Of victory and valor: The story of the 1947 Everett Junior College football team

  • By Scott M. Johnson Herald Writer
  • Monday, November 2, 2009 11:59pm
  • Sports

Some of the bonds on the 1947 Everett Junior College team were formed far from the school’s campus.

While Larry Rodgers and Marv Cross both attended Edmonds High School, the duo was separated by three years and, during Cross’s tour of duty in World War II, miles and miles of ocean.

Only when the pair arrived in Pullman in the fall of 1946, both freshmen on the Washington State College football team, did Rodgers and Cross come together. The 21-year-old Cross was a war veteran, while the 18-year-old Rodgers was fresh out of Edmonds High. The duo roomed together and grew very close very quickly.

For Part I, Click here

So close, in fact, that when Rodgers decided to transfer out of WSC, he turned down an offer to play at Eastern Washington University and instead followed Cross to Everett JC, where the elder Cougars football freshman was headed to get his grades up.

Rodgers and Cross soon became staples in the backfield for the 1947 Everett team. The speedy Cross was so impressive that Coach Bill McLaughlin tabbed him as the starting fullback before the season began. Only later, when returning starter Bobo Moore battled his way into the lineup, did McLaughlin move Cross to halfback so that all three runners could play in the same single-wing backfield.

For Part II, Click here

The former WSC teammates played a huge part in Everett’s run through the conference schedule. Cross was one of the nation’s leading scorers that season, while Rodgers and Moore helped ease his load.

And it was Rodgers who made the most important play of the entire 1947 season. While Cross would go on to recruit plenty of other great athletes as EJC’s head football coach later in the century, it was his first recruit who made the difference in the biggest game of that memorable ‘47 season.

THE FINAL VICTORY

Despite a huge advantage in total yardage, the mighty Santa Rosa Junior College football team was still deadlocked in a 6-6 tie with its supposedly inferior opponent when the fourth quarter started. But it looked like the Bear Cubs were about to blow the door open.

Santa Rosa had driven to the Everett 35-yard line when the tables turned again.

When Santa Rosa’s Al Battaglia tried to pitch the ball to a teammate, Rodgers jumped the play and plucked the ball out of Battaglia’s hands and took off.

“I just put my ears back and ran,” Rodgers said earlier this summer while recalling that fateful play from the 1947 Evergreen Bowl. “I don’t think anybody was within 20 yards of me. The guys joked afterward that the only race I had was against Pop Hagerty, and he was the lead official.”

Sixty-three yards later, Rodgers had scored a defensive touchdown to give the Trojans a 12-6 lead midway through the fourth quarter. The EJC sideline erupted, as did the thousands of fans who had been living and breathing Trojans football that fall.

Swept up by the momentum, Everett coach McLaughlin decided to put the pedal to the medal. He called for an onside kick, which the Trojans promptly recovered at the 47.

With Rodgers standing on the sideline catching his breath, Marv Cross and Bobo Moore — the two players who opened the season battling for the starting fullback job — alternated carries for the rest of that drive. Moore’s final attempt, from the Santa Rosa 6-inch line, left him lying in the end zone for an insurance touchdown and an 18-6 Everett lead as the fourth quarter wound down.

Trailing by two touchdowns, Santa Rosa’s Bear Cubs ditched the running game and spent the rest of the night trying to pass their way back into the game.

As EJC’s Rodgers would point out gleefully years later: “That didn’t work.”

The two teams went scoreless the rest of the way, thanks in large part to Pat Brady’s big leg and an inspired Everett defense. When the gun went off, EJC’s unbeaten season was capped off in familiar fashion. That is, with another win.

A COMMON THREAD

In war, the only measure of success is survival, the right to fight again.

For the war veterans who stood triumphant at Everett Memorial Field in December 1947, the taste of victory could not have been sweeter. Being able to battle on the playfields of sport was the reward for their sacrifice. To emerge victorious was an even greater prize.

When the members of the 1947 Everett Junior College football team shook hands with their opponents from Santa Rosa on that cold night, the bond the two teams shared was one that went beyond competitive spirit. The majority of the players wearing both uniforms had fought on the same side in World War II and carried an unspoken respect for one another.

The winners from EJC respected their opponents so fervently that they extended an offer to attend a school dance in downtown Everett later that night, and the Santa Rosa players gladly accepted.

Nearly sixty-two years later, one former Trojan succinctly summed up the reason for inviting the Bear Cubs to the dance.

“There were plenty of girls to go around,” Larry Rodgers said.

The celebration was festive. A team had won, another had lost, but they had both lived to tell the story. In their past lives, many of their comrades had not been so lucky. They had fought the ultimate battle to make sure that free men could compete in a different arena.

To this day, the significance of the game has not been lost on its participants. But war veterans from what has become known as “The Greatest Generation” are not the kind to dwell on their triumphs.

“We just went out,” former EJC captain Maurice Edlund said when asked about that memorable 1947 season, “and did our job.”

The impact of the moment was met with celebration in and around Everett, however. The Herald newspaper’s account of the victory led with the less-than-objective line: “Hats off to the mighty Trojans of Everett Junior College, the only undefeated junior college football team on the Pacific Coast!” The city celebrated the win like a world championship.

