Thursday, August 15, 2013

The Football Game that Changed Cascadia (Cascadia Exists #4)

For the South, there's a very and bright line clear line of when the era following the Civil War ended. Unfortunately for me, it is when the Alabama Crimson Tide beat the University of Washington Huskies in the 1926 Rose Bowl.

I kid you not, Southerners take this story very seriously:
It was more than a football game. It was the chance to avenge the South, to reclaim the valor and honor of the Lost Cause. No longer would this land be known for its hookworm and illiteracy. It would be the home of the best damn football in the nation!

"The 1926 Rose Bowl was without a doubt the most important game before or since in Southern football history," says Birmingham News sportswriter Clyde Bolton.

The 1926 Rose Bowl was a regionally defining event for Dixie (if not the broader south). It showed a way back to regional pride. And, no one can argue that college football is still very much top dog in terms of major sports in Dixie.

So, was there and equal reaction in Cascadia, turning us back when the South lurched foward? Taking a simple look at our history, it seems that the Husky's performances in Rose Bowls  does seem to correlate with the region's economic well-being.

The 1926 Rose Bowl in fact marked the high mark of the region since Washington statehood and the recession that followed. Since the 1890s, Cascadia had slowly begun transforming itself from frontier to a real region.

In the case of Seattle, the landscape was literally remade to make room for the city itself:
As the city matured, it sought to make further refinements to itself, thus launching a campaign of civic improvement devoted to mastering nature locally as well. One set of improvements revolved around leveling the steep hills that encircled the downtown. Between 1900 and 1930 the city re-engineered its natural setting by regrading the slopes around the central business district. The hills were seen as an impediment to real estate development; city officials assumed that by lowering the hills they would facilitate the outward growth of the central business district and accelerate the rise in property values. As workmen washed and shoveled and hauled the hills away, they also straightened the lower Duwamish River in order to facilitate shipping on that stream; created Harbor Island, which added to the city's waterfront; and filled in some of the tideflats in the area just south of Pioneer Square (the spot occupied by the Kingdome between 1976 and 1999).
 But, following the 1926 Rose Bowl (not immediately after, but soon) all that came to a crashing halt.

The economic depression through the 1930s dragged the entire country down, but it hurt Cascadia even more than the national average. Unemployment in our region was far above the national average throughout the depression. Investment stopped and the growth that our region had expected halted.
By 1933, lumber exports stood at about half what they had been in 1929. Many agricultural products brought prices so low that they were not worth shipping to market; some apple and prune growers uprooted their trees and burned them for fuel. Mining output in Idaho dropped from $32 million in 1929 to $9 million in 1933. By 1933 income levels across the three states had declined to about 55% of what they had been four years earlier. Rates of tax delinquency and business failure, of course, had climbed greatly. The surest sign of an interruption in the normal course of things was that, for the first time since the 1840s, mainstream society was united in trying to discourage migration to the region from back east—for fear that newcomers would only add to already overburdened welfare rolls. In fact, the population of the area did not stop growing during the 1930s; it actually increased by about 10%, largely because so many people from the Midwest moved to the region seeking work.
 But, unlike Dixie, Cascadia didn't see the Rose Bowl in terms of regional identity. The Seattle Times coverage on January 2, 1926 was typical of a losing city.  A few paragraphs on the front page and then full page coverage in the sports section. While the Crimson Tide were being great by brass bands and crowds on their train trip home through Dixie, the Huskies were greeted with shrugs and "I guess we'll get'em next year fellas" attitude.

And, it didn't seem that unrealistic that the Huskies would be back soon. They tied Navy two years earlier in their first visit to the bowl game and had won conference titles twice more in ten years.

But, as Cascadia entered the Depression, the Huskies would have a long road back to the Rose Bowl. Their coach in 1926, Enoch Bagshaw resigned after a losing season in 1929 and died the following fall.

Huskies would lose in 1937 and 1944 without scoring a point.

In fact, the next (and scoring at all) in the Rose Bowl for the University of Washington would be in 1960 when the fate of Puget Sound and broader Cascadia seemed bright again. The Huskies would face off against Wisconsin and beat them 44 to 8. Later that summer, the Seattle World's Fair was announced.

The Huskies would  repeat in the Rose Bowl, beating Minnesota this time 44 to 8. When the fair was held in 1962 it crystallized the hope and audacity of the region that had dragged itself back from the depths of the Depression.

By 1964, the Huskies were back to losing the game and entering a 14 year Rose Bowl drought. In the middle of that Rose Bowl desert, the Boeing Bust hit Puget Sound, taking the spirit of the 1962 World's Fair with it.

The Huskies returns to the Rose Bowl from 1978 through 1982 buck my nice neat trend. The Huskies were 2-1 in these years, but Cascadia and Puget Sound were going through some roller coaster years. The economy in the late 70s was pretty good, but had dropped off by the time the Huskies beat Iowa in 1982.

In the early 1990s, the Huskies again went 2-1 in Rose Bowls, winning a national championship and finishing undefeated in 1992 against Michigan. This game could very well mark the high point in Husky football history and the high mark of Cascadia's economy and cultural influence.

While the Huskies were making their way through national football powers, Grunge was happening, Seattle was becoming the most livable city.

Yes, Cascadia changed in the 1990s and the Huskies were there in Pasadena.

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