The Sobering Sixties

LIKE THE NATION itself, Washington State football was changing in a big way in the 1960s. At the start of it all, Camelot graced the White House, Fred Flintstone was hot, "I'll cry if I want to" was as deep as it got on the rock charts, and Cougar football was an aerial extravaganza.

By decade's end, a song about assassination topped the charts, a man was on the moon, riots were standard on the nightly news, and the option veer was all the rage in Pullman.

With crew cuts and a multi-talented back nicknamed the Moose of the Palouse on one end, long hair and a Smilin' Irishman at the other, the 1960s offered the Cougar faithful a wide-ranging plate of near-misses, a mountain of woe and, best of all, one big nail-biting season to remember.

In the second of a periodic series recapping every season of Cougar football, here's how it all shaped up on the crimson field during the ten seasons from 1960-69.

CF.C Offensive Player of the DecadeHugh Campbell
CF.C Defensive Player of the DecadeClancy Williams
CF.C Lineman of the DecadeWayne Foster
CF.C Team of the Decade1965
CF.C Game of the DecadeWSU 8, Indiana 7; 1965

The Cougars, playing as an independent after the Pacific Coast Conference imploded just before the 1959 season, sandwiched a mediocre season (4-5-1) around a pair of harrowing one-point games in Spokane -- a 15-14 win over Stanford in the season opener that saw Cougar linebacker Garner Ekstran, a future CFL star, return an interception for a touchdown, and an 8-7 loss to the Huskies in the season finale. The year's top individual performer was running back Keith Lincoln, the "Moose of the Palouse," who rushed for 128 yards at Cal and set a then-WSU career rushing record of 1,501 yards. He also set a new career standard for punting, with a 40.3 yard average over three seasons. QB Mel Melin, meanwhile, scorched the Huskies for 228 yards in total offense in 1960 and was one of the top passers in the nation. His favorite target was a budding sophomore star named Hugh Campbell, who was named first-team All-Coast and third-team All-America. Lincoln, a triple-threat back who is widely considered one of the greatest athletes ever to don the crimson and gray, earned a spot in the prestigious College All-Star Game in Chicago before going on to fame with the San Diego Chargers.

In the Cougars' third and final year without a conference, coach Jim Sutherland's team cranked up lots of offense, but only enough defense to produce a 3-7 season. Two of the three wins were routs -- 34-0 at home against Idaho and 30-0 on the road at Stanford. The well-balanced Cougar offense had many stars in QB Mel Melin, Hugh Campbell and running backs George Reed and Louis Blakeley. Campbell was even better than the year before -- this time winning first-team All-America honors. Melin, meanwhile, was chosen for the East-West Shrine Game. The defense was led by linebacker Tom Erlandson, who would go on to a long career with Broncos, Dolphins and Chargers.

Back in the reconstituted Pacific Coast Conference, now called the Athletic Association of Western Universities, the Cougars improved to 5-4-1 overall, 1-1 in conference. Capping a brilliant three-year career in Pullman, wide receiver Hugh Campbell, the "Phantom of the Palouse," walked away with a host of school pass-catching records -- which still stand -- including most career receptions (176), most career yards (2,452) and most career touchdowns (22). In the final game of the season, QB Dave Mathieson threw for a then-school record 363 yards against the Huskies -- 178 of those to Campbell. Campbell and fullback George Reed, both of whom went on to Hall of Fame careers in the Canadian Football League, were East-West Shrine picks. Campbell was a second-team All-America pick by both AP and UPI.

The third losing season (3-6-1, 1-1), in four years brought down the curtain on Jim Sutherland after eight seasons in Pullman. Minus the previous year's high-octane air game, the Cougars struggled offensively in 1963, scoring eight points or less in seven of the 10 games. A lone bright spot was Clancy Williams, one of the school's last two-way players, who recorded a pair of 100-plus-yard rushing games against Texas Tech and Arizona. Sutherland, beloved by his players and a pioneer of the modern passing game, finished his Cougar career at 37-39-4. His final victory was against Stanford -- the seventh straight time the Sutherland Cougars downed the lads from Palo Alto.

The Cougars began well under new coach Bert Clark, a former Husky assistant, by defeating Stanford 29-23 in a nail-biting season opener that included a spectacular interception by Clancy Williams in the waning minutes that set up the winning TD by Tom Roth. But the club gradually lost steam and finished 3-6-1 overall, 1-2-1 in conference. The season highlights were a 50-0 blowout of Pacific and a 7-2 win over Arizona courtesy of Williams' 75-yard TD run in the second quarter. Williams wrapped up his career with a great senior year which included three more 100-plus-yards rushing games, including 172 against Oregon State, and tremendous play on the defensive side of the ball. Williams, whose efforts earned him first-team All-America honors at DB, became a first-round draft pick of the L.A. Rams and went on to a long and successful pro career as a defensive back.

