A Chapter from The Dutchman and Portland’s Finest Rose
Jun 25, 2020
As spring turned into summer, they slowly eased into a routine that seemed to work for both of them. Stub continued to have two-a-day practices and attended classes during the week while Gloria began to gain confidence running the household.
They discussed finances and agreed that, just as Stub’s and Gloria’s mothers managed their own houses and paid the bills, so too would Gloria. She was relieved when he said, “My money is your money. We’ll just put everything in one pot, and you can take care of things.” And she nearly swooned after he matter-of-factly added, “After all, if we can’t trust each other about money, we probably can’t trust each other about anything.”
Trust, she was coming to realize, was one of those black and white concepts that Stub embraced.
Once Gloria got the house in order, which didn’t take very long, she started going to the library to study for the graduate school entrance exam. And soon, June graduation came and went for the class of ’47 undergraduates, and then there was a short break before summer session began the first week in July. She was so eager to get back into a classroom, even if it meant being a teaching assistant again.
They were able to manage on Stub’s GI stipend for housing, and her money from tutoring went toward the rest of their expenses. Stub picked up odd jobs at the lumber mill, and occasionally served and washed dishes at his frat house to help augment their monthly income. Gloria could hardly wait for her teaching assistant salary of $23.40 a month to begin. It would take every penny for them to make a go of things.
But Stub’s positive attitude and zest for life made it seem easy. They were content to spend their evenings studying, and with her help, his grades began to rise along with his confidence in schoolwork. Her return to studying reproductive biology was invigorating, and she hoped she gained acceptance to graduate school for September. There was so much exciting work being done, and world scientists seemed to be on the verge of discovering the basic building blocks of life, which they referred to as DNA. She wanted to be a part of that research.
They figured if Stub went to school year round the next two years, he could finish his undergraduate degree by June of ’49. He could elect to play one more year of college ball, or if good enough, turn pro. Gloria knew she could complete her master’s degree in one year’s time, graduating in June of ‘48. Then she would have to decide what she wanted to do. Medical School? That was a four year commitment. Stub would be in Eugene for at least two more years. And Gloria? Wherever she got into med school, it would not be in Eugene. Could they accept the separation? A lot depended on what Stub decided to do.
That nagging feeling that she truly didn’t have control of her own life decisions constantly lurked in the back of her mind, but she kept on working.
As she began to run down the steps of Deady Hall after class on Friday, eager for the July Fourth weekend to begin, she spied Stub pacing back and forth under the maple tree. She stopped suddenly, his image taking her back to that moment when they first met just a little over a year ago. Her heart swelled with happiness, and she raced up to his side. “Hey, you. Penny for your thoughts.”
He swung around to face her, and his eyes were alight, as if he would burst from sharing a secret. “Guess what?”
He shook his head in dismay, rising to the dare. “No, you got to take a stab at it.”
“Okay,” she grinned. “Let’s see. You got an ‘A’ on your physiology exam!”
He laughed, a little wounded. “No. It’s not school related. Guess again.”
“Hmm…” She loved how the sunlight danced across his face. “You got a better paying job?”
He was clearly getting frustrated. “No, but I did get a lead on one over at the funeral home. Digger Larsen is a friend of the coach, and I promise I’ll follow up after this weekend.”
She laughed. “Digger Larsen? As in grave digger?”
He acknowledged with a slight nod.
“That’s good.” She smiled and then turned to start walking in the direction of Stub’s next class before football practice.
He fell in alongside. “You’ve got one more guess.”
She looked at him sideways. “You made varsity.”
His eyes gleamed as he stopped to face her. “Better than that. Coach made me his starting quarterback!”
The sting of Coach’s treatment of both of them prior to the wedding had dissipated, but she was still weary. Pausing, seeing the joy on Stub’s face erased some of the anger, and she wrapped her arms around his neck and planted a big kiss. “I knew you could do it! I just knew it!”
Dropping his books, he twirled her around a couple of turns. “How about that news, Gloriasmay?”
“I’d say that’s mighty nifty news.” And as he placed her gently back down on the ground, she added, “But you best be off to class. The bell is about to ring!”
He swatted her on the fanny and saluted. “Aye, aye,” he said as he trotted off to class.
