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Tuesday, December 16, 1997 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Emmett Watson

`Lone Star' Led Cougars To Rose Bowl

Seattle Times Columnist

Cougars, as an athletic species, have always confounded the self-belief of Huskies that they are superior, more worldly, hence more deserving of acclaim than those footballing hay shakers from the Palouse wheat country.

"Cougar country" remoteness, i.e., Pullman, in the far reaches of Eastern Washington, added to the bib-overalls image.

Washington State College, before it became a university, was known as a "cow college." Urban visitors were cautioned to step carefully, since cow pies littered the meadows.

California football teams played in Pullman under protest. In earlier days, the University of Washington wouldn't play there at all. One Los Angeles writer, following a USC visit to Rogers Field, wrote that WSC students departed right after the game "because they had to go home and slop the hogs."

But what have we coming, Jan. 1, 1998?

We have these cow-pie, hog-slopping rustics actually playing in - of all places! - the Rose Bowl.

We are stunned by this development, so bereft of historical knowledge that all we can do is exclaim, "They haven't played there since 1931!"

Nobody seems to remember one remarkable fact - that the Cougars won the first sanctioned Rose Bowl game ever played. Eighty-one years ago.

Of course, Stanford likes to boast that it played Michigan at Pasadena in 1902. Since Michigan won that informal game, 49-0, Stanford would do well to shut up.

After that initial experiment, Pasadena's Tournament of Roses promoters abandoned football in favor of (no kidding) chariot racing. Then they found out that chariot racers were crooked. They fixed races.

So football returned in 1915. How Washington State came to be in Pasadena on that historic occasion, Jan. 1, 1916, is a story worth telling. It goes like this:

In late summer of 1915, the Union Pacific train stopped in the small village of Pullman. Off this train stepped a handsome, erect, athletic fellow wearing a smartly tailored three-piece suit and a pearl gray homburg.

Pullman and the Cougars now had their first look at a man named William "Lone Star" Dietz. He had come to coach their football team.

Lone Star Dietz's father was a German engineer. His mother was a Sioux Indian. He was coming from the Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania and he took great pride in his Native-American heritage.

Sometimes he wore tribal regalia - full-length headdress, fringed trousers, moccasins, buckskin jacket. Sometimes he wore pinstriped pants, spats, a cutaway coat and carried an ivory-tipped cane.

But such was Lone Star's bearing and dignity that Cougar publicist and historian Dick Fry was moved to write: "He somehow never seemed overdressed."

At Carlisle Indian School, Lone Star played alongside the great Sauk and Fox Indian, Jim Thorpe, probably the greatest athlete America had produced at that time. He played running back and tackle.

Under coach Glenn "Pop" Warner, Carlisle was a power among Eastern schools. Warner was a master strategist and innovator in those pioneering days of primitive, wedge-head football. It was the famous Pop Warner who recommended that WSC hire Lone Star.

Before that fateful 1915 year, WSC had five straight losing seasons. But when Lone Star stepped off that train, pyrotechnic football came to the Palouse.

The Cougs became invincible, undefeated. They used Warner's single-wing, the double-wing; they used spinners, counters and reverses. Says Fry: "Lone Star was the first coach in Western football who opened up the game and spread the field."

Tournament of Roses officials happily invited the Cougars to Pasadena. Washington, also undefeated, went uninvited, mainly because its coach, Gil Dobie, was a dour fellow with the personality of curdled milk.

Lone Star and his Cougs were smash hits. They were sometimes called "the Warriors." Players wore wonderful nicknames like Biff, Bull, Zim, Hack, Red, Fish, Rimrock and Digger. Lone Star saw that his players got paid when they performed for Hollywood cameras.

Fry even records an unfounded rumor that WSC players pooled their film earnings and bet on themselves.

At kickoff time, 2 p.m., Jan. 1, 1916, almost the entire town of Pullman shut down. People gathered inside and outside Thorpe's Smoke House on Main Street to get telegraphic reports of the game.

The Cougars beat Brown University, an Eastern power, 14-0.

When the team arrived back in Pullman, some 400 students pulled players and coaches on sleds through the streets. Another cheering 600 followed the sleds. Pullman went on riotous holiday, and a great sign proclaimed:

"Lone Star! Lone Star!

"Yip Yip You! How We Love You!

"Oh, You Sioux!"

Lone Star was not among the canonized. He stayed in Hollywood, trying to get a job in the movies.

In his three years at Washington State, Lone Star's record was l7 victories, two losses and one tie. His 1917 team beat the Washington Sun Dodgers, 14-0. The soon-to-be Huskies never made a first down.

Lone Star went on to coach Purdue, Louisiana Poly, Wyoming, Haskell Institute and Albright College. He had six unbeaten teams.

A touching interlude came in 1956 when Lone Star returned to Pullman for a visit. The Cougars had just fired coach Al Kirchner and Lone Star applied for the job. He was 72.

Dr. C. Clement French, the school president, and athletic director Stan Bates, both somewhat nonplused, quickly organized a downtown luncheon to honor Lone Star. He was given a treasured crimson and gold letterman's blanket. It was a sensitive turndown, after which Lone Star disappeared into the Palouse wheatlands.

Given the bumpy going for Cougar football of that time, a thought occurs. Maybe they should have listened to the old warrior.

Emmett Watson's column appears Tuesdays in the Local section of The Times.

Copyright (c) 1997 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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