Seattle Times editor and writer Bill Kossen recently went on his annual pilgrimage to Memorial Stadium to catch a high-school football game. He caught more than that.
“Any good seats left?” I asked the ticket seller at Memorial Stadium as I handed her $6.
“Yes,” she politely smiled at my attempt at humor. “Plenty.”
Behind her I could see the stands were nearly empty. I got my ticket and headed into the cavernous old stadium, the players on the field almost outnumbering the fans in the stands.
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The game between Garfield and Newport had already started and a rout was under way, with the Knights from Bellevue jumping to a 14-0 lead on their way to a 49-13 beatdown.
For us few Garfield fans there, things looked grim. I could have been sad. But I was glad. Above us loomed the Space Needle, celebrating its 50th anniversary. I realized it was an anniversary for me, too.
Fifty years ago today, at age 7, I saw my first prep football game. It, too, starred Garfield and kicked off a lifelong affliction for a sport that I just can’t shake.
I blame it all on that first game I saw. And the last one.
“Shoreline High School has settled the question of football superiority in the Metro League and once again rules as champion. The Spartans convinced Garfield and the largest crowd ever to see a Metro game, indisputably, with a 20-7 triumph.”
— Jack McLavey, Seattle Times, Nov. 23, 1962
The Shoreline Spartans of 1962 were the Skyline Spartans of their time: an unbeatable football team from a shiny, modern suburban school. In its first three years in the tough Metro League, Shoreline rang up a 22-1-1 record and two first-place trophies.
Facing them in the title game was Garfield, a proud, old inner-city school with its purple jerseys covered with white stars to remind opponents of each league title the Bulldogs had won. It could be intimidating.
The two very different schools were matched in the Thanksgiving Day championship game, a Seattle tradition since Memorial Stadium opened in 1947 that now lives on only in memory, old newspaper stories and well-worn game programs. I’ve got a few. Want some?
But in the World’s Fair year of 1962, Memorial Stadium wasn’t available for football and the big game was shifted to what was then called University of Washington Stadium.
Good move. Instead of playing in front of a capacity crowd of about 13,000 at Memorial Stadium, the Garfield-Shoreline game drew 20,000-plus.
I witnessed history. Tremendous interest surrounded the game pitting a city team against the suburban upstarts, a rematch of the 1960 Turkey Day game won by Shoreline, 7-6.
Shoreline was even better in 1962, and when Garfield scored first on a 54-yard bomb from Tony Lister to Ernie Holmes, Garfield fans went crazy. I was right in the middle of it, screaming like a kid.
Shoreline then took over the game, and my family left disappointed. But the hook had been set and the game captivated a kid from Capitol Hill. I scrawled the final score in blue ink on the bright, yellow cover of the game program.
“After the game, Roosevelt’s players jogged to their fans and raised their helmets, the final gesture of perhaps the area’s best feel-good story.”
— Jayson Jenks, The Seattle Times, Nov. 16, 2012
Roosevelt thought it had a chance this year when it took on top-ranked and heavily favored Skyline on Friday at Memorial Stadium. The Roughriders were having a dream season, making it deep into the playoffs, a rarity for a Seattle school in the KingCo 4A Conference and a heartwarming turnaround for the program.
I was thinking of going to the game, but had already been to my one game for the year and it was rainy and I was tired.
Instead, I stayed home and watched my first game on Twitter. The tweets from Seattle Times sports writer Jayson Jenks were shocking. Roosevelt was keeping up with Skyline, 14-14 at the half, 21-21 in the third quarter. I was thinking of jumping in my car and trying to get to Memorial Stadium. Then Skyline pulled away for a 54-21 victory.
Roosevelt players left the field holding their helmets high. It was a classy, moving moment that you rarely see in college or pro sports and captures the spirit and spectacle of high-school football, things that keep me coming back and collecting even more memories.
I saw Ferndale’s Jake Locker on TV when he ran all over Prosser in the 2005 state-championship game as if he was playing in a pickup game at Green Lake.
I saw Gov.-elect Jay Inslee throw a touchdown pass for Ingraham at Memorial Stadium in a 44-13 win over Garfield in 1967.
I saw Garfield’s football teams lose championship games in 1962, 1964 and 1967. And I also saw them lose a few weeks ago.
But I’m still a fan. Big time. It was late in the fourth quarter and Garfield was down 49-7. I stood next to Garfield Principal Ted Howard, a Garfield grad who attends every game, when Bulldog QB Hayes Gorecki hit Torrence Baker for an electrifying 81-yard touchdown pass.
I let out a yell and slapped Mr. Howard on the back. I couldn’t contain myself. Garfield scored! 81 yards! It was like the 1962 Turkey Day game all over again.
The ticket seller was right. There were good seats available. And I went home thinking, I’ll never forget this game either.
Bill Kossen: 206-464-2331 or email@example.com