Jackie Robinson played in Husky Stadium

When I think of Jackie Robinson, I think first, of course, of his pioneering odyssey of breaking the Major League color barrier. My mind goes to images of his powerful physique adorning the famous, gleaming-white Dodger uniform. I think to the stories I have heard of Dodger owner/GM Branch Rickey selecting him instead of Larry Doby to be the first black Dodger.

I also have in my mind the images of him stealing home, a tremendous feat that Robinson accomplished an amazing 20 times in his 9-year career.

He appeared in 6 World Series, he won a National League MVP award, and he hit for a .311 lifetime batting average. All of this occurred under the most microscopic scrutiny possible. Most of us are at least vaguely familiar with the realities he endured. At times he was not able to stay in the same hotels as his teammates. Sometimes he couldn't eat in the same restaurants. Many players deeply resented him. Many Dodger players went to Branch Rickey, demanding an immediate trade (which Rickey accommodated, as long as the Dodgers didn't get the short end of the stick in the deal). In an informal vote of the team owners, the count was 15-1 to not let Robinson play in their league.

However, Commissioner Happy Chandler intervened in Rickey's behalf.

Listen to this account from the Sporting News from fifty years ago, and see if this doesn't sound like a description of Ichiro…

"… It was No. 42's aggressiveness on the base paths that thrilled fans… It was the way he was a disruptive force, dancing off the base, drawing every eye in the stadium, making the pitcher crazy, instilling the Dodgers with the spirit that would help them (win pennants)."

"When he bunts, Jackie is likely to light a fire under the best pitchers in the game. In Brooklyn recently, he raced to third after bunting on Johnny Sain and Sain threw wildly. Sain ascended, lost his lead, his hold on the game and was under the showers before Brooklyn got seven runs."

There was also an account of a game in Chicago against the Cubs, with the score tied 2-2 in the ninth. Robinson led off with a walk, and in one continuous motion sprinted safely to second base! His was the winning run for the Dodger juggernaut.

Anyway, I was doing some reading and research, and stumbled upon a brief account of a UCLA running back named Jack Robinson playing at Husky Stadium... Jackie Robinson appeared at Husky Stadium! There have been so many great moments on that field, but I was never aware that he had set foot upon our field. I wanted to know more.

As it happened, Robinson had the play of the day, a display of athleticism that had Husky head coach Jimmy Phelan awe-struck following the game.

On a cold October day in 1939, by shores of Lake Washington, the Huskies opened the game on a positive note. Within the first five minutes of the contest, the Purple and Gold recovered a botched snap dropped by Bruin Chuck Fennenbock at the four-yard line. Two plays later, UW running back Ernie Steele went in standing up from six yards out. Washington led 7-0, and had two things working in its favor. A staunch defense, and the booming right foot of punter Dean McAdams. For the next 40 minutes of game time, his booming kicks kept the Bruins backed up enough, that they could manage no points at all.

But as the Seattle Times described it, "The midnight express from (UCLA) got rolling, with engineer Jack Robinson blowing the whistle.

"Three great Negro stars, Robinson, Kenny Washington and Woodrow Wilson Strode wrecked the Huskies in the second half."

With Washington feeling "smug" about its 7-0 lead, late in the 3rd quarter, the ballgame changed and the Bruins unleashed their offensive weapons.

Again the Seattle Times recounted, "The Huskies (defense) had knocked Robinson around in the first half, but the slim, Negro halfback kept getting up . . . and when he wrapped his arms around the pigskin booted downfield by the mighty toe of Dean McAdams, man oh man! How that lad did ramble."

"He took the punt at the 31-yard line, with no Husky nearby. Into midfield went the speedster, pulling the Huskies over. He slid past a dozen reaching arms to hug the south sideline, and was clear of the pack, with a couple protectors about him as he passed Washington's 40-yard stripe. The Huskies pursued . . . 20 yards along, McAdams angled over, lunged one interferer out of the way with a sweep of his backhand, and cracked Robinson hard enough to make him stumble."

Fellow Husky Bill Marx managed to haul him down at the 6-yard line, but the damage had been done. One play later, Kenny Washington raced in to tie the score at 7-7.

Late in the fourth quarter, a Bruin fumble in Husky territory almost stalled the drive, but the referee gave the ball to UCLA. Rudy Mucha was the Husky who emerged from the pile with football, but it was to no avail. The Husky bench and coaching staff were beside themselves.

The Huskies at this point of the contest were a bit on their heels. According to the Times' account, UCLA on its final drives "uncorked some of the wildest football razzle-dazzle seen in Husky Stadium in many a day. Reverses swung out of swirling backfield formations mindful of the halcyon days of Andy Smith of the University of California at Berkeley."

Kenny Washington soon scored again, and UCLA had pulled out the 14-7 victory. UCLA had out-gained UW 259-48 and Washington was unable to complete a single pass the entire game.

Nevertheless, Husky coach Jimmy Phelan was lamenting what was lost. "That run of Robinson's beat us. Until that occurred we had the game well in hand."

Coach Harrell of the UCLA squad was gracious in victory. "As soon as Phelan gets his attack smoothed out, the Huskies will give all comers trouble."

Washington finished the 1939 season at 4-4. However the next year in Los Angeles, the "Purple-Clad Warriors" got their revenge, shutting down Jackie Robinson and crushing the Bruins 41-0.

Jackie Robinson's illustrious football career came to an end in 1941. The year after that he was in the US Army as part of the war effort. He would in time become a Lt. Col.

Five years later, in 1947, he would make his major league debut with Brooklyn Dodgers. Facing more hostility and obstacles than most of us can even imagine or empathize with, yet playing with the type of fiery determination seen only in the greats.

That '39 UW-UCLA game over on Montlake would have been a dandy to see on the FOX rebroadcast, huh?
Derek Johnson can be reached at djohnson@dawgman.com

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