BELLINGHAM, Wash. -
In 1989, I worked my 200th football game as sports information director at Western Washington University. Except for the 1971 season, I had been to every Viking football game, home and away, since 1966.
That meant surviving more than 100 road trips. At the small college level, that’s no small accomplishment.
Only on trips longer than Tacoma to the south or Ellensburg to the east did the Vikings stay overnight, and then only on the day before a game. So, there have been times when Western would go to Oregon Tech (Klamath Falls, Ore.), 662 miles away; or Southern Oregon (Ashland, Ore.), 549 miles away, on Friday; play a night contest Saturday, board the charter bus immediately following the game and return to campus around mid-morning on Sunday. That was just in time to start a full work day to complete my duties for Western and those as the part-time conference publicist.
The same itinerary has been followed on trips to Butte, Mont. (Montana Tech), and Reno, Nev. (Nevada-Reno). It’s something you really have to experience to appreciate.
But all those games and trips have made for a lot of wonderful memories.
Like in 1976, when Western won its last three games, all come-from-behind efforts in the final minutes, to get into the first NAIA District 1 championship game against Pacific Lutheran and beat the Knights (now Lutes), 48-28, at Tacoma.
There was an alumni-varsity basketball game that night on the WWU campus. So when the team arrived home, all the players filed into Sam Carver Gymnasium. Those competing on the court immediately stopped their game and began applauding, while the crowd rose and gave a long ovation. It is a moment that I will always remember with a lump in my throat.
In 1969, a scrappy Western team tied for the Evergreen Conference title with Eastern Washington and Central Washington. A key win to make that happen was 19-16 over Eastern, defeating the Savages (now Eagles) in a game at Bellingham’s Civic Stadium that became known as the “Fog Bowl.”
Early in the contest, which began at 8 p.m., the fog rolled in. It became so thick that people in the stands could not see the near-side hash marks. Those of us in the pressbox, which was even further away from the field, were finding it impossible to see from our vantage point. So I went down to the field to keep the statistics. I mean right on the field, as in standing next to the back judge.
I don’t believe anyone saw Eastern’s first score, the wide receiver coming out of the fog with the ball held high over his head and the officials raising their arms signaling touchdown.
On punts, I would be back with the deep men, sometimes helping them out (if they were WWSC players) by calling out where the ball was. At halftime, the game officials came very close to calling the game off.
Trailing 16-13 late in the fourth quarter, the Vikings began a drive. At about this time, the fog lifted, and with 1:14 left, on a fourth-down and 10 play, quarterback Glenn Hadland threw a 13-yard touchdown pass to split end Gary Aagaard that proved to be the game winner.
Another contest, I vividly recall because of the weather, was the 1970 season finale against Oregon Tech, again at Civic Stadium. The temperature was under 10 degrees and the wind chill factor below zero. Despite the conditions, yard lines were chipped out of the ice and snow, and the contest played. The players tried to keep their hands warm with charcoal barbecue stoves set up on the sidelines.
The crowd was easy to estimate that day – nine people were in the stands – and we had them join us in the pressbox so as not to freeze. They got to see safety Vic Randall intercept two passes of the five that the Owls attempted that afternoon to set season (9) and career (26) records.
Speaking of records, I had the privilege of marking down every yard Pat Locker ran for – 4,049 of them. He became the first runner in the history of northwest football, and that includes, Washington, Washington State, Oregon and Oregon State, to reach the 4,000-yard plateau. Locker did that in front of a home crowd late in the 1979 season.
Locker may not have had extraordinary speed (to me that made his record even more incredible because it was not built on a lot of breakaway runs), but he had that “sixth sense” in finding a hole that only the elite running backs are blessed with.
There are other moments and games that stand out, like outside linebacker Jerry Kelly returning an intercepted pass for a touchdown with 11 seconds to go in a game played in 1969 at Spokane that turned a 21-21 tie into a 28-21 victory over Whitworth.
There was a 20-19 win over Oregon College (now Western Oregon) that snapped the Wolves’ 22-game Evergreen Conference winning streak. And last year (1988), Peter LaBarge’s 36-yard field goal with eight seconds to go to beat Western Oregon, 16-13, and the 13-13 tie in 1987 with eventual national champion Pacific Lutheran.
I also was able to watch halfback Steve Richardson, the only three-time All-Evco pick on both offense and defense; Dave Weedman, a defensive end drafted by the NFL; fullback Tom Wigg, the first four-time All-Evco selection; and others such as Butts Giraud, Scott Stokes, Jim Sterk, Hoyt Gier, Rick Brudwick, Bill Mendelson, Jeff Potter, Mike Locker, Jon Christie, Bill Handy, Dave Peterson, Wayne Lewis … the list goes on and on.
But, above all, what I treasure most are the friendships I’ve been able to develop with the coaches and players. That’s what makes this job special.
So, when I’m on another long road trip, the miles go by a lot faster as memories come back of the last 20-plus years.
By Paul Madison who served 48 years as sports information director at WWU from 1966 to 2015
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