'65 Cougs pushed to limit by nasty Bert Clark

SPOKANE -- Bigger. Faster. Certainly more sophisticated. Not tougher. College football was rarely if ever a tougher game than it was in their time and place, the Pullman of 1964 and '65, when the Washington State Cougars were pushed to the limits of strength and will.

The breaking point sapped their numbers at an almost alarming rate. Forty years later, at the reunion of the legendary ‘65 team, players were still judging head coach Bert Clark, the hard man who hardened a losing team into the 7-3 Cardiac Kids.

Wayne Foster was a first-team All-America defensive tackle partly because of the toughness instilled by Clark and his assistants. Foster's opinion, in the course of a brief conversation at a recent Cardiac Kids reunion, worked its way from sarcastic to supportive. It's never easy for players to put coaches in absolute black-and-white focus. It may be impossible with Clark. The line between respect and hatred was crossed too many times in that late summer of '64, when Clark's punishing tactics --- perhaps bordering on sadistic --- drove out player after player.

What'd you think?

"Bert? He was a wonderful dresser," Foster smiled. "Absolutely. I wished I could have owned one of his ties."

That bad?

"It was the times," said Foster, who was recruited out of South Kitsap High in Port Orchard by then-head coach Jim Sutherland. Sutherland was fired after the '63 season to make way for the hard-charging Clark.

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"It was tough, blood-and-guts football," Foster said. "Over the years people have hit on him. He pushed me, his coaches pushed me, and they did a good job."

Clark came in after assisting Jim Owens for seven years at Washington.

"Culture shock? It was more like a 7.5 earthquake," Foster said. "From throwing the nice little easy passes to the Death March thing. We lost 70 players in the first year and a half. The guys who stayed were great family. We were fearless."

What separated Cougar practice from others?

"We used to have a bunker that was made out of railroad ties and 12-by-12s," Foster said. "It weighed 1,200 pounds. It had a bit of a cushion in front. We'd hit it with our heads. Get in our stance and see how far we could move it, with our heads."

Twice-daily practices in the August heat became three and four-a-days, Foster said.

"We'd get up at 4 in the morning, have a glass of juice, be out there before sunrise, then have breakfast. It went on and on, to 9 at night. It was nothing to lose 10-15 pounds, and try to get it back. We had ways of getting our weight back. Then we'd go on to the next drudgery."

Bob Trygstad played on the defensive front with Foster. Trygstad puts an interesting spin on WSU's transition from Sutherland to Clark.

"I was recruited by Sutherland and then the Nazis came over."

Trygstad remembers a team of 150 being whittled down to 33. By the end of camp, the ones who weren't kicked off the island eventually flew east to upset Iowa. Stories of endurance are hardening into legend but there is no debate that football is far different since the days when players were meat on the hoof.

"You couldn't miss practice," Trygstad said. "We had a player named Dave Thomas. He had hemorhoids cut out on a Tuesday morning, He practiced that night with blood all over his pants. He had a blood transfusion on a Friday, before we played Oregon State on Saturday. Friday we had a two-hour scrimmage, in the snow, before the game the next day. Bert Clark and his band of beauties. He thought we were all a bunch of pussies. He said, ‘You threw the ball (under Sutherland). We're not going to throw the ball.' That first year he didn't care how many we won, but how many we could hurt."

"THE HELMET WAS A weapon," Foster said. "We started a game on defense with what we called Square, where we hit a man right in the helmet with our head. We would drop guys to their knees. We broke facemasks, mostly theirs but I broke mine once. It was a new technique, a force they'd never seen. It was a devastating weapon."

The emphasis on toughness paid off in Year Two, 1965, of Clark's four-year regime when the Cougs were easily good enough to go to a bowl game and narrowly missed a berth in Pasadena. West Coast schools in those days were allowed to play in only one post-season game, the Rose Bowl.

Foster remembers catching a break in a 14-13 win at Minnesota.

"It's not on film, no one saw it and I've never really talked about, but they ran a sweep," he said. "A couple of guys knocked me to the left, then to the right. Looked like the halfback could go all the way. I got a finger in between the ball and the halfback's hands. I pulled the ball out. It was as far as I could reach. It looks like he's just running downfield and drops it. Nothing big, just a finger, but little things like that made a difference."

The Clark Way


Wind sprints until you puke

After losing the 1967 season opener to USC 49-0, the Cougs returned home from L.A. in the wee hours of the morning and ordered by Clark to run 50-yard wind sprints until a sufficient number, in his eyes, had vomited.

The 27-9 loss to the Huskies is a permanent nick in the plating of this team. What happened?

"They did a wonderful job offensively against us," Foster said. "I guess it was the first time they had had pictures sent down immediately from the press box. They could see some of our weaknesses, which were probably considerable. They hit us with three passes over the top that did us in. I don't remember anybody beating me but we made our mistakes. We had chances."

Still, the Cardiac Kids occupy a prominent niche in the history of Cougar football.

RUNNING BACK BOB SIMPSON made the tough transition from small town star at Reardan to major-college skill player. It wasn't easy.

"I was in Clark's (first) freshman class," Simpson said. "Four years later, seven of us out of that group were left. That was the attrition. Whether we were strong or stupid, we hung in. It was Oklahoma-style football. We've got memories to share."

Foster agrees.

"I've waited years and years for something like this (reunion) to happen," Foster said. "This grouping. We're back together, finally."

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