Like the tall timber and snow-capped Mt. Rainier and Boeing airplanes and the icy blue waters of Puget Sound, football is a source of deep pride in the Great Northwest. Seattle and a goodly part of the state of Washington tingle when the Huskies have a good team—and there is something particularly exhilarating about beating the collegiate brethren from California who hog the national publicity and practically monopolize the Rose Bowl. It really does something for the old ego to give the Californians (well, the whole country, for that matter) their come-uppance on the gridiron.
By last week the booster zeal with which Seattle and the state of Washington have pursued these cheerful goals had led to a classic public uproar. The regents of the University of Washington were meeting behind locked doors; the front pages of Seattle papers, along with the local TV, were ablaze with charges and countercharges; Greater Seattle Inc. was issuing a proclamation; one University of Washington official resigned and others were shaky. In fact, everyone in the Northwest who cared a whit was in turmoil because Washington's football coach had had a spat with his players. And been fired for it. And started talking.
The coach was John (Cowboy) Cherberg, himself a onetime Washington football star in the early '30s, and the gist of his complaint was this: the men who run the secret slush fund that pays his players extracurricular salaries had used their checkbook to turn his players against him. At the end of the season more than 30 of them joined in an organized revolt, and he was given the gate by the university.
Good football players, to put it mildly, are not easy to come by. A good team can cost $5,000 a month or more in scholarships and campus-job payments, and, when that isn't sufficient, special inducements such as convertibles and free trips home and vacation jobs and even jobs for the players' wives. Football players, if they are smart enough to learn a fake reverse, understand their own value and are quick to capitalize on it.
No one knows this better than Roscoe C. Torrance, until this year president of Greater Seattle Inc. and a really remarkable booster in a city of boosters. Since his undergraduate days at Washington, "Torchy" Torrance, a carrot-topped little dynamo who was a .300-hitting second baseman on the college team and president of the Big W club in his senior year, has been all for the Huskies. Right after graduation in 1923 he started working for better football as assistant graduate manager, and he doesn't mind admitting that he helped build the Rose Bowl teams of 1924 and 1926. Nowadays Torchy is Mr. Football around Seattle, and it was he that much of the conversation concerned last week.
So that good football players may enjoy the advantages of a Washington education, Torchy Torrance runs the Greater Washington Advertising Fund, which, as he tells it, is used "primarily for transportation costs, entertainment and expenses for prospective athletes." Once Torchy explained: "It's a fact of life that a kid can't be a college athlete and make it through school if he's in any need at all without outside help, and that's why there's a fund like ours at almost every other university."
Torchy's fund is a big one—it has run in the past anywhere from $20,000 to $75,000—and he runs it pretty much as he pleases. Mostly the contributions come from 70 or 80 Seattle big and little businessmen, labor leaders, doctors, lawyers and others interested in civic betterment, who contributed checks ranging upward from $50. Now and then Torchy sees a chance to make an extra pile for the fund, such as an exhibition pro football game last summer between the New York Giants and the San Francisco 49ers. He talked the teams into coming to Seattle. He sold the directors of Greater Seattle Inc. on the idea of sponsoring the show. He persuaded the university regents to lend their 55,500 seat stadium (normally restricted to college events) for 15% of the gate.
It was a whopping success. Each team made $36,586; the Associated Students of the University of Washington received $28,361 for stadium rental and management fees; Greater Seattle Inc. turned a profit of $7,021. After taxes, there was $28,000 left over, so Torchy, by previous agreement with Greater Seattle Inc., tucked it into the treasury of the Greater Washington Advertising Fund, the purse he uses to pay Husky athletes.
Everyone, particularly university and state officials, seemed very surprised with this piece of information when it was finally published. No one pretended there was anything dishonest about it. They just seemed surprised that what had passed for an event to greaten Seattle—and a professional sports event at that—was helping put amateur football players through the local college. No doubt if they had been told about it in advance, they would have been perfectly happy. Hearing about it later was something of a shock.
When Cowboy Cherberg started to talk—first in some interviews with the
, then on a city-wide television show and afterward in more interviews with reporters—his verbosity infected a lot of other tongues. All the wagging tongues eventually unfolded a tale that tended to strip some of the protective glamour off big-time football when college supporters and local boosters let their enthusiasm for victory run away with them.