1977 was clearly an important season and without it there’s a good chance Coach Otton and his staff may not have survived many more chances. 1978 the T-Birds had graduated a huge class and then suffered multiple key injuries and recorded only a 2-7 season.
1979 featured one of the more controversial finishes and games in T-Bird history and cost Tumwater a return trip to post-season. Tumwater was 4-4 going into the final game with Olympia. A win would put the T-Birds into the play-offs. With just 4-seconds left on the clock and Tumwater on about their own 35 were facing a 4th down.
Coach Otton could see his boss 6’9 Principal Gordon Prehm standing down near the corner of the endzone and felt with just 4 seconds to go and a 4-point lead they could take the safety at worst, so just aim for the Principal he told his QB Dale Cote.. He also directed Cote to roll out and zig-zag back into the endzone to run out the clock.
The plan was in place and the T-Birds just 4-seconds from their 2nd trip to the play-offs. The T-Birds had been one of the favorites that season to bounce back off the 2-7 ’78 season. But some poor choices a few weeks into the season by some players saw them dismissed from the team. In those days if you broke the athletic code there was no percentage of missed games or anything like that, when you violated you were done for the season, period.
The T-Birds battled back after that hurdle and found themselves in this position to overcome and still be in position to win. Back to the game at hand and as the ball was snapped and Cote began to roll out an Olympia defensive line-man broke through and got to Cote before he could get to the endzone but it didn’t matter because the clock had all zeroes and the game was over and the T-Birds were headed for the play-offs!
But hold the phone, the officials gathered and determined that Cote was tackled on about the 25-yard line with 2-seconds to play and since the clock stops on the change of possession they put 2-seconds back on the clock and gave Olympia 1-play. The Bears fired a pass into the endzone and it was caught for a touchdown giving the Bears a 2-point win and handed Tumwater not only a 4-5 losing season but denied their entry into post-season.
So let’s add this all up, 6 years in, an overall record of 22-34 with 1 winning season, 1 League Title and 1 state play-off appearance. Without 1977 the numbers are a scary (and not good scary) 13-32. This again highlights the importance of the 1977 team and their incredible run.
Despite the apparent backwards step after 77, there were some positive and important take-aways from the 78 and 79 seasons. First, even though the records were short of the teams goals, the players were bought and sold into Coach Otton’s vision of how he wanted his football program to be. There was optimism and a different feel.
One of the everlasting creed’s came to life beginning with the 1977 team and the 1979 team stamped it into history when they dealt with the challenges of that season and yet still almost made the play-offs. NGUNNGU, Never Give Up, Never Never Give Up. Coach Otton said he took that from one of Winston Churchill’s famous speeches.
The Coaches also got together at a coaches retreat with their families at Lake Cushman. Although, Offensive Coordinator Karst Brandsma was not able to attend and then would be haunted by his absence for weeks to come. This is also when the Secret Society of the Green Football was created and implemented.
The Green football represents the very essence of what it means to put on the Kelly Green Jersey and to be part of the extended Tumwater Football family. Former Assistant Coach Cris Harmia was part of the coaching staff and remembers the creation of the Green Football.
By Cris Harmia
As to the formation of the GREEN Football that occurred on a coach’s retreat. The coaches (Sid Otton, Pat Alexander, Randy Reynolds, Gary Taylor, Cliff Johnson, and myself) were at Lake Cushman sitting around a picnic table under lantern light.
The agenda for the retreat was pretty much done when someone suggested that we have an anagram/theme for each day of the week. The word GREEN fit the bill. The first three letters were easy to decide but as I remember the second “E” too k more time.
When we got to the “N” I think it was Gary Taylor that suggested NGUNNGU. That was the first time I had heard the term and the rest is legend. I do not know where Gary got it. Then he suggested that we incorporate it with a poem by Robert Service, “The Quitter”. That was also adopted and Gary made it his mission to memorize the poem and recite it at following Unity Camps.
(Note: This was Coach Harmia’s 1st season and had not heard the NGUNNGU prior but Coach Otton believes it started with 1977 and the Green Football made it official.)
