Watching football has become a part of America’s Thanksgiving tradition as much as turkey dinner.
This year, the NFL is scheduled to televise three games on Thanksgiving Day. In 1937, there were no televised games — Philo Farnsworth, who pioneered the technology for television, was just successfully concluding patent litigation against RCA for his image dissector, which evolved into the modern TV set.
Even though there was no television in 1937, Clark County households still had to juggle Thanksgiving dinner around football. The big game that year was Camas High School against Vancouver High School, set for a 10 a.m. kickoff at Camas Athletic Field. Admission was 50 cents for adults and 35 cents for students, with local newspapers predicting a crowd of 4,000 people.
Going into the game, Camas was riding a nine game winning streak, including a 52-21 Armistice Day victory over Washougal, and a 12-7 win over Salem High School, widely regarded as the best team in Oregon that year. The Papermakers were coached by Walt Erickson, and were led by senior half-back Don Gigler who scored 136 points that year, and sophomore half-back Jimmie Newquist, who went on to star for the University of Oregon. The Trappers were at 6 and 5, but had a substantially similar record against the opponents they had in common with Camas.
For the Thanksgiving Day game, Camas suited up only 21 players on its roster. It was the single platoon era, meaning that players were required to play offense, defense and special teams. If a player left the game, he was ineligible to return until the following quarter. Camas was also undersized, even by the standards of the day. Its line averaged only 150 pounds, while star half-back Don Gigler weighed in at 138 pounds. To put that in perspective, Zach Eagle, the talented wide receiver and defensive back for the 2013 Papermakers, measures 5 feet 8 inches tall and weighs 165 pounds. If he had played in 1937, he would probably have lined up at offensive and defensive tackle.
Most teams in that era played a single wing offense that featured powerhouse football. To compensate for its lack of size, Camas utilized a double-wing offense that emphasized speed, misdirection, and execution, with a playbook that included reverses, double reverses, double spinners, and half-back passes.
Thanksgiving Day that year was rainy, and the field was muddy. Following a scoreless opening quarter, Camas drew first blood when half-back Jimmy Newquist broke through the Trapper defense for a 55-yard touchdown run. After recovering a Camas fumble, Vancouver scored at the end of the first half, to take a 7-6 lead. Neither team scored again until early in the fourth quarter, when Vancouver got its second touchdown to go up 14-6. With three minutes to go in the game, Gigler answered for Camas with a 36-yard touchdown run. Again, the extra point attempt failed, and Camas trailed 14-12.
In those days, because time was kept on the field by the officials and there was no game clock, the Trappers were unaware of exactly how much time remained. When the Camas defense held, the Trappers elected to punt. Gigler fielded the ball at the Camas 20-yard line. Depending upon which newspaper account you read, the final gun went off either while the punt was in the air, or as Gigler crossed the 50-yard line. Gigler went on to return the punt for a touchdown, Camas won the game 18-14, and the fans rushed the field to celebrate an improbable finish that capped a remarkable season.
While we bask in the recent success of the number one rated Camas football program and its quest for a state championship, it is fitting that we remember the first great Papermaker team. The 1937 Papermaker football team, half-backs Don Gigler and Jimmy Newquist, and coach Walter Erickson have all been inducted into the CHS Athletic Hall of Fame.
The CHS Athletic Hall of Fame honors those Papermaker individuals and teams that have excelled athletically. Nomination forms for inductees to Hall of Fame Class of 2014 will be available after the first of the year.