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Entries in oregon football history (21)


Where I Come From: Wouldn't Want to Go Back

(Originally posted 7/11/10 on Addicted to Quack)

As the reader may have inferred by now. I like looking back as much as anyone — probably more than most. But my favorite team is always the one I’m looking forward to seeing this fall. Just like last year, and the year before that.

We’re in a golden age right now, as far as Our National Obsession is concerned.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but it must have really sucked to be a college football fan in 1985.  (I pick ‘85 because anybody old enough to have been a fan in ‘85 will, like me, likely be sitting in his rocking office chair quietly issuing affirmations between hits of Metamucil. Since most of the rest of you don’t go back much farther than The Pick, if you’re being honest, 25 years or so is a nice generational timespan for reflection. And in many ways, 1985 wasn’t a lot different than 1960, so it’s a reasonable proxy.)

In 1985….


BYU was the defending national champion. That’s a good place to start. OK, enough of that.

Division 1-A was beginning to show signs of parity not seen since the pre-WWII era. In contrast with the 70s, when “That Old Gang of Nine” — Oklahoma, ‘Bama, Michigan, Nebraska, USC, tOSU, ND, Texas and Penn State — dominated the polls and provided a decade of boring elitist football, a number of semi-traditional powers had begun asserting themselves by the mid-80s. Florida went from winless in ‘79 to SEC champs in ‘84 to probation in ‘85. SMU was in its pre-death-penalty heyday as the dominant program in Texas. Iowa was competitive in the Big10, Maryland in the ACC, and Washington was the dominant program in the Pac-10 with USC on probation. Notre Dame’s death spiral had commenced under Gerry Faust. The SEC was in the midst of a national championship drought that went from 1980 (Georgia) to 1992 (Bama). “The U” dominated football in the South for a decade.


The extent of Oregon’s 1985 prospects were summed up in the SI preview issue:

The Quack Attack is back at Oregon, where a full house returns in the backfield, including tailback Tony Cherry, who averaged 6.5 yards per carry in 1984. Who knows? The routinely ugly Ducklings could finish in the upper division. 

(They didn’t.)

Nationally, the sport was mixing itself up. Parity had arrived, thanks in large part to scholarship limits that kept the big boys from putting 50 players on a free ride every year. 

But in 1985, hardly anyone could get in on the fun. 

The NCAA for decades held a stranglehold on televised games — only allowing eight nationally televised games per year, along with five regional games, to be broadcast on the major TV networks during the season. With so few games broadcast, it was unusual to see anything unusual. But in 1985, a year after the Supreme Court ended the NCAA scheduling monopoly, the College Football Association — essentially, Division 1-A minus the Big10 and Pac-10 — took over de facto control of broadcast rights. The CFA hooked up with ABC; the Not-CFA went to CBS. Cable channels, like the young but growing ESPN, picked up the CFA scraps. 

Not many of those scraps were fed to Pac-10 fans. Admittedly, the Pac kind of stank in ‘85, with only one team in the national top 5 all year — USC, for just two weeks in September — so we weren’t missing much. The league was still shaking off the dust from the probation years. Although Washington finished #2 in 1984, the only ranked team at the end of ‘85 was #7 UCLA.

Regardless, Tom Hansen didn’t exactly assert himself as a rookie commish of the conference when it came to TV exposure. (Some things never change.) And you hardly ever saw a TV game with Pac-10 teams, unless it was USC vs Notre Dame, which managed to get on the air every year.

A typical 1985 TV game schedule looked like this one, from October 19, if you lived in Eugene:

  • 9am Purdue @ Ohio St  (KVAL)
  • 9:30 Tennessee @ Alabama (TBS)
  • 9:30 Army @ Notre Dame (USA)
  • 9:30 Minnesota @ Indiana (KECH-22)
  • Noon Miami @ Oklahoma (KEZI)
  • 12:30 Michigan @ Iowa (KVAL)
  • 4:00 Kentucky @ LSU (ESPN)

That’s all, folks. This was viewed as an improvement. (In 1977, Oregon’s game at Stanford was on ABC. It was the *only* college football game seen in Eugene that day, on any channel.)

Still, the new broadcast arrangements at least made it possible for games to be “telecast” regionally. But even games that were “on TV” wouldn’t necessarily make it onto *your* TV. Reason? Blackouts.

In 1985, Oregon’s first game — a late August date at WSU — was televised nationally on WTBS. That was the only TV appearance within the state of Oregon for the Ducks all season.  A September game at Autzen against Stanford was televised.. in Northern California, for Stanford’s benefit. It was broadcast on the Bay Area station KTVU, a channel carried on cable systems in Oregon, but the game was blacked out north of the border. Nobody wanted to jeopardize the gate back in the day, and with good reason; a team as numbingly average as Oregon was in the 1980s couldn’t expect to come close to selling out home games. The ‘84 team that went 6-5 didn’t attract more than 30,000 all year. Why give folks another reason to stay home? 

