Oregon Unknowns: The Undefeated Season and Actresses in Pajamas!

Don Gilman History

1916 was a milestone year for the University of Oregon. Mighty Oregon was penned by the songwriting team of John Dewitt Gilbert and Albert Perfect. Before the song was written Oregon actually played On Wisconsin as their fight song! YIKES!

Also in 1916 the Pacific Coast Conference was formed, the precursor of the Pac-10 and now Pac-12.

The Webfoots were talented. They were innovative and clever. They were also huge, by their standards, an absolutely massive team whose line averaged an astounding 185 pounds (wait…what?)

Oregon was led by quarterback Shy Huntington and Coach Hugo Bezdek, and that 1916 Duck team remains the only undefeated team in the university’s history. Up until two years ago, they were also the last Oregon team to win the Rose Bowl.

Hugo Bezdek, center. ©University of Oregon Libraries – Special Collections and University Archives

Bezdek had been the coach at Oregon in 1906 and had returned to the head football position from 1913 until the 1916-1917 season. He had been fortunate enough to learn football under the tutelage of the legendary Amos Alonzo Stagg, an innovative coach in both football and basketball, and Bezdek brought with him the lessons learned under Stagg.

One of the biggest highlights of that year was the 0-0 tie against the Washington Huskies. It may seem odd to have a tie as one of the highlights of an undefeated season, but, to put the importance of that tie in perspective, consider that those same Huskies had not lost a game since 1907!

Another amazing highlight of that memorable year is the fact that the Webfoots were only scored on in one game, a 39-14 win over Cal.

Imagine that.

Sure, they only played eight games that year, but they went against some real football powers, Washington and Penn, and yet still only allowed 14 points the entire season, and had an incredible seven shutouts!

Overall, it was a bit of a strange season for the conference.

Despite the fact that Oregon and Washington ended the season undefeated, the Dawgs had one more win than the Webfoots, and were declared the conference champs. They did not go to the Rose Bowl because, get this, it was cheaper to send Oregon to Pasadena.

John Beckett played in two East-West Games, for Oregon and Mare Island

Yep. It all came down to cold, hard cash. Some things never change.

Despite it being cheaper for Oregon to go to the Rose Bowl than Washington, the U of O student body (which was then responsible for all athletic costs) had to sell the college bookstore to pay for the team’s travel costs.

When the time came to play in the big game, no one gave Oregon much of a chance at all. At that time, west coast football was considered second-tier to east coast football, again some things never change, and that outcome of the game would be a landmark moment in shifting the balance of power.

Two Hollywood actresses even told their producer that they would ride around Hollywood in their PJs if the Webfoots won.

More on them later.

Even team captain John Beckett admitted that “we were scared to death of them.”

Penn, on the other hand, was just a little over-confident. So over-confident, in fact, that they invited Bezdek to come watch their practice. Bezdek asked Penn’s head coach Bob Folwell if he wouldn’t mind showing him the trick play the Quakers often ran, the reverse-pass play. Folwell ordered quarterback Bert Bell to run the play for Bezdek (“but coach,” one can imagine Bell saying, “are you sure we should be doing this?”).

Reluctantly, Bell showed Bezdek how the play worked.

Oregon, of course, ran the play to perfection to score their first points of the game. It would be all they would need.

Shy Huntington

“Imagine what we thought and said when Oregon scored its first touchdown of the game on our own play,” Bell was quoted as saying by the L.A. Times. He would later become the commissioner of the NFL.

Shy Huntington, Oregon’s quarterback and safety, had an amazing game, throwing for one touchdown pass and intercepting three more. You don’t see Marcus Mariota doing that!

Despite Oregon’s captain John Beckett being named player of the game, in 1953, 36 years after the game was played, it was truly Huntington who was the best player in the game. Three years later, he would return with Oregon to play in the Rose Bowl, but this time as head coach, making him one of the only men to play for and coach the same team in “The Granddaddy Of Them All”.

“Oregon had a great team and deserved to win,” Folwell admitted after the loss. The final score was 14-0.

And those confident actresses who made the bet with their producer? They made good on their promise, and rode around Hollywood in their pajamas!

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