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November 3, 1928 – Oregon at California

“The state of California is well represented on the University of Oregon football team which plays the Golden Bears today. Six of the forty men on the squad are registered from the Golden State.”

Johnny KitzmillerYes, there was a time when six of 40 would be considered solid representation from California. That time was the Roaring Twenties, from whence this program has survived. The oldest entry in the Program Project (so far) dates from midseason of 1928, when John J. “Cap” McEwan’s squad was on the way to the best record in school history, but came up empty at Berkeley.

The Cal game was, then as now, a serious test and a crucial conference matchup. Oregon, at 4-1 with only a loss to powerful Stanford, was seen as a team with an outside shot at a Rose Bowl bid. But the Bears had superior talent at ends, their backfield was a match for Oregon despite the presence of All-Conference QB Johnny Kitzmiller, and ultimately the massive linemen of the Ducks bogged down in the quagmire of Memorial Stadium’s muddy turf. Oregon never got close to the Cal goal, despite some cunning attempts (below) and lost 13-0.

John J. “Cap” McEwanUltimately, the Oregon loss was but one in a string of six consecutive shutouts amid a thirteen year winless streak against Cal. As for the Bears, they had everything arranged in their favor – an absurdly biased schedule with eight of nine games at home helped – and the season ultimately came down to the Big Game; that 13-13 tie put Cal in Pasadena for New Year’s Day, where they lost to Georgia Tech 8-7.

Oregon didn’t lose another game, including two holiday contests in Honolulu against the University of Hawaii and a team of island all-stars, and finished the season 9-2.

Program Notes:

  • No Oregon team had won nine games in a season before 1928; the feat would be repeated in 1933 and 1948, and not again until 1994.
  • Johnny Kitzmiller, the “Flying Dutchman”, was the star of Cap’s charges. The native of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania had originally planned to matriculate at West Point, but when McEwan bolted the Black Knights for points west in 1926, Kitzmiller changed his plans and followed a year later. Kitzmiller later followed his coach into the College Football Hall of Fame; McEwan was inducted in 1962, for his play as a lineman at Army, and Kitzmiller in 1969.
  • Berkeley Daily Gazette pregame notes:
    “Last year the Webfooters were a doormat for the entire conference but … McEwan had his teeth pulled this year and since that time his team has begun to look like the old Oregon machines that put fear into the hearts of all opponents … If McEwan is wise he will have a leg amputated or his tonsils cut out before the California game tomorrow, if having his teeth pulled could improve the Webfooters so much.. If [Cal coach] Price knows his stuff … he will keep watch on all the hospitals tonight and find out whether or not McEwan is going to have another operation.”
  • Berkeley Daily Gazette postgame report:
    “The stands got quite a thrill in the fourth quarter when an Oregon end tried to get away with the ancient dead man play. The ball was on the east edge of the field and the Webfoot wingman sneaked over to the opposite side and stretched out on the ground. His jersey was muddy and California didn’t see him. For some unknown reason Oregon delayed in calling signals while 30,000 fans signaled, called and prayed for the Bears to wake up and find him. They finally did and McEwan, Oregon’s coach, ruined a perfectly good hat by throwing it forcibly down on the muddy stadium field.”
  • Note the photograph of Cap McEwan on page 4, with the cowlick. Up until around 1930 it was not unusual for coaches — especially coaches who had played the game — to wear the uniforms of their teams during practice, in case they’d have to demonstrate playing technique on the field. The practice apparently didn’t extend to game day, however, when coaches of the era would don suits, topcoats and fedoras. Personally, I’d like to see Chip Kelly wearing an Oregon uniform sometime.
  • The “Penalties” page reveals more oddities of the era. See #14: “Feint to snap ball… 5 yards.” So, an attempt to draw the defense offsides was considered a violation?
  • Only one sponsor in this Cal-published program, on the back cover; brought to you by the then-ubiquitous Richfield Oil Company of California.
  • Program is on the small side, 9” x 5.5”.


October 1, 1966 – San Jose State at Oregon

click to embiggenLen Casanova probably deserved better for his last season as Oregon head coach than a Bataan Death March of a schedule – only four home games, five of the last six on the road and an opener at Oklahoma. The slate was cobbled together in relative haste following the reunification of most of the old PCC teams into what would eventually become the Pac-8. Even with only four conference games, and without USC or UCLA on the schedule, Oregon’s cupboard was so barren of talent it was hard to see how the last campaign could amount to anything beyond an exercise in futility.

