Looking Back When Football Roamed The Campus
Feb. 3, 2006
As Seattle Seahawks fever spreads across the Inland Northwest, Gonzaga University athletics takes a glimpse back into its own football history when it was success on the gridiron that sparked Bulldog mania.
Gonzaga played its first football game on Thanksgiving Day, 1892, as the blue and white team ended with a 4-4 tie against the Spokane Athletic Association. Dr. Harry Luhn coached that first squad and would serve as Gonzaga's head coach through the 1898 season when GU dropped football the first time.
George Varnell would gather up a group of interested young men in 1908 as Gonzaga once again fielded a football team, playing to a scoreless tie with Blair Business College. Gonzaga would continue to battle regional foes over the next 12 years before Gus Dorais was brought on board to coach the Bulldogs in 1920.
Dorais gained fame as the first quarterback to throw a forward pass as he and University of Notre Dame roommate Knute Rockne devised the play. Dorais coached some of the most memorable Gonzaga squads during his five years at Gonzaga, including the Bulldogs 1924 team that finished 5-0-2. That team was considered the greatest team in Gonzaga history with wins over Washington State University and the University of Montana. That team included seven players who would go on to play in the National Football League including Houston Stockton, Mel Ingram and Ray Flaherty. Dorais would take the head coaching job at the University of Detroit the next season and was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1954, Gonzaga's only inductee.
Gonzaga's lone post-season appearance would also come under Dorais' watchful eye when Gonzaga faced the University of West Virginia in the San Diego East-West Classic on Christmas Day, 1922. Gonzaga lost the contest 21-13, but gained its current nickname as a San Diego sportswriter was impressed by Gonzaga's Bulldog-like tenacity.
Gonzaga would also upgrade its level of competition in the late 1930's losing in 1937 to Santa Clara University's Sugar Bowl championship team, the only meeting between the future West Coast Conference rivals. Gonzaga also played both teams from the 1938 Cotton Bowl, dropping games to both Texas Tech University and Saint Mary's College. The Bulldogs final "big win" was in the 1940 season when they shocked a Gus Dorais-coached Detroit team, 13-7, handing the Titans one of only two loses that season.
In 1941 Gonzaga played its final season of collegiate football posting a 3-7 record that included season-ending losses to the University of Portland and Washington State. Gonzaga's last win was a 6-0 decision over Eastern Washington State College (later EWU). The Bulldogs program was disbanded in 1942 due to World War II and efforts to restart the program in 1946 were quickly shut down. In 1949 Gonzaga Stadium was slowly torn down to close the book on the Bulldogs football history.
Despite only 40 years of college football, Gonzaga and its former athletes made a definite impression on the future of the game. Two players (Flaherty and Canadeo) have been inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame and 22 players spent time in professional football. Flaherty was inducted in 1976 after a long coaching career with the Washington Redskins. He led Washington to two world titles coaching against legends George Halas (Chicago) and Curly Lambeau (Green Bay). Flaherty compiled an 80-37-5 coaching record and is credited with giving the NFL the modern version of the screen pass. Canadeo was inducted in 1974 after an 11-year career with the Green Bay Packers which included All-NFL honors in 1943 and 1949. Canadeo currently ranks fourth on the Packers all-time rushing list with 4,197 career yards. His No. 3 was retired by Green Bay in 1952.
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