From the archives: Phoenix's '63 team was best ever
EDITOR’S NOTE: This is one in a series of stories looking at notable teams and individuals from the Rogue Valley’s past.
The football game was well into the second half when a receiver for Sacred Heart, then a Klamath Falls high school, slipped behind the Phoenix secondary and hauled in a pass for a touchdown.
Ken Tycksen, on the Pirates’ sideline, sensed the apocalypse.
“I can remember him grabbing his helmet, like he was ready to go back in,” says Ron Williams, the senior quarterback of that 1963 Phoenix squad. “I can remember him hollering, ‘This damn thing ain’t over yet, guys!’”
An overreaction? Perhaps.
With the score, Sacred Heart crept within 50 points in a game that would end 60-6, Pirates.
More significantly, it was the only touchdown Phoenix had allowed through three games — and it was the only score the Pirates would give up the entire season.
Twelve games, one touchdown, a perfect record and the school’s second state championship in three years at what was then classified as the A-2 level.
So dominating were the Pirates, they were beside themselves when an opponent crossed the goal line.
“It was kind of quiet,” Williams recalls of the atmosphere before Tycksen’s outburst. “Nobody had scored on us.”
That Phoenix team, coached by the revered Jack Woodward, for whom the school’s football stadium is named, completed its 12-0 season with a 13-0 victory over North Catholic, a Portland school that no longer exists.
The Pirates outscored their opponents 397-6 for an average margin of victory of 33 points. In their other two playoff wins, they downed Douglas, 38-0, in the quarterfinals, and Vale, 26-0, in the semifinals.
So good was Phoenix, it was ranked the most dominant second-level team in state history in an OregonLive article three years ago.
Only two teams have allowed fewer points, according to Oregon School Activities Association records: Portland schools Jefferson (1918, eight games) and Franklin (1942, nine games) each blanked every opponent.
“It’s unusual to have a team like that,” says Dale Sauer, who was a starting defensive back and part-time starter at wingback on offense. “We knew, as a whole, we had a lot of talent.”
So much so, he says, the seniors gathered and swore off drinking alcohol during season, a stance that wasn’t taken with any other team on which Sauer played. He was aware of only one person who slipped up.
“We didn’t want any key players to get kicked off the team down the line,” says Sauer, a retired teacher who lives in Medford.
Jon Granby, an all-state defensive end who also shared time in the backfield, says there was talent all over the field, and it wasn’t confined to the first string.
Granby lived in Talent, and his ninth-grade class was the first to move to Phoenix when the two high schools merged in 1960.
“It just doesn’t happen that often where you have a team like ours that had such a great amount of depth,” he says. “We had a lot of talented individuals and a lot of depth. I’ve thought about it over the years, and I’ve often wondered if it was simply because the two school districts merged; I don’t know. It’d be kind of interesting to know if that had anything to do with it, or if it was just a matter of luck.”
If there was a sign of things to come, it was when the Phoenix and Talent eighth-grade teams squared off in 1959. They met twice, each winning once, says Williams. Those losses were the only ones either incurred.
Granby, like Williams and Sauer, is 74. He lives in Madras following a career with the Oregon State Police, and he still holds the school record in the shot put at 59 feet, 8 inches, a mark that is fifth in state history.
With the likes of Granby, who at 6-foot-1, 190 pounds, also ran the 100-yard dash in track; tenacious linebacker Dave Westfall, a four-year varsity player; and all-state guard Ron Patterson, the front of the Pirates’ defense was virtually impenetrable in an era when running the ball was far more popular than throwing it.
On offense, the veteran Williams orchestrated things, and the Pirates often went to left halfback Jim Consbruck in the single-wing offense, enabling the first-team all-state back to lead Phoenix with 24 touchdowns, including four in the final two playoff contests.
Most of those veterans gained championship-game experience in 1961, when the Pirates claimed the school’s first state crown with a 13-13 tie against Myrtle Point.
“They called us the pony backfield,” says Williams, noting that he, Consbruck, Sauer, Granby and Dennis Grennan worked as a unit and scored a touchdown in the ‘61 title game when Woodward rested the starters. “Basically, we stayed together all through school.”
A year later, Phoenix made it to the semifinals before losing to eventual champion Central, 34-13.
The Pirates were primed for big things in 1963. How big, they couldn’t be sure.
“We didn’t have a clue about, oh, let’s not let anybody score or let’s make sure that we win every single game,” says Williams, who also was a halfback on defense and later coached the Pirates to two state championships. “Yeah, you thought about winning every single game, but not in the way it turned out. We kind of knew we had some pretty good players.”
A deep and skilled roster was part of the equation. A mentor who knew what to do with it was another.
