BELLINGHAM, Wash. -
In early September of 1967, a 6-foot, 235-pound defensive tackle walked onto the Western Washington University (then Western Washington State College) campus looking to play football.
Two-a-day practices had already begun for the Vikings, nevertheless the coaching staff was quick to take notice of the newcomer.
At that time, no player on Western's roster weighed more than 235 pounds. Such windfalls rarely happened for the school, then a member of the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA).
And Butts Giraud had a tremendous upside. Born and raised in Vancouver, British Columbia, he had been a redshirt at the University of Florida (Gainesville) on a team that had gone to the Sugar Bowl and then spent a year at Central Florida CC (Ocala). Because of his love for the sport, Giraud had attended Riverside (Calif.) Polytechnic as a foreign exchange student for his senior year of high school (1965 graduate).
Fresh out of high school with just two years of organized football under his belt, Giraud had tried out for the B.C. Lions of the Canadian Football League (CFL). And he came to Western just a few days after making the team and receiving a scholarship offer from Western Kentucky University (Bowling Green) because he yearned to return to his roots.
So, when Giraud arrived at Western, he was in top physical shape. After being cleared to enroll in school and compete, Giraud was an immediate starter for the Vikings, helping their defense become one of the stingiest in the Evergreen Conference.
That season, Giraud was selected to both the Evco and NAIA District 1 all-star teams for the first of three straight seasons. He also earned NAIA All-America honorable mention in 1968 and 1969, helping Western to a share of the Evco championship in the latter campaign.
In 1967, the Vikings ended their season at Cheney, Wash., with a near-upset of Eastern Washington, ranked No.6 nationally in the NAIA, before losing 26-21. The then-Savages (now Eagles) won on a scoring drive in the final three minutes.
On Eastern's game-winning touchdown play, Giraud came within an eyelash of batting down the pass thrown by 5-7 second-team All-America quarterback Bill Diedrick.
"I got through to the quarterback and he was a little guy," recalled Giraud. "I'll never forget it. The ball brushed by my thumb and my finger. Just an inch or two more and the pass is blocked and we win the game."
"I've seen him (Diedrick) a few times since because he coached a few years in Canada, and I've always said to him that I'll never forget that game because the leather of the ball was touching my thumb and my finger. I had my hand up and I could feel it."
Eastern went on to reach the NAIA national championship game.
At Western, Giraud was influenced by coaches and physical education teachers like Fred Emerson, Boyde Long, Stan LeProtti and Don Wiseman, to name a few.
"I was privileged to have had great mentors, you came away from these guys being a better educator and coach, a better person," Giraud said. "At that time, Western was one of the premier schools in the West if you wanted to teach, and made it possible to get a master's degree either by going to night school or summer school. That's why Canadians then went to Western over (University of) British Columbia and Simon Fraser (University)."
Giraud did a number of things to earn extra spending money while attending Western. Among them were working in the laundry room in Carver Gymnasium and at the SAGA food service. And using an idea he got from Florida, he ordered beanies and sold them to the freshmen football players.
In an effort to help attendance at Western football games, Giraud rented a school bus, and dressed in his uniform, drove the 3.2 miles from the school to Bellingham's Civic Stadium.
"We didn't have a great student presence at our games, so I decided to do something about it," Giraud recalled. "I rented the bus and then drove back and forth from the Viking Union to the stadium. I'd drive for a while and then I'd get someone else to take over as we got closer to kickoff."
Giraud was also known to get into mischief at Western. One time he and a couple of teammates filled the milk and juice containers in the Viking Commons Dining Hall with beer from a keg they had purchased. "For a long time, they couldn't figure out who did it, but they finally did and we were called in and read the riot act," Giraud said with a laugh.
And Giraud, like many students at that time, often parked illegally on campus. But Butts took it to a new level.
"I remember meeting with Bill McDonald (then the Western Dean of Students)," he recalled. "I had amassed a few thousand dollars in tickets over my time there. So, he called me in because I wasn't going to get my diploma until I paid this fine. I figured this was it, I was going to be hammered by the dean of the University. Dean Mac said, `Butts, what am I going to do with all these tickets here?' as he dumped like a basket full of tickets on the desk. `Do you have the money to pay for these? You'd have to play professional football for five years before you could pay for all these." And I said, `Yeah I know.' Then he got this smile on his face, and it got bigger and bigger and he said, `Well Butts,' and he put all the tickets back in the basket and said, `this is going to go in the garbage and you don't have to worry about it. Thanks for all you did at Western and get the heck out of here boy and good luck to you."
