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Take 2

A different spin on sports by The Seattle Times staff and readers.

October 10, 2013 at 12:25 PM

Dear Gil Dobie: A Husky coaching legend finally gets his reward

By Lynn Borland

Lynn Borland, a 1966 Business School graduate of the University of Washington, lives in Los Angeles with his wife, Vicki. Borland wrote a story for The Seattle Times in 2010 about legendary Washington football coach  Gil Dobie for The Seattle Times and spent three years researching and writing a biography about Dobie. Here, in a letter to the late coach, he expresses his feelings about Dobie being honored with a reception and plaque Saturday.

Gil Dobie never lost a game as coach of Washington.  Seattle Times file

Gil Dobie never lost a game as coach of Washington.
Seattle Times file

Dear Coach Dobie,

I’m taking this opportunity to write a personal note to tell you of a historic event being held Saturday to commemorate your extraordinary coaching record at Washington. Before the Oregon game the university is holding a special reception to unveil your bronze plaque on the Neal Dempsey Walk of Honor.

It has been 97 years since you coached your last game here and perhaps you’ve wondered what took us so long. Well, many others have asked the same question. After all you were worshiped by both UW students and Seattle area fans and for good reason – in nine years you never lost a game.

You and I never met, but I feel like I know you because I took on the daunting task of writing your biography. You truly were bigger than life, succeeding against nearly impossible odds. You probably wouldn’t admit it, but your early years as mistreated orphan placed sizable roadblocks for you to overcome. Who could have foreseen you then obtaining a law degree and going on to national fame in the football world?

Sensationalist writers misunderstood your coaching genius. It always makes for a spicier story to criticize than to praise. But eye-witness accounts revealed an alternate narrative. A legion of former players wrote to you over the years and gave heartfelt accounts of the positive impact you made on their lives. Some even rated you right alongside their own fathers. You attended player reunions at all of the schools where you coached, and at Washington one was held to an adoring packed house in 1940. And in 1960, 44 years after you coached at Washington and 12 years after your death, your players hosted yet another reunion in your honor, filling the grand ballroom of the Olympic Hotel. You were celebrated as a returning hero.

Looking back at your record, it is clear that you left a giant footprint over all of West Coast football. When you arrived in Seattle, UW didn’t play football against the California schools because Stanford, USC and California had dropped the sport in the early 1900s and UCLA didn’t have an athletic program at the time. When California decided in 1915 to compete again in football, there was no mistaking that a West Coast championship ran through Seattle. That year the schools in the Big 6 Northwest League grew fed up with constantly losing to you and revolted. No league can survive without its premier team, though, and you held fast. The Big 6 collapsed.

Washington reached out to California and Stanford to form a new league. (Stanford wanted to play freshmen and you didn’t so Stanford was admitted in all sports except football.)  Coach Dobie, you, more than any other person, are responsible for founding the league that today we call the Pac-12.

Gil Dobie will be honored with a special ceremony and plaque0 before Saturday's Washington game.  University of Washington special collections

Gil Dobie will be honored with a special reception and plaque before Saturday’s game.
University of Washington special collections

“Bow Down To Washington” became the school’s beloved fight song entirely because of you. I hope future students and alumni who sing this rousing tribute become aware of the role you played in its creation. Remember in 1915, when the Cal Bears came out of their long football hibernation? Their fight songs even carried a not-so-subtle message of what they intended to do against the Dobie-led Washington teams. Their songs referred to how they were going to treat the “Northerners wearing the Purple and Gold.” UW countered with their own bear-baiting fight song, which included a chorus-line salute to their much-loved coach: “Dobie, Dobie pride of Washington.”

It didn’t turn out so well for the Golden Bears. You and your boys went down to Berkeley and made it clear who ruled the West, coming away with a 72-0 win. Back home, you followed this up with another victory over Cal and wrapped up the season by beating Colorado in Seattle. In those three games, UW dominated by the combined score of 131-7.

Your fame reached well beyond the West Coast, however. The New York Times reported,“His phenomenal record as a coach is the greatest of any football mentor of contemporary or past fame.”

I wish you could be with us this Saturday when we unveil the bronze plaque on the Walk of Honor in celebration of your place as one of the greatest to ever coach the game of football. There is no question that the tribute is deserved. Several of your players – Wee Coyle, Polly Grimm, Warren Grimm, Bill Grimm and Vic Morrison – will be represented by family members at the ceremony. Grandsons of your good Seattle friend, George Varnell, will also be there to share in the toast to your great achievements.

I want to join Huskies everywhere in thanking you for being the founder of the winning tradition of Washington Football.

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