If you wanted to see Oregon play, you needed to get your ass to a game. (You could occasionally catch a rebroadcast of a game; when Oregon tied Notre Dame in ‘82, the game was replayed on ESPN four times over the next two days [note: anyone who has this game recorded on VHS, *please* contact me].  The not-yet-World-Wide-Leader didn’t have a lot of programming depth back then, giving fans plenty of time to figure out how to program their Betamax.)

Polls? There was no “ESPN USA Today Top 25”, or any other Top 25. There was an AP Top 20, and a UPI Top 20, UPI being the “coaches” poll. The polls came out on Monday. Teams not making the top 20 were typically listed as “Others receiving votes, listed alphabetically”; you never knew, or cared, who was ranked #21. 

If there was anything like sports talk radio in 1985, it hadn’t yet reached Oregon. Stations that broadcast the games would have pre-game and post-game call-ins, but nothing like the multiple 24-hour jock talk we have now.

Interested in recruiting? You could sign up with Joe Terranova and receive a mimeographed newsletter via mail, or subscribe to Max Emfinger’s “National High School Football Magazine”. Or make friends with the coaching staff. Otherwise, you had to wait until the local papers reported on your favorite school’s news conference on signing day.

As for post-season play, there wasn’t much of it. Teams had to earn their bowl bids through a combination of reputation, ass-kissing, under-the-table largesse, and sometimes actual field results. Lots of decent teams were left home when we had only 15 bowl games. The only bowls worth watching were the New Years Day games — Rose, Fiesta, Cotton, Sugar and Orange. All of which were played on New Years Day. You usually had to choose between pairs of games — on 1/1/86, you could watch the Fiesta or the Cotton at 10:30, the Rose unencumbered at 1:30, then flip between the Orange and the Sugar while you ate leftover pizza from New Years Eve for dinner, washed down with Miller Lite. If you were really techno-savvy, you had one of them “PIP” TVs that let you watch one game in a little corner of your 27” Trinitron while the other game filled the screen. More likely, you taped one game and watched the other one live. 

Video games?  Madden wasn’t even conceived until ‘86, and didn’t make it onto a platform until “John Madden Football” was released for the Apple II in ‘89. All we had in ‘85 were titles like “Superbowl Sunday” for the C-64, and some 8-bit pixellated crap on the Atari, if it still worked after all that bongwater you spilled on it. There was no college format game until Micro Sports released “All-American College Football” for DOS in 1991.

If you wanted games, you could play Strat-o-Matic football on the floor in your bedroom. Or haul that Electric Football game out of the closet and try to make your “quarterback” hurl that little felt “football” anywhere near your “receiver” as he slid down the vibrating metal field. Or fold up a piece of notebook paper and play Table Football in the library. Or go outside and throw a ball around.

Don’t let your parents kid you. The good old days weren’t all that good. 

If, these days, it seems we have too much of a good thing, with 60+ teams in bowl games, wall-to-wall coverage from Thursday night until Saturday night, myriad web sites to dissect things before during and after, updates of recruiting status available instantly via Twitter.. well, at least it’s a good thing that there is too much of. 

So, enjoy your nostalgia. It’s best served when it’s kept warm, right?


The Oregon Uniform, 1950 - 1999

(ed note: H/T to UniWatch for the link. Greetings, Unique Visitors!)

Traditionally in college football, a new head coach has the prerogative to alter his team’s on-field appearance. For Oregon, this tradition held sway until the Bellotti era and the increased influence of Nike in the team’s uniform design beginning in 1997, leading to the now-famous Three Year Uniform Complaint Reload. 

It is inaccurate to say, however, that Oregon’s livery maintained a Penn State type of consistency in the pre-Bellotti era. It wasn’t all “Donald Duck”; in fact, Donald’s presence on the uniform itself was a historically recent (1984) phenomenon. But there were enough significant changes in the uniforms between the early 1950s and the late 90s to merit a review.  (For all we know, Penn State might have changed its uniforms a few times on coaching changes, if they ever actually got around to changing coaches.)

The Casanova Era (1951 - 1966)

Len Casanova may have been an innovator, but college football was as hide-bound as anything in the 1950s. The Duck uniforms were as mundane as any you’d see of the time, with Green Bay Gold helmets bearing a single green stripe, white jerseys with green block letters and three green upper arm stripes (away) and Kelly Green jerseys with white and gold stripes (home), in both cases wearing gold pants.

George Shaw, 1953

Cas made his first and only major uniform revision for the 1956 season, adding multicolor arm stripes to home and away jerseys, enlarging the numbers and edging them in white on the home jerseys.  The home unis were relatively unadorned, with block “Green Bay Gold” letters lined with white on Kelly Green, gold pants with two thin green side stripes, and gold helmets (home and away) that for several years bore player numbers.







Mel Renfro, 1962

(Color photos of home games during the Cas years are difficult to come by, hence the necessity of colorizing Mr. Mel Renfro in his 1962 livery on Media Day.)