Only nine starters returned from the 1965 team, and that season ended with one win in seven games. Depth was such a concern that Cas announced to a group of incredulous touring Skywriters, in early September that at least ten players, including potential star backs Mike Barnes and Claxton Welch, would be groomed to play both sides of the ball – in the two-platoon era, a white flag if ever one was raised.

In his sixteenth season, Casanova, the lame-Duck dean of AAWU coaches – it didn’t officially become the Pac-8 until 1967 – did his best to stay on the sunny side. Acknowledging predictions of no better than a 7th place finish were “justified,” Cas said “they’re sure as hell not a collection of stars, but they are a dedicated outfit.” But even Cas couldn’t sugar-coat this turd. Referring to the “Ugly Ducklings,” the 1957 second-string unit that contributed greatly to the Rose Bowl season ten years earlier, Cas said “these fellows remind me a lot of them, only these guys are the first string, that’s the trouble.”

Who says they don’t play football just for fun anymore? They seem to be at Oregon … It wasn’t planned to be, it just worked out that way.

This is supposed to be the day of high-pressure recruiting and specialized, two-platoon football. But [Casanova] … told tales of players ‘who just kind of wandered onto campus’ and of iron-man types who will go both ways. Maybe it doesn’t follow, but the Webfoots also don’t expect to have a very good football team.”

– Al Moss, San Francisco Chronicle

To make matters worse, the old “player’s coach” was dealing with player issues. Senior end Steve Bunker, who had set team records for receptions, yardage and touchdowns in 1965, reported to fall camp twenty pounds overweight and was put on a crash diet. Fullback Jim Evenson, a JC transfer from Boise who had performed well in spring ball, quit the team after learning he’d fallen behind Claxton Welch on the depth chart (he would return in 1967, played two seasons for Jerry Frei, and had a long career in the CFL). Senior halfback Scott Cress separated his shoulder in practice and was replaced for the Oklahoma opener by Roger Smith, still not fully recovered himself from a pulled hamstring. The only returning “stars” were Bunker, the nation’s leader in receptions, and DB Jim “Yazoo” Smith, both honorable mention all-conference in 1965.

Thus, it wasn’t unexpected that Oregon would arrive at week three of the 1966 season with a winless record. What was unexpected, by coaches and fans and media, was the poor performance of the team, especially against Utah.

There’s a difference between playing well and losing and playing badly and losing. That was the difference between the Oklahoma and Utah games. The best thing the Ducks did Saturday afternoon was convince most of the 16,500 fans who watched that it’s going to be a long, dreary season.”

– Jerry Uhrhammer, Eugene Register-Guard

The senior co-captain at quarterback, Mike Brundage, had been miserable at Oklahoma, and not much better against Utah. Cas announced on Monday that the signal caller position was “wide open,” and after neither senior Tom Trovato nor soph Eric Olson made a convincing case during practice, sophomore Mike Barnes was moved from defensive back to QB. There would be a four-man competition for the job.

Whoever the quarterback would be wouldn’t have a lot to work with. Welch and #2 wingback Roger Smith were still recovering from leg injuries. And there were was a freak injury to starting tight end Steve Reina, the leading receiver after two games, who was injured at his frat house (ATO) after the Utah game; somehow, a sliding glass door was involved, and Reina took a large gash to his right leg, which required eight stitches. He spent the week on crutches.


Thus was the scene set for week three, which brought pass-happy San Jose State to Hayward Field. If there was a get-well game for the Ducks in the early season, this appeared to be the one. Also winless, SJS – seven point underdogs to the Webfoots – had lost to Stanford and BYU and suffered seven season-ending injuries in the process. But they had the nation’s top passer in Danny Holman, all 6’2” and 160 pounds dripping wet of him.

Oregon’s defensive backs weren’t impressed. Omri Hildreth acknowledged that Holman was “good and deceptive, but he throws the ball a little too soft.” Tim Temple was licking his chops: “He’s a football player with a basketball pass.. It’s not a hard pass and it even wobbles … The movies showed he throws off-balance.” Les Palm was succinct: “I’m ready and anxious for Saturday.” Only the veteran Yazoo Smith was reserved, saying “He’s not a bad thrower, and it looks like he has a lot of finesse.”