After the creation of the Secret Society of the Green Football the coaches, especially Coach Alexander, Reynolds, Taylor and Harmia would induct Senior’s into the society. The Seniors then would induct the underclassman. We were all sworn to secrecy and when the Green Football started appearing everywhere around campus and in the most unique places it was the focus of those who were not in the society trying to find out what it was and what it meant.
The most unique display of the Green Football was by Coach Taylor who put a small green football sticker on his glasses in the bottom corner. This drove Coach Brandsma crazy, since he wasn’t at the retreat it was agreed upon by the coaches not to tell him until he could be inducted officially. Seeing the football everywhere got the players even more excited and they wondered what it was all about. When Unity Camp began the secret of the Green Football would be divulged to all those who were invited into the society.
Additionally, the fact that several players were dismissed from the team for making a bad decision in 1979 also re-enforced the commitment that was expected not only by the coaches but the players themselves. It was a tough lesson but one that resonated. This leads us to 1980.
Turning the page on the 70’s and a new beginning with a new President and a new decade. 1980 turned out to be another big season in early Coach Otton history as it would be the first season Tumwater won a State Play-off game. If the bar was raised in 1977, 1980 raised it even further and the hope of being good enough to compete at a top level became an expectation.
In 1980 the T-Birds made history and picked up where 1977 left off raising expectations to another level. To recap the whole season Ron Brunette a big part of that team as the starting TE, DE and Place Kicker has taken the time to go back through his scrapbook and added his thoughts and memories to how that unbelievable season played out.
By Ron Brunette
Tumwater Football 1980
The NFL documentary series “A football Life” tells stories of the amazing experiences that happen in the game of football. Players, coaches and others have great life changing experiences. Strong lifelong relationships are built and memories made through hard work and team principles.
The Tumwater High School football program has had long term success. Coach Otton and staff have provided an environment where young people can play the sport they love, build healthy work ethic, life skills and have great fun. Many football players have had positive life changing experiences with lifelong camaraderie. Physical and mental preparation, hard work and competing against formidable opponents satisfies the beast in us. The program has achieved institutional status like long term winning college institutions. I’m sure the coaches have enjoyed being living legends.
Early on in the 1980 season the 1977 team was mentioned often and we knew we had big shoes to fill. The ’77 players told us their stories and they weren’t kidding around. They challenged us with their accomplishments. We had skills, abilities and would put them to work. We all had previous sports experience. Some of us had played on teams that could win at will. In the long career of Coach Otton the 1980 team set the bar a few notches higher than the 1977 team but both were significant teams. The 1987 team achieved the first state title. Many of the newer teams have taken preparation and winning to a new level.
The 1980 team started with off season All NW Football camp. A few of the NFL player role models were Jim Zorn, Steve Largent, and Paul Skansi. The season started with Unity camp which was a good way get to know the guys you will be spending many hours with. After weeks of pre-season practices the starting positions were determined. Each of the starting players were called in separately to receive the secret society of the green football. Small green football stickers were passed out and we placed them in the most important places to remind us of the serious commitment we were making.
Pre-game preparation with motivational music was big. Jonny Kai, Green Beret military man, motivational coach provided pressure point workouts on the bottom of feet to get us synergized. When we took the field we felt like it wasn’t going to be a fair fight. The juice was on. Part of the Green Beret methods was face paint. Defensive players started wearing it. We broke the huddle saying the word “KIAI” which meant force with unity.
One liner plans of action were provided to players. We picked the ones applicable to our positions. These were attached to a laminated card in our locker.
Actions to make happen Included: I am so well prepared to attack their offense it’s like they are playing in slow motion, My defensive play allows no gain over my area of responsibility, My blocking on offense springs the backs for great gains and breaks the will of the man over me, My second effort blocks allow the ball carrier to score, I’m a great clutch player, I’m confident, relaxed, and enjoy executing the big play, GREAT football players make GREAT plays
Other words to live by included “put up or shut up”,” super-intensity”, acronyms of GATA, GOYA, and the all mighty “Never Give Up, Never Never Give Up”.
Game 1 Tumwater 12, RA Long 7: This game was won with defense. The offense struggled a bit and it came down to a strong defensive goal line stand at the end of the game.
Game 2 Tumwater 22, Prairie 6: Weather was a factor with rain making it wet and affected the offense but did capitalize on opportunities provided by another strong defensive effort.