The road whites featured a “UCLA shoulder loop,” a feature that was popularized by Red Sanders with his UCLA teams in the mid-50s. For Oregon, a thin green stripe bordered a thicker solid middle yellow stripe on each side. The shoulder loop was a very noticeable feature on the jersey that helped Coach Sanders decipher his Bruins on the grainy black and white game films of the time. This look was eventually adopted by several college teams as well as some pros — the. Vikings, Colts, Chargers(w/center bolt), Patriots, 49ers, NY Titans, and Rams.  (H/T: GreenGlare)

This look could have made Jack Crabtree, QB of the ‘58 Rose Bowl team, feel right at home at the game, except for the fact that UCLA didn’t start playing its home games in Pasadena until 1982.








Jack Crabtree, 1958, in the 2006 Rose Bowl vs Texas and USC


In ‘63 a white stripe edged in green replaced the single green helmet stripe. This was the last significant uniform change until Jerry Frei took over as coach in ‘67.



From Frei to Brooks (1967 - 1977)

Ten years, four head coaches, four athletic directors, two stadiums.. why wouldn’t you mix up the uniforms as well? 

Orxxuo6767_20_3__medium1967-71 (Jerry Frei)


Jerry Frei started his career by changing around the hats.  In ‘67 the team sported an interlocking “UO”, in gold lined with white, on a solid green helmet, with an oddly generic and un-footballish font that resembles Futura Bold. 


Tom Blanchard with Jerry Frei, 1967










In ‘68, Frei jazzed up the uniforms, adding numbers to the sleeves and moving the sleeve stripes on the road jerseys down the arm. The helmet decal changed to a somewhat morphed block “U-O” with green letters edged in gold on a white oval background.

George Dames, vs tOSU, 1968









Images_mediumIn 1969 there was another helmet change, the last under Frei, with “U-O” now in the familiar interlocked Block-U style, unlined gold on green.  

The artist formerly known as Bobby Moore, 1971  
(now the famous softball thrower, Ahmad Rashad)

Note how green the overall combination looks. The pant stripes, changed to a green-white-green look, promised a level of Green Bay Packer-style distinction that the team never was quite able to deliver.

This uniform combination was retained until Frei wasn’t.

The green helmets didn’t return until 1999. 






1972-1976 (Dick Enright, Don Read)


Not much happened during the tenures of Dick Enright and Don Read, other than a certain uniformity.

Enright implemented a retro look in 1972,  moving back to the Casanova-era gold helmet with green and white Packer-style central stripe and no logo, and dropping the arm numbers from the road jerseys. Which was probably just as well, considering how poorly the team played; why call attention to yourself or your affiliation when you suck? 

Mike Anderson vs Oklahoma, 1972

Read replaced the road arm numbers for 1976, for no obvious reason, but this was the only visible change in Oregon’s uniforms during a period of consistent sub-mediocrity. 


From Consistency to Nike (1977 - 1999)

1977 - 1994 (Rich Brooks)

Brooks immediately re-added Frei’s Block-U style interlocking “U-O” to the helmets in ‘77, while keeping the EnRead design. In 1978, the gray masks were changed to Green Bay Gold to match the helmets.

Dan Ralph, 1983

This look was maintained with only one significant tweak through the Brooks tenure — the move of the sleeve numbers to the shoulder, to make room for the “Donald Duck- through-the-O” logo, in 1985.

Bill Musgrave, 1990

From Bellotti to Nike (1995 - 1998)


On promotion to HC after Brooks bolted for the pros, Mike Bellotti finally had a chance to fulfill his lifelong dream.. of eliminating stripes from his team’s uniforms.

Gone were the helmet stripes, arm bands, and leg stripes. The helmet decals and Donald-O sleeve logos remained, giving the team a very clean and professional look that would be retained for all of four years, when Nike took over uniform design.

This combination was the basis for the “throwback” unis worn against Cal and OSU in 2009, minus the Donald and with the modern “O” helmet decal. The choice of white and green jerseys, and yellow and green pants, meant fans could experience a whopping four different uniform combinations.

My favorite Duck uni of all time, especially this home version.

Tony Graziani, 1995


 969824972_geqym-l_medium  Alex Molden, 1995


In 1999, the new Nike-designed multistripe uniforms, with the introduction of multiple shades of green, were unveiled, and the rest — four complete makeovers in 10 years — is history.

Personally, I’d like to see them bring out an early-70s throwback, with green jerseys and hats and the Packer stripes, but I’m not holding my breath.

(Many thanks to Helmet Hut, which is not only a great source for authentic reproductions of period helmets but offers a surprisingly comprehensive look at the history of a number of CFB teams.)


Brad Ecklund: Oregon's greatest center

Brad “Whitie” Ecklund was a Milwaukie native, an Oregon all-star, bulwark of the 1948 Cotton Bowl offense, two time Pro Bowl center in the NFL, and assistant coach for five NFL teams over 20 years.

Whitie was a big man for his time, around 6’4, and weighed 225. The New York Times called him a “mighty oak.”  A writer for the Chicago Tribune said he combined “the bulk and walk and look of John Wayne with the voice and manner of Chill Wills.”

And, from the time he first laced up the cleats at Milwaukie High for the freshman team in 1937, until his last appearance as a Duck in the ‘49 Cotton Bowl, he started every game he played as an amateur. 

That’s 91 straight games.

Ecklund is broadly considered the greatest center in Oregon football history (sorry, Max Unger, but you weren’t a four-year starter at center). And it’s unfortunate that he’s almost unknown now.

