Pub. Date:
Chance for Glory: The Innovation and Triumph of the Washington State 1916 Rose Bowl Team

Chance for Glory: The Innovation and Triumph of the Washington State 1916 Rose Bowl Team

by Darin Watkins


View All Available Formats & Editions


American football was still in its infancy. The first Rose Bowl was just in its planning stages. East Coast teams were becoming household names, but what chance did a West Coast team with a losing streak have in achieving any fame or notoriety? Chance for Glory chronicles the untold story of the Washington State University football team of 1915 when William "Lone Star" Dietz, a Native American, was hired as the new coach. His innovative strategies and knowledge would help a group of undersized players to become giants on the football field, and soon Washington State would be a household name across America. Follow this magical 1915 season from its early days to its triumphant conclusion. Find out the history behind the first Rose Bowl tournament and how this previously unknown Washington team would gain national attention. Much more than just a football story, Chance for Glory is a microcosm of American history. Author Darin Watkins places the Cougars and the first Rose Bowl in the context of two Washington schools trying to compete academically for their very existence. We get glimpses into early Hollywood movie making, we meet people with their roots in a legacy of Indian Wars from just a few decades earlier, and we hear in the distance the guns on the European battlefields of World War I. Intrigue, romance, courage, determination, strategy, and serendipity all meet in these pages to catapult the winning Cougars into becoming one of the greatest football stories of all time.

Related collections and offers

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781943164486
Publisher: Aviva Publishing
Publication date: 12/28/2015
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 280
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.60(d)

About the Author

Darin Watkins is a 1984 WSU graduate and lifelong Cougar fan. Darin worked as a television news reporter for twenty years in Washington and for his last nine years at Seattle television station KING-TV. His favorite stories to cover included Apple Cup games, two WSU Rose Bowl games, and following Mike Price to Alabama for his first day on the job. Currently, he works as the Director of Communications for The Edward R. Murrow College of Communication at Washington State University. He proudly served as the spokesperson for WSU under President Elson S. Floyd for nearly four years. He lives in Pullman with his two future Coug children.

Read an Excerpt


West Point, New York
November 9, 1912

The game of college football was ruled by the mighty and the powerful.

Standing among the best was the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, a team that relied on brute force to bully its way through the competition. The Cadets had a storied tradition of playing so aggressively that it was not uncommon for opponents to land in the hospital. The academy itself was built around the simple premise of training leaders for war. Their services were greatly needed. Earlier in the year, the U.S. had invaded both Nicaragua and Cuba. The first Balkan War had broken out with Bulgaria, Serbia, and Greece fighting Turkey--the very conflict that would draw in neighboring countries, eventually leading the rest of the world into war.

But on this blustery day in November, thoughts of armed conflict were set aside for a heavily-anticipated game of football--a contest between two of the season's best. This one would be settled under gray skies before a crowd of over 5,000 fans in the stadium nestled near the Hudson River, where cool temperatures triggered a heavy gray mist that drifted onto the field.

West Point vs. Carlisle

The West Point Cadets, with only one loss on the 1912 season, were the team to beat. They were led by Capt. Leland Devore, a behemoth of a man, 6'6” with 250 pounds of sheer muscle. Standing next to him was a bruiser named Alexander Weyland, a heavyweight with a pounding style. Lined up, shoulder-to-shoulder, the pair formed the point of a wedge that simply drove their opponents back. Much was made of their style of lay the year before when two Yale players were hospitalized and nearly killed trying to stand directly in their way. In the backfield was running back and future Army general, Dwight Eisenhower, who spoke of how he loved the feel of slamming into an opponent.” At only 5'8”, this blonde-haired, blue-eyed character may have stood shorter than his larger teammates, but he carried with him a fierce determination. As a two-way player, he would lead the running game on offense, while racking up the most tackles on the team as a linebacker on defense. For Eisenhower, the way he played spoke volumes about his character; he told a reporter, “I have so loved the bodily contact of football that I suppose my enthusiasm made up somewhat for my lack of size.”

The West Point team stood at the pinnacle of American football, a human monument to power and strength.

