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The 1960 national championship and the black athlete
Richard Linde, 21 April 2007

Jim Owens’ 1960 football team will be honored during the halftime of the USC game (Sept 29) as national champions. Minnesota, which was named the national champion by polls taken before the bowl games, lost to the Huskies, 17-7, in the 1961 Rose Bowl. (Photo: Coach Jim Owens and quarterback Bob Schloredt).

Mississippi, which was ranked second behind Minnesota going into the bowl games, concluded the season with a better record (10-0-1) than Washington.

In fact, HickokSports.com lists Minnesota and Mississippi as co-champions for the 1960 season.

The Helms Athletic Foundation (HAF) poll, which was taken after the bowl games, voted UW national champions that year. The HAF, based in Los Angeles, used a panel of experts to name a national champion every year from 1883 to 1982.

Why doesn’t Mississippi have as much claim to the 1960 championship as Washington? Mississippi had a better record than the Huskies and was the number two team going into the bowl games, the HAF poll notwithstanding.

Answer: Mississippi of the SEC didn’t have any African Americans on its football team and that should be reason enough to exclude it from championship consideration in my opinion.

In 1966, Nat Northington, who went to Kentucky, became the SEC’s first black football player.

Mississippi didn't suit up an African American until 1971, after it recruited Ben Williams.

Aside from its racial import, not recruiting African Americans meant that Mississippi, as well as the SEC, did not recruit their population base as well as they could have; that is, the SEC did not recruit the most talented players available. Fielding an integrated team in those days meant, however, having just a handful of blacks on a team. 

Jim Owens’ 1960 team had four blacks on its roster (i.e., Joe Jones, Charlie Mitchell and two all-conference selections, Ray Jackson and George Fleming). The AAWU was a non-segregated conference and although small in number, most of the African Americans who played in the AAWU made their presence felt.

For example, Willie Wood of USC, the conference's first black quarterback, led USC to a victory over Owens’ 1959 team, tagging UW with its only loss of the season, 22-15. Later, Wood would go on to becoming a dominating defensive back for the Green Bay Packers.

Going way back in time, baseball legend Jackie Robinson led UCLA to a win over UW in 1939 (see historical notes below).

None of the racial unrest that surrounded the Huskies in 1968 surfaced with the 1960 team (see historical notes below and an article on Jim Owens.)

Mississippi’s schedule in 1960 consisted of these segregated powerhouses: Houston, Kentucky, Memphis, Vanderbilt, Tulane, Arkansas, LSU, Tennessee-Chattanooga (non div-1A), Mississippi State, and Rice.

UW’s only loss in 1960 was to Navy, 15-14, and eventual Heisman Trophy winner Joe Bellino (5'9", 181). The Middies won in the last seconds of the game via a 32-yard field goal. Charlie Mitchell and Joe Jones, both African Americans, combined for 107 yards on 21 carries, out-dueling Bellino, as a combo, who had 53 yards on 14 carries.

Missouri (10-1) might have a legitimate claim to the 1960 national championship since it beat Navy, 21-14, in the Orange Bowl. The Tigers were named number one by the Poling Poll. UW's claim rests with the more venerable HAF poll and the fact it beat then-number-one Minnesota.

National champions still rise from the ashes, with the alchemy of evolution preserved in a complex formula. In saner times, sportswriters used the term, "the mythical national championship." Nowadays, declaring a national championship, at least half of the time, is an accepted fact, even though there is no playoff system in effect. In my opinion, Florida was the mythical national champion last season, not the real one. 

We've gone from "mythical," to "BCS," to just plain "champion" in our national thinking. 

Because so much emphasis is placed on winning a mythical national championship nowadays, going back in time and claiming what is rightfully yours is hardly a nutty notion; rather it is a keen idea that smacks of perspicacity. It's as good an idea as any other floating around :)

Some asterisks must be considered -- including race discrimination, strength of schedule, the polls, and who beat whom -- but all in all, the 1960 Dawgs that year were the best of the best in my mind. Our national champion is as good as yours, who is to prove otherwise. We'll make our case, and let you decide.

Without the considerable contribution of four African Americans -- FB Joe Jones, FB Ray Jackson, HB/K George Fleming and HB Charlie Mitchell -- laying claim to the 1960 national championship would best be left to another realm of the infinite universe.

With each passing  year, the statue of Jim Owens fronting Husky Stadium rises a bit more above the controversy that clouds its legacy, for, as they say, time heals all wounds.

The1960 National Champions and the polls:

  • Iowa (8-1, lost to Minnesota): Berryman, Boand, Litkenhous, Sagarin

  • Minnesota (8-2, lost to UW, Purdue): AP, FB News, NFF, UPI

  • Mississippi (10-0-1, tied by LSU): Billingsley, DeVold, Dunkel, Football Research, FW, National Championship Foundation, Williamson

  • Missouri (10-1, lost to Kansas): Poling

  • Washington (10-1, lost to Navy): Helms Athletic Foundation

Historical notes:

-- By the mid-1960's, black athletes were participating in sports from which they had been previously excluded. Still, large pockets of racism remained. For example, in parts of the south, some of the teams refused to play teams that had black players. Conversely, teams from other parts of the country refused to play southern teams that excluded black players.

