Time after time in last week's scrimmages, University of Washington football players bounced out of their huddle, clapped their hands in unison and yelped and whooped at one another as they sprinted into their wing T formations. Then, for an instant, they fell completely silent as Quarterback Bob Schloredt squatted behind the center and began to intone the signals for the coming play. His head swiveled from side to side as he called the cadence, shoulders heaving with the rhythm of his voice. At the climax of the call, the center snapped the ball and the Washington team exploded into action. Bob Schloredt handled the football with authority and poise. Sometimes he simply handed it off or pitched it out to one of the running backs. Sometimes, moving around end on an option play, he abruptly tucked the ball under his arm and set off down-field as if he were late for a train. Sometimes he faded back and calmly watched his receivers spread out across the field while the third team charged in on him.
Last season this solid, 195-pound 6-footer directed the Washington team to its first Rose Bowl appearance in 16 years and to an astonishing one-sided 44-8 victory over Wisconsin. Lacking an adequate replacement throughout most of the season, Schloredt had to play all the major games virtually without relief. The Associated Press picked him as the All-America quarterback on its first team, and West Coast sportswriters rated him above such headliners as Dick Norman of Stanford and Keith Lincoln of Washington State.
The fantastic aspect of this success story is that Bob Schloredt plays the most difficult position in football with practically no vision at all in his left eye. The fact that he is a one-eyed quarterback on one of the best college teams in the country is a source of amazement to almost everybody but Schloredt himself. A number of distinguished ophthalmologists have tried to explain Schloredt's skill at protecting himself against players approaching from his all-bus-blind left side, and his ability to throw long and accurate passes without benefit of normal depth perception. Their explanations seldom have agreed and usually have been intelligible only to various other ophthalmologists.
As far as Schloredt himself is concerned, his unique talent seems quite natural. "I don't know what I do," he will tell you. "Some people say that I kind of swing my head back and forth, but if I do I'm not aware of it. Anyway, I don't think I have any blind spot on my left. And as far as judging distance goes, I just throw the ball at the receiver, and it seems to go where I want it to. I've been this way since I was 7 years old, when another kid and I were fooling around with firecrackers. We stuck one in a glass jar, and when it exploded a piece of glass struck my left eye and seared it. Ever since, I've hardly been able to see anything on that side. But my folks never made anything of it, and I always did everything the other kids were doing, and it didn't seem to bother me. Maybe I just got used to it."
Whatever the explanation, the rest of the teams on the West Coast, and Navy, which Washington plays this week, should be grateful that Schloredt doesn't have two good eyes, considering what he can do with, only one. Although Schloredt is not the kind of flashy T quarterback who leads the statistics, he fits snugly into the hard specifications of Coach Jim Owens' muscular, crunching kind of attack. "Bob is a really fine athlete," Owens says, "and he can do just about everything on the football field well. First of all, he likes the contact part of it. There isn't a harder tackier on the team, and I could use him as a linebacker if I had to. He's big and strong, and although he isn't unusually fast he's a very good runner. He's improved his passing terrifically, and he's a very fine kicker. He may not have any one great specialty, but I'll tell you that if I were a pro coach I'd hire him just to have him on my team."
Owens, like most others who have watched Schloredt play, has been particularly impressed with his knack for coming up with the play that saves the day. He did it on defense in last year's Oregon game, intercepting an Oregon pass on his own goal line in the closing minutes with Washington ahead 13-12 and running the ball out 10 yards to save the game. He did it in the Rose Bowl against Wisconsin. When a Washington offensive drive bogged down, he called a run instead of a punt on fourth down. The play worked and it preserved the momentum that brought Washington its lopsided victory.
"Bob's not afraid to take a chance," one of his teammates said when trying to describe what it is about Schloredt that lifts him so far above the ordinary. "And the team respects him for it. The boys believe in him."
Strange as it may seem now, Schloredt might still be a relatively obscure player on Washington's championship team were it not for an accident in the opening game against Colorado last year. All through his sophomore year Schloredt had understudied Bob Hivner, a classmate who had had a year's junior college experience. Hivner broke a finger on his passing hand early in the Colorado game and couldn't play again until the season was almost over. By the time Hivner returned to service, Schloredt had established a permanent lien on the assignment.
The major difference between Schloredt as a sophomore and as a junior was his passing. Throughout the summer vacation Schloredt practiced throwing a specially made heavy ball to neighborhood volunteers in his home town of Gresham, Ore., a suburb of Portland. By the time he returned to the campus, he could throw long, light passes that receivers caught easily. "It seems to get there just as quickly as the harder pass," Schloredt says, "but the receivers say it sticks to their fingers better."
