One-of-a-kind Coug humble about his feats

SPOKANE VALLEY – Bud Roffler listened to the question, gave it careful consideration, then provided an answer that was almost as elusive as he was during his playing days at Washington State. The question, which eyewitnesses insist is still relevant six decades after Roffler performed as a three-sport athlete at WSU and Lewis and Clark High before that, was straight forward yet loaded.

Was he the greatest all-around athlete in Spokane high school history?

"Well," he said, smiling softly as he averted his eyes from the stranger, "I really don't know. There's been a lot of good ones.

"I was a pretty good one."

Well, yes. Much like Babe Ruth was a "pretty good" baseball player. And Paul Newman was a "pretty good actor." And Abraham Lincoln was a "pretty good" president.

Of course, it really doesn't matter if Roffler was as good an all-around athlete in high school as fellow Cougar Mark Rypien, or Baseball Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg, each of whom also starred in three sports. No one questions that all three were tremendous. And if you throw in John Stockton, a Basketball Hall of Famer who also played some pretty good infield at Gonzaga Prep, you've got one impressive quad.

The debate, though, makes for good cross-generational conversation.

One issue is undebatable, however: Roffler grew up in a simpler time -- if the World War II and Korean War eras can be considered simpler -- particularly when it came to sports.

He found instant stardom at Lewis and Clark, but wasn't even going to turn out for football after moving to town from his native Pine City, in Whitman County, the summer before his sophomore year. Word got out about his considerable talent and soon LC and rival North Central were jockeying for his services.

"Bud lived in the North Central neighborhood, but you weren't bound by geography -- you could go to any school you wanted," remembers Stan Witter, the senior captain of LC's football team in 1945. "There was only one rule: Once you stepped onto a football field for the first day of practice you were committed to that school. So Skip Louderback, our coach, called in August and said my first act as captain was to get Bud to practice at Hart Field on September 1.

"I had played baseball against Bud that summer and I also knew his cousin, so the odds were on our side."

ASK ROFFLER ABOUT weight training, and the former WSU two-way football standout and NFL cornerback quickly replies, "I never did lift weights. I was on the move all the time. I played football, basketball and baseball all my life."

Most major-conference football players now spend their summers working out on campus and attending classes. As for Roffler ... "I played (semipro) baseball in the summers."

Roffler's NFL career was brief -- three games with Philadelphia in 1954 before a concussion suffered in an auto accident shortened his career -- and his path to the pros was different than that of today's athletes.

Roffler was drafted by the Green Bay Packers in the 10th round in 1952, but he was also drafted by the U.S. Army before he got to the NFL. He played on a national military championship football team at Fort Ord, Calif., and he remains grateful for the experience.

"I was just so tickled to play," he said with a laugh, "because I just knew I was going to get sent to Korea to get shot at."

ANOTHER SIGN OF THE changing times is the virtual elimination of three-sport athletes at larger colleges and high schools. Roffler played football, basketball and baseball at WSU and Lewis and Clark, and he bemoans the lack of three-sport athletes these days, particularly at the prep level.

"I would have been very upset if I couldn't have played all three of them," Roffler said. "I see no reason why you can't. I mean, what the hell? If you've got the talent, play it. I don't think they (coaches) let them play it because they don't think they'd be as good. I don't believe that."

Not only did Roffler play three sports at WSU -- he was a guard in basketball for Jack Friel and a center fielder in baseball for Buck Bailey -- but he played everywhere in football. He was a halfback, safety, place-kicker, punter and kick returner. He still holds the WSU career record of 13 yards per punt return.

"They didn't need anybody else!" joked Maggie Roffler, Bud's wife of 52 years.

Roffler capped his Cougar career by rushing for 132 yards in his final game as a Cougar, a 27-25 win at No. 17 Washington in 1951.

"Bud did it all that day," remembers Witter. "As individual performances go, it has to rank among the best in Apple Cup history. Offense, defense, special teams -- he was making plays all over the field."

Coached by College Football Hall of Famer Forest Evashevski, the Cougars finished 7-3 that season and were ranked 18th in the final Associated Press poll. Roffler earned selection to the East-West Shrine Game.

He's 80 years old now but remains as loyal a Cougar as ever. He regularly attends home games with Maggie, and the Cougar logo is prominently displayed in front of the couple's longtime home in Spokane Valley.

Roffler sees better days ahead for the Cougars and says the athletic department generally is headed in the right direction under Bill Moos.

Rofler raves about the warm personality of Moos, who frequently meets with prospective Cougars during their campus visits. Alas, even the charismatic Moos probably can't convince a future Cougar to start on offense and defense, punt, kick field goals and extra points and return kicks.

Bud Roffler might not have been one of a kind, but he almost certainly was the last of his kind.


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