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The latest news and analysis on the Montlake Dawgs.

July 28, 2007 at 10:53 AM

Discussing a Football Band of Brothers

We reported here in April the news that the University of Washington has decided to officially recognize the 1960 Huskies as national champions. The team will be honored at the USC game Sept. 29 when the current Huskies will wear throwback uniforms from that year.
Helping spur that honor was Tom Porter, whose research on the topic has turned into a book called “A Football Band of Brothers: Forging the University of Washington’s First National Champinship,” in which he makes the case for the 1960 Huskies as national champs.
Those were days when the final major polls were taken before bowl games were played, and UW was No. 6 when it faced No. 1 Minnesota in the Rose Bowl and beat the Gophers 17-7. Afterward, UW was rated No. 1 in the nation by the Helms Foundation, but hasn’t generally been regarded as national champs because the major polls honored Minnesota.
I had the chance recently to catch up with Porter to talk about his book and that season.
Here is the first part of that discussion.
First, a little background on Porter.
He has written 13 books, the last three on Husky athletics (others area The Glory of Washington in 2001 and Husky Stadium in 2004). Most of the other books relate to the business field.
He is a 1954 graduate of Rutgers where he played baseball and came west after entering the military and being assigned to Fort Lewis.
After finishing his service, he entered the MBA program at Stanford and finished up at UW in 1959, which coincided with Owens’ revival of the Husky football program.
“I remember seeing a lot of the games they played and I celebrated with everybody else when they won the Rose Bowls in 1960 and 1961,” he said.
He has had a close association with UW ever since, including teaching in the business school, and serving as the national chair of UW’s $54 million Campaign for the Student Athlete which resulted in the renovation of Hec Ed and the building of the Dempsey Indoor practice facility.
Interestingly enough, he says part of the genesis for this book was a conversation with Seattle Times columnist Blaine Newnham a few years back for the Husky Stadium book.
“He said ‘you know, somebody ought to write a book about the 59-69 teams,”’ Porter recalled. “I just tucked that away as we talked about the fact that it was a compelling story that they really won the national title except that the system was flawed.”
After finishing the book on Husky Stadium, Porter and former SID Jim Daves (his co-author on the other two UW books) began working on the “Football Band of Brothers.” When Daves left UW for a similar position at Virginia, Porter decided to finish it on his own.
The book is published by Trafford Publishing and was available publicly beginning in May though Porter said many of the players involved received copies earlier.
Porter said he didn’t necessarily intend for the book to be just a way to make a case for the 1960 team to be recognized as national title winners. “I went into it with the idea that people ought to know what they did,” Porter said. “I ended up making the case (for the team as national titlists) but I really just thought it was a compelling story.”
Porter’s book begins with the chaotic events of the mid-1950s, which is eerily reminiscent of some of the travails of the last few years, as well. Coach John Cherberg was fired in 1955 after going 10-18-2 in three seasons and facing a player revolt his final season, and AD Harvey Cassil was fired and the team put on probation after being found guilty of payint players.
“Washington football had been at maybe its low point,” Porter says. “The place was in a shambles.”
A new AD named George Briggs helped get the department in the right direction, and Briggs then hired a young coach named Darrel Royal to get the football team going again. Royal went 5-5 in 1956 but then left for his dream job at Texas.
Briggs, who felt the program had stabilized, decided he could take a chance on an unknown assistant who had been highly recommended by the likes of Bear Bryant and Duffy Daugherty, 30-year-old Jim Owens.
Porter says Owens immediately won over UW fans.
“He looked more like John Wayne than John Wayne,” Porter said. “He was a handsome guy, 6-5, who looked like he could mix it up with anybody. People loved him.”
But Owens was also, as Porter recounts, “the third coach in three years” and getting the players to come together as a team was one of Owens’ biggest tasks.
Porter writes how Owens — who had gained some renown for being an assistant on Bryant’s staff at Texas A&M (and part of the famed Junction Boys team of 1954) — began recruiting players in his mold.
“His spiel was team unity, paying the price mentally and physically,” Porter said. “They were out to punish people.”
Porter writes vividly of how 10 days before his first season, Owens and his staff put the team through a practice that became known as “The Death March.” The players scrimmaged for four quarters and when Owens decided it wasn’t good enough, they went for two more quarters, then punt drills, then lined up and were forced to run.
It’s the kind of thing that wouldn’t be deemed acceptable today, and resulted in a few players quitting the team. But Porter said it became a defining moment for the players who remained, especially for the younger players who were forming the core of Owens’ rebuilding project.
“They wouldn’t get away with that (today),” Porter said. “But that’s how they brought about some very tough, physically conditioned guys.”
UW had losing records in Owens’ first two years, but the young players were gaining experience and the games were getting closer and in 1959, it all turned around.
We’ll cover how it all came together, and the controversy over the national title, in part two.
NOTE — “A Football Band of Brothers: Forging the University of Washington’s First National Championship” can be purchased from Amazon.com, the Husky Team Shop, the University Book Store, and directly from the publisher — Trafford Publishing (Trafford.com/06-2420). To order a personally inscribed book, contact Porter at BoB.football@hotmail.com.

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