The Lone Star Curse?

EIGHTY-THREE years ago this week the Boston Red Sox committed the biggest blunder in baseball history by selling a talented young player named Babe Ruth to the New York Yankees for cash.

William "Lone Star" Dietz was a star tackle at Carlisle Indian School of Carlisle, Pa., before coaching at Washington State.

The then-mighty Red Sox, winners of five of the 15 World Series' played up to that point, haven't won another title since. In Beantown, they call this reversal of fortune the Curse of the Bambino.

In an eerily similar vein, Washington State's football fortunes --- riding high through 1917 --- have mirrored the Red Sox's journey. The Cougars haven't won the Rose Bowl in 86 years.

The details surrounding the unfortunate end of Lone Star Dietz' coaching tenure at Washington State --- the same year, in fact, that the BoSox sold Babe to the Yankees --- leads one to wonder if a similar curse holds Ol' Wazzu in its grasp.

Did Washington State unwittingly set it self up for a century of bad karma by failing to stand up for Lone Star in the face of an unfair attack?

It's a notion that seemed to gain momentum with the bizarre way the Cougars' last Rose Bowl game, in 1998, ended on the 26-yard-line with two seconds mysteriously gone from the clock.

It's a notion that has gained currency with Mike Price's untimely announcement, just 14 days before the upcoming Rose Bowl, that he's moving to Alabama.

If there is a Curse of the Lone Star, its roots can be traced to a Spokane restaurant and a cup of sugar.

Dietz was eating there one day, when a fellow diner named J. C. Argell scolded the coach for using too much of what at that time was a rationed commodity: sugar. The two had words and Argell swore to get even.

As fate would have it, World War I broke out making revenge all too easy.

Argell was made head of the Spokane draft board. Since Washington State's football program was on ice for a year because of the war, Dietz went off to coach the Marine Corps football team from Mare Island with every intention of coming back to Pullman for the 1919 season..


Man, Myth and Legend
Dietz still captivates a nation all these years later.


We was robbed!
Dietz' 1917 team also should have been in Pasadena.


Argell took the opportunity to check out Dietz' draft status. Men over age 31 were required to register for the draft and Lone Star, whose mother was a full-blooded Sioux Indian, registered as a "non-citizen Indian."

Argell, citing an old Portland Oregonian story that claimed Dietz wasn't really Indian, had Lone Star indicted for draft evasion --- even though Marine Corps officers stated that Dietz trained daily to become a Marine after football season was over. And even though documents from Dietz' alma mater, the Carlisle Indian Industrial School, verified his ancestry.

Administrators at Washington State, apparently fearful of the bad p.r. during those patriotic times, turned against Lone Star. It was a move believed made easy by a president, E. O. Holland, who felt perpetually upstaged by the charismatic football coach.

In January 1920, as the Red Sox were getting their money for the Babe, Lone Star --- broke due to the failure of a motion picture company he had started --- could no longer pay to defend himself. He was left with no choice other than to plead nolo contendre (no contest) to the charges and take whatever penalty the court would mete out.

The curse seemed to affect Lone Star himself. When he died, all but forgotten in 1964, the following poem was found clutched in his hand:

When the game is pretty tough
Don't you ever holler 'nuff
Show the world you have the stuff,

The Federal judge, possibly recognizing the injustice being done, sentenced him to just 30 days in the county jail. The beginning of his incarceration almost coincided exactly with Boston's betrayal of Ruth.

So Lone Star embarked on a coaching odyssey that would take him from Purdue and Wyoming to the NFL and various places in between, while Washington State has been on a maddening quest to do something only one man in history -- Lone Star Dietz -- has accomplished: Win a Rose Bowl for Washington State.


The upcoming Rose Bowl will be Washington State's fourth appearance in the Granddaddy of Then All. The Cougars were there in 1916 under Dietz, beating Brown; in 1931, losing to Alabama, under Babe Hollingbery; and in 1998, losing to Michigan, under Price. Dietz, however, considered his 1918 Mare Island Marines squad, which represented the West in the 1919 Rose Bowl, to effectively have been a Washington State team because so many of his players from Pullman were on that club.

NEXT: We was robbed!

Copyright 2002, Tom Benjey. Benjey, from Carlisle, Pa., is writing a book and screenplay about Lone Dietz' incredible life.

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