Summer temperatures hovered in the high 80s and low 90s, but it was dry as the two-a-day practices continued. The final squad of fifty-four players was in battle shape and raring to start the season. A new NCAA rule permitting substitutions was instituted for this coming year, which enabled coaches to decide if they wanted to exempt any of their players from playing double platoons, both offense and defense. He chose for his new quarterback to only play on the offensive squad. There were mixed reactions from the team, but Coach made it clear: with the implementation of this new T-formation, the offensive line’s primary job was to protect the quarterback and provide precision blocking for the fullbacks and halfbacks. And when they switched to defense, they were to rush their opponents’ passer or tackle on rushing running backs. Protecting their own quarterback was paramount.
The Ducks had some premier backs returning from last season. Leicht, Still, and Wright were all track team standouts. Leicht had sustained a knee injury last season and missed some games, but he was healthy and fit again. Wright was fast and an expert hurdler, and Still was just plain fast. Other backs returning were Bell, Boqua, Newquist, and Oas. At fullback, they had a seasoned player in Koch and two exciting young players, Sanders and Maine. Brad Ecklund, team co-captain and All Pacific Coast Conference, was solid at center, along with fellow experienced linemen Stanton and Dotur. The guard position needed beefing up, so Coach recruited Chrobat from Purdue and Thompson from Georgia Tech to help out the lone returning senior, Kauffman. And there was a wealth of experienced ends, like Bartholemy, Torchia, Milne, Miller, Garza, Robinson, and a new transfer, McCowan, for Coach’s quarterbacks to choose from as receivers. With two other quarterbacks returning from last season, Abbey and Bodner, and two new recruits, Holcomb and Johnson, Stub knew he had to continue to earn his starting position. He was fine with that.
Stub couldn’t have been happier. He had finished spring practice with the highest completion rate of 70% and done a good job of spreading his passes around to not only the ends, but also the backs running off tackle plays into the flats. He appreciated Coach taking the extra time to show him how to throw with more of an overhead delivery instead of the sidearm motion he had been using. With satisfaction, he realized the ball traveled farther and truer, and with a higher arc. Coach taught him how to key off the defense, utilizing his peripheral vision, and not focus so much on where he intended to throw the ball or to whom. It was uncanny how similarly they agreed on play calling, and he often dropped by Coach’s house after hours to discuss new plays he had thought about. He was never turned away, and often they could be found sitting on the carpet, placing dinner plates around on the floor, enacting different scenarios. He thrived under Coach’s team concept and worked hard, often showing up to practice before anyone else. Steadily, there was a growing number of guys showing up early, with a sense of purpose as the fall season approached.
September 20, 1947 was a clear, warm day for the Ducks’ opening game against the Montana State Bobcats. And though the Bobcats were favored to win, that didn’t matter to the Coach or his team. They were a different band of brothers coming into this season. They had worked hard and played hard, and now they trotted onto the field in front of a packed Hayward Stadium of over 11,500 enthusiastic fans. They knew they were a better team this year; they were lean and mean, more cohesive and determined, plus they had an air of confidence to prove it.
Gloria excitedly sat in the stands with the other player’s wives and girlfriends, happy to be sitting next to Anita. They had reconnected now that she and Stub had gotten married and moved back onto campus. She noticed the Bobcats won the toss yet elected to kick off to the Ducks. The Ducks came out blazing. Leicht retrieved a shovel pass from Stub and ran 38 yards. Then Newquist ran off left tackle for 21 yards for another first down. Two more running plays put them within striking distance of the goal line. The energy in the stadium was electric.
As they huddled up, Stub looked around at the circle of eager faces. “Okay guys, we got ‘em where we want ‘em.” Looking directly into Dan Garza’s eyes, he said, “Let’s give ‘em the old ‘Van to Dan’ pass play.” They nodded in agreement. “On three…” and they clapped their hands, stood up, and trotted to the line of scrimmage.
Stub took the snap from Ecklund, who expertly blocked the opposing onrushing lineman. Stub rolled to his right, pump faked to Koch in the flats, and then turned a bit to his left, spotting Dan Garza running across center field and let sail a perfect spiral pass into his waiting hands. All Stub saw before being tackled was the lovely sight of the back of Garza’s jersey sprinting to the end zone. And the crowd went wild! Only five plays into the first football college game with Stub as starting quarterback, and it had resulted in a TD!
Gloria and Anita jumped up out of their seats, wildly clapping and cheering—their boys had finally scored!
As Stub reached up for Ecklund’s outstretched hand and was pulled up off the ground, he scanned the standing ovation and roaring crowd. It was a sight and sound he would never forget.
Unable to convert the extra point, the Ducks had to settle for a six-point edge, which only momentarily dampened the crowd’s cheers.
