen years ago. But this will be lasting."
Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company
UPDATE - 10:18 PM
Washington State's Klay Thompson will play Thursday against Huskies