Two words: "Cardiac Kids." In the most memorable season of the decade (7-3), the Cougs reeled off three nail-biting wins against the Big 10 -- all on the road. A 7-0 opening win at Iowa was followed the next week by a 14-13 victory at Minnesota. Both games were won in the final two minutes of the game, prompting Spokane Chronicle sports editor Bob Johnson to dub the team "the Cardiac Kids." Over the next few weeks they would cement that moniker in Cougar lore with a fourth quarter come-from-behind victory over Villanova, and an 8-7 squeaker at Indiana. But alas, it was another one-pointer, this one a 7-6 loss at Arizona State in the next-to-last-week, that kept the Cougars from a Rose Bowl berth. That game still raises temperatures among the crimson faithful, because the Cougars' Ammon McWashington scored what should have been the winning two-point conversion in the waning seconds – but a bogus delay-of-game call by a homer referee nullified the tally. Cougar heroes of 1965 included a pair of All-Americans -- DT Wayne Foster and cornerback Bill Gaskins -- along with QB Tom Roth, WR Doug Flansburg and RBs Larry Eilmes and McWashington. Eilmes wrapped up his Cougar career by eclipsing Keith Lincoln for most rushing yards in a career (1,597). He also set a WSU single-game rushing mark with 194 yards against Villanova.

The season opener in Spokane pretty well set the stage for 1966 (3-7, 1-3). The Cougars lost to Cal, 21-6, in a game still remembered as one of the most bizarre in WSU history. Cal won on the strength of 71-yard interception return, a 108-yard missed field goal return and a 73-yard punt return -- all for touchdowns. The season went downhill from there, but did produce an interesting piece of trivia: WSU's September 23 game against the Houston Cougars in the Astrodome was the first football game ever played on artificial turf and the first played indoors. In that contest, WR Doug Flansburg set a school record, which still stands, for most receptions in a game (12). All-conference honorees were Flansburg and center Ron Vrlicak.

The wheels came off the wagon in Bert Clark's fourth and final season (2-8, 1-5). After failing to score a point in the first two games with Clark's new veer offense, the Cougars stumbled to eight straight losses before closing with wins over Idaho (52-14) and Washington (9-7). The Apple Cup was a thriller decided by two key plays. In the third, Mike Cadigan hit Larry Thatcher for a 10-yard Cougar TD. Then with 30 seconds remaining, the Huskies' superb place-kicker, Don Martin, missed a 31-yard field goal that would have won the game. For the unpopular Clark, the two wins were too little, too late. He was fired the following week.

Enter Jim Sweeney, the 39-year-old Smilin' Irishman from Montana State. His first club went 3-6-1, 1-3-1 in the renamed Pac-8 Conference, but played tough. Season highlights included a 21-21 tie against heavily favored Stanford, a narrow defeat to heavily favored UCLA, and a 24-0 pasting of the Huskies in Spokane. In the Apple Cup, senior QB Hank Grenda made the only start of his career and responded by contributing to every Cougar point. He passed for two touchdowns, ran for a third, booted a field goal and kicked all three extra points. For trivia buffs, history was made in 1968 when a school record was set -- and tied! -- on the same day. In the Cougars' 46-0 rout of San Jose State, two players, Rick Reed and Mark Williams, both returned punts 81 yards for touchdowns. At the end of the millennium, the two runs still stood as the longest punt returns in WSU history. Reed also remained in the record book for his pass thievery until Lamont Thompson came along; Reed had eight interceptions in one season and 14 career. The season's lone post-season honoree was tackle Dave Golinsky, a member of the Hula Bowl team and future CFL mainstay.

"When the locusts came, they ate everything." That description of the Oregon State game by Cougar coach Jim Sweeney pretty well summarized the entire1969 season. A dramatic 19-18 win at Illinois in the season opener, won on Mike Monahan's fourth quarter field goal, was the only ray of sunshine for the Cougars in a 1-9, 0-7 campaign. Though the team did not perform well, the season was not without impressive individual efforts. One of the most consistent performers was Lionel Thomas, whose exploits in the defensive backfield earned him All-Coast and all-conference honors. With the cupboard of returning talent largely bare, Sweeney turned to the junior college ranks – a move that would help turn the program around in 1971 with the likes of Bernard Jackson, Ron Mims, Wallace Williams and 13 other JC products.

NEXT IN THE SERIES: In early July we'll be posting our third segment in the series of articles recapping every season of the Cougar football program. Next up is a look at the 1980s, when the Cougars returned to bowl action for the first time in 50 years.

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