Facing them on this heavily anticipated day would be the Carlisle Indian School from Pennsylvania, a dynamic team with one the best records in the nation on the season at 10-0-1. The college included Native Americans from 140 tribes from across the country. Using speed and an unorthodox style, the team had risen through the ranks by deploying new formations and uncanny deceptive style in the backfield. At the core of the Carlisle charge stood Jim Thorpe, arguably one of the greatest athletes of his day, having just won two Olympic Gold Medals in the decathlon and pentathlon. He wasn't alone. Quarterback Gus Welch was blessed with a slight-of-hand that brilliantly confused defenders. In a signature style, Welch would call out a play by muttering just a few words, or by using hand gestures and snapping the ball before the defense had a chance to get set.

Despite the racial tensions of the era, this Carlisle team carried a true swagger on the field, often taunting opposing player and making funny remarks as the game progressed. After one play where the referee gave Carlisle a bad spot with the ball, one player remarked, “What's the use of crying about a few inches when the white man has taken the whole country?” In another contest, with their opponent's defense left exhausted from the constant speedy barrage, the quarterback Welch taunted defenders by declaring, “We're going to run the ball to the right.” They did, and despite the warning of their intentions, gained 20 yards. Carlisle's style of play led the nation in scoring, marching its way past East Coast dynasties such as Syracuse, Georgetown, and Pittsburgh.

For years, the U.S. government had opposed a matchup between these two teams. Only a generation before, General Custer had been defeated in the Battle of Little Bighorn. It had been a little over two decades since the U.S. Army had attacked the Lakota tribe at Wounded Knee. Feelings were still raw. Only a few weeks earlier, The New York Times had reported, “When Indian outbreaks in the West were frequent the Government officials thought it unwise to have the aborigines and future officers combat in athletics, but this state has passed.” The game would be allowed. Make no mistake; this game was for far more than national bragging rights. This game would be a clash of football theologies and the first real challenge to the traditional style of power football. All from an upstart team with a dynamic new approach.

Leading the way on the Carlisle sideline stood Coach “Pop” Warner, a grumpy curmudgeon of a man who often paced up and down the sidelines, with a hand-rolled lit cigarette dangling from his mouth. The forty-two-year-old coach, with his dark curly hair and barrel chest, had long waited for this game. Despite his disheveled appearance, Warner was at heart a brilliant tactician. On this day, he had a few surprises in store for the Army team.

It had been Warner himself who had once dismissed Jim Thorpe for not being adequate enough to play football. When Thorpe first showed up at Carlisle, he was just another gangly kid in overalls. One day, waling casually across the athletic field, Thorpe ran up to the school's high-jump bar and cleared it with ease. Other track athletes could only stand by in awe. Thorpe had just cleared 5'3”, a height that would have been a school record. When word of the jump reached Warner, the coach reached out to Thorpe to turn out for track. The eighteen-year-old Thorpe had recently lost his father, so with the promise of playing sports and fatherly approach of Warner, Thorpe would be convinced to stay at Carlisle to finish his education.

As the Carlisle track coach, Warner knew Thorpe could be something special, and he trained him all the way through to the Olympics. But it was on the football field where Thorpe could really shine. An athletic specimen with amazing speed who could do it all--dodge opponents with a crafty ability to switch direction, or power his way through, carrying players 10 yards down the field--Thorpe could also pull up and throw the ball 60 yards, or kick it just as far. Bur in the beginning, Warner did not want the boy to play football. “I'm sorry, son, but you're just not big enough,” he once told the young Thorpe. Pointing to players getting ready to practice, Thorpe gestured for Warner to give him the ball, saying, “Oh, c'mon coach; you have to give me a chance.” Reluctantly, Warner agreed. The drill involved trying to weave through some three dozen players on the field. Thorpe took off like a jackrabbit, running left, then stopping short, and quickly shooting off in the other direction. Running virtually untouched, Thorpe continued on until most of the players gave up out of exhaustion. Rambling back up the sidelines, he tossed Warner the ball, saying, “I gave them some good practice, didn't I, Pop?” Warner just stood there amazed. He had no choice but to let Thorpe on the team.

Warner himself had traveled to tribes all across the country, convincing mothers and fathers to let him bring their sons to Carlisle. Young Native Americans--some of them from the poorest edges of the country--were now forged together as a team. Their differences had become their strength. Their victories had given them character.