Schloredt can appraise his play with the detachment of a pawnbroker. Recently someone asked him to compare himself with Hivner, and he replied matter-of-factly: "I'm a little faster than Hivner, so I've got an advantage over him running with the ball. He throws a better short pass than I do, but I've got a little better long pass. I can punt a little better than he can, and I weigh about 20 pounds more than he does, so I've got an advantage on defense."
Well liked and unlikely
There is nothing even slightly offensive when Schloredt talks like this. He is just trying to give the best possible answer to a serious question. One of the reasons he is so popular among his teammates (at the end of last season they voted the honorary title of co-captain to both him and Halfback Don McKeta) is his lack of swagger. "You'd never figure him for a quarterback," happily proclaimed one of the many Seattle alumni who cultivate the friendship of Washington football players as eagerly as actors chase publicity.
For a young fellow who aspired to be a quarterback on a major college football team, Robert Sevey Schloredt picked a good family to be born into. His father, Robert Lee Schloredt, was a grade-school teacher in Deadwood, S. Dak. when Bob arrived on the scene. The elder Schloredt always devoted his nonclassroom hours to coaching the school football and baseball teams, so young Bob grew up in an atmosphere where both schoolbooks and athletics were important, and his father guided him successfully in both directions.
The family eventually migrated to Gresham, where Schloredt grew into a big, hard-muscled boy who was both a good student and an all-state quarterback. Probably because of his bad eye, few of the large western universities courted Schloredt's services as a football player. Until he got some feelers from one of Jim Owens' Washington scouts, he always figured he would go to nearby Oregon, having been an admirer of Norm Van Brocklin, Oregon's outstanding contribution to the world of quarterbacking. However, as Schloredt now recalls, "When I saw the Washington campus I knew I'd like to go to school there, and I'm sure glad I did. It's a good place to get an education." Unlike so many All-America players, that's just what Schloredt is doing, having chosen to major in a predental course.
The case of Bob Schloredt is symptomatic of the new way of football at Washington, but it is not the reason for its success. The major credit must go to Jim Owens, a very large product of Oklahoma City. When Owens took over the football chair at Washington in 1957, things couldn't have been much worse. For years the downtown Seattle alumni and quasi alumni, among the most misguided football zealots anywhere, had been buying players like produce and keeping them handsomely stocked with convertibles and other perquisites commensurate with their touchdown talents. The university finally decided to clean house, but not before it was placed in athletic quarantine by the NCAA.
During the first year of reform Darrell Royal was the coach, but he didn't like it much in Seattle and defected to riper football fields of Texas. When Washington's new athletic director showed up with 30-year-old Jim Owens as the replacement, everyone asked, logically enough, "Who's he?" The answer was that Owens had played football for Bud Wilkinson at Oklahoma, spent a year as a professional end for the old Baltimore Colts and then signed on as an assistant coach with Bear Bryant, first at Kentucky, then at Texas A&M. Both Wilkinson and Bryant had advised Washington that there was no more promising coach available than Owens.
After three years of Jim Owens, the fickle Seattle alumni now rate him on an approximate level with the peak of Mt. Rainier. His first achievement was to bring to Washington a bunch of enthusiastic athletes who were bright enough to survive the university's increasingly stiff academic requirements. Unlike his predecessors, he found most of them in the high schools and junior colleges of the Northwest, not in the talent pens of southern California and the Middle West.
Big hopes for slim men
One of Owens' ingenious contributions to the art of recruiting has been the discovery of the gawky tall man, who is likely to be overlooked while in high school. Owens, who is 6 feet 4 inches himself and weighs a solid 220 pounds, knows that if these string beans are fed well and properly conditioned they often grow into more impressive specimens than chunkier types who push them around in their adolescent years The Washington football team now looks as if it were trying to make the stepladder obsolete. This year's starting line averages more than 6 feet 2 inches, and nine of the linemen on the squad are 6 feet 3 inches or better.
After he gets his tall boys enrolled, Owens emphasizes two things: conditioning and enthusiasm. In the brief two hours now available for football practice, the Husky squad spends much of its time on physical drill. For instance, Owens feels that a strong neck is essential to good football not only because it is one of the most potent levers on the body, but also because it is an insurance against many of the more serious football injuries. Already some of the older coaches like Ohio State's Woody Hayes are adopting Owens' neck exercises, and Owens' athletes are advised not to invest heavily in shirts with collars that fit exactly. A Seattle writer said the other day, "I can't remember seeing an Owens player stretched out on the field all last year."
The new regime at Washington has brought pride to a community that finds something immensely gratifying in a successful college football team. For the time being, at least, the alumni are happy to leave the job of supporting and educating the athletes to the university and the job of coaching them to Jim Owens. They even claim they will not become bitter if the team doesn't win all its games and go to the Rose Bowl every year. That, however, does not appear to be a problem for the immediate future.