Like the tall timber and snow-capped Mt. Rainier and Boeing airplanes and the icy blue waters of Puget Sound, football is a source of deep pride in the Great Northwest. Seattle and a goodly part of the state of Washington tingle when the Huskies have a good team—and there is something particularly exhilarating about beating the collegiate brethren from California who hog the national publicity and practically monopolize the Rose Bowl. It really does something for the old ego to give the Californians (well, the whole country, for that matter) their come-uppance on the gridiron.
By last week the booster zeal with which Seattle and the state of Washington have pursued these cheerful goals had led to a classic public uproar. The regents of the University of Washington were meeting behind locked doors; the front pages of Seattle papers, along with the local TV, were ablaze with charges and countercharges; Greater Seattle Inc. was issuing a proclamation; one University of Washington official resigned and others were shaky. In fact, everyone in the Northwest who cared a whit was in turmoil because Washington's football coach had had a spat with his players. And been fired for it. And started talking.
The coach was John (Cowboy) Cherberg, himself a onetime Washington football star in the early '30s, and the gist of his complaint was this: the men who run the secret slush fund that pays his players extracurricular salaries had used their checkbook to turn his players against him. At the end of the season more than 30 of them joined in an organized revolt, and he was given the gate by the university.
Good football players, to put it mildly, are not easy to come by. A good team can cost $5,000 a month or more in scholarships and campus-job payments, and, when that isn't sufficient, special inducements such as convertibles and free trips home and vacation jobs and even jobs for the players' wives. Football players, if they are smart enough to learn a fake reverse, understand their own value and are quick to capitalize on it.
February 20, 1956
No one knows this better than Roscoe C. Torrance, until this year president of Greater Seattle Inc. and a really remarkable booster in a city of boosters. Since his undergraduate days at Washington, "Torchy" Torrance, a carrot-topped little dynamo who was a .300-hitting second baseman on the college team and president of the Big W club in his senior year, has been all for the Huskies. Right after graduation in 1923 he started working for better football as assistant graduate manager, and he doesn't mind admitting that he helped build the Rose Bowl teams of 1924 and 1926. Nowadays Torchy is Mr. Football around Seattle, and it was he that much of the conversation concerned last week.
So that good football players may enjoy the advantages of a Washington education, Torchy Torrance runs the Greater Washington Advertising Fund, which, as he tells it, is used "primarily for transportation costs, entertainment and expenses for prospective athletes." Once Torchy explained: "It's a fact of life that a kid can't be a college athlete and make it through school if he's in any need at all without outside help, and that's why there's a fund like ours at almost every other university."
Torchy's fund is a big one—it has run in the past anywhere from $20,000 to $75,000—and he runs it pretty much as he pleases. Mostly the contributions come from 70 or 80 Seattle big and little businessmen, labor leaders, doctors, lawyers and others interested in civic betterment, who contributed checks ranging upward from $50. Now and then Torchy sees a chance to make an extra pile for the fund, such as an exhibition pro football game last summer between the New York Giants and the San Francisco 49ers. He talked the teams into coming to Seattle. He sold the directors of Greater Seattle Inc. on the idea of sponsoring the show. He persuaded the university regents to lend their 55,500 seat stadium (normally restricted to college events) for 15% of the gate.
It was a whopping success. Each team made $36,586; the Associated Students of the University of Washington received $28,361 for stadium rental and management fees; Greater Seattle Inc. turned a profit of $7,021. After taxes, there was $28,000 left over, so Torchy, by previous agreement with Greater Seattle Inc., tucked it into the treasury of the Greater Washington Advertising Fund, the purse he uses to pay Husky athletes.
Everyone, particularly university and state officials, seemed very surprised with this piece of information when it was finally published. No one pretended there was anything dishonest about it. They just seemed surprised that what had passed for an event to greaten Seattle—and a professional sports event at that—was helping put amateur football players through the local college. No doubt if they had been told about it in advance, they would have been perfectly happy. Hearing about it later was something of a shock.
