The Shifting Sands of Rivalry

Considering that the University of California has not defeated Washington since 1976, it is hard to fathom that these two teams used to be intertwined in the biggest football rivalry on the west coast.

The year was 1915, and Seattle was an interesting place to be. A guy named Bill Boeing was operating out of a small floating hanger on Lake Union; a small shoe store called Nordstrom's was in its infancy; and Washington's football team hadn't lost a game in eight long years. California was the other major power in the western region of the US. The Golden Bears agreed to schedule a game against Washington for November 2nd. Their traditional rival had been Stanford, but the Indians (as the Cardinal were known then) had dropped football in favor of rugby. Washington and California hadn't squared off since 1904, and there was fevered excitement in both the Bay Area and Seattle for this late-season match-up.

California fans and players had heard much of Washington's 52-game unbeaten streak.

The buildup had actually started back in September. On the campus of the University of Washington, a "California Committee" was created in order to encourage the UW students to make the trek to Berkeley for the game. There was a slogan entitled "$16 Will Do It!" This was the cost of a round-trip ticket via steamboat to the Bay Area. One month later, the same committee decided to take the Washington band down there as well.

On October 20th, 1915, two weeks before the much-anticipated contest, an inflammatory article came out in the UW Daily. It ran the lyrics of a new fight song that had just been written by a Cal Student named I.B. Kornblum. This new song had been eagerly embraced by the Cal student body, and was to be unveiled during the Washington game. A feeling of intense rivalry was aroused among the UW students, after reading these fighting words:
"Down from the North comes the Purple and Gold
To skin our Golden Bear,
Washington's eleven will never hold
The charge of our mighty Bear,
The team on the field is a line of steel
And every man is game,
When the strength of the Blue and Gold they feel
These Northmen will be tame
So fight, fight, fight, fight, fight, fight, fight, fight, FIGHT!
For the Blue and Gold
And our team on the field will not bend, break or yield,
For we'll fight like Big "C" teams of old,
And every time they buck the line,
We're sure the team will hold;
For victory means fame
For California's name
So fight, fight, fight ‘em California!"

Inspired by these lyrics, the UW Senior Class offered a grand prize of $25 to the person who could compose the best retaliatory song in time for the showdown.

On October 24th, a campus panel selected a song called "Bow Down to Washington" written by Lester Wilson. It would be put to the same melody as a current song, entitled "Dobie, Dobie Pride of Washington" (in honor of Washington's legendary coach Gil Dobie). Two other submissions that earned honorable mention included songs entitled "The Death of the Golden Bear" and "The Good Ship Washington."

"Bow Down to Washington" was given a practice run during halftime of the Washington-Whitman game at Denny Field, one week prior to the match-up with Cal. It was a big hit with the student body!

The following Tuesday, over three hundred UW students boarded the SS Congress bound for California. Along the Seattle waterfront, over 2,000 Washington fans that couldn't make the trip, waved, hooted and hollered at the ship as it began its voyage out into Elliot Bay, en route for the Pacific Ocean. Much of the time spent aboard the steamer would be dedicated to practicing the various Washington cheers, including the new "Bow Down to Washington".

Meanwhile over on Montlake, Gil Dobie was scolding his Washington team in practice. He angrily wailed at them that they hadn't played anyone like Cal before, and were doomed to disastrous defeat. He constantly scolded them for their inept abilities and intelligence. The performance of UW running back Cedric "Hap" Miller had been heralded on Sunday in an article in the old Seattle Star. In the wake of this, Dobie benched him. In front of the whole team, he told Miller that he had "gotten a swelled head" and ought to forget football. Miller arrived at practice Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday morning, watching wistfully from the sidelines.

Dobie also announced that he would permit the UW players to wear numbers on their jerseys, as it was the custom in Berkeley. He normally didn't allow this, as he believed, "that it tends to individual playing rather than teamwork."