The rest of the first quarter seesawed back and forth. The Bobcats ran wild at times but were unable to score against the Ducks’ strong defensive line. The Ducks were able to make good gains with the running attack of Newquist, Leicht, and Sanders, but penalties negated any progress towards the end zone. A fumble in the early part of the second quarter led to the Bobcat’s first touchdown. Not to be outdone, the Ducks did an admirable job of mixing up their running game with their passing plays, but fumbles and penalties kept them from putting another score on the board. They went into the locker room at halftime down 7-6.
As the players sat on the locker room benches, sweat dripping from their faces, their restless Coach paced back and forth in front of them.
“Men,” he paused, looking directly at the room full of players, “this is why we worked so hard this spring and summer.” And he resumed his pacing. “It’s hot as blue blazes out there. I know it is. But I know you’ve got it in you to dig deep and rely on your conditioning to get you through the next two quarters.” Then he stopped pacing and stood silent for a moment. Shaking his head, he began to speak again. “But what I can’t figure out for the life of me is why you’re fumbling the ball so often and getting called for so many damn penalties! Those are mental mistakes.”
And he began to walk and talk again, “We’ve drilled and drilled so you won’t make these mistakes. We are not going to win this game, or any other game, if we keep making mental mistakes. So let’s cut that out!” And he rounded on the group, staring them down. “Do I make myself clear?”
“Yes sir,” they answered in less than an enthusiastic tone.
“All right then,” he hollered with conviction. “I’m not going to change any of the play calling. We’re moving the ball well. We’re passing the ball well. I’m just asking you to hang onto the damn ball!” Coach stared them down. “Got it?”
With a little more enthusiasm, they answered, “Yes, sir!”
Trotting back onto the field, they knew they could win this game. But what they also knew was they couldn’t defeat themselves. They had had too many seasons like that already.
Gloria and the girls anxiously watched Oregon kick off to Montana, who marched down the field and scored another quick TD. The score was now 14-6. A deflating sense of defeat settled around the stadium. Was this season going to go down in flames like last year? Gloria shot a knowing glance Anita’s way, seeing the same concern reflected in her eyes.
Try as they might, the Ducks were still denied a touchdown. Then the defense gave the offense a reason to rally. On a gutsy fourth down play, the Bobcats chose to go for it, and Koch smashed the line, denying them a first down. The Ducks took possession, and after a series of plays of wide sweeps to Newquist and Leicht, Stub passed to Koch for six yards. They were within striking distance of the goal line again.
Stub looked over at the sidelines, and Coach nodded as they quickly huddled up. “Okay, guys. Let’s keep our heads in the game. We’ve worked hard for this one. Let’s go get it. Oas, go long.” They clapped their hands, and broke huddle.
Stub took the snap from Ecklund and dropped back to pass. And there he was, Oas running free, unopposed, just like they had practiced a thousand times, and Stub let it rip. A thing of beauty, the ball arced and sailed into the hands of Oas as he sprinted into the end zone! With a successful conversion for the extra point, the score was now 14-13, Bobcats.
Robinson kicked off to the Bobcats at the beginning of the last quarter, which the Bobcats fumbled, and Robinson recovered his own kickoff. Leicht came alive, running off left tackle for a big gain. Then Sanders ran straight ahead, shattering the defensive line in four successive plays for another first down. Stub handed the ball off to Leicht who ran off right tackle, bursting through the line, evading tackles as he danced along the sidelines into the end zone for the go ahead score. It was now 20-14, and the stadium roar was deafening. This was a comeback, the likes the Duck fans had not seen in a long while.
In the waning minutes of the final quarter, Abbey kicked off to the Bobcats, and Nelson went back to receive, fumbling the ball and then recovering before being swamped under a pile of Ducks. Three aborted running plays later they had to punt. Leicht received the ball and ran 31 yards down field to Montana’s 40-yard line. The Ducks jumped offsides, sustaining a 5-yard penalty, putting the ball back on the 45. Stub handed off to Leicht for a 2-yard loss, and then Sanders was thrown for a 1-yard loss, putting the ball nearly back at midfield. Though ahead in the game with only minutes remaining, and now a third down, they were frustrated as they huddled up.
“Come on guys,” Stub admonished. “Coach ain’t going to be happy with these mistakes.” Looking down at the ground, then back up at their eager faces, he said, “Let’s give the fans something more to cheer about. Robinson, your turn to shine. Let’s run a post. On two.” Clapping hands, a final spring in their steps, they lined up face to face against the Bobcat line.