The Oregonian and R-G each had a perfunctory obit for Brad Ecklund, but nothing worthy of a player of his literal and figurative stature. So, here’s a look at the career and life of one tough SOB.


Ecklund’s 1951 Bowman football card, courtesy Benzduck’s personal collection

As a senior in high school at Milwaukie, “Whitie” was named to the Metro all-star team at fullback. He was a four-sport star — baseball, track, basketball and football — and was drafted by the Philadelphia Athletics, but turned down baseball for a full ride at Oregon.

He never played for a team — frosh, varsity, military or Oregon — that he wasn’t named captain of.

And he never played in a league where he wasn’t named on the all-conference team — at fullback in high school, at center on the military teams and at Oregon.

Ecklund matriculated at Oregon in 1941, expecting to play fullback. But the Webfoots were loaded in the backfield, and weak up front.  Coach Tex Oliver looked at the massive Ecklund and moved him to center on offense during fall camp; he played linebacker on defense. By the first game, at Stanford, he was first string. He started every game.. but flunked out of school.

Just in time, WW2 intervened. Ecklund joined the Marine Corps, and took up boxing for fun. Naturally, he became the Marine Corps Golden Glove champion. He played for the Navy Pre-Flight football team in Jacksonville, Florida for two years before being dispatched for overseas duty at Okinawa.

He learned what it meant to be a member of team in the South Pacific, fighting in interminable battles from island to island. “I was in the second wave,” he told the R-G’s Bob Clark in a 1993 interview. “It was the guys in the first wave who got their butts shot up.”  Ecklund thought the fact that the late-40s Oregon players had all gone to war made them a more dedicated and mature unit with a special bond and a more businesslike attitude to the game. 

The man one sportswriter called “the indestructible giant” returned to Oregon in ‘46, and picked up where he left off.

By being four years in the service, they forgave me for flunking out … When I came back, I never made less than a B average. I’d matured and realized what I almost lost.

In the next three years, playing both sides of the line, he averaged over fifty minutes per game. He was All-PCC in ‘46, ‘47 and ‘48. On that great ‘48 team, Ecklund played all 60 minutes of five games — Stanford, USC, Michigan, St Mary’s and Washington — and was only knocked out of one game all year, when an Idaho player kicked him in the head 4 minutes into the 3rd quarter. He graduated in 1949 with degrees in health and physical education.

He passed up a contract offer from the Green Bay Packers, choosing to join the upstart All-America Football Conference’s New York Yankees for more money. He stayed with the franchise as it moved from New York to Dallas, then signed with the NFL’s Baltimore Colts. In 1953, Ecklund was named the most valuable offensive lineman of the Colts, an honor for which he received all of $100. Having achieved that career milestone, he quit the team and returned to Oregon to coach high school football. 

Brad Ecklund, Eagles assistant coach in the 1970s, via media.philly.comEcklund was an assistant to Len Casanova’s late-50s Oregon teams, then jumped to the NFL in 1960, where Tom Landry gave him his first coaching gig with the new Dallas Cowboys. He moved to the new Atlanta team in 1966, where he coached under his former teammate Norm Van Brocklin, and later coached at New Orleans, Philadelphia and Chicago.Ecklund retired from coaching in 1979, and spent most of the rest of his working life as a substitute teacher in the Philadelphia area.. always keeping his teaching certificate active in the states his children lived in, so he could stay close to his grandkids.

In 1999, Brad Ecklund was named University of Oregon “Lineman of the Century.”

He’s a charter member of the Oregon Sports Hall of Fame.

Here’s to you, Whitie.  Wherever you are, keep snappin’.



The Incorruptible Mickey Bruce


I found this wire service photo of an Oregon defensive back from the early 60s, Michael “Mickey” Bruce, on eBay in 2009. It was listed at $5.99.

Without the caption at the bottom of the photo, this is just another picture of a healthy-looking mid-20th-century football player.  Not mentioned in the ebay listing itself, the caption refers to Mickey Bruce being offered $5,000 by two Chicago gamblers to help throw the 1960 Michigan game.

An event that created national headlines and Senate hearings, and ended with a scandal of sorts, along with a first brush with notoriety  for a very “interesting” individual, has its 50th anniversary this year.

This is the story of how an Oregon pre-law student fingered a future Hall of Fame gangster in a Senate hearing, then essentially told the legal system to go fly a kite.


Len Casanova’s 1960 team was pretty good. With Dave Grayson and Dave Grosz in the backfield, along with a 5’3” (yes, 63-inch) receiver with the perfect name of Cleveland Jones, the Ducks went 7-2-1, with losses at Michigan and to eventual Rose Bowl champ Washington and a tie with OSC; this was good enough to gain a Liberty Bowl invite to play Penn State. Oregon lost the bowl, played amid 2 feet of snow in freezing temperatures in Philadelphia, 41-12, but the biggest news during the season was made during a trip to Ann Arbor to play Michigan early in the year.