So the game went, four Oregon quarterbacks against one. The Webfoots watched as Holman shredded their secondary for 308 yards and three touchdowns in a 21-7 humiliation at Hayward Field. Oregon led at the half, 7-6, and had run 48 plays to the Spartans’ 14 to that point, but had five possessions inside the Spartans’ ten yard line – including a first-and-goal at the one — and only managed one touchdown. Mike Barnes had earned the starting job at QB, and Oregon’s offense at last showed some life, with 353 yards, but repeated mistakes doomed the Ducks on an unseasonably hot day in early October.

Holman picked the Duck secondary apart in the second half, going 18-22-0 for 252 after the break. Yazoo Smith did his best to stem the tide, seemingly trying to play all four DB positions at once, and garnered two interceptions. But the rest of Oregon’s secondary was humiliated.

They were playing our ends too tight. You tell them that. They were working too hard to stop the short pass and got killed with the long ones. They were also trying to stop our roll-outs. That hurt them too.

I think they underestimated our quarterback.”

—- SJS safety Steve Saunders

Those who doubt that Oregon football has reached the crisis stage, based on … cold facts, are kidding themselves.”

– Don Fair, The Oregonian


The loss was Oregon’s sixth straight over two seasons. The last hurrah for Len Casanova would end with a whimper at 3-7. There would be just one more game at Hayward Field, in November hosting Washington State, and that too would be a loss, meaning the last victory by the Webfoots at Hayward Field was a three point triumph over Idaho in 1965.

The Oregon athletic department was faced with the daunting task of moving an unsuccessful team off campus into a stadium with almost three times the capacity of its old stomping grounds. Then, in January 1967, the dominoes toppled. Leo Harris, possibly tiring of the constant battles with his boss, announced his resignation as athletic director. Casanova hung up his clipboard and took over for Harris, and longtime assistant Jerry Frei was named head coach.

Program Notes –

  • This program is a little more content-rich than its predecessors of the decade, but the 1966 issues are still Fifties programs, more than halfway through the Sixties. The covers remain generic and boring, and by now they don’t even carry artist credits; they’re just drawings of football players.
  • No more cigarette advertising! Not even “public service” messages. This had to have been by policy and not legislation, as print tobacco advertising continued to be legal and common in the US media well into the 1980s. Someone at the UO made a commendable decision to eschew tobacco dollars, and hooray for whoever made the call.
  • For years there was a consensus view that if you put too many games on television, attendance at local games would suffer. This theory couldn’t be tested with any accuracy, of course, but it seemed to make sense to those who stood to lose money, and as a result the broadcast of games was severely – absurdly – restricted. Even the advertising walked a tightrope (see page 2 – “When you can’t get out to a game, watch NCAA College Football on the ABC Television Network”), as if watch Linfield play Whitman in person was preferable to staying home and watching Notre Dame play anyone. This view held until the Supreme Court overturned the monopoly on broadcast rights in 1984, after which nobody ever attended a college football game again.
  • There’s a feature on the Alpha Tau Omega house. “President of the local chapter is football quarterback Tom Trovato.” ATO was a “jock house” fixture at Oregon for decades, until around 1999, when the frat was among the first to take a no-alcohol pledge. Sometime between then and now, it ceased to exist.
  • Advertised automobiles: sublime (Buick GS-400) and ridiculous (Oldsmobile Toronado, con matador! “Toronado” was a word GM made up, and had nothing to do with bullfighting).
  • The proofreader must have been on sabbatical. (“Herb Alpert and the Tiajuana Brass”… “schools of Achitecture and Allied Arts”)
  • Center roster spread sponsored by Coke. Milk on the back cover. Who needs cigarettes?


October 26, 1963 -- Washington at Oregon

Oregon dropped this game 26-19; the less said about a loss to Washington, the better, no matter when it happened.









Program Notes — 


  • The early Sixties programs are so bland it’s hard to find anything interesting to say about them. This may be the worst of the bunch. The Ducks had an excellent squad in 1963, with *two* future HOF members in Mel Renfro and Dave Wilcox, decent depth and good overall talent. But other than a two-page game preview, you’d be hard pressed to notice anything unusual or special about the team. The whole program has a kind of high-school feel, starting with yet another generic “R. Vrooman” cover. The photo titled “Webfoot Rally Squad” on page 4 could have come from a National Lampoon High School Yearbook Parody outtake.  
  • Cigarette advertising continues to dwindle, although Viceroy is back sponsoring the center spread. And, instead of a traditional exhortation to smoke, RJ Reynolds Tobacco performs a public service by reminding back-cover readers to turn on their car’s lights at night. Oh, and don’t speed. It’s bad for you.