Game 3 Tumwater 22, North Thurston 7: We scored enough to win and the term bend don’t break on defense was used. The 3-0 felt great and fueled us to keep an undefeated season intact.
Film room Monday didn’t lie. We wanted it to be clear we carried out our assignments and adjusted. Praise for well executed or extraordinary plays was very satisfying. I wanted every play to be well executed and/or extraordinary. During games Coach Alexander had awesome defensive play support. His voice and correct reading of the situations was clear from the sidelines.
Game 4 Tumwater 62, Elma 20: It felt good to score at will. Defense always strong. We were witnessing some truly great defensive plays with magic levels of effort. It was special and we knew it. What great fun at such an intense level.
Game 5 Tumwater 32, Timberline 17: Much of the defensive preparation was about a star player. During the game became evident early on that we had that handled. We were getting a good taste of winning and wanted to keep it going.
Game 6 Tumwater 36, Hoquiam 20: The defense focused much of the preparation on a star quarterback. The star level play was never a factor. A Hoquiam tradition was a cake for each game winner and they gave it to us. We didn’t eat it but rather trashed it because we were in no mood for it. We were ranked 8th in state, first in league and feeling like we wanted much more.
Game 7 Tumwater 40, Mark Morris 28: Mark Morris was an option team and as you tackled the ball carrier he would pitch it. They scored some points but we scored more. It was good to be undefeated and to score at will.
Game 8 Tumwater defeated Yelm 21-0: The community was excited. We needed to get a win one week at a time and be ready for the league championship the following week.
Game 9 Olympia 7, Tumwater 0: League championship game with 2 state ranked, undefeated teams. The pressure was on. We wanted the win. The field was a wet mess. We used leather NFL balls which turned into flying medicine balls. They were the physically toughest team we had faced to date. We bashed them head on. The running game was making ground but the mud made execution a joke. Neither team was able to score in the mud but they scored on a blocked punt. We picked up a blocked punt and I was running it in with 30 yards to go and a guy grabbed my ankle and tripped me. Very disappointing loss. We would have to take the less desirable playoff path but still very alive. Talking with Olympia players after we thought it would have been a good idea to reschedule due to severely poor field conditions. It would have been a good game on a normal field.
Game 10: Tumwater 21, RA Long 6: The opening round of the play-offs would be a second meeting with RA Long.
The 2nd game was tight through the 1st 3 quarters then we ran a mis direction play for a 57-yard run and took the lead 7-6. We had 2 more scores for the final 21-6 win. It also gave Tumwater their 1st ever State Play-off victory. A picture that we all like was created in that game.
Quarter Final Game Tumwater 28, Fife 27 (OT): Going the less desirable route means you face the strongest teams on the way. Fife was undefeated and ranked 2nd in the state. The Trojans jumped out to an early 14-0 lead but the defense steadied themselves and the offense got in gear and when the clock ticked zero it was 21-21.
We let Fife go first in the OT and they scored on the 2nd play on a 9-yard TD pass. (In those days the Knasas Tie-Breaker was only from the 10-yard line with no chance of 1st downs.) Fife then missed the PAT making it 27-21. Our turn we kept up the run attack with Wally Wells and Roger Randle. We worked it down to the 1 and Wally punched it in.
If we make the PAT then we win. It was a routine snap, hold and kick that was good. The celebration after was the crazy part. The sidelines exploded with a huge number of fans that had traveled to Highline Stadium in Burien to support us. We were moving forward to the next game.
We ultimately lost to Centralia who seemed to be a one man team. The guy would drag 4 tacklers for lumps of yardage. We were flat on offense with not enough points. They went on to be State Champs.
We gave the program a great season and laid expectations for future teams. We showed the program the will to win, expect to win and how compete at high levels. Coach Otton and Alexander had both been there before as well as the other coaches. This is what we all are trying to achieve and maintain forever. Nothing better than a hard fight and win with a formidable competitor. Never give up, never never give up.
The Junior and Sophomore classes of that season were deep with talent and there were great expectations from these classes to step up and get back to the post-season. However, it was not be, over the next 2 years with both playing out similarly. In 1981 Tumwater got off to a 1-4 beginning before running off 4 straight wins to avoid a losing season and finish 5-4. There was a 10th game that season in the 1st Friday of November, Tumwater and Capital played in a non-league contest and without the Seniors. I can’t remember why that was allowed but it was played on a foggy and cool night at Ingersoll Stadium. Tumwater would win that game and finish the season 6-4.