On arrival in Dearborn, where the Ducks were staying before the game, a 27 year old Brooklyn schoolteacher named David Budin approached Mickey Bruce, a starting junior halfback/defensive back, in the airport terminal. Bruce said Budin introduced himself as “a friend of Jim Grenadi”, who had played basketball at Oregon and was a friend of Bruce. 

According to Bruce, Budin asked him for two tickets for the Michigan game. Bruce said he sold Budin a pair of tickets for $50. (Of the many things football players in 1960 could get away with, selling comped $6 tickets for $50 was one of them.) 

Later that day, after Bruce had checked into the team’s hotel, the Dearborn Inn, Bruce said he was approached by Budin and two other men, identified as “Frank” and “Bobby”. Bruce said he was told he could earn $5,000 if he “let a pass receiver in behind him”, and influence Oregon QB Dave Grosz to “call the wrong plays.” They told him to meet them at their room at the Dearborn Inn to finalize the deal on Saturday morning before going to the stadium with the team.

No fool — his father was a Chicago attorney — Bruce said thanks but no thanks, and told Len Casanova about the conversation. Cas told Oregon AD Leo Harris; Harris called the FBI, who contacted state police. Meanwhile, Cas called an unusual late-night pre-game meeting. Dick Arbuckle, a receiver on the team (and future football coach at Sheldon High), recalled that it was “very unusual.. They told us the situation, asked if any of the rest of us had been approached, and told us to be alert and report any unusual contacts.”

The next day, Michigan state police detectives accompanied Bruce to the gamblers’ hotel room, only to find they had apparently been tipped off — “Frank” and “Bobby” had checked out. The cops hung around long enough to arrest Budin when he showed up, who was probably not all that surprised to see his “friends” had cheesed it.

Bruce proceeded to the Big House, where he did everything but throw the game, playing by all accounts outstanding pass defense, even intercepting a pass and returning it to the 32 yard line. It was as far into Michigan territory the Ducks would get during the game, which they lost 21-0; they had been 6 point underdogs.  Cas later recalled the episode shook the team’s focus; the team played miserably, with Grosz overthrowing receivers all day, and in the hot humid conditions the team really didn’t have a chance.

It’s possible that “Frank” and “Bobby” knew that merely attempting to bribe the team might have a negative impact on Oregon’s chances against the spread.  All we know is that they got off scot-free this time. As for Budin, without sufficient evidence of a crime, he was charged with registering at the hotel under a false name, and paid a $100 fine.


Mickey Bruce had been drawn into what turned out to be a nation-wide scandal. Basketball and football games were being influenced on a wide scale by gambling interests. Eventually, Senator McClellan of Arkansas convened his select committee to investigate gambling in collegiate athletics. A year after the Michigan interaction, Bruce was called to testify before McClellan’s committee.

Mickey Bruce fingers Frank Rosenthal, US Senate hearing, 9/8/61

On September 8, 1961, sitting at a Senate hearing witness table with Frank Rosenthal — the “Frank” he’d met at the Dearborn Inn — Bruce, literally, fingered Rosenthal as one of the men who had attempted to bribe him.

Bruce told the senators that Jim Grenadi had asked him to get the tickets for two gambler friends, who wanted to attend a game that they would be betting heavily on. On meeting the gamblers in their hotel room, he learned of their desire that he take a backfield dive. Bruce said he’d “played along”, telling Rosenthal he’d be back later that evening to arrange the deal; instead, Bruce reported the incident to Cas, setting the law in motion. 

On Bruce’s return to the gamblers’ hotel room, he testified, he was given $50 for the two $6 tickets, and asked to help ensure the Ducks lost by at least 8 points by playing bad pass defense, and told he’d be given $100 per week for the rest of the season if he’d phone Rosenthal in Miami Beach each Monday and give the gambler reports of injuries on the Oregon team. Rosenthal also offered Bruce a $5,000 bonus if he could bring QB Dave Grosz into the arrangement, for which Grosz would also receive $5,000. Bruce left, and returned to the hotel with detectives the next morning to see Budin being led away in handcuffs.

Rosenthal, as was his right, plead the 5th Amendment. 


In October 1961, the Wayne County (Michigan) district attorney’s office announced that it wanted Mickey Bruce to come to Detroit and swear out a complaint against the three men who had attempted to bribe him. As Bruce was the only witness to the attempt, without his complaint there would be no prosecution of the gamblers. The Ducks had a game scheduled against Ohio State in mid-November, and the Michigan authorities thought it would be convenient for the team to bring Bruce along so he could file the complaint.

But Bruce was out for the season —  he separated a shoulder during a loss to Stanford — and had not planned to make the trip to Columbus.

Cas and Harris urged him to come along. But Bruce now said he wanted to be done with the whole matter. In an interview with the Register-Guard, Bruce said “as far as I’m concerned, this whole thing should have been dead a month after it happened.”  He had conferred with his father, the Chicago attorney, and concluded that he could not be compelled to swear out a complaint. He said he didn’t have time to go — he was president of his fraternity, immersed in study, and just didn’t want to take the time to travel cross-country. In his opinion the Michigan police had botched the whole situation from the start. He didn’t want to have any more to do with what he considered a poorly run prosecution that had little chance of success. And it had been so long, he wasn’t sure he remembered everything correctly; it was “a little hazy.. as to who said what.”

