UCLA’s All-Purpose All-Americas

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In 1975, versatile UCLA Bruins signal caller JOHN SCIARRA was honored as a consensus First Team All-America after being selected by a majority of the major organizations that named squads, including the Associated Press and the American Football Coaches Association. This the same year that saw the split back veer option quarterback finished seventh in the voting for the prestigious Heisman Trophy. Including the Rose Bowl victory over the previously unbeaten and untied Ohio State Buckeyes on New Year’s Day, Sciarra compiled exactly 2,100 yards of total offense that season, a figure which was sixth-best among all NCAA Division I-A football players but second-best (behind South Carolina quarterback Jeff Grantz) among all athletes whose schools competed that term against a majority of teams from what could be classified as the traditional power conferences.

In 1939, dual-threat UCLA Bruins left halfback KENNY WASHINGTON was celebrated as a consensus Second Team All-America after being selected by six of the nine major organizations naming squads at that point in time. This the same year that watched the single wing place sixth in the balloting for the famous trophy presented to the player judged to be the best collegiate football player in all the land. Washington amassed 1,370 yards of total offense in ten games that season, a figure which enabled the speedy yet powerful left halfback to be honored as the NCAA’s official champion for that statistical category.

In addition to regularly running and passing the pigskin for UCLA, both Sciarra and Washington also caught forward passes and returned punts as well as kickoffs during their respective varsity careers for the Bruins. Both players later appeared in the vaunted National Football League but not before spending time in an alternative professional league first upon originally departing UCLA. The reasons for the delays in reaching the ranks of the NFL could not be any more dissimilar, however.

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Although money may have been a deciding factor in John Sciarra’s decision to his first professional contract with the British Columbia Lions of the Canadian Football League, it was a known fact that the CFL club were prepared to give the UCLA All-America the legitimate chance to earn the starting quarterback job. Now, the Chicago Bears had already chosen Sciarra in the fourth round of the 1976 National Football League Draft roughly two months earlier. But, significantly, the Bears formally selected the ’76 Rose Bowl Player of the Game as a defensive back and never offered anything even remotely resembling an assurance that Sciarra would give given an opportunity to perform on offense.

Oddly enough, Sciarra’s reign at the number one quarterback of the British Columbia Lions was extremely short lived. The former UCLA All-America started the Lions’ season opener in late July of 1976 but was quickly overtaken on the depth chart by the more experienced ERIC GUTHRIE, a Canadian-born CFL veteran who had played his collegiate football at Boise State in Idaho before being selected by the San Francisco 49ers in the 14th round of the 1972 NFL Draft. A hand injury in the third game of the season paved the way for the transition to slotback receiver, a position at which Sciarra flourished for the rest of the campaign and was eventually honored as the CFL’s Rookie of the Year.

As for Kenny Washington, money certainly was not the reason that the UCLA Bruins star who was voted the best back in the Pacific Coast Conference at the conclusion of his senior season quickly signed his very first contract with the Hollywood Bears of the high-quality Pacific Coast Professional Football League. The simple, if rather shameful, fact of the matter is the National Football League was enforcing a deplorable ban on African-American players when Washington’s UCLA class graduated in the spring of 1940. The Bruins left halfback often referred to as the “Kingfish” would later have his chance in the NFL with the Los Angeles Rams, but, sadly, not before the prime years of any professional athlete’s career had already expired.

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More than a quarter of the players comprising the Bruins’ varsity first string in the fall of 1939 — left end WOODY STRODE (# 27), right halfback JACKIE ROBINSON (# 28) and left halfback KENNY WASHINGTON (# 13) — pose for a press photo on the practice field at the University of California at Los Angeles … Robinson, as is well known, became the first African-American ever to play Major League Baseball when he appeared as a first baseman for the Brooklyn Dodgers on April 15, 1947 … Roughly six months earlier, both Strode and Washington had helped to finally re-integrate the National Football League when they suited up for the Los Angeles Rams on September 29, 1946.
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There is also little doubt that prejudice among the voting electorate was a major factor in exploring the reasons why Kenny Washington was not afforded consensus First Team All-America status in 1939. Certainly, looking at matters in contemporary light, it is utterly absurd that the UCLA Bruins star left halfback was completely ignored altogether by three of the twelve major nationally-recognized organizations that named All-America teams at that time. It is also hard to know exactly how much impact evil forces had on Washington’s sixth place finish in the balloting for the Heisman Trophy presented annually to college football’s very best player.

DR. MARTIN LUTHER KING spoke about judging people not by the color of their skin but instead on the content of their character. In action-packed world of NCAA college football, this concept directly translates into on-field achievements such as yardage gained, touchdowns scored, ball carriers brought down and so forth. It has been decided that a re-analysis, from a much more modern perspective, of the exciting career of UCLA Bruins superstar Kenny “Kingfish” Washington is in order.

There is no shortage of highlights to review.

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