In 1982 the table was set for a big year. We were senior dominated, knocking on the door in many games the last season and finished with 5 straight wins. We had a ton of momentum but remember what offense the T-birds ran back then? The Twin Veer. Remember how QB reliant this offense is?
Well our QB Steve Haynie was coming off a great finish in 1981 and was set to lead the Tunwater offense when the unthinkable happened. In the 1st game of the season at Elma the Eagles had a “decent” QB in Jim Hill, seriously he was a great QB who led the Eagles run and shoot with marksman precision.
The Tumwater defense had their hands full and no doubt needed Haynie and the offense to likely put up 3 touchdowns to win the game. Then it happened, a kick to our collective stomachs when Haynie got tackled and suffered a broken collarbone. He was done for the season.
Now it was left up to our defense to keep us in the game and for the back-up QB to step in. The back-up QB rumor on how he was selected has not been confirmed or denied but the story went like this. There were 2 Juniors competing for the back-up role, Jim Verellen and Kraig Leonard. They were both very close and so when Haynie came out of the game Coach Otton turned to look for either of them and Verellen was closest. He got the call and never gave it back for the rest of 1982.
The next game Tumwater handled Shelton but then a devastating loss at Olympia where we led 7-0 for most of the game until late in the 4th quarter. A flare pass was intercepted and returned for a TD and a blocked punt led to 1 big run by the Bears to go up 14-7 and that score would hold.
Tumwater also lost some great players in that game, Brad Hargrave our running back and all-league free safety as a Junior tore ligaments in his ankle. We also lost our receivers and another running back. After 3 games the entire offense had been injured and missed some time except for the 5 interior offensive linemen. The next game was an all-time low getting beat at home 20-0 by a good Aberdeen team but it left the 1982 team at another crossroad.
How did this team respond? Give up and know we aren’t going anywhere? Nope it was quite the opposite and again Tumwater would turn it around and run off 5 straight wins to finish 6-3. The game of note in that run was against Capital. One of the team goals was 48-minutes of winning football. Well we wasted the first 24-minutes getting dominated by the Cougs falling behind 20-0.
In the 2nd half we kept focused on the goal and came back to tie the game at 20-20 sending us to a Kansas Tie
Breaker. Well we said 48 minutes and we meant it so we went 5 OT’s setting a Black Hills League record for OT’s and a win. Coach Otton indeed checked the goal box for 48 minutes of winning football, he said he didn’t care how or when we played those 48 minutes so it was a goal achieved.
1981 and 1982 fell short of the goal to get to post season but both teams solidified the base and the true meaning of T-Bird football never giving up and finishing. Greg Hargrave was named Defensive Player of the Year in 1982, 5 years after the 1st Defensive Player of the Year for Tumwater in 1977 Bill Beattie. Beattie is now the long time Head Coach of the Olympia Bears and Hargrave is his Defensive Coordinator.
1983 Where’s Coach and really, that field goal was good???
In 1983 there were 2 big differences from the prior seasons, first Coach Alexander decided to retire after his son Kelly “Kip” Alexander graduated in the spring of 1983 and Tumwater made the play-offs for only the 3rd time in school history.
Coach Harmia was promoted to take over the defense and he reflected back on his 1-year stint as the Def Coordinator:
By Cris Harmia
I would be remiss if I did not include the football class of ’84 in my reminisce. That was the one year that Coach Alexander “retired”. Coach Otton had me take over GATA. At this time there was no ROTA and the T-Birds did not platoon. The offense picked a nickname of “The Killer Bees”. It sounded pretty humorous since we were a bit undersized and not particularly quick. But it gave the offense an identity.
Without a platoon system there developed a combination of the GATA attitude with the Killer Bees. When they got ahead their intensity level would increase like feeding bees. I distinctly remember Coach Otton telling coaches to “get our guys off the field before someone gets hurt”.
My favorite story during that season was when we struggled on defense early in some close wins and had three or four goal line stands. I kidded them that they might set a school record. They wanted to know what the record was and, of course, I had no idea and doubted such stats were ever kept. So I told them it was seven.