Meanwhile down in Northern California, the steamer carrying the Washington fans began its entrance into San Francisco Bay. From my research, I found this wonderful depiction of the scene from UW Daily editor Hal Thompson:

"The scene in San Francisco Harbor in the early evening of Halloween, 1915 would stir the blood of any loyal son of Washington. Against the backdrop of carnival lights from the San Francisco World Fair, the giant steam ship Congress, flying the University flag and decked in purple and gold streamers, lumbered beneath the Golden Gate Bridge. The band lined the deck thundering 'Bow Down to Washington' as the ship came to dock.

Most of the rooters spent the next day at the (San Francisco) World's Fair where an informal reception was held at the State of Washington Pavilion. The exposition management presented the University with a bronze plaque, accepted on its behalf by (UW President) Dr. and Mrs. Suzzallo to the strains of, once again, 'Bow Down to Washington'.

"At precisely 2:00 on game day Saturday, a magnificent procession stepped off from in front of the Carleton Hotel in Berkeley. The band, headed by student leader Bruce MacDougall, led the way playing 'Bow Down to Washington'. They were followed in close order by the entourage of "the Hook", Washington's traditional victory symbol. The Hook was escorted by twenty of the strongest Washington men, all of whom had chained themselves to the icon to prevent its capture by Cal students. Behind them came the three hundred student rooters and a hundred-member contingent of the UW's San Francisco alumni. The parade wound its way through the crowded streets of Berkeley to the gothic gates of the California field."

Two hours before the opening kickoff, Washington was holding a team meeting. Gil Dobie announced that Cedric "Hap" Miller would be allowed to play, after all. Said Gloomy Gil, "We have absolutely no chance today. You're gonna get beat, and all of Seattle will say it was because Hap Miller didn't play… So Miller, you might as well get in there and get licked with the rest of them."

It was not the first time that Dobie had used this tactic, and of course it worked to perfection. Hap Miller played the game of his life, and Washington went out and completely thrashed the Bears 72-0.

Bears' coach Andy Smith would not soon forget this humiliation. He vowed to get revenge, and sometime later he would succeed in striking back.

As for the Washington contingent on hand, their efforts were remembered fondly by Hal Thompson some twenty years later. "Bow Down to Washington sounded fresh and loud from the Washington stands. I shall never forget that day."

One week later there was a rematch between the two schools, to be played in Seattle. To those close to him, Dobie openly admitted that he would have a tough time motivating his team for this game. The Bears came to Seattle full of fire and ready to play. Washington gained positive yards on only eight plays from scrimmage, and had to fight for their lives, to earn a 13-7 victory.

The following season, Washington played the final game of the Dobie era against the Bears. There were strong rumors that University President Henry Suzzallo was intending to fire the legendary coach. An overflow crowd of 9,000 arrived at Denny Field and watched Washington beat Cal 14-7. This capped off the Sundodgers' ninth consecutive undefeated season. Dobie was literally carried off the field by the Washington fans! He attempted to make a speech, but was completely drowned out by the emotion-laden, cheering crowd.

It was against Cal in 1917 that Washington's record 63-game unbeaten streak came to an end with a resounding thud. Cal romped 27-0, and a joyous celebration ensued in the streets of Berkeley.

But the glory of that victory wasn't enough. In 1922, Bears' coach Andy Smith was overseeing his "Wonder Teams", and felt like he finally had the manpower to fully avenge that humiliating 1915 defeat. He implored his team to "go score just as many points today as Washington did on us six years ago."

Remarkably, they did! The Bears scored a wild 72-3 triumph over the Huskies, which to this day, remains the worst defeat in Washington football history.

When California takes the field this Saturday, the Bears will be concerned with history. Their purpose will revolve around ending the 19-game losing streak to the Dawgs. But as we have seen, there was a time when a confrontation between these two schools, meant nothing less than the supremacy of west coast football.
Special thanks to Mr. Calonico- Director, University of California Marching Band
"The Glory of Washington," by Jim Daves and W. Thomas Porter
"UW Centennial Program," by Karen Chave and Steve Rudman

Derek Johnson can be reached at Top Stories