When Cowboy Cherberg started to talk—first in some interviews with the Seattle Times, then on a city-wide television show and afterward in more interviews with reporters—his verbosity infected a lot of other tongues. All the wagging tongues eventually unfolded a tale that tended to strip some of the protective glamour off big-time football when college supporters and local boosters let their enthusiasm for victory run away with them.
Some of the most jarring pieces of testimony came from the players themselves, who have been restricted to tuition and $75-100 a month (in payment for campus jobs) by Pacific Coast Conference regulations. One star who had refused to join the revolt against Cherberg told his story like this: "Another school had offered me more money than Washington, but the deal in Seattle appealed to me for other reasons.
"From the time I got here a cashier's check for $50—over and above the regular allowance—began coming by mail to the house every month. Although it didn't carry his signature, I knew it was coming from Torchy Torrance, and I heard right quick that, if and when I ran into money trouble, Torchy was the man to see. At the time, the regular allowance was only $75 a month. With room, board, books and social life all to come out of that, it wasn't easy. I gathered the thing to do was to call Mr. Torrance and say 'Torchy, I'm in trouble and need some help.'
"At Easter, I wanted to arrange for one of the two holiday trips that I'd been promised for each year. Torchy told me a one-way ticket would be waiting for me to pick up at the airport, and that when I was ready to start back to Seattle I should write him and he'd arrange for a return ticket to be waiting at the airport. And that was just the way it worked.
"But when I started my sophomore year, my pay from the fund was cut to $35 a month. I'd heard of second-and third-stringers who were getting up to $125 a month, but I was afraid that if I spoke up I'd be cut off altogether. Nevertheless, I went down to see Torchy. He was pretty sorry about it, but he said, 'I was told that's all you were to get.' By my junior year I'd married and had a baby, and I told Torchy I needed $300 a month. I didn't see any harm in trying, if you get what I mean. Torchy said, 'Well I can only manage to get you $60 a month, but I can arrange to get you started off a little.' And he got me a special lump check for $200. I got a pretty nice break that year when Torchy not only arranged for a trip out for my sister but paid for me and my wife to take a trip home. This past year I've been getting the same $60 a month, but when I needed a car because of our new baby and had planned to buy a '52, I heard of some of the guys getting a car. Torchy sent me to his son who provided me with an older buggy. He said, 'Try it out and worry about the payments later,' and after a bit the title in my name came to the house by mail."
Another first-string player: I've never been on Torchy's regular payroll, but I certainly knew about it, because when he'd show up in the locker room somebody'd usually say, "That's Torchy, the Goodies Man."
Mostly, I'd just resort to him for favors like free theater tickets or some such. But in the spring of '54, when I ran short of money, I made a deal with him for $150.
I asked the coach if it was proper to thank Torrance, and he said sure. I did just that and asked Torchy if there was anyone else I should thank. He gave me a funny look and said no, that wouldn't be necessary. I was rather dubious at the time; I thought I might have hurt his feelings. It did tee me off sometimes that a selected few of the other guys were making a bundle.
Another first-stringer: I first met Torchy when I was brought up to look over the University of Washington deal. We talked in his car on the campus and he promised me and a buddy each an extra $75 a month if we came. After I came to school and no check arrived, I asked a guy who said, "Call Torchy." I did and from then on the checks came each month, right on time. There were a lot of other special needs that came up where he provided the dough, so I've got no kicks on that score. As far as dough is concerned, I was treated very well as long as I kept on Torchy's right side.
Yet Torchy Torrance is sure of his ground. Says he: "I worked my own way through high school and the university, and I know the problems athletes have. Ninety-five per cent of them are kids from poor families.
"You know how it works out—a lot of people are interested, but try to get them to do the work. Why, I've had to get into things with the kids like accidents and maternity problems and everything else connected with some boy's need for money. When you come to recruiting players, why I've had to make up to 10 visits of two or three hours each to a boy's home."