At Washington, three incidents of racial revolt, occurring over a span of three years, began in 1968. Unfair treatment of black athletes at the university surfaced after Harry Edwards, a black Sociology professor at San Jose State, visited the Washington campus in 1968. Edwards is the author of the book, “The Revolt of the Black Athlete.” (1969).

1.   1.   The racial unrest at the UW was made public in March 1968 by Life Magazine. Thirteen African American players, who apparently were led by halfback Harvey Blanks, made four demands of the university and its athletic department. Two of the demands were met.

2.   2   On October 29, 1969, four black players protested the demotion of black halfback Landy Harrell to second string. Harrell then quit the team over his punishment, which required him to run the steps of Husky Stadium twice for fumbling twice against Oregon in a 22-7 loss the previous week. The four of them had other grievances as well and persuaded the other blacks on the team to boycott the UCLA game, a game in which the Huskies lost, 57-14.

3.    3  On October 20, 1970, AD Joe Kearny said the relationship between the athletic department and black athletes was substantially improved. That afternoon, Owens suspended black halfback Mark Wheeler for missing two practices. Two days after the Washington State game, Wheeler (never returning to the team), Ira Hampton, Charles Evans and Calvin Jones left the team. Their leaving triggered an investigation by the Board of Regents into racial practices at the university. The Human Rights Commission, which had been working on the problems since April, recommended that Owens and Kearny leave the school so that the racial problems could be resolved. [Rockne].

Later, Ray Jackson, who had played in Owens’ two Rose Bowl victories, was hired as an assistant coach and former Seattle sportswriter Donald K. Smith was hired as associate athletic director.

Smith said that the firing of Owens and AD Joe Kearny would not solve the racial situation, that its roots went much deeper than just those two men, and that it was a problem that existed elsewhere in the country. Smith managed to restore peace and order to the Huskies’ football program, and racial unrest at other college campuses began to wane.

-- USC's all black backfield, consisting of Jimmy Jones, running back Clarence Davis, and fullback Sam “Bam” Cunningham, traveled to Dixieland on September 12, 1970 and thrashed Alabama, 42-21. Not only was Sam Cunningham a powerful runner, but he was the first player in college football to go over the top during a goal line stand. Later, former Bear Bryant assistant coach Jerry Claiborne noted, “Sam Cunningham did more to integrate Alabama in 60 minutes that night than Martin Luther King had accomplished in 20 years.”

-- Baseball pioneer Jackie Robinson played football in Husky Stadium on October 7, 1939, as part of a UCLA backfield consisting of three black athletes, who were part of a four-man unit. Robinson played wingback. According to Dan Raley of the Seattle P-I, "The Huskies didn't have any black players on the field that day. Just three had suited up for them in previous seasons." UW lost 14-7.

In his article, "Baseball pioneer Robinson played football at UW in '39," Raley goes on to say, "Robinson shared the football and racial billing with Kenny Washington, the best football player of this threesome and first black to appear in a game in the NFL, and Woodrow Wilson Strode, who later became an actor, playing Tarzan among his many roles."

-- In 2004, USC honored its 1939 football team, declaring them national champions during the halftime of its game with Notre Dame. The '39 team (8-0-2) allowed just 33 points all season long, still a school record, and blanked Tennessee (10-1) in the 1940 Rose Bowl, 14-0. USC and UCLA played to a 0-0 tie in 1939.

-- The latest on Jim Owens? Recently, I heard, that Owens has moved his residence from Big Fork, Montana to Walla Walla, Washington. He retired from Washington after the 1974 season.

-- Quarterback Bob Schloredt, who broke his collar bone in the fifth game of the 1960 season, returned to the field during the 1961 Rose Bowl.

-- Lettermen from the 1960 team: Dick Agguire, Andy Alkire, Chuck Allen, Barry Bullard,Tim Bullard, Stan Chapple, Pat Claridge, Ben Davidson, Dick Dunn, Dave Enslow, George Fleming, Lee Folkins, Kurt Gegner, Bob Hivner, Sam Hurworth, Ray Jackson, Joe Jones, Kermit Jorgenson, Bill Kinnune, Duane Locknane, Ray Mansfield, John Meyers, Charlie Mitchell, Bob Monroe, Ray McKasson, Don McKeta, Dave Phillips, Rod Scheyer, Bob Schloredt, Jim Skaggs, Brent Wooten. Don Nelson played against Minnesota but lettered in the 1961 season.

Reference:

[Rockne]. Rockne, Dick, "Bow Down To Washington," The Strode Publishers, 1975.

Malamute can be reached at malamute@4malamute.com

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