WSC banged, smashed, bulled, and pounded their way to a 14–0 victory that started a storied football tradition.
Washington State supporters wondered, sometimes aloud, if President E. A. Bryan had made a grievous mistake in entrusting the football program to William “Lone Star” Dietz shortly after the sharp-dressed man arrived on September 1, 1915.
Dietz emphasized conditioning over running plays, then a radical approach. He inherited eight experienced players and three teams of untested candidates, none of whom were familiar with the single- or double-wing formations Dietz—as Pop Warner’s protégé—brought with him from Carlisle Indian School. Hopes sank when the varsity squeaked by the alumni 3 to 2. Captain Asa “Ace” Clark wasn’t convinced the new approach would succeed but he accepted Dietz’s request to shift to tackle. Hoping for Washington State College’s first winning season since 1909, Lone Star then moved Clarence Zimmerman to end, “Hack” Applequist to guard, and plugged some holes with new men.
The season opener against the tough Oregon eleven changed some minds. The Evergreen editorial, “Vindication for Dietz,” praised both coach and players in their 28 to 3 victory. Four more convincing wins earned an invitation from the Pasadena Tournament of Roses Association to a postseason game on New Year’s Day against Brown University. Quelling “Gloomy” Gil Dobie’s assertions that his undefeated Washington team should represent the West, Dietz’s charges pummeled Gonzaga 48–0.
On December 21, after a fancy send-off dinner at Spokane’s Davenport Hotel, the Washington State contingent boarded the Spokane-Portland Flyer train. They arrived in Tinseltown Christmas morning to a surprise from Coach Dietz: they were to become movie stars. Dietz had arranged for his players to portray the football team in Tom Brown at Harvard and wrangled a small part for himself. Dick Hanley recalled, “Each player was making around $100 for fourteen days of work, and while that wasn’t hard to take we always figured the movie was strictly a camouflage idea to make us forget Dietz was getting away with twice-a-day drills.”
That wasn’t the only trick Dietz pulled. He took his players aside individually, saying WSC’s only chance was to stop future College and Pro Football Hall-of-Famer Fritz Pollard, “and I’m counting on you to do the job!” He swore each to secrecy ostensibly to keep the others unaware.
On December 30, Mother Nature dumped two to three inches of snow on Southern California. On New Year’s Day she poured rain. To complete the mess, game organizers scheduled a donkey polo game for Tournament Park that morning. Fritz Pollard almost drowned when he was tackled in a mud puddle. People observed Lone Star Dietz’s white suit was splattered with mud in the first quarter.
Dietz’s team normally ran a wide open offense but field conditions rendered tricky ball handling inadvisable. He shifted to cautious line bucks against the heavy Bruin line. Brown had the best of it early but WSC’s defense rose to the occasion. Archie Durham intercepted a pass on his own 10-yard line and they sacked the Brown quarterback on fourth down at the WSC six.
The second half was a different story. Ralph Boone, “Bing” Bangs, and “Red” Dietz (no relation to Coach Dietz) smashed the ball down the field. Boone bulled the ball from four yards out for the first score. In the fourth quarter, Red Dietz pounded the ball in from the two. Quarterback Arthur “Bull” Durham dropkicked both extra points. Two other scores escaped when they fumbled the wet, slippery ball near the goal line.
It wasn’t just offense that won the game. WSC’s defense smothered Pollard from making substantial gains, preventing any scores for the Brown Bruins.
WSC’s 14–0 victory established West Coast football as the equal of the Eastern variety and started the New Year’s Day football tradition and the series of games today known as the Rose Bowl.
Video highlights from the 1916 Rose Bowl
Silent footage of the WSC football squad in Pasadena. Watch the videos.
Excerpt from Chance for Glory
The rise of the WSC football team and the college explored in this 2015 book by Darin Watkins ’84. Read the excerpt.