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Lee Grosscup (1936-2020): Greatest Husky QB That Never Was

Washington was counting on Grosscup to revitalize its floundering football program when a slush-fund scandal and a coach's firing made things worse and caused him to transfer.
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Lee Grosscup spent five months in Seattle, long enough to appear in four freshman games for the University of Washington football program and build a widespread reputation.

He came from Los Angeles, Santa Monica to be exact, and brought a notable swagger and a rifle arm with him to the Northwest that got Husky fans overly excited.

And just like that, he was gone.

Grosscup, who emerged as a high-profile casualty of the Huskies' pay-for-play scandal in 1955, died on Monday in Alameda, California. He was 83.

He'll be best remembered as an All-American quarterback for the Utah and as a beloved broadcaster for more than three decades for California football before retiring in 2018. Check out CalSportsReport's story for Sports Illustrated about the man.

Yet there was a time when Grosscup had Washington fans eagerly awaiting his ascension from the freshman team to the varsity. They were convinced he could be another pass-happy Don Heinrich, the Huskies' two-time All-American quarterback who had moved on three years earlier, and return the Huskies to prominence.

"I was very relieved to get out of Washington and the Pacific Coast Conference because a lot of stuff was going on," Grosscup said. "If we'd stuck around, who knows what would have happened."

Grosscup and three teammates from Santa Monica chose to transfer out when a player revolt against heavy-handed Husky coach John Cherberg got the man fired, but not before the coach had revealed an alumni slush fund that paid the players extra benefits.

The once promising quarterback admitted in a 2005 interview with the Seattle Post-Intelligencer that he had accepted $100 a month extra from team boosters on top of the permissible $75 scholarship stipend.

Grosscup considered returning and watched 1956 UW spring practice held by new coach Darrell Royal, later a Texas legend, but he decided Royal's offense was too conservative for his taste.

He briefly considered playing at the University of Miami in Florida before spending a year at Santa Monica Junior College and ending up for two at Utah.

In 1957, Grosscup finished third in the nation in passing for a 6-4 Utah team, completing 94 of 137 passes for 1,398 yards and 10 touchdowns.

He was widely credited with creating "the shovel pass," but more likely he just brought much greater attention to an innovative offensive maneuver long in effect.  

Typical of his offensive prowess, Grosscup and Utah lost to Army 37-33 at West Point in New Jersey in a matchup that drew a lot of national attention. 

Grosscup was named first-team All-America quarterback by multiple outlets and finished 10th in the Heisman Trophy voting.

In his senior year in 1958, he injured his shoulder and his numbers and honors fell off. He was drafted 10th overall by the New York Giants and played three pros seasons, one of them coming with the New York Titans.

In the accompanying video, Mike Pawlawski, former Cal quarterback and current broadcaster, discuss the impact Grosscup had on everyone.

While Grosscup's Seattle stay proved ever so brief, it was part of his football journey. He didn't care at all for Cherberg, an oddly superstitious man who could be a tyrant and a bully. 

"We would have gone to the Rose Bowl if Cherberg had used his second- and third-stringers more," Grosscup said. "Washington was loaded with good material."