Bill Douglas Left the Farm for Husky Fame, Rose Bowl Misfortune

Dan Raley

No image of a University of Washington quarterback has been more haunting than Bill Douglas being carried out of the 1964 Rose Bowl on a stretcher.

Douglas lay on his back, helmet strapped on, left knee bent in the air, his injured knee limp. 

The ominous photo appeared in newspapers across the nation, including on the cover of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, where the caption read, "With Him Went the Hopes of the Huskies." The game was scoreless when he exited, a 17-7 Illinois victory when it ended.

Douglas, however, was much more than a casualty of a high-profile football game.

This Husky legend came off a 100-acre farm in Wapato, Washington, where his family grew apples, peaches, pears, cherries and nectarines, to become a speedy and elusive option quarterback and the UW starter for three years.

"I was pretty quick," Douglas. "I think the running part of my game was pretty good -- I was a good ball handler and a good faker -- but I was an average passer. Guess it was good enough to get the job done."

He directed the UW to a 7-1-2 season that didn't bring a Rose Bowl berth and a 6-4 record that did. Never quite the same player after his Pasadena injury, he wore a heavy brace and started the first half of the season before giving way on another 6-4 team.

Huskies Ron Medved and Bill Douglas meet a young fan.
Ron Medved (45) and Bill Douglas meet a young fan.Bill Douglas photo

Today, Douglas lives in the Yakima Valley, where he's no relation to the late William O. Douglas, the former Supreme Court justice who hailed from the same region. He's surrounded by five children and 13 grandchildren. He's lived in the same house in Selah for more than 50 years. 

Earning a finance degree at the UW and an MBA from Harvard, he owned and ran three separate businesses in ready mix sand, gravel and asphalt, building materials and fruit packing before retiring. 

Douglas worked in the orchards every summer from the seventh grade on. He grew up as the youngest of three brothers and depended on them for companionship before diving headlong into sports.

"We lived out of town eight miles and we didn't have a lot of kids to play with," he said. "I always wanted to go with my brothers. I think they got tired of taking me places."

Douglas made a football name for himself as an option quarterback for tiny Wapato. He engineered upset victories over No. 1-ranked Davis and Eisenhower, bigger schools with five times more enrollment. He lost one game in three seasons.

After he initially accepted a scholarship from Stanford, the California school reneged on its offer and Washington pursued and signed him late.

Douglas took over as the Husky quarterback in the third game of the 1962 season and lost only once, 14-0 to eventual national champion USC. He engineered four shutout victories, beating Kansas State 41-0, Stanford 14-0, California 27-0 and UCLA 30-0.

Looking for an offensive spark against the Trojans and growing impatient, Husky coach Jim Owens, as he was prone to do, yanked his starter in the second half in favor of senior Pete Ohlers and afterward apologized for it. 

"I made a mistake and I should have let you finish it out," Owens told Douglas. "We might have got them."

In 1963, Douglas and the Huskies dropped their first three games, losing to Air Force 10-7, Pittsburgh 13-6 and Iowa 17-7, before miraculously turning it around to advance to the Rose Bowl.

Douglas was at his best in the New Year's Day game. On the opening series, he drove the UW to the Illinois 14 in 12 plays. He picked up 12 yards on a keeper when he got hit from behind at the end of the run and was left with a gruesome injury. His dislocated knee had to be reset in the locker room. 

Fans from that era still insist to this day that this Husky team would have beaten the Big Ten entry if the starting quarterback hadn't gone down. That there would have been celebratory photos of him rather than on a stretcher.

"I like to think that we would have," Douglas said. "We were moving the ball on them."

Comments (2)
No. 1-2

Interesting article. I knew some things about Mr. Douglas from family conversations growing up, but the details here filled in many gaps.

Patrick T
Patrick T

Bravo, Bill, a fine QB and obviously, an even better man. Really enjoyed watching the Huskies from 59, onward. For a little while it looked like the Rose Bowl would be a regular feature. One of the captains of that Rose Bowl team did his student teaching at Sammamish HS and I was lucky enough to have him. Hi John Stupey!

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