As we got to the end of the season they had seven goal line stands. We were playing Timberline, and ahead by twenty plus points, when Timberline started to drive the field. I was throwing every stunt at them that Coach Alexander had ever dreamed up. Timberline had first and goal at the seven when I called timeout. Needless to say I was pretty ticked when I walked out to the huddle.
Then the nose guard, Quentin Boatwright, broke the huddle and walked toward me. This complete break of protocol nearly put me out of control. Quentin was saying, “Don’t be pissed coach.” But I could barely hear him. As I got to the huddle, all the heads were down. Quentin said again, “Don’t be pissed coach, we are going to put on a goal line stand. We’ve got these guys.” Then they all started to snicker. I know my mouth was open and I just walked away. Four downs later, T-bird ball on the seventeen and the official record of goal line stands was recorded at 8.
The following year Coach Alexander returned and Coach Otton had me form the Hogs and I took over the offensive line duties.
This group of small in stature and big in heart came through with a 7-2 regular season record and advanced to take on powerful Kelso in the opening round of the State Play-offs. This is the great Phantom Field Goal game where Kelso was awarded a field goal giving them a 10-0 lead at the time but there isn’t anyone there that believes the ball went through the uprights. Bill Riffe was a starting linebacker for the T-Birds during this season and remembers that night clearly.
By Bill Riffe
The score was Kelso 7, Tumwater 0 at the half. Tumwater was fighting to win in only its 4th appearance in a state playoff football game in the school’s history. Coach Sid Otton had steered this group of players to a 7-2 regular season and a chance to prove themselves against a school known for its tough football program. The first half had seen Kelso score but the Tumwater defense stiffened and refused to give up another touchdown with Kelso down within 10 yards of the goal. Kelso decided to attempt a field goal on 4th down and was able to get the kick away.
There are memories of games or matches every athlete carries with them, even after 30 plus years. I have my memories of the Tumwater vs. Kelso state playoff game. A game made notable not just because it was only the 3rd time in school history a football team had made the playoffs, but also because of a controversial field goal that never crossed the uprights.
Given the nature of memory, I decided attempt to find footage. Fortunately, I found video from a local tv station in Kelso which covered the event. While the camera wasn’t able to capture the flight path of the ball it did capture the reactions of the T-Bird players as well as those of the commentator who was on the field calling the game. The reaction was the same, a missed field goal attempt going wide right. However, the officials declared the attempt successful and Kelso took a 10-0 lead.
Even after the disappointment of a perceived blown call and the feeling we all were fighting not only the Kelso players, but also the referees, Coach Otton didn’t let us lose focus. The offense pulled it together and was able to score on a deep pass in the 3rd quarter to move the game within three points.
Tumwater’s defense stiffened denying points both times the Kelso team penetrated the T-Bird 20 yard line. The offense then engineered two drives taking the ball down inside Kelso’s 20 yard line. However, the T-Bird offense was unable to put points on the board suffering two score killing interceptions.
While the final score didn’t reflect a win for the Thunderbirds the game was never the less a victory for every player on the field.
Anyone who has ever attempted something that requires hours of hard work, sacrifice, blood, sweat and tears can appreciate when things don’t go as planned. The mental anguish is compounded when there is a perception the game is somehow rigged or that all the elements are against you. I/we certainly felt this knowing we had been cheated of a chance for victory.
However, Coach Otton was not only coaching high school football players, he was building character in young men. He didn’t allow us to dwell on blaming the officials. He instead focused us on all the things we had achieved in spite of not being the biggest or fastest team. We didn’t know it then, but we had just lost to the eventual state champions who breezed through the rest of the playoffs without ever being seriously challenged.
In all the years of playing, coaching and now officiating multiple sports I’ve seen many good coaches. They all have one thing in common; they know it’s about more than the game or match. It’s about caring for the young men and women who must learn how to deal with both the successes in life; as well as the defeats. The skills Coach Otton and his staff taught us were far more valuable than a playoff win or even a state title. He taught us how to prepare and win, and more importantly, he taught us how to lose with grace and dignity.
This brings us to a close to Part 3. Up next we’ll pick-it up from 1985 thru 1987 which includes a huge conversion and the 1st State Title.