But to Coach Warner on this day in November, something was not quite right with his usually brash team. Walking into the locker room, he found his twenty-two men huddled together, quiet and sullen. Only Jim Thorpe was standing, and nervously pacing around the wooden benches. The players had long since laced up their ankle-high, leather, cleated shoes with thick soles, while their baggy wool pants with the smell of the long football season clung close to their skin. On the front of their sweaters was a large C, and flannel was stuffed around their shoulders for padding. Leather helmets sat waiting with flap-ears, each well-worn into the shape of each player's head after a season of play. Time was running out just before kick-off. Warner wasn't one for big speeches, but looking into his players' eyes, he knew they needed something that would help them stand for themselves—something to set aside the fear of playing against the U.S. Army.

Stepping before them with a fierce look of determination, Warner spoke, “On every play, I want all of you to remember one thing: your fathers and your grandfathers are the ones who fought their fathers. These men playing against you today are soldiers. They are the Long Knives. You are Indians. Tonight, we will know if you are warriors. Let's go!” With that, the players leaped up in unison, heading outside with new determination.

As Warner glanced around the stadium, he must have been struck be a seemingly colorless landscapeas the teams warmed up on the field. The football stands were almost uniformly gray, the color the wool tunics of the West Point cadets on hand to cheer their team. Intense anticipation came from the cadet side of the field as well. Eisenhower himself had long awaited this contest, believing he would be the one to knock Thorpe from the game. Having won the toss, Carlisle would receive. The crowd roared as the high kick landed into the hands of Jim Thorpe on the 15-yard line. Racing up the middle, he would be brought down on the 30-yard line.

Warner had sent scouts ahead to watch the Cadets play, so he knew their favorite tactic was to push straight up the middle on defense. He had to smile. His team had been working on a new formation for weeks, for just this moment. As Warner's Carlisle boys line up, quarterback Gus Welch called out the first audible, causing the backs to split out to both sides. It would be football's first double-wing formation, one that Warner had devised just for this contest. His plan was to neutralize Army's strength by buttoning it up from the outside. The winds, near the line of scrimmage, would effectively seal in the outside tackles. This formation also multiplied the number of options available to the team for sweeps, reverses, or any number of pitches or passes.

On the very first play, Carlisle quarterback Gus Welch pitched the ball out to his halfback Alex Arcasa, who sprinted from right to left for 15 yards behind the blocking of Thorpe. No sooner was he down than the team sprinted back into formation without pausing to huddle. With the same formation, another wide pitch was open to Arcasa, running to the right. Suddenly, the back stopped, looked left, and threw the ball to the other side of the field to Thorpe for a 15-yard pass. Just like that, Carlisle had moved the ball into Army territory for a first down, a feat few teams had accomplished that season. Pop Warner smiled to himself. “The shifting, puzzling and dazzling attack of the Carlisle Indians had the Cadets bordering on a panic,” The New York Tribune would report.

Three plays later, Carlisle used the same play. As Army chased Arcasa to the right, he pulled up and passed again to Thorpe, who was out in the open field. This time, Army linebacker Dwight Eisenhower was ready. Taking a bead on the speedy runner, Eisenhower saw his chance and put a huge hit on Thorpe. He wasn't alone. From the other side, a second Army player reached Thorpe at the exact same moment. The massive collision could be heard from the stands. Thorpe was stunned and lost the ball. Army would recover deep in its own territory.

As the play cleared, Warner's heart sank. There lay Jim Thorpe, rolling on the ground in pain, holding his right shoulder. The Army tradition of trying to knock a man out of the game appeared to have worked. Warner and others raced to Thorpe's side. The first thing the coach did was to feel along Thorpe's shoulder blade to see whether there were any breaks--there weren't. The referee pointed to his watch and said, “Coach, we'll need to move him on a stretcher.”

“Hell's bells, Mr. Referee,” said Lenore, the Army Captain, “let's give him all the time he needs.”

It was in that singular moment that everything changed.

Thorpe jumped to his feet as if nothing had happened and ran to the sideline, lightly rubbing his shoulder. The attempt by the Army captain to be gracious appeared to have struck Thorpe as condescending. From that point on, Thorpe played with a heightened sense of determination. Angered by what had happened, Carlisle fullback Stancil “Possum” Powell punched the Armey quarterback Vern Pritchard. Powell was ejected from the game, and the penalty gave Army the ball at the Indians' 25-yard line.