And even Herald columnist Lloyd Rodstrom ate a little crow by praising the Trojans for their performance. His predicted final score of 20-7 wasn’t that far off the mark, but The Herald’s sports columnist had the teams reversed.

“They’ll be talking about it for years to come,” Rodstrom wrote in the Dec. 8 edition of The Herald. “… Saturday’s gridiron classic has entered the record books as one of the greatest single victories in Snohomish County athletics.”

It also marked the final time that particular EJC team would take the field. Despite the only unbeaten record on the West Coast, the mighty Trojans were not among the two teams invited to play in the annual “Little” Rose Bowl, which was widely acknowledged as the national championship game for junior-college teams.

LIFE AFTER FOOTBALL

Everett JC would never have as fine a season as that 1947 campaign. The Evergreen Bowl would become an annual event, but Santa Rosa won every other meeting and continued on its run as one of the top teams in the country year in and year out. Everett’s only college would play football for nearly 30 more years before dropping the sport in a cost-cutting move in 1975.

For many members of the 1947 Everett team, that Evergreen Bowl marked the end of their football days.

Team captain Maurice Edlund went on to the University of Washington but tore his Achilles’ tendon during his first week of football practice. He never played the game again. Lineman Neil Bartlett also suffered an injury that ended his playing days. Quarterback Scott Smith attended Western Washington University, where he gave up on football in favor of a different dream: that of becoming a teacher. Guard Ted Sullivan also went to WWU, but his pursuits there did not involve a pigskin but a woman. The Sullivans recently celebrated their 60-year anniversary.

Those who went on to play at four-year schools had varied success.

Larry Rodgers, the star of the 1947 Evergreen Bowl, went on to the University of Puget Sound and played two years there before eventually becoming an assistant coach at the school.

Star running back Marv Cross got his grades up, returned to Washington State and was eventually drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles. But his NFL career never got off the ground, so he returned to EJC and led the football program to several winning seasons as head coach.

Lineman Jim Jolgen’s playing days continued at Pittsburg State in Kansas, then he went on to become a football coach at Lake Washington High School in Kirkland. The man who hired him at Lake Washington was Bill McLaughlin, the leader of the 1947 team.

After coaching the Trojans through that unbeaten season, McLaughlin spent two more years at the school and then moved on to the same position at his alma mater, the University of the Puget Sound. McLaughlin eventually became a coach and administrator at several high schools throughout the Seattle area, eventually passing away in 1995 after a three-year battle with Lou Gehrig’s Disease and Alzeimer’s.

The lone player from that ‘47 EJC team to go on to an extended career in professional football was Pat Brady, the punter whose big leg led him the NFL and three seasons with the Pittsburgh Steelers. He led the NFL in punting in 1953 and ‘54 and made such an impact in Pittsburgh that he was voted to the Steelers’ 50th anniversary team in 1982.

But Brady was not the greatest hero from that 1947 team — not by a long shot.

That honor undoubtedly goes to Archie Van Winkle, the feisty backup offensive lineman who was among the 30 or so EJC players who served in World War II. Van Winkle, a Darrington High School graduate, went on to become one of the most decorated soldiers this state has ever seen.

THE EMBODIMENT OF A HERO

For Archie Van Winkle, the fields of war undoubtedly had become familiar as he moved into his mid- and late-20s.

By the time the World War II veteran passed through Everett JC, signed up for a tour of duty in the Korean War, and landed in an area of Korea known as the Chosin Reservoir in November of 1950, Van Winkle had learned the true meaning of being a soldier.

A senior platoon sergeant with the Marines, Van Winkle was being asked to lead the short-handed, inexperienced group of soldiers in Company B into a marshy area near Sudong that was swimming with enemy troops. At one point, according to Van Winkle’s quotes from a book called “Breakout: The Chosin Reservoir Campaign”, the American soldiers were so close to the enemy that he “could’ve tossed a pebble at them.”

On Nov. 2, 1950, Van Winkle and a fellow soldier named Ed Toppel were cornered by onrushing Chinese soldiers. Fellow Marine Joseph R. Owen’s account of what happened next, as detailed in Owen’s book “Colder Than Hell: A Marine Rifle Company at Chosin Reservoir”, went like this:

“By the light of muzzle flashes and exploding grenades, (Toppel) glimpsed Van Winkle firing his carbine on automatic and slashing his bayonet at the Chinese swarm. Then (Toppel) saw the burly Van Winkle lift a Chinese soldier above his head and hurl him into a group of enemy soldiers. They fell into a heap …”

During the melee, Van Winkle suffered a significant injury to one of his arms. He requested sulfa powder from one of the U.S. riflemen but kept on fighting, through 40 yards of enemy fire, before taking a direct hit from a hand grenade to the chest. Through it all, Van Winkle pushed on, shouting orders and encouragement to his platoon.

Remarkably, and heroically, Van Winkle survived the campaign. He eventually found himself at a hospital in Hamhung, where, according to “Breakout” he had “lost so much blood that when Lt. Harrol Kiser stopped by to visit, he thought at first he was looking at a corpse. (Kiser said,) ‘I couldn’t believe anyone could be that white and still be alive.’”

