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Sunday, October 26, 2003 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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UW Football

Owens repeats apology as statue is unveiled

Seattle Times staff reporter

Little evidence of the controversy over the unveiling of a statue of Jim Owens was apparent at halftime of yesterday's Washington-USC game until it was brought up by the former coach himself.

Near the end of a brief speech to a Husky Stadium crowd, most of whom were standing, Owens reiterated comments he had made during a news conference the day before, apologizing to anyone who felt injured by his actions while coach at UW from 1957-74.

"To my players, I thank them and apologize for any hurt they may feel," Owens said. "I hope today we can begin to heal the wounds of the past."

Owens, 76, began to continue, but the crowd burst into applause and he paused until it quieted.

Owens then ended his speech saying, "It was, and still is, great to be a Husky, and thanks to all of you, it looks like I truly am here to stay."

Moments before, Owens had helped lift the covering off the statue that had generated controversy this week. Local black leaders said Owens should not be memorialized on state property because of what they said were racist actions by Owens while he was coach.

Ten black community leaders called a news conference Friday morning to protest the statue. Owens then called a news conference later in the day to say that he had met with six of his players — four black and two among those who were kicked off the team during a divisive 1969 season — and apologized.

Yesterday, however, those hard feelings seemed buried. Some fans wore stickers that said "Thank you J.O.!" One wore a big black-and-white cutout of Owens' face as a mask. The UW band spelled out "Jim Owens" as the ceremony began.

Fans stood as the statue was wheeled to the 50-yard-line, then cheered as Owens helped unveil it.

Owens then took the microphone said that "contrary to the young coach who arrived on campus in 1957, my emotions surface more readily now so I will keep my comments brief." He spoke for roughly two minutes.

"It's hard to believe that it has been almost 30 years since I had the privilege of coaching and teaching a tremendous bunch of young men at this fine university," he said. "I've always considered that an honor in itself, so to see this statue is a very humbling experience for me."

Owens also thanked the sculptor, Ken Bjorge. The $55,000 cost of the statue was paid with funds raised by a group of UW alumni and former players of Owens.

One of the former players in attendance was Sonny Sixkiller, who was quarterback of the Huskies from 1970-72.

"This gives a lot more history to the program," Sixkiller said. "I think it's important for programs to remember their culture and look at their past. I think he did a lot for this program."

As for the criticism Owens has received in recent days, Sixkiller pointed out that "he recruited me to be the first Native American to play quarterback here."

After the ceremony, the statue was placed in front of Husky Stadium in the northwest plaza facing Montlake Boulevard.

Also honored yesterday was the 1963 UW team that went to the Rose Bowl, one of three squads he led to Pasadena.

Roughly $120,000 was raised for the project. The rest will be used to fund a Jim Owens Endowed Scholarship.

Owens was 99-82-6 during his UW career, the second-most wins in school history behind the 153 of his successor, Don James. UW's 44-8 win over Wisconsin in the 1960 Rose Bowl snapped a string of six straight losses for Pac-10 teams and is regarded as the rebirth of West Coast football.

Owens also served as UW's athletic director from 1960-69. He retired after the 1974 season and resides in Bigfork, Mont.

Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or bcondotta@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2003 The Seattle Times Company

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