In refusing to go along, Bruce stood up to AD Leo Harris, who had assured the Michigan DA that Bruce would be available for “interrogation.”  But Mickey Bruce was tired of the whole thing, of the “taken any bribes lately?” jokes, and wanted to get on with his life. Harris even appealed to Oregon prexy Arthur Flemming, who said that although it would be nice if Bruce would go, Flemming certainly couldn’t force him to do so. 

And that was that. Bruce stayed home, Oregon went to Columbus and lost to the Buckeyes 23-12, and the Wayne County DA dropped the case against Budin and Rosenthal for lack of evidence.


Frank Rosenthal and David Budin were eventually indicted by a North Carolina grand jury in 1962, charged with offering a $500 bribe to a NYU basketball player to shave points at a NCAA tournament game against West Virginia in 1960. They plead no contest; Rosenthal paid a $6,000 fine, and Budin received two years probation. 

Interview-3_mediumDoes the name Frank Rosenthal ring a bell yet?

It should. He was credited with inventing the sports book industry in Las Vegas, and was called the “greatest living expert on sports gambling” by Sports Illustrated.

The colorful life of Frank “Lefty” Rosenthal, who died in 2008, was the inspiration for Martin Scorcese’s movie “Casino”. Rosenthal was played by Robert DeNiro.

There’s a great obitorial on the Las Vegas Review-Journal’s web site. 

Frank Rosenthal, who died in 2008, was not a good person.


“It’s been said you should never speak ill of the dead.  There are exceptions to the rule. Frank Rosenthal is one of those exceptions. He was an awful human being.”

former federal prosecutor in Las Vegas

The football history of Mickey Bruce ends with that Register-Guard interview.  The ‘61 Stanford game was his last appearance in an Oregon uniform. That injury-shortened senior year dampened his career statistics; in three seasons at Oregon, he rushed 29 times for 128 yards and one TD, and caught 10 passes for 113 yards and 3 TDs. Defensively, he intercepted six passes in that fateful 1960 season, and returned 6 punts for an 11 yard average.  Bruce was drafted in the 24th round of the ‘62 AFL draft by the Oakland Raiders, but did not pursue a professional football career.

As we expect of the great Ducks, Michael J. Bruce’s story goes beyond the gridiron. He is on that short list of individuals who have implicated gangsters and not only survived, but prospered under their own good name. In 1981, Mickey Bruce received the UO Leo Harris Award, presented to an alumnus letterman who has been out of college for twenty years and who has demonstrated continued service and leadership to the university. Other Harris winners include Bill Dellinger, Dan Fouts, Tinker Hatfield, Alberto Salazar, Dave Wilcox, Ahmad Rashad and John Robinson.

That’s a much better lifetime achievement award than a car bomb.


Circling the Bowls, 1964 - 1988

Once upon a time, not so long ago, Oregon was headed to a bowl game.

Fans were scrambling for tickets and figuring out how to make travel arrangements. The team was hard at work, preparing for an opponent remarkably similar to itself.

The alleged experts were expecting a one-sided victory.

The city of Eugene, the entire Duck universe, was beside itself with excitement and anticipation.

The game itself was nip-and-tuck, not decided until late in the 4th quarter, and the fans who were there will never forget the experience.

But the trip to the 1989 Independence Bowl wound up costing the UO a small fortune.. and there was significant debate over whether it had been worth the cost (or investment, depending on who described the transaction).

Given Oregon’s post-1994 success, it’s easy to forget that back in 1989, it was practically inconceivable that Oregon would ever get to a bowl game without winning the conference outright. 

The acuity of Oregon’s bowl desperation in the late ’80s could be seen on the front cover of the 1985 media guide, where the phrase “1985 Mirage Bowl” was prominently featured, without further explanation inside. (The aptly named “Mirage Bowl” was merely a relocated regular season game played in Japan for a few years; in 1985, Oregon traveled to Tokyo and lost to USC.)

But there was always hope. Some seasons, there was even possible anticipation for something that might happen if everything lined up right. Maybe.


Oregon had flirted with bowls several times during The Suffering.. and time and again found itself jilted in late November, while bowl committees ran off with flashy tramps with “experience”.

Oregon was, technically, “bowl-eligible” five times between 1964 and 1994. 

For years, the only bowl game Pac-8 members were eligible for was the Rose Bowl. Oregon’s previous two bowl engagements, the 1960 Liberty and 1963 Sun, occurred while the Webfoots were an unaffiliated “Western independent.” Once the western colleges were re-formed into the AAWU (later renamed the Pacific-8), the Rose restriction was renewed. It was thought that somehow having more than one conference team in post-season play would dilute the appeal of “the Granddaddy of them all.”

Thus, for a decade, the only conference teams playing in the post-season were USC (7 Rose Bowls), Stanford (2) and UCLA (1). This restriction was finally lifted for the 1975 season.. just in time for UCLA to win the conference again.

Not that the restriction - or its removal - ever mattered much to Oregon.

