Time for WSU to claim 1915 national title

BACK IN NOVEMBER, Cougar fan Michael Baumgartner made a strong case here on CF.C for Washington State being named football national champions for the 1915 season. WSC went undefeated in that campaign and capped it with a victory over Brown in the first of the continuous Rose Bowl games. I recently found compelling evidence to support Mr. Baumgartner's argument.

Cornell is recognized as the 1915 title holder, but that honor was "awarded" to them in ham-handed fashion two decades later. First, in 1933, a former Ivy League player named Parke Davis published his hand-picked choices for national champions in those seasons before the Associated Press and United Press began doing polls. And then in 1941, when the Helms Athletic Foundation decided it was going to give an annual award to college football's best team, it deemed it better if they had some history behind them so retroactively ranked champions from 1883 on. They, too, chose Cornell in 1915.

The evidence I found that gives Washington State claim to the 1915 national title comes from information and opinion produced that same season, not 18 or 25 years later by random East Coast interests (the Helms group was based out of New York and Parke Davis was a Princeton man).

The contemporary, real-time case for Washington State actually starts in the Northwest, where Portland Oregonian sports editor Roscoe Fawcett deduced in early December 1915 that Washington State should be named national champions by the use of comparative scores -- a method widely used and considered more credible in those days than now.

"Washington State beat the Oregon Aggies 29-0; the Aggies beat the Michigan Aggies 20-0; the Michigan Aggies beat Michigan University 24-0; ergo, Washington State is 73 points better than Michigan. Investigating further, Syracuse beat Michigan 14-7 and Princeton beat Syracuse 3-0, so Washington State has a 63-point margin over Princeton. Also, on comparative scores, Washington State is 50 points superior to Harvard and 64 points superior to Yale, gauged by Washington and Jefferson scores with Yale and Lafayette."
Indeed, Washington State – under the direction of fabled head coach William "Lone Star" Dietz -- concluded the regular season by outscoring opponents 204 to 10.

Dietz and troops in Pasadena, 1916.

By Christmas, Eastern newspapers were taking notice of Washington State. The Providence Journal in Rhode Island, picking up on the Oregonian's theme, noted that WSC had beaten Oregon State, which had beaten a great Michigan State team, which in turn had beaten the fearsome Michigan eleven coached by legendary Fielding Yost.

The Philadelphia Bulletin opined, "The long list of aspirants to the football championship of the United States for 1915 has now been cut to Cornell, Pittsburgh and Washington State College."

Prior to the Rose Bowl, The Providence Journal interjected, "…if the Washington Staters pile up a 20 or 30 score on Brown, the Philadelphia Bulletin's trio of championship aspirants will be narrowed down to about one – the Washington State College of Pullman town in the heart of the far and distant wheat-growing West. Of course, the East could never admit the possibility of such a thing. But 20 or 30 to 0 on Brown would read that way, and figures are not always liars…. Suppose that Brown fails to upset the dope in the Pasadena game – what will the East say? Not very much in all probability."

How prophetic.

Washington State, on the strength of a rushing performance that would stay in the record book for decades, beats Brown 14-0 on a muddy field and earns headlines across the land, but no mythical national title. Walter Eckersall, the game's referee and the country's best known official of that era, proclaimed afterward that "Washington State's team was the equal of Cornell's eleven."

Two decades later the crimson half of that equation was dubiously forgotten.

Now, 90 years later, it's time to right the wrong. Washington State has a valid claim to the 1915 national championship and the Cougar athletic department needs to proclaim it for the world to see in the form of a large banner inside Martin Stadium.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Tom Benjey lives in Carlisle, Pa., where he just finished writing a book about the life and times of legendary Washington State coach Lone Star Dietz. For more information, click to www.LoneStarDietz.com. Benjey reports that people are offering unsolicited suggestions as to what actor should play Lone Star if the book is turned into a movie. If you have any thoughts, let Benjey know at LoneStarDietz@pa.net.

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