By Laura Bartels
Before a packed stadium of Oregon State University Beavers football fans watched their team defeat the Universityof Wisconsin10-7 on September 7, they were treated to the induction of the 1962 team into OSU’s Sports Hall of Fame. Fillmore attorney John Scoles was among the inductees, all of whom played under legendary Beavers coach Tommy Prothro.
Coach Prothro profoundly influenced John, who attendedOregonStateon a football scholarship. “He was a consummate professional,” John said of Prothro. “We were all terrified of him.”
Prothro was tall and imposing. Always dressed impeccably, on game days the coach wore a coat and tie. For away games, Prothro also insisted that his players be formally dressed when out in public.
Born in 1920, Prothro was born into a wealthyMemphisfamily. Prothro’s father – a Major League Baseball player and owner – forbade his son from playing forAlabama,Tennesseeor any public school. So he ended up a standout blocking back with the Duke Blue Devils, for whom he played in the 1942 Rose Bowl against, ironically,OregonState. With the attack onPearl Harborjust three weeks earlier,
the game was moved toNorth Carolina, making it the only Rose Bowl played outsidePasadena. Prothro passed up an invitation to play for the New York Giants for a coaching job. First coaching for the UCLA Bruins, Protho left for a ten-year stint as head coach at OSU.
John recalls Prothro’s demand for firstclass food and accommodations for every away game. “If you were to play first class, you were to stay first class,” John remembered Prothro saying.
When the team played in the 1962 Liberty Bowl inPhiladelphia, it stayed at theBenjaminFranklinHotel. They landed inPhiladelphiain the frigid cold. John recalls practicing at the outdoorPhiladelphia Municipal Stadium in 19-degree weather. During the exercises, the team comically slid around the field as if on ice skates, their cleats failing to grip the solid surface. On the morning of Saturday’s game the team found its locker room stacked high with shoe boxes. After Friday’s practice, Coach Prothro had ordered 50 pairs of tennis shoes for his players. Wearing their white sneakers, the Beavers posted the only score when Heisman Trophy winner Terry Baker – the first to win the trophy west ofTexas– ran 99 yards in the first quarter to beat hometown Villanova 6-0.
Prothro was adamant about his team’s diet. Dairy stopped on Thursday. John remembers a Friday before a Stanford game when reservations were made at swank “Rickies” inPalo Alto. At the venerable establishment known as “the best restaurant inAmerica,” Coach Prothro preordered 50 filets mignon and baked potatoes with honey. When tuxedo-clad waiters served plates teeming with buttery potatoes and steaks bearing mounds of gravy-laden mushrooms, a heated Prothro sent the meals back to the kitchen. “Get that butter out of here!,” Prothro exclaimed. “I told you exactly what to serve.” All 50 steaks were returned to the chef to try again.
Game day Saturdays always meant peas and scrambled eggs seeping with honey. After breakfast, the players were fed honey and Coca-Cola. By kickoff, they were so loaded with sugar that Coach Prothro believed they were ready to “go out and really hit something.” The 1962 team did not disappoint, posting a 9-2 record and leading Prothro to declare his Beavers “the best OSU team ever coached.”
Before the financial scrutiny of the NCAA, every player was given four tickets for each game. Some gave to family and others sold them for spending money. Normally, for away games the players would turn all their tickets to the team manager, who would wander back to the evening bus, pockets teeming with cash, and split all proceeds between the players. Prothro’s Beavers, one ofOregonState’s most successful teams in the history of the program, beat No. 12 Stanford, No. 19 West Virginia, Iowa State, Pacific, Washington State,Idaho,ColoradoStateand posted a 20-17 victory in their civil war with theUniversityofOregon. Prothro returned to the Bruins from 1965-1970, was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1991 and is the only coach in the history of the conference to have coached Heisman Trophy Winners at two different schools: Terry Baker (OSU, 1962) and Gary Beban (UCLA, 1967). He left UCLA in 1971 to become the head coach for the Los Angeles Rams and the San Diego Chargers. After college and his time with Prothro, John was drafted into the Army. He served as special services detail, which included escorting extensive handshake tours in U.S. ArmyJapanhospitals with the Green Bay Packers’ Bart Starr, the Detroit Lions’ Wayne Walker, the Cleveland Browns’ Ernie Green, and the San Diego Chargers’ Lance Alworth. Since 1972 John has been practicing real property, estate planning, probate and trust administrations in Fillmore.
Laura Bartels handles bankruptcy, estate planning, probate and public interest matters in Fillmore. She is Secretary-Treasurer of the Ventura County Bar Association.