Woodward was humble and stern, compassionate toward his players and respectful of his opponents. If he had a rule, it was enforced — he once took a class of students outside and had them march. But if a player needed counsel, an arm around the shoulder, a lift home, he obliged.
Sauer lived a half-dozen miles or so out of town and occasionally had to walk home. One time Woodward came along and gave him a ride.
“He cared about people, he cared about kids,” says Sauer.
Granby’s home life wasn’t anything to, well, write home about. Part of it was that he wasn’t a good student. When he and others made the transition from Talent to Phoenix, there was opportunity for derailment.
Woodward and his assistants became “surrogate fathers, I guess you could say,” says Granby, and motivated him to maintain his grades.
“He was very influential to me made a huge difference in my life,” he says.
Granby remembers Woodward being a big fan of Vince Lombardi, the legendary Green Bay Packers coach. As such, he believes, he and many of his teammates adopted the Wisconsin team.
“He would refer to Lombardi frequently,” says Granby. “Definitely, I think he was Jack’s hero.”
Woodward’s base offense in the early 1960s was the single-wing, but he tinkered with other formations, notably the spin-T.
“Coach called it a multiple offense,” says Williams, who lives in Grants Pass. “We did a lot of little things.”
Whatever the tweaks and innovations, they usually worked.
Failure was not a companion of Woodward’s. He hailed from Colorado, played football at Brigham Young on a scholarship and served in the military during World War II.
At Phoenix, he won 10 conference championships, two state titles and posted a record of 169-61-7 between 1949 and 1974.
For good measure, he coached the Pirates to a basketball state title in 1951.
“He was the best coach I ever had, even up through college,” says Williams, who went on to a Hall of Fame playing career at then-Southern Oregon College. “He was aggressive, demanding, but he was also, I guess you would call it, appreciative. Watching people work and being successful, he thought that was the ticket. In everything he did, he was very competitive.”
Come the 1963 season, not many of his team’s games were.
Phoenix posted 21-0 and 28-0 victories, respectively, over now defunct Serra Catholic, of Salem, and Coquille. Then came the game against Sacred Heart.
Phoenix had a big lead and the starters were on the sideline when the Klamath Falls school struck.
Freshman Bobby Clark had replaced Sauer and was victimized on the play.
“He was a great kid,” says Sauer. “He was a really good athlete. To be on the field as a freshman was pretty good.”
That didn’t stop Sauer and others from teasing him for allowing the score.
No one else would get the business because there were no more touchdowns allowed.
Eagle Point, in a 46-0 loss, was stopped at the 1, says Sauer.
St. Mary’s, he thinks, might have been the Pirates’ toughest opponent, and they vanquished the Crusaders, 20-0.
In addition to Sacred Heart, Phoenix hit 60 against Rogue River.
After a couple playoff wins — including a long road trip to Vale during which the team learned of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination — the state championship game was played in Ashland on Southern Oregon’s field.
Players remember different moments from that two-score victory over North Catholic.
Granby regrets he could not go full bore, hobbled by an ankle injury.
Sauer recalls what seemed a nightmarish sequence: North Catholic all-state quarterback Ed Gorman broke free for an apparent touchdown in the first quarter, getting past Sauer and Consbruck.
But a flag nullified the play.
“I remember that because it was such a devastating feeling to think we had gotten scored on,” says Sauer. “But we got relief from the penalty. It was crazy. I don’t really know what happened to me. When I turned, Jimmy was 10 yards from me. I asked, ‘Who was that on?’ He said, ‘Well, I got clipped.’”
With about a quarter to go and Phoenix leading 6-0, remembers Williams, the Pirates lost their two halfbacks to injury and Woodward made a decision on the fly. He plugged someone else in at quarterback and moved Williams to halfback, but told him to continue calling plays.
“He said to only run the single-wing and keep it basic,” says Williams. “I got to carry the ball and scored the last TD.”
He ran it in from just inside the 10-yard line, and the conversion run, worth one point, resulted in the final score.
Williams would be no slouch as a coach, either, and he has the distinction of being on all four Phoenix state-championship teams. After playing in the early 1960s, he guided the Pirates to titles in ‘79 and ‘85 during an 11-year stint. They also were runners-up under him in ‘82 and ‘84.
Reflecting on Woodward’s decision to move personnel around in the ‘63 title game, Williams says, “After I started coaching, I tried to put myself in the same position. I don’t know what I would have been doing, to put someone back there you hadn’t worked on in practice at all. Anyway, I guess that’s where experience after four years kicks in and you can get it done.”
And no team got it done quite like that Pirate team of yore.
Reach sports editor Tim Trower at 541-776-4479 or firstname.lastname@example.org.