UCLA Bruins consensus All-America KENNY WASHINGTON features very prominently on the two-page spread that appeared in the official school yearbook of the University of California at Los Angeles for the 1939/40 academic year. In the photo on display at the far left, “The General” brings down a California Golden Bears ball carrier while operating as the safety at the back of the Bruins’ usual 6-2-2-1 defensive scheme. On the right, Washington takes the ‘shotgun’ snap from center and heads straight up the middle while UCLA fullback BILL OVERLIN (5) acts as if he has the ball in an effort to fool the opposition.
“K. WASHINGTON BEAT US, SAY BEARS – BRUIN (BACK) WHOLE SHOW IN 20-7 TILT,” cried out the BERKELEY DAILY GAZETTE’s headline after up and coming UCLA had completely throttled a very same CALIFORNIA school that had been honored as the national champions of NCAA college football only two short years earlier.
“The power (not to mention speed and skill) was too much for our Berkeley Bears when they ran up against their grown up brothers of U.C.L.A. and 65,000 people agreed with the so-called football experts that the difference between the two teams was the greatest halfback on the Coast — Kenny Washington,” wrote contemporary columnist Dan McGuire in his piece appearing in the Berkeley Daily Gazette on November 6, 1939.
“The Bruins garnered a total of 20 points in crushing the Golden Bears and Washington figured in all phases of the scoring. He passed — he ran — he returned punts — he made shoe-string tackles of California runners when touchdowns seemed imminent — he received a rising ovation when he left the battlefield — and he stole the show at the Alumni Homecoming dance with his jitterbugging.”
California fullback TED HUBERT (# 24), the senior first-stringer who carried the ball only three times for a dozen yards on this noteworthy day, smashes into the line for a short gain as Golden Bears starting quarterback BILL EMLORE, the junior blocker who would be chosen by the Cleveland Rams in the fourteenth round (# 124 overall) of the 1941 National Football League Draft but never did appear in the crack NFL, attempts to get in the way of would-be UCLA Bruins tackler KENNY WASHINGTON during the Pacific Coast Conference clash at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum … (INP photo – Berkeley Daily Gazette, Monday, November 6, 1939)
The convincing triumph over their “Big Brothers To The North” must have felt especially satisfying not only to UCLA star left halfback Kenny Washington, but certainly to all of the other seniors on the Bruins squad, as well, who had already suffered through two disappointing losses in a row to the rival University of California at Berkeley. To review, it was the powerhouse Golden Bears under the direction of head coach Leonard “Stub” Allison who had lit up the scoreboard in both 1937 and 1938 while registering a combined 47 points (a rather high figure for a two-game total during this particular era of smash mouth football) in the pair of Pacific Coast Conference contests against UCLA. It should also be remembered that the mighty California varsity was compiling the outstanding record of 20 wins against just one loss with one draw in 22 NCAA games during this very same time period, of course.
The historic victory over Cal which vaulted UCLA up from the # 19 position to the # 11 slot in the weekly Associated Press rankings must have also been extremely rewarding for first-year Bruins head coach Edwin “Babe” Horrell — it was, indeed, Horrell who had been the starting center for the University of California at Berkeley in both 1923 and 1924, the very same two seasons that saw the so-called “Wonder Team” run up the undefeated record of seventeen wins and three draws in 20 NCAA games.
It shoud be noted for the historical record that UCLA did actually have one senior on its 1939 roster, reserve fullback JOHN ZABY, who was a sophomore on that very first Bruins squad that had ever defeated the intra-state rival Cal Bears in 1936.
In 1939, the player sporting the # 10 jersey on the UCLA football team was second-team left tackle ERNEST HILL, the three-year letterman (37-39) from Hanford with good size (6’2″ 205 lbs) who had started three varsity games for the Bruins (versus Stanford, Wisconsin and intra-city adversary USC) during the previous NCAA season.
Even during the years when the Cal gridiron football machine was operating at peak efficency, UCLA Bruins left halfback Kenny Washington had always been able to pick up good yardage on the ground against the rugged Golden Bears during an era in which a one hundred-yard rushing effort in any one single game was still a relatively rare occurance even from the very best of players :
1937 ……. 109 yards rushing, 1 TD
1938 ……… 57 yards rushing, 0 TD
1939 ……. 141 yards rushing, 1 TD
Total ….. 307 yards rushing, 2 TD
In addition to his posting a career high rushing total against the California Golden Bears, the versatile Washington added another 27 yards via a pass reception on a key second quarter play that had seen UCLA go into punt formation. The Bruins star left halfback also had a typically-effective day throwing the football, himself, and tossed a season-high two touchdown passes (to first-string ends Woody Strode and Don MacPherson, respectively) in the landmark 20-7 rout of Cal at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, as well. Two weeks prior to UCLA’s first-ever win over California in the City of Angels, “General” Washington had already established his own new career high for any NCAA game by marching all over Montana on the way to 164 yards and three touchdowns rushing …… but that will have to be yet another Bruins Tale for some other time.