Friday, June 17, 2011

Gonzaga on the Gridiron

Anyone who has ever partaken in a “for entertainment purposes only” NCAA March Madness pool knows about Gonzaga Basketball. The men’s team has made 11 consecutive NCAA tournament fields and claims NBA Hall of Fame point guard John Stockton as an alumnus, while the women’s team just completed a trip to the Elite Eight. But, years ago, another elite group of athletes that preferred the cold winds of the gridiron to the cozy confines of the gymnasium, performed with such dogged determination that they earned the nickname that all of Gonzaga sports teams have adopted today: Bulldogs.

The Rise and Fall of the Program

It was Thanksgiving Day 1892, a full 16 years before the first official Gonzaga University basketball game was played, when the then Gonzaga Blue and Whites donned their cleats for the first time, playing to a 4-4 tie with the Spokane Athletic Association. The program was briefly disbanded in 1898, but returned 10 years later and competed until World War II forced a focus on other priorities in 1941. In that time span, Gonzaga University produced 22 professional football players, including two NFL Hall of Fame inductees, and a tenacious East-West Classic bowl game performance in 1922 that resulted in a San Diego sportswriter bestowing the current Bulldog moniker on the boys in blue.

Postwar efforts to revive the football program at Gonzaga failed. Gonzaga Stadium, once home to legends, was razed in 1949, closing a brief but meaningful chapter in the school’s athletic history.

So today, more than 60 years later, buildings and walkways have replaced the end zones and hash marks. A trip to the Zag Shop or Bookstore yields bucket loads of basketball paraphernalia adorned with the familiar growl of Spike the bulldog, with nary a football shirt to be had. This site honors the once proud tradition that made Spike possible, the fighting Blue and Whites of GU football.