During his last year at Western, Giraud was the road manager and marketing director for the semi-pro Bellingham Bells baseball team and helped out in the sporting goods store owned by Joe Martin, the team's manager.
A self-made promoter and entrepreneur, Giraud made more money doing that than playing CFL professional football at Winnipeg (Province of Manitoba) a year later.
The legacy of Butts Giraud was just beginning.
Following graduation from Western, Giraud traveled to coach spring ball at the University of Hawaii and while there saw the Crazy T-shirt industry. He did his research, returned to Vancouver, and started his Vancouver Sports Promotions, Ltd., and The Dog's Ear T-Shirt and Embroidery Company. From that came the famous "Towel Power" promotion when the Vancouver Canucks made an improbable bid for the Stanley Cup championship during the 1982 National Hockey League playoffs.
"I came back and bought the concession rights for the B.C. Lions for $5,000. It was an honor to play football and I would have played for nothing, but I found that there was three times the money selling souvenirs."
And because of a chance meeting with professional wrestling great Dutch Savage (whose mother lived in Bellingham) while getting treatment in the Western training room, Giraud embarked on an 11-year international pro wrestling career that took him to such faraway places as England and Iraq.
"He'd (Savage) come in and I'd ask him how do you get into this wrestling business," recalled Giraud. "And he said after you play your first year of professional football, come and see me and I'll see what I can do for you."
A little while later, Giraud became involved with the World Belly Flop and Cannonball Diving Championships, which were held in Vancouver, B.C., from 1975 to 1980. Twice they were shown exclusively on NBC Sports.
Giraud was a four-time world champion, using flaming pyrotechnics on a couple of occasions. He made two major network appearances promoting the event on "To Tell The Truth" with Gary Moore in New York and on "What's My Line" in Montreal, Quebec.
Butts' first world title came at the inaugural event on May 24, 1975, at the Bayshore Inn which was promoting the opening of its new pool. He attributed the win to a lot of practice.
"If you're going to go out and do something (like that), you have to know what you're doing," he said at the time. "I didn't want to go out and be a flop, pardon the pun."
The event won the American Hotel and Motel Association Gold Key public relations achievement award, which came out of New York, in 1976.
In 1991, Giraud was inducted into the WWU Athletics Hall of Fame and in 1999 was picked to the WWU All-Century (1900-1999) Football Team.
Today, Giraud plays a mean harmonica in a Blues Band and has recorded a couple of albums. And he recently wrote his autobiography "The Last Chapter," which was released on Dec. 1, 2016.
"The opportunity I got at Western as far as from an educational standpoint, from a learning standpoint, from a coaching standpoint -- everything I learned down there and my experiences at the University gave me the steppingstone and the tools to do what I did later. Western made a big difference in my life. The experiences that I had there have never been forgotten and are very valued."
How Giraud became known as Butts?
"When I was born, I was round like a button," said Giraud, "so they called me `Buttons.' And when I got a little older, they changed it to `Butts.'"
More great friends from his Western days
It was also during his time at Western that Giraud met Frank "Moose" Zurline and his wife Vi, who were both well-known and well-liked business people in Bellingham and long-time backers of Viking Athletics. Moose attended Western where he played football and basketball. His education and athletic career was interrupted by World War II, when he was drafted into the U.S. Army and served under General George Patton. After graduating from Western, Moose first went into education, then business, while raising a family. He also was a high school and collegiate game-day official for over 40 years.
"This man and his family played a significant role in my life," Giraud said. "I will be forever grateful for their friendship."
A mutual friend of Giraud's and the Zurlines was Dick Stark, a long-time sports broadcaster for KPUG Radio in Bellingham and for many years the "Voice of the Vikings."
"He's also had a very strong influence on me throughout my years at Western and up to the present time," said Giraud.
By Paul Madison who served 48 years as sports information director at WWU from 1966 to 2015
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