This Saturday night, UW will be wearing throwback uni's in tribute to their 1960 football team. Why the sudden honor of the 1960 team? Because UW will now officially recognize that team as a national champion, even in not many others around the county will follow suit. They'll have a ceremony honoring the team at halftime, and they'll even hoist a national championship banner. A nice idea to fire up the home crowd for top-ranked USC during the national TV broadcast. But, is it legit to give them the crown 47 years after the fact?
Here are the facts. In 1960, several of the major polls would actually do their voting before the bowl games were played. A weird way to do it, no doubt about it. Can you imagine if, for example, Ohio State would have been voted the national champions before the BCS title game vs. Florida last year? The outrage would flourish from sea to shining sea. Back then, the bowls were seen as more of a reward for the season and viewed basically as exhibition games, and/or a boost for tourism in the cities where the bowls were played. Minnesota was crowned the national champions by the AP and UPI, among other polls, after the 1960 season was in the books. Washington would lose just one game that season, but they still finished sixth in the major polls heading into the 1961 Rose Bowl. UW would then beat top-ranked Minnesota 17-7 in that Rose Bowl, so in doing the math, they figured they were the champions.
But what about the little matter of the polls? Shouldn't that be the official deal in all this? UW was, in fact, given the national title by one outfit, called the Helms Athletic Foundation. If you haven't heard of the Helms poll, you aren't alone. The poll began in 1936 and disbanded in 1982. They were one of the few polls at the time that did the voting after the bowls were played, so at least that is legit in today's standards. But what about Minnesota's banner? After all, the AP and UPI carried the most weight, and they were given the title. Should they now take their banner down? And what about Mississippi? They may have the strongest claim of anyone. They went undefeated that year, with one tie, and were given the title by the Football Writers of America. In Mississippi, they actually do recognize themselves as the champion that year based on the FWA poll.
It's a cloudy picture, with each program believing they were #1. But even NCAA historian Beano Cook is weighing in on the matter in today's Seattle P-I:
"Mississippi has as much right to claim it as Washington," said Beano Cook, an ESPN commentator and college football historian who can be heard Tuesday mornings at 8 on KJR-AM/950. "They can do what they want -- it's a good way to get the team up for USC -- but nobody else is going to recognize them officially."
So, it's a nice idea and a cool way to honor a great team in school history. And UW claiming at least a fraction of the title from that year isn't going to cause anyone any pain. But UW shouldn't be shocked if ESPN doesn't dedicate a lot of their Gameday coverage about the 1960 team. In fact, outside of Seattle, the event won't likely generate much more than a collective shrug of the shoulders among college football fans. But so what. UW was given the title by one poll, and that's all that matters here. Celebrating history and tradition is a huge part of the college football experience, so if UW wants to add a national championship in their media guide and by hoisting a banner, then go for it. Why not honor a great team from the past, even if nobody else will do the same?