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."