Which team was BEST?
1963 and ’86 Gonzaga Prep teams, ’67 Lewis and Clark among fan favorites
We asked for your opinion and boy, did you let us have it. The Spokesman-Review’s informal list of the greatest teams in Spokane high school football history ranges from the long ago to the Kingbowl and Gridiron Classic era with a lot of passion in between.
Clearly, there is no fair way to rank all these teams that played in so many different eras, especially when it is taken into consideration that greatness might not always be measured by wins and losses.
For example, Charlie Cox, a senior on the University High School team of 1963, nominated his Titans team. That year was the first the school had seniors, so no one on the team had any varsity experience, he noted. They went 1-7, Cox reported, losing to three state champions – Gonzaga Prep, Mead and Sandpoint.
“We never experienced an atittude problem as we showed up every Monday, expected to win the next game, and worked hard to that end,” Cox wrote.
The Gonzaga Prep team that defeated Cox’s Titans 47-6 was featured in The Spokesman-Review in late October, celebrating 50 years since their unofficial state championship. It was a team that dominated opponents, scoring 420 points and allowing 26.
But there were teams even stingier. The Gonzaga High School teams of 1930 and 1931 won 17 games without allowing a point. That was a different era: It would be the middle of the 1937 season before a team would score more than two touchdowns against Gonzaga.
Prior to Gonzaga’s memorable ’30 and ’31 seasons, North Central became the first team to win four consecutive championships in the City League, going undefeated in 1926, ’27, ’28 and ’29 in the limited three-game league schedule among North Central, Gonzaga, Lewis and Clark and Hillyard High (Rogers).
Four in a row, be it against three opponents or nine, is such an accomplishment that the next time it happened was with the 1973-76 Gonzaga Prep teams – and two of the those titles were shared.
The Bullpups won five outright Greater Spokane League titles from 1985 through ’89 and it is the 1986 state championship team that may have received the most support from readers as the best ever. That team was ranked No. 7 in the nation by USA Today after defeating Juanita 14-7 in the state championship game.
The 1967 Lewis and Clark Tigers, featuring all-Americans Bill Etter and Bob Minnix in the offensive backfield, were another big attention-getter. That team was one of several City League teams throughout the years to be voted state champion. Reportedly, the Tigers were voted as high as No. 2 in one national poll.
Following are teams who received multiple nominations among the more than 100 responses we received. This was not a poll, just an attempt to recognize some excellent teams:
Gonzaga High School, 1930-31
1930 team went 7-0 and did not allow a point. In 1931, Gonzaga went 10-0, again without allowing a point.
Prep alum Tom Stoeser wrote, “President Gerald Ford was bragging up his undefeated high school football team from 1930, when he heard about this accomplishment. His reaction? ‘Gonzaga High School displays a level of superiority seldom achieved in sport.’ Isn’t that one of the coolest comments the President of the United States could make about a high school football team from Spokane?”
Gonzaga High School, 1944
“I want to nominate Gonzaga Prep’s 1944 football team as the best all-time team,” wrote Greg Ryan, whose father Bob was a team captain. The season included a victory over the Boys Town team from Omaha, Neb., played in front of 8,000 spectators at the Gonzaga University football stadium.
“In looking at names of the boys who played in the City League football in that era from all the high schools, most went on to become prominent members of the Spokane vicinity and beyond,” Greg Ryan wrote. “They made their mark. Many joined the Armed Services and fought a war. Subsequent generations with the same last names filled the rosters of future football teams for all the high schools. Many are no longer with us, including my dad, and the ranks are thinning, but it is a privilege to remember and honor this generation from a different time in our history.”
The Tigers went 6-0 in the first undefeated season in school history and won the outright City League title for the first time. The star of the team was a transfer from Pine City named Bud Roffler, who went on to star at Washington St. and play defensive back in the NFL.
Rogers glory years, particularly 1954 team
Excerpts from a submission by former Spokesman-Review sports writer Bob Payne, who offered the caveat that he is a Rogers graduate: “From Rogers’ opening through 1954, either Gonzaga or Rogers or both won 17 titles – Gonzaga 7, Rogers 7, Gonzaga-Rogers tied 3 times.
“Rogers never had an unbeaten-untied team although the ’43 team was unbeaten but tied by Gonzaga and then beat Bellingham in a so-called state championship game. In 1944, they tied at 5-1 and then Rogers beat Gonzaga in apparently the first-and-only Thanksgiving Day city “playoff” but it still goes down as a tie for the title.”
Warren Cook, a 1956 Rogers graduate, supports the 1954 Rogers team. The 1954 Shrine Game, won by Rogers 14-10 over Gonzaga, was played in front of 20,000 spectators at Albi Stadium. Payne estimates that at least seven players from that game went on to excellent Division I careers. Reader Dayne Daly named those seven as Bob Miller, Ron Lentola, Ron Oliver, John Dixon, Phil Mast, Don Ellingson and Jack Fanning. Another player, Denny Driskill, became an accomplished decathlete in college, Daly noted.
Lewis and Clark, 1955
“Many seem to forget the LC Football Team of 1955. We were the first team east of the Cascades to be voted No. 1 in the state poll. We were certainly one of the best high school football teams in Spokane history,” wrote Max Etter, an All-City and All-State player on that team.
Another standout on that team was Gail Cogdill, who went on to star at Washington State and was named NFL Rookie of the Year in 1960.