John Cherberg's philosophy: "Boys actually going to school and maintaining required proficiency in their studies and playing football should not have to work during the college year. Meeting all college scholastic standards, boys with strong backs and quick legs are entitled to use them to get an education. They should be in college for that purpose. Football requires a great deal of a boy's time, and he should be able to devote the hours he must spend on his on-campus job to his studies. This is true for all university students interested in any comparably demanding extracurricular activities."
There was a time when the purple-and-gold uniforms of the Huskies were an ominous sight on Pacific Coast gridirons. During the days of old Gil Dobie (1908-16), when most of the California colleges were playing Rugby, Washington never lost a football game. After World War I, Enoch Bagshaw, a rugged homegrown coach, built a formidable series of teams out of the big youths from his native lumber country. Players like George Wilson and the fabled Tesreau brothers (Elmer and Louis') led Washington into the Rose Bowl after the 1923 and 1925 seasons, the golden era of West Coast football. Like Wilson, Washington backs seemed to prefer to run over rather than around anyone brave enough to get in their way. They were then truly the Huskies of football, woodsmen with Bunyanesque reputations for size and durability.
It was symbolic of Washington football that home towners considered it sissy stuff when the college put turf on the home stadium after the arrival of Coach Jimmy Phelan in 1930; the hides ot the home players were so tough they weren't bothered by the sand-and-gravel surface that had sent visiting teams away whining in pain. With the advent of grass there was a long dry spell in Husky football, punctuated by only one Rose Bowl visit—in 1937, when Pitt walloped them 21-0. Not until Hugh McElhenny and Don Heinrich, later to star as pros, brightened up the team in the early 1950s did Husky rooters have anything to sing about, and their cheers were brief. The simple fact was that all the best Western football talent was coming from southern California, where McElhenny was discovered, and Washington wasn't getting its share.
Cowboy John Cherberg stepped into this football void in 1953 with a huge local reputation. From 1930-32 he had been a Husky backfield star, winner in his senior year of the Flaherty Medal as the "most inspirational player." As a high school coach in Seattle, he stepped out and won three championships. Later, as the Husky freshman coach for five years, he won 22 out of 23. When Coach Howard Odell went down the chute after a 7-won 3-lost season, the cry for Cherberg was too loud to be denied. Torchy Torrance and Athletic Director Harvey Cassill and at least one member of the board of regents would have preferred Backfield Coach Skip Stahley (now at Idaho), but the alumni would not be denied. Cherberg was hired.
Cowboy John is a man who inspires fierce loyalty among his friends. Nonetheless, even by his own appraisal, he is not always an easy man to be with. "I've been told I'm sarcastic, and I admit it," he said recently. "I bore down on the kids during the week so they'd be prepared for the pressure on Saturday. I goaded the kids and I needled them and I demanded discipline. I wanted Saturday to seem like a breeze to them.
"Let's not kid each other, there's not enough discipline anywhere today for modern kids. I think football is the last frontier of discipline."
Like any coach, Cowboy John had his share—perhaps more—of bad luck in his first two years; there were injuries to key players at the worst time, there were vital plays called back for penalties. Yet his real problem was that of most losing coaches—lack of good manpower—and he won only five of his first 20 games. Once, on a trip to Los Angeles to play USC, the Cowboy was visited at a practice session by Jimmy Phelan, his old Husky coach, then in retirement. Phelan watched a while, then said: "Johnny, you better get some ballplayers. You haven't got a guy on that field who is worth a newspaper photographer's time."
This was no news to Cherberg, or to Torrance or any of the other Husky boosters, of whom even faraway southern California has its share. The most active of them in that area—a clique that revolves around Los Angeles—soon stole some of the cream of the California junior colleges right out from under the noses of such football powers as USC and UCLA.
Among the most notable: Quarterback Al Ferguson, Halfback Credell (Incredible) Green, Fullback Jim Harryman, Tackle Pat Murphy, End Fred Snyder, Center Benny Hammond.
It was quite a haul, but as Harvey Knox, the ever-watchful father of UCLA's Ronnie and a man who knows the inside-outs of football economics, observed about Washington: "When they want a man, they get him. They dig."
