ARLINGTON, Va.- The banner still hangs in the Marvin Center as a reminder of the victory.
Texas Western, now the University of Texas-El Paso, was a 13-point favorite over GW in the 1957 Sun Bowl, so when the scoreboard read 13-0 at the end of the game only one thing was surprising: the Colonials finished on top.
For the fiftieth anniversary of GW’s first, and most likely last, football bowl victory, more than 60 people, including about 25 players and coaches, gathered in Northern Virginia Friday and Saturday night to commemorate GW’s finest hour.
The team was a bit smaller than the monolithic teams of today. Players played offense and defense, which whittled the team down to 31. Today, six are deceased, but well more than half of the team was in attendance for the reunion.
“It’s kind of strange seeing some guys because you don’t recognize them at first,” running back Mike Sommer said. “Fifty years is a long time but after you hear their name and talk to them for a little while you remember them.”
Safety and quarterback Ray Looney and guard and linebacker Bob Sutton started planning the party with the GW athletics department a couple of months ago. The two got in touch with all but a few of the living players, most of whom met the idea with excitement.
The party served as an opportunity to remember. Some individual details were hazy, but collective memories were vivid.
Fullback Bob Shuba had a pinched nerve on the day of the bowl and was unable to play in the victory, but was able and willing to share his photographs from before, during and after the game. His best memories of the game were the first offensive Texas Western plays which, he said, set the tone for the entire game.
“The hits we put on their halfback were the kind of hits that the entire stadium hears,” said Shuba, who met his wife of 50 years during the 1956 season.
During the reception, the dancing and music stopped shortly for a teary-eyed Looney to lead a moment of silence for the players and coaches who are dead. After that, players took turns passing around the microphone, thanking various people and telling stories so that, overall, the laughs well outnumbered tears.
When posing for a group photo, each player turned their commemorative hats sideways and proudly, almost smugly, pointed to the sign, which read “January 1, 1957. George Washington 13, Texas Western 0.”
“Once (Texas Western) got on the field, they realized we weren’t patsies,” defensive back coach Andy Davis said. “They knew they were going to be in a ball game.”
Davis was GW’s star running back in the late 1940s and was the defensive back coach on the Sun Bowl team. He came to GW after fighting in World War II, played at GW, then spent three years with the Redskins before coming back to coach the Colonials. Four of his teammates from his playing days attended the reception.
For Sommer, a running back on the Sun Bowl team and with