Cougs of 1917: We was robbed!

MANY OLD-TIMERS SAY it was the best of the early day football teams at Washington State. Better than the 1906 team that was unbeaten, untied and unscored upon. Better even than the undefeated 1915 team that went to the Rose Bowl and beat Brown 14-0 on January 1, 1916.

Well, if it was so good, how come the Washington State team of 1917 didn't go to the Rose Bowl?

You have to go back 80 years -- "Four score and . . . ," as Abe Lincoln would put it --- to look for answers. And even then, it really isn't clear.

William "Lone Star" Dietz, the legendary Cougar coach (17-2-1, with two unbeaten teams) was heading into his third -- and what proved to be his final -- season at Pullman in the fall of 1917.

Remember, the U.S. had entered World War I in April of that year. Many of the college players from the previous season had entered the service, as was evident in the WSC season opener, a scoreless tie in Tacoma against the 362nd Infantry, a team loaded with former college stars. The game drew the then-largest crowd -- estimated at 15,000 -- in Northwest gridiron history.


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In the home opener a week later against defending Rose Bowl champion Oregon, the Cougars hammered the visitors 26-3. Oregon's points game on a 53-yard field goal by Bill Steers -- the only points that would be scored on WSC the rest of the season.

The Cougars, led by star running back Benton "Biff" Bangs of Albion, Idaho, went on to defeat Whitman College 19-0; Idaho 19-0; Oregon State 6-0; and Montana 28-0. But the biggest win of the season -- and the last in Lone Star Dietz's colorful Cougar career -- came against the University of Washington.

WSC hadn't played beaten the Sun Dodgers, as Washington was known in those days, since 1914 and hadn't beaten them since 1907. But on Nov. 29, Thanksgiving Day, the men from Pullman prevailed 14-0 in front of a Seattle crowd of 7,000. Fullback Fred Glover scored on a four-yard run in the second quarter, and then a pair of Spokane lads sealed matters --- halfback Basil Doane scoring on a one-yard plunge in the fourth and Dick Hanley kicking his second extra point of the day.

The victory in Seattle seemingly would have ticketed the Cougars for the Tournament of Roses for the second time in three seasons.

It didn't.

Ever wonder how the Washington Redskins got their controversial nickname? George Preston Marshall, owner of the Boston Braves, renamed the team Redskins in 1933 in honor of the club's charismatic head coach, one William "Lone Star"Dietz. Dietz coached the team in 1933 and '34. The club moved to Washington, D.C., in 1937.

Even the late Rube Samuelsen, dean of Rose Bowl historians, was vague about what happened in the bowl selection process. In his 1951 book, "The Rose Bowl Game," he wrote that "feelers" went out to Michigan, Pittsburgh, Ohio State and Georgia Tech, but none was interested because of some concern about eight-man versus eleven-man rosters. "Washington State, considered as a Western representative, also demurred," he wrote.


Truth be told, the Rose Bowl match up was determined before the Cougars even played Washington. The Portland Oregonian reported in its Nov. 24 issue -- five full days before the WSC-UW game -- that the famous Mare Island Marines' football team, which was known for drawing big crowds, had been selected to play in the Rose Bowl. The opponent would be the team from Tacoma's Camp Lewis, who the Marines had defeated earlier in the season 13-0.

So on January 1, 1918, Mare Island squared off in a rematch with Camp Lewis and won 19-7 before a capacity crowd of 25,000.

The only solace Washington State fans could take was that Walter Brown, the No. 2 quarterback on the 1916 Cougar team, was one of the stars in the Marines' win.

Ironically, with football at Washington State discontinued in 1918 because of World War I, Lone Star Dietz would return to the Rose Bowl -- on January 1, 1919 -- as head coach of the 11-0 Mare Island Marines. The Marines lost 17-0 to Great Lakes Navy, a team led by a young coach by the name of George Halas.

That would not be Lone Star's last visit to Pasadena, however. He was back in 1927 and '28 as an assistant to the famous Pop Warner, Dietz' mentor from the Carlisle Indian School, as Stanford took on Alabama (tying 7-7) and Pitt (winning 7-6).

Richard B. "Dick" Fry is a former WSU News Bureau and sports information department director. He also authored a marvelous book on the colorful history of Cougar athletics: "The Crimson and the Gray -- 100 Years with the Washington State Cougars."

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