Never able to break the USC / UCLA / Stanford stranglehold on the conference title before 1975, the team’s best record between 1965 and 1988 came in the probation season of 1980, when they weren’t eligible for post-season play.

But the fickle finger of post-season play beckoned a few times, only to reveal itself as an upraised middle digit..

1970  (6-4-1)

Behind the arm of sophomore sensation Dan Fouts and the legs of junior tailback Bobby Moore, on Halloween the Ducks traveled to Seattle trailing only Stanford in conference.

Bobby Moore vs USC, 10-24-1970 (UO Digital Archive)

At 5-2 and 4-1, Oregon was coming off an impressive 10-7 home win over USC. The week before, a miraculous comeback at UCLA led to a 41-40 win, and suddenly Oregon owned wins over the SoCal schools for the first time since 1957. Which was the last time they were in the Rose Bowl, a fact that was not lost on many of the locals.

One problem: Oregon had already lost to Stanford, 33-10, in September, and the Indians owned the Rose Bowl tiebreaker. And Stanford hadn’t lost yet, having also knocked off USC and UCLA.

Still, there was no reason to stop playing. The best record since 1964’s 7-2-1 was well within reach. Stanford had three conference games left, which meant three chances to trip up twice. And Oregon was ranked #16 in the AP.  Jerry Frei was named UPI “Coach of the Week.”  It was a good week to be a Duck.

As the new starter, young Fouts wasn’t above talking some subtle pre-game trash. Asked about the pressure surrounding a Rose Bowl race, he said “I feel the added pressure keeps us up for each game.

“We know Washington is going to be tough because they think they’re still in contention.”

He knew what he was talking about. The 1970 UW game was a titanic battle, but in the end Oregon hit the iceberg.

The final quarter was epic. Oregon led after three, 15-7, but backup UW quarterback Greg Collins led a furious comeback early in the 4th quarter. Huskies tied the game at 15 after getting good field position on a punt return, then after the kickoff Fouts was intercepted by DB Bob Burmeister.  One play later, Collins hit WR Bo Cornell in the end zone, and the Huskies led 22-15. Undaunted, Oregon marched right down the field, using a halfback pass from Moore to WR Steve Bailey and a two-point run by FB Jim Anderson to take the lead 23-22.

Although unable to stretch the lead later in the quarter as UW’s 6’7” DE Kurt Matter blocked a 36 yard FG attempt by Ken Woody, the Ducks seemed to have the game in hand as UW failed to convert on 4th down with minutes remaining. But Fouts fumbled on a broken play after running for a first down at midfield, and Collins moved the Huskies far enough and fast enough to allow Steve Wiezbowski to nail the winning 19 yard FG with 30 seconds left.

Out of the Rose Bowl race, Oregon went a little .. schizophrenic.

Bobby Moore decided to skip practice on Monday, and Frei benched him for the next game, against #10 Air Force. But the defense kicked it up a notch, forcing five 4th quarter turnovers. And Fouts, absent his biggest weapon, simply went nuts against the Falcon secondary, tossing four TD passes and leading the Ducks to 17 unanswered 4th quarter points in a 46-35 upset. His 396 passing yards (28-43-2) and 418 in total offense were both Oregon single-game records; he was named Pac-8 player of the week and the “national back of the week” by UPI.  

The ship righted, Moore returned for a trip to West Point against the 1-8 Black Knights.. and his 59 yard 4th quarter run, plus a reception for the two-point conversion, merely salvaged a 22-22 tie.

Finally, there was the ritual loss in the Civil War — the seventh straight — as the Beavs rolled up 336 yards rushing, and Oregon again collapsed in the 4th quarter.

Still, the Ducks did end the year with their best record since ‘64.  6-4-1, thirty years later, would get a team a bid somewhere. All it got the 1970 Ducks was congratulations - and their last winning season until 1979.

1979 (6-5)

Three coaches and nine seasons later, Oregon was on the verge of bowl eligibility. There were 15 bowls on the schedule in 1979. Trouble was, only three of those were west of Texas, and none of them (the Rose, Fiesta and Holiday) were interested. And it was hard to imagine Oregon as a team that “traveled well.”

But, at 5-4 going into the penultimate game against UCLA, Oregon was reported to be one of several schools on the radar of the new Garden State Bowl, to be played in the Garden State. A quick check of the encyclopedia revealed the Garden State to be New Jersey, and the bowl itself to be in East Rutherford, in northern New Jersey, not normally seen as an optimal post-season destination.

When asked if the Ducks were a viable candidate, the head of the Garden State Bowl committee said there was “limited interest.. They’re so far away, and so new in the bowl picture, that it’s easier for a bowl that’s been around to go to a newcomer, because they may have an established audience.” Which was bowl executive-speak for “Who the hell is Oregon?”

Nonetheless, the fans were abuzz with excitement.  Coach Brooks, although pessimistic, told the Oregon Club  “a 7-4 team ought to go to a bowl, especially a 7-4 team that’s tied for second in the Pac-10.. I know this: It’s a little bit different situation for people to be thinking about Oregon being in a bowl game.”

