- The Washington Times - Monday, October 23, 2006

Once upon a time, George Washington University had a football team — for one golden autumn, a very good one. And when it achieved its greatest triumph, a 13-0 skunking of heavily favored Texas Western (now UTEP) in the Sun Bowl on Jan.1, 1957, former Washington Redskins quarterbacking icon Sammy Baugh might have been an unlikely 12th man for the Colonials.

At least, that’s how Ray Looney, the quarterback who directed GW’s run-oriented split-T offense that day, remembers it.

Baugh was the coach at Hardin-Simmons, which lost to GW 13-7 and Texas Western 51-13 that season. Asked to compare the Sun Bowl rivals a few days before the game, Slingin’ Sam proved much less accurate as a prognosticator than he had been as a passer.

“He said we didn’t belong on the same field as Texas Western,” Looney recalled Saturday night as 21 members of that team and four of its assistant coaches enjoyed a 50th anniversary reunion at the Sheraton Crystal City. “That was a pretty strong motivating factor for us, and Bo didn’t let us forget it.”

Looney, now 69 and a retired FBI agent, referred to coach Eugene “Bo” Sherman, who compiled a 23-37-1 record at GW from 1952 to 1959. Apparently, Sherman was mostly a hands-off boss. Former halfback Mike Sommer recalled that when victory seemed assured in the Sun Bowl, some of the backs and linemen swapped positions just for the heck of it.

“Did Bo know you guys were going to do it?” a man asked Sommer, now 72.

Mike — who earned a lot of local attention in the 1950s while playing for the District’s Woodrow Wilson High School, GW and the Redskins before entering medical school and becoming an emergency-room doctor — chuckled. “He knew about it afterward.”

College football was so different in those days as to be almost unrecognizable now. GW’s roster included only 31 men, and the starters went both ways in that single-platoon era. The Colonials played no opponent farther away than Miami of Ohio in posting a 7-1-1 record. Only three of the victories were relatively easy: 40-14 over VMI, 32-6 over Richmond and 20-0 over The Citadel. The loss was to West Virginia (14-0), costing the Colonials a Southern Conference title, and the tie was with Boston University (20-20).

Another major difference: There were six bowl games in 1956, contrasted to 32 this season, so an invitation was a big deal. According to sportswriter Tom Yorke in the old Washington Daily News, GW athletic director Bob Faris was “startled” to learn the Sun Bowl was considering the Colonials. He shouldn’t have been. Two other D.C. schools had spent New Year’s Day in El Paso: Catholic University played a scoreless tie with Arizona State in 1940, and Georgetown lost to (who else?) Texas Western 33-20 in 1950. But GW, which began football in the 19th century, had never made the postseason.

Upon arriving in Texas, the 14th-ranked Colonials found local fans unhappy that Texas Western would be facing such a little-known opponent — so much so that Robert Kolliner, the Sun Bowl’s one-man selection committee, said he was pulling for GW.

“This is the first time I’ve rooted against a Southwestern team,” moaned Kolliner, also a city alderman, “and it can mean my political life here.”

When the teams took the field before a sellout crowd of 15,000 at Kidd Field, it soon became evident a potential mismatch was indeed under way — the other way. GW’s heavier lines dominated play in the trenches. Among the Miners going nowhere on offense was halfback Don Maynard, later a star receiver for Joe Namath’s New York Jets. Texas Western had just two first downs and 7 yards rushing in the first half.

Discussing the game last week, Maynard suggested the Miners’ own motivation might have been lacking,

“We wanted to go home for Christmas [instead of practicing],” Maynard told the Associated Press. “Not that the guys didn’t try and not to take anything away from George Washington. We got beat fair and square.”

GW took a 6-0 lead in the first quarter on a 30-yard pass from Looney to Paul Thompson, one of only four completions in nine attempts overall for the Colonials. Texas Western could have packed it in then, as it turned out, but the Miners hung around long enough to see Pete Spera run 3 yards for another touchdown in the fourth period. But GW’s biggest offensive weapon for the day was fullback Bo Austin, who bucked for 108 yards and was the game’s MVP.

“The kids are the greatest,” Sherman said of his troops afterward. “We got the great team effort we knew it would take. This is the most satisfying victory a team of mine has ever scored.”

By far.

The Colonials received a warm welcome from about 300 students when their plane returned to National Airport, but any excitement was short-lived. A couple of days later, the players were hitting the books in Foggy Bottom. And, recalled two-sport star Looney, “I couldn’t wait for the baseball season to start.”

A year later, with many key players gone, the Colonials skidded to 2-7 while playing home games before thousands of empty seats at Griffith Stadium. After the 1966 season, which ended with a 16-7 Thanksgiving Day loss to Villanova before only 7,000 spectators, the school dropped football.

So GW’s magic season of 1956 can be viewed a half-century later as an aberration — but a wonderful one. That’s why all those senior citizens were whooping it up in Arlington over the weekend.


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