On two, Stub took the snap, faded back to pass, and hit Robinson deep. He ran all the way to the 6-yard line. The team nearly skipped all the way downfield to the cadence of their fans’ cheers. Trying to quiet the fans down, Stub called two successive running plays to Bell, resulting in a 3-yard gain. On third down, from the 3-yard line, Stub handed the ball off to Oas in the backfield, and he ran off right tackle and romped into the end zone. Pandemonium ensued!
In less than 2 minutes and 45 seconds, the explosive offense of Oregon had scored two touchdowns. The final score was 27-14. They had won their opening game, giving their new Coach his first victory and uniting as a cohesive playing unit— a far cry from the ragtag misfits of vets and rookies from last season.
Gloria’s eyes filled with tears of joy as she watched the guys jump up and down in the middle of the field. So much hard work, sacrifice, and sheer determination had finally paid off.
As euphoric as this first win was, the next three weeks taught them humility. Coach had admonished them to win as a team and to accept defeat graciously as a team. But it was damn hard to eat crow. Stub hated it.
The following week they rode the bus up to Portland and played against a top ranked Texas Longhorn team in the sweltering heat of late September. Though these Texans were used to this kind of heat, the Ducks weren’t. During the first quarter they outplayed the Longhorns to the cheers of an ecstatic home crowd, but fumbles and costly penalties denied them any scores. Texas racked up three successive touchdowns before the half. Stub stood in awe on the sidelines watching Bobby Layne connect with one successful pass after another.
Finally, in the third quarter, Stub connected with a TD pass to Milne, and Oregon was on the scoreboard. But Texas came roaring back, scoring three quick TDs of their own. And though the Ducks put one more score on the board in the final quarter, it was too little too late. The final score was a 38-13 win for the Longhorns.
On the long bus ride home, Coach praised them for playing with a lot of heart. It was what he didn’t say that got to them. Fumbles and fundamentals. They had to improve if they wanted to be contenders. Each and every one of them knew what next week’s practices were going to be like.
The Ducks went into the following weeks’ game against the Nevada Wolfpack with renewed commitment. Coach really wanted this game. He wanted to right the ship in front of their hometown fans and get some momentum going again. The day was overcast and a bit cool. Despite the Ducks desire to play well, they looked listless. The Wolfpack gave them a tough go of it, but by the end of the first quarter, neither team had scored. The second quarter started on an energetic pass play, another “Van to Dan” connection that gave them their first touchdown, but sadly, another missed extra point. The Wolfpack answered by recovering a Duck fumble but was unable to capitalize. Back on offense, the Ducks drove the ball down to the 1-yard line where Stub tried a quarterback sneak, only to be denied. Both teams were unable to score until the final moments of the first half when the Wolfpack once again recovered a Duck fumble and Mirabelli passed to Robinson for a 24-yard jaunt into the end zone. The extra point was good, sending the teams into the locker room at halftime with a score of 7-6, Wolfpack.
As the rain began to fall in the second half and the crowd of 10,000 fans began to head for the exits, the Ducks gave a lackluster showing. Though both teams had multiple opportunities to put points on the board, strong defensive play kept either team out of the end zone. The most spectacular play came with only 35 seconds on the game clock. In desperation, as Stub went back to pass, Lindeman intercepted and romped down field 75 yards for another TD. After receiving the kickoff and running to the Nevada 23-yard line, and with only a few seconds left on the clock, Stub again dropped back to pass towards the end zone, only for Lindeman to intercept the ball again. The final score was a disappointing 13-6.
Gloria stood in the drizzle of the late afternoon, as the few remaining fans silently began to filter out of the stadium. She shook her head in disbelief. Stub had thrown 4 interceptions!
Coach was livid about their sloppy play. He couldn’t fuss about the officiating because there had been no 15-yard penalties this game despite both teams having a player ejected for slugging it out with each other, Meland of Oregon and Hopper of Nevada. The defense had played well and given the offense plenty of opportunities to score, but fumbles continued to be their Achilles heel.
Perhaps heading south for their next game with the UCLA Bruins would bring better luck.
As high as they had felt after the opening game against Montana, they now felt as if they had hit rock bottom. Had all the hard work been for naught? Was this toughened group of vets, varsity seniors, and exciting new recruits going to continue to band together, or would they fall apart as they had in previous seasons? What was the glue that would bind them together?
They knew they weren’t quitters, they were fighters. They had tasted the sweetness of victory. They wanted it back.
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