The Cadets lined up for their power style of play. Briefly, it seemed Carlisle's defense might hold. The defenders rarely stayed still before the snap, which gave the Army offense trouble in figuring out just whom they were supposed to block. But Army answered by switching to a tight, sweeping formation. A powerful flow of men and movement followed by the running back Dwight Eisenhower eagerly flattened any defender along the way. In just a few plays, Army had its first down on the Carlisle 15-yard line. Almost with ease, Eisenhower again took the ball and followed his blockers around the right side untouched, marching deftly into the end zone. Army took an early 6-0 lead, a botched extra point attempt and the only mark against a flawless drive. The sound of cannon rocked the stadium from the south end zone. Fans celebrated in the stands, believing the game was well in hand. With little emotion, the Army players simply dusted themselves off and lined up to kick.

Unlike most teams of the day, Carlisle used completely different players for offense and defense, giving Warner a freshly rested team for each change of possession. On offense, the full force of Warner's coaching chicanery came into view. Sweeps suddenly turned into reverses. Grand gestures to take the ball into the line left defenders rushing forward to make a tackle on players who suddenly didn't have the ball. A simple pitch by quarterback Welch to Arcasa sprinting to the right became a reverse to a sprinting Thorpe going left. When Army seemed to have the runner corralled in the backfield, Carlisle would suddenly stop and throw the ball deep downfield. Play after play, the offense appeared to be performing a well-rehearsed ballet. Soon, Carlisle found itself on the Army 8-yard line. The drive would end as strangely as it had begun: a trick play where the center snapped the ball, dropped back to block, then while the backs took off in both directions, Quarterback Gus Welch faked left, then right, then quietly handed the ball to his blocking center, who charged up the middle for an easy score. With the extra point, it was now Carlisle in the lead 7-6. Fans grew silent at this sudden change.

When the Carlisle defense returned to the field, its players resumed their constantly moving style of play, using their speed and agility to maneuver around the power blocking attack. Defenders stepped away from powerful blocks only to nip at the running backs from the side. Army could still move the ball, but it could only manage a few yards at a time. Suddenly, Army found itself failing to make a first down. Carlisle would take a one-point lead into halftime.

In the locker room, the Army players were frustrated with their performance. Eisenhower pulled aside his fellow linebackers to make plans to “take out” Thorpe. Fans often referred to it as “the ol' one-two,” with one player striking up high in the chest, the other taking out the legs. It was a devious plan that had been used effectively this season, and it would now be used against Carlisle's most powerful weapon.

Thorpe seemed stronger in the second half than in the first. On the team's first possession, Thorpe sprinted from side to side, knocking defenders to the ground with a devastating stiff arm. When it seemed army had Thorpe cornered, he would suddenly pull up and throw the ball deep with surprising accuracy. When he didn't have the ball, he proved to be a devastating blocker. With his team lined up near the end zone, Thorpe and Joe Guyon doubled up on Army's leading tackler, Leland Devore, with a surprising powerful blow. Right behind them, the Carlisle running back Arcasa all but strolled into end zone, giving his team a 14-6 lead.

The block left Devore enraged. On the ensuing kick-off, Devore appeared to take his frustrations out by running full speed into Carlisle's Guyon, who never saw the blow coming. Devore's hit drove the smaller player to the ground and left him unconscious. Pandemonium threatened to take over the game as emotions now ran high. After a brief huddle, the referees ejected Devore for “unsportsmanlike conduct.” Eisenhower knew that without his best blocker and best defender, the game would be on his shoulders. His plan to take out Thorpe seemed even more critical to the outcome. After three plays, Army was forced to punt. With Carlisle back on offense, Ike would have his chance.

Nearly everyone in the stands knew that on first down, Thorpe would be getting the ball. On the snap, Welch spun around to buy Thorpe a moment for the blockers to do their work. The Carlisle offense continued to weave in a series of confusing misdirection movements, timed to open up a hole in the middle of the Army line that Thorpe raced through at full speed. This was the moment Eisenhower and Hobbs had waited for. The two linebackers lowered their heads with a full burst of energy, smashing into Thorpe from two sides. Eisenhower would later say it was among the hardest hits he had ever delivered. The collision could be heard from the top of the stands.