Gonzaga Prep, 1963
“As an 8th grader, I would watch all of Prep’s games. I remember the two Rogers games, and even the Shadle blowout (played at Rogers). But, dear God, that ’63 team was unbelievable to watch,” wrote Bob Delaney.
Terry Sullivan, the starting quarterback for that team, wrote “We were successful because we were well coached and loaded with athleticism, speed, talent, toughness, experience and the traditions Prep instilled in us. The seniors had played together four years, the juniors three but none of us had a season like 1963, including 1962 when Ted Gerela established himself as an awesome, record-setting fullback or as freshmen in 1960 when we overpowered every team we played.”
“Coach Frazier would tell us to play with reckless abandon as soon as the whistle blew before each kickoff. He wanted us to dominate the opposing linemen from the first play and to hit them harder each time. It was like being coached by Knute Rockne, George Halas or Vince Lombardi – in high school football! Many years later, we are still benefiting from what Prep football taught us about life.”
Lewis and Clark, 1964
“I would hope that the ’64 LC Tigers deserve a footnote as one of the top teams,” Bryan Bledsoe wrote. “Gonzaga had dominated the previous two seasons. In the first of two games with Gonzaga in ‘64 LC won a lopsided victory (52-6) that seemed to vindicate us somehow for the losses of the previous two years. We won every other game that year until we lost the last game in a blinding snowstorm at Hart Field to Gonzaga (23-13).”
Gonzaga Prep, 1965
“Having played on the 1965 undefeated Gonzaga Prep team under Bill Frazier I acknowledge my comments may be slightly light of total objectivity,” wrote Roger Felice.
Felice noted that Gonzaga Prep went 10-0 and was No. 1 in the state rankings most of the year but finished No. 2 behind Seattle Prep.
The Bullpups did not dominate the scoreboard like the ’63 team but the City League was much more competitive in ’65. Gonzaga Prep won two memorable games against Shadle Park – 29-26 and 14-12.
Felice promised there was no using of performance enhancing drugs: “If we even knew what steroids were, it was only because the Soviets were using them in the Olympics.”
Lewis and Clark, 1967
The Tigers were loaded with talent, boasting two All-Americans and three All-State players, noted Mike Clarke who played center and middle linebacker. He recalled eight players accepting Division I scholarships and two others playing Division II. The starting back- field of Bill Etter, Bob Minnix and Jim Ivory helped the Tigers score 326 points. Opponents managed but 48.
“The majority of credit to this team’s success has to go to George Sullivan, the coach, who was the most organized human ever,” Clarke wrote. “(Quarterback) Bill Etter stated recently that after watching film of that season’s games that Grace Bartlette (a 60 year-old English teacher at LC) would have been an all-city running back, considering the number of linemen down field blocking on each play.”
Coach Charlie Dean’s CV teams
“Central Valley had seven unbeaten teams under coach Charlie Dean, but the best team is considered to be the 1969 squad that went 9-0 and outscored their opponents 484-59,” wrote Bill Pierce. Ken McDougall recalled Dean considered the 1966 team to be his best.
The Saxons won four games in their first six seasons as a varsity program then broke through with an 8-0-1 record and City League championship season in 1970. The ’71 team went undefeated, then the ’72 team stretched the unbeaten streak to 24 games and a third consecutive league title.
It was the ’70 team led by quarterback Mike McLaughlin and running back Archie Grant that stood out. More than 20,000 spectators were on hand for a midseason classic between Ferris and Gonzaga Prep, won by the Saxons 21-18 when future WSU and NFL kicker Joe Danelo of G-Prep missed a 57-yard field goal attempt to tie the game in the final minute.
East Valley, 1972
“In 1981, East Valley High School went undefeated and won the Kingbowl after blazing through the playoffs. But nine years before that, EVHS fielded its greatest team, a team that was big, physical, fast and skilled,” Jay Jordan wrote.
“The 1972 East Valley Knights. I was a sophomore and team statistician. Each Friday night that autumn, I watched a team that allowed only one TD against its defense, a team that cruised past foes like future GSL teams Mead, Central Valley and U-High by a combined score of 105-14, and outscored rivals West Valley 36-0 while reeling off an astounding overall 319-14 point differential, never scored on in league play.
“Unfortunately, the state playoff system was implemented a year too late for the No. 1-ranked Knights. Having watched Spokane area high school football all my life, this team was the best I had ever seen. And to this day, it still is. “
Gonzaga Prep, 1986
“Gonzaga Prep played for three consecutive state championships due to the influence of the ’86 seniors and a great coach. Don Anderson needs to be recognized as a great high school football coach that didn’t inflate scores for individual player recognition and played as many players that he could to make the most out of their football experience,” wrote Tom Corbett, a standout on that team.
Central Valley, 1997
The Bears went 13-1, the crowning achieving coming when Tyree Clowe ran for a record 254 yards in a 49-13 victory over S. Kitsap. “The ’97 Bears was a dynamo; very physical with great talent. They humiliated South Kitsap in the championship game,” Jeff Reyburn wrote.
Lewis and Clark, 2007
“The ’07 Tigers did not win the league, in fact, they lost the last regular-season game to Gonzaga Prep. They went on the road for four of their five playoff games and did not a allow an offensive TD for the first 13 quarters of the playoffs. Not the most talented, but a team that met all challenges, a true but tough Cinderella,” Jeff Reyburn wrote.
Editor’s note: Many scores and statistics in this article are taken from research by Paul Delaney in his book “Blue and White Dynamite.” Other stats were provided by Bill Pierce, S.L. Smart and Bruce McIntosh.