Sixteen months later, at a ceremony hosted by President Harry S. Truman, Sgt. Van Winkle was given the Congressional Medal of Honor. Less than five years after his final game as an EJC football player who couldn’t crack the starting lineup, Van Winkle had been honored as a national hero.

“S/Sgt. Van Winkle served to inspire all who observed him to heroic efforts in successfully repulsing the enemy attack,” the citation announcing Sgt. Van Winkle’s Medal of Honor read.

Darrington’s hero returned to the military and went to battle again, this time in the Vietnam War. He retired from the military in 1974, with 30 years of service and a rank of colonel.

By the time he passed away of natural causes in 1986, at the age of 61, Col. Van Winkle had served in three major international conflicts — World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War — and earned 19 of the nation’s highest medals of valor, including a Distinguished Flying Cross and a Purple Heart.

Col. Archibald Van Winkle was the embodiment of a hero. Because of people like him, the battle of sport would become a central focus of American society.

Because of people like him, the 1947 Everett JC football team was able to make a different kind of history.

POSTSCRIPT

“We can’t all be heroes because somebody has to sit on the curb and clap as they go by.”

— Will Rogers

The first thing Scott Smith did when he stepped up to the podium was lower the microphone. Such local luminaries as college football coach Mike Price, former NFL player Terry Metcalf and record-setting high school basketball coach Ed Pepple already had stood at the podium after being inducted into the Everett Community College Hall of Fame, and now it was the 1947 team’s turn.

“I bet I know what you’re thinking,” Smith said into the microphone after lowering it to meet his 5-foot-6 frame. “How the hell did that guy play football?”

The remark was met with laughter from the 300 or so people jammed into a conference room at the Everett Events Center. The people in attendance stared at the diminutive, 84-year-old man, and couldn’t conceivably see him standing behind center taking snaps.

While standing at the microphone, Smith told a few 62-year-old stories from his days at a school that used to be known as Everett Junior College. The lanky Maurice Edlund took the podium next, speaking of war and sport, his typically casual manner disguising the emotions of his eight-plus decades.

And then, when former teammates Don Cogdill, Ted Sullivan, Ray Walberg, Neil Bartlett, Larry Rodgers, Al Schireman, Melvin “Maul” Olson, Scotty Turner and Monte Smalley came forward to accept the induction, the overdue appreciation began. The crowd, which had given polite applause to the 12 individual EvCC athletes and coaches who had already been inducted that evening, began to gain volume and rise from their seats.

Within seconds, the 1947 team was being showered with the evening’s first — and only — standing ovation.

Larry O’Donnell, the local historian who was there for every one of EJC’s games in the fall of 1947, was also there earlier this summer when the team got its just ovation.

“That was very, very touching,” he said a few months later. “Here you have a group of guys, the over-the-hill gang. Some of them were using crutches, some had canes, I believe one of them was in a wheelchair.

“If you didn’t have a lump in your throat after that,” O’Donnell concluded, “you don’t have a heart.”

The hero’s reception was nothing new to a generation of heroes, who thought more of their fallen comrades than their own individual pride.

“It gave a thanks to the guys I’ve played with, especially to those who’ve gone,” Scott Smith said of the ovation, referring to the dozens of members of that 1947 team who have since passed away. “I felt it was a good salute to them.”

The mild-mannered Maurice Edlund handled the ovation with the honor of a soldier.

“We were pleased we were shown a little respect,” he said, “on and off the field.”

They hadn’t won a national championship, the Rose Bowl or even the Little Rose Bowl, but the members of the 1947 Everett Junior College team did something just as rewarding.

The Trojans won a game that still resonates 62 years later.

And even more important, many of them fought on real battlefields to give themselves the freedom to play the games that have made America such a beautiful place.

Col. Archie Van Winkle may have been the biggest hero from that 1947 football team, but he certainly wasn’t its only hero.

And that leads us back to the “Band of Brothers,” Stephen E. Ambrose’s book that concluded with the words of one of Easy Company’s members who had survived World War II.

In a newsletter sent out to the men with whom he had gone to battle almost half a century earlier, 1st Platoon Sgt. Myron “Mike” Ranney relayed a story about one of his grandsons asking him whether he was a hero in the war.

“No,” Ranney told him, “but I served in a company of heroes.”

Maurice Edlund never read that quote. But he certainly lived it.

Pat Brady, the Trojans’ punter and most impressive athlete

Marv Cross, Everett’s star halfback who in 1947 ranked among the nation’s leading scorers

Maurice Edlund, defensive/offensive end and a team captain

Bill McLaughlin, former Navy man and Everett JC’s first head football coach

Larry Rodgers, offensive/defensive halfback who made a big play in the Evergreen Bowl

Scott Smith, the team’s 5-foot-6 starting quarterback

Keith “Bobo” Moore, fullback who scored the first touchdown in the Evergreen Bowl

Archie Van Winkle, a reserve lineman who earned fame far from the football field

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