As the whistle sounded, players moved back to reveal all three men lying face down on the ground. Thorpe appeared to have taken the brunt of the punishment. For the moment, it appeared Eisenhower and Hobbs had won; they had just taken down the greatest athlete of their time. But that moment of victory quickly vanished as Thorpe jumped to his feet and ran back behind the line as if nothing had happened. Gus Welch was among the first to stop him. “You O.K.?” he asked. Thorpe, nodding his head, appeared to be completely unfazed, even eager to keep moving forward. The other two men were slow to get up.

A few plays later, Thorpe sprinted straight into the heart of the Army defense once again. Head down, he knew the punishment headed his way. Eisenhower eagerly raced forward to finish the job. This time, it would be Ike's teammate Charles Benedict who flew into the melee. All three barreled straight toward each other in a repeat of the exact same collision. Eisenhower couldn't believe he was getting a second chance. With even more determination than before, he propelled himself toward the sprinting Thorpe.

Yet at the very instant the trio would collide, something changed. Thorpe went from a full-speed run into an immediate stop. The Army linebackers, already committed to a violent collision, slammed directly into each other with a tremendous force. Thorpe, with an almost comical gesture, stopped, and then cut around the pair for another substantial gain. Tossing the ball back to the referee, he glanced back to see the two Army linebackers writhing on the ground, dazed and nearly unconscious. As Eisenhower regained his sense, he tried to stand only to feel a shooting pain ripping through his right knee. Benedict stumbled over to the sidelines. Eisenhower tried to stay in the game, but on the very next play, he would be removed by the Army coach.

With the power trio from Army off the field, Thorpe played the game of his life—at one point twisting into the air to snag a pass from Welch that was well over his head. Another touchdown gave Carlisle a 21-6 lead. Eisenhower, with his leg wrapped in an ice bag, could watch no more, and carrying his helmet, he wandered away from the field of play. When it was all over, Carlisle would win the game 28-6. Sportswriters swarmed all around Thorpe, who had just run for over 200 yards against one of the nation's best teams. He was now raised to elite status among the most popular football athletes of his day. As for Dwight Eisenhower, the disappointment was crushing. His roommate and closest friend would write that he had “lost interest in life,” and was content merely to exist until graduation set him free.

On the train ride home from the game, Pop Warner couldn't stop himself from smiling. He had achieved more than he had ever imagined possible. His tactics had paid off. His validation was right there on the train in front of him. As the train moved along, the team gathered around a white-haired man who had shown a keen interest in their performance. His name was Walter Camp, the former Yale quarterback, a former coach and advanced tactician in his own right, whom many hailed as “The Father of Football.” His words carried enormous weight in newspaper columns and football forums. Every year, his own personal selection for All-American football players was printed in newspapers across the land. And here he sat, listening intently to every word, occasionally offering up his own thoughts and insights. “Your quarterback calls the plays too fast,” Camp offered. “He doesn't study the defense.” To which Jim Thorpe himself answered: “How can he study the defense when there isn't any.” Camp listened, and then he spoke openly of how the game might be forever changed. He was intrigued by the possibilities of the wing formation used by Carlisle.

As the train carried the men back to their school and student life, no one realized that Camp's account of the game would be picked up by newspapers and publications nationwide. His words would inspire a new way of thinking about the game. This game had proven that speed and strategy could overcome power and strength. In truth, this victory would change college football, inspiring coaches and leaders alike.

From this single game would be born a dream--a dream that would profoundly change the lives of those living 2,500 miles away in the eastern Washington town of Pullman.

Home to Washington State College.

Table of Contents

Cast of Characters 7

Preface 11

Chapter 1 Beginnings 13

Chapter 2 Oregon 77

Chapter 3 Oregon Agricultural College 97

Chapter 4 Idaho 123

Chapter 5 Montana 141

Chapter 6 Whitman 159

Chapter 7 Gonzaga 173

Chapter 8 Rose Bowl 195

Chapter 9 Endings 237

Bibliography 249

Customer Reviews