Not the least of Washington's athletic harvest was Jim Sutherland, who coached Ronnie Knox at Santa Monica High School. Originally Sutherland had left Santa Monica to go to the University of California with Ronnie in what the cognoscenti call "a package deal." When Ronnie defected to UCLA, Sutherland remained at Berkeley for another year, frequently criticizing Head Coach Lynn Waldorf's methods to the other coaches. When Washington hired him as an assistant for Cherberg last spring, Sutherland was given an enthusiastic farewell by his fellow coaches at Berkeley. For Washington he represented an attraction and a pipeline to top high school players in southern California.
When the Washington varsity lined up against ineffectual little Idaho last September 17 for an easy opener, it was obvious to anyone who knew the ABC's of football in Seattle that this was the make-or break year for Cowboy John Cherberg. For the first time he had real talent on the squad. As the game progressed, Cherberg could hardly believe his eyes. The team fumbled 11 times for a new conference record and barely eked out a 14-7 victory. Not until the coaches had studied the game movies did they discover that the center had been snapping the ball a half-count too soon, and some quick detective work revealed that he had done so on the instructions of Jim Sutherland. "I was just trying an experiment," Sutherland explained.
"I wanted to fire Sutherland immediately," says Cherberg, "but Harvey Cassill advised me to wait."
For a while the Huskies seemed to have regained their poise, rolling over Minnesota 30-0 and upsetting powerful USC 7-0. Then followed two mediocre weeks against Baylor and Stanford and finally defeats by Oregon State and inept California. By this time it was obvious something was wrong. "I find out," says Cherberg, "that Lederman [Quarterback Sandy Lederman, a demoted first-stringer] is trying to persuade the most promising young quarterback on the squad to leave school. I bounced Lederman off the squad. But I wound up taking him back when Torrance played sweet music on my heart strings by telling me that Lederman would lose his sponsor and he'd be evicted from his home. So I took him back, after he apologized to the squad, but he went right on spreading dissension."
Testifying for Cherberg are three expert witnesses who call Sutherland the main cause of the discord. A man with a strong drive to be a winning head coach himself, Sutherland is pictured by these observers as a restless No. 2 man. Some of their observations:
"Sutherland was strictly a rule-or-ruin guy, undermining Cherberg all the time."
"He put the hooks into Cherberg every place he could, particularly with the players."
"As a shill for Torrance, Sutherland was perfect. He would confide to second-and third-string players who weren't seeing much action that if he, Sutherland, were head coach, these second-stringers would be properly recognized and would play a lot of football."
Says Jim Sutherland, who last month finally got his first collegiate head coaching assignment, at Washington State College: "I believe I have been made the fall guy in the thing. Any transgression of mine in this football situation was an unwitting, well-meaning thing. I feel that I have been made a scapegoat for a problem that existed before my arrival."
The first explosion came at the end of the season when a group of Huskies marched in to see Torchy Torrance to complain of Johnny Cherberg's coaching (SI, Dec. 5). Torchy passed them along to the athletic director, Harvey Cassill, who passed the complaint to the board of regents, who finally decided to rehire Cherberg with the injunction to "straighten out his differences with his players." Anyone who knew Seattle and Washington football could have told you then that Cowboy Johnny was through. He patched up a peace with most of his players, but he was still out of grace with Cassill and Torrance. What he could not patch up was his 5-4-1 record for 1955.
The ax of dismissal fell on Cherberg on January 27. The next day he started talking, and his righteous indignation was busting out all over. "The filthiest thing in the world," he said, "is to corrupt young Americans with dough. I may never coach again, but, God willing, I'm not going to let them corrupt any more kids." Later he added: "I went along, all right—with the full knowledge of my superiors. No coach has any other choice under the unrealistic rules which prevail in the Coast Conference and others like it."