And, thinking about it people were.. right up until the Bruins ran their team off its home field, in a 35-0 rain-soaked debacle. (Literally,ran them off the field; UCLA threw just six passes, and had 91 rushing attempts.)

Technically, the Ducks were bowl-eligible after the subsequent Civil War win. But AD John Caine’s phone never rang, and Oregon stayed home at 6-5.

1984 (6-5)

After an upset win at UCLA behind sophomore QB Chris Miller, Oregon had overcome a four-game losing streak and was again 5-4 and flirting with bowl eligibility. This time, nobody wanted to jinx it.. although with the number of bowls up to 17, a 7-4 Oregon team might have been at least as attractive as, say, a 7-4 Wazzu team.

As in 1979, they were at Autzen, playing to secure a winning season.

And, just like in ‘79, they stunk up the place, losing to Arizona State 44-10.

Brooks: “We’re not a very mature team… We don’t know how to handle success. If we’re ever going to get over that hump, we’ve got to learn that.”

Another blowout win in Corvallis, and the Ducks were again 6-5, again home for the holidays, watching on New Year’s Day as three Pac-10 teams won big games - UCLA over Miami in the Fiesta, USC over Ohio State in the Rose, and Washington over Oklahoma in the Orange. (This remains the only season the Pac-10 put three teams in January 1 bowls.)

1987 (6-5)

Oregon started strong in 1987 behind a hot freshman quarterback named Bill Musgrave.  Another four-game losing streak put Oregon at 4-5 heading to Pullman, and seemingly off the radar of any of the 18 bowls this season. But a big wins at Wazzu, and a 44-0 blowout in the Civil War, made the Ducks bowl eligible.. and this time it seemed there was a chance.

In a bit of foreshadowing, Oregon AD Bill Byrne told officials at the Sun Bowl after the win over OSU that Oregon would guarantee the sale of “any number of seats they need, within reason.” And Sun officials acknowledged that, thanks to some untimely upsets of teams that had been considered locks for bowl bids, Oregon was a “serious candidate.”

For one day.

On Sunday morning, West Virginia (6-5) got the Sun Bowl bid against Oklahoma State (6-5). The Sun Bowl chairman explained “our decision was based on the East Coast television market.” He also noted that West Virginia played very well in all the games it lost.  Which is something Oregon couldn’t say.

1988 (6-6)

Brooks and his team set reaching the Rose Bowl as their top priority for the ‘88 season. Bill Musgrave was back along with plenty of talent. And, for a while, the Ducks had their priorities in line. In late October, they were back in the top 20, their only blemish to a USC team that didn’t lose a conference game.

With a 6-1 record, after Terry Obee took the reverse around left end for the winning score against the Huskies in Autzen on October 22, the question wasn’t if Oregon would finally break its bowl drought; it was “Rose Bowl or what?”  Scouts from the Holiday, Freedom and Sun Bowls were in attendance, part of the biggest crowd (45,978) in Oregon history.

It seemed the only non-believers were the locals; a week later, the crowd at Autzen dropped to under 35,000 for ASU.

Bill Musgrave’s last carry of 1988.

Among those who showed up: the bowl scouts, who showed up to see Bill Musgrave break his collarbone in the first half attempting to tackle Sun Devil LB Rodney Dillard while carrying a football. Musgrave’s understudy, Pete Nelson, threw three picks; the Duck backs lost four fumbles, and what would have been the winning two-point conversion was nullified when WR Joe Reitzug was flagged for stepping out of bounds prior to the catch. Ducks lost, 21-20. 

When asked after the game about Oregon’s bowl chances, Brooks commented “all we have to do know is get some more wins. Somehow, some way, we have to get some more wins.”

And a bowl was still there for the taking. Even after a subsequent home loss to UCLA, Oregon was considered a top candidate for the Freedom Bowl in Anaheim. But they needed seven wins to get there - and that 7th win had to come on the road, in Tucson. Bowl bids would be announced in 1988 on November 13, a week before the Civil War.

They never got that 7th win. The turnover machine, created after the Musgrave breakdown, was in fine form against Arizona (four INTs, two fumbles lost). Derek Loville managed 8 yards on 11 carries. Oregon trailed 27-3 at the half, came back to within a touchdown in the 4th quarter, but collapsed late. The 41-27 loss ended any bowl hopes.

Oregon limped into the ‘88 Civil War at 6-4. Without a viable quarterback, the Ducks led 10-7 before collapsing late, giving OSU two fourth quarter TDs and a 21-10 win. It was the first four win season for the Beavs since 1971 and OSU’s first CW victory in 14 years.

A season-ending trip to Hawaii was as close to a post-season bowl as the Ducks would get. Fittingly, Oregon lost to the Rainbow Warriors, 41-10.


Things didn’t look great for another third straight return to bowl flirtation in 1989, although plenty of talent returned, including a healthy Bill Musgrave collarbone. The problem was the schedule. The conference season started in game one, against Cal, and there were only five home games in all, including Long Beach State. Road trips to Iowa, BYU, Washington, ASU and UCLA looked daunting. 

At least they didn’t have to play USC.

Coming soon: Episode II - Revolution in the ArkLaTex, or How Bill Byrne bought his Independence.