Everyone else around the campus seemed quite stunned at the thought that football players were receiving extracurricular salaries. Said Harvey Cassill: "To the best of my knowledge, no coach or myself has at any time willfully violated the conference rules.... Neither I nor any member of my department has had any relationship with any so-called fund."
The president of the university, Henry Schmitz, echoed the denial: "I want to say at once that these suggestions simply are not true." A re-echo came from Vice-President H. P. (Dick) Everest, a former president of the Pacific Coast Conference, who announced: "Were I to receive evidence that any player has been receiving anything like outside monthly payments, I would immediately declare him disqualified for team participation." The board of regents? Said its chairman, Mrs. J. Herbert Gardner, who with her husband, an insurance man, is a long-time friend of Harvey Cassill: "I know nothing about it at all."
But the blast effect of Johnny Cherberg's talk kept spreading out.
The commissioner of the Pacific Coast Conference, Victor 0. Schmidt of Los Angeles, dropped in at Seattle on a "routine" visit and held a closed-door meeting with Cherberg's assistant coaches. Inevitably, the Pacific Coast Conference would have to consider the evidence of the violation of its own rules.
Even the federal government pricked up its official ears. William E. Frank, district director of internal revenue, warned the football players that money from Torrance's fund would have to be reported as income on tax returns.
Torchy Torrance himself, the man who was only doing his best to boost Husky football, seemed stunned by such phrases as "slush fund" and puzzled by his new role as public villain.
Last week, with Washington split wide open, Athletic Director Harvey Cassill sat down and wrote out his resignation: "If it was right for me to separate John Cherberg from his coaching responsibilities—and it was—then I must now resign myself."
Washington was just beginning to face up to the lessons of football zealotry.
"Education in sport," said a voice last October, "aims also at developing in the young the virtues proper to this activity. These are, among others, loyalty that excludes taking refuge in subterfuges, docility and obedience to the wide commands of the director charged with the training of the team, the spirit of self-renunciation when one has to fade into the background in order that the interests of the team may thereby be furthered, fidelity to obligations undertaken, modesty in victory, sereneness in adverse fortune...."
The voice was that of Pope Pius XII, who doesn't follow American football and doesn't know how important it can sometimes be to local pride to have a winning team. Still, it would be well for those who demand a winner occasionally to turn to his words.
BING CROSBY gets the Torchy celebrity treatment during Seattle golf tournament.
CHARITY DRIVE for March of Dimes finds happy Torchy posing with a buffalo at University Museum.
SEAFAIR is Seattle's big midsummer boating and water festival, so Torchy has to crown the king to get festivities under way.
HORSEBACK riding in fancy dress is a must for western hoopla, and Torchy gives it all his verve.
BASEBALL pose with Rogers Hornsby is aspect of Torchy's role as a team executive.
TORCHY TORRANCE & HIS POSITION
Seattle's No. 1 booster and Washington football's leading sugar daddy appeared on TV and radio last Sunday night to describe himself to the city he loves. He also told of the Greater Washington Advertising Fund, which he uses to pay football players, and how it works. Some excerpts:
"I do not select the players. That's entirely in the department of the coaching staff and the athletic department. After recommendations are given to the coach...our job is to go and try to get them. That's my job at the University of Washington, and it's a self-appointed job in some respects and an inherited job in other respects. My first indication, or my first assignment, was way back in 1921, and I have been working off and on to help the university ever since....
"I am not completely in control of anything...but I do most of the work. I spend, I would imagine, two or three months out of the 12 on this activity. Sometimes it takes all day, sometimes it takes two or three hours.... I have never spent less than $1,500 of my own money each year in this particular program. Do you want me to sit here and agree with you that we should let just anybody, the average student, take over the football and athletic situation at the university? Don't you appreciate that we all want to be superior in everything we do? We want to be the ultimate the top. We want to be the winner....
"Are the University of Washington officials aware of our recruiting activity? Why, of course.... They've heard rumors, and they know that there must be some help from some place, as does every conference, school and every other university primarily in the country of any consequence....
"I am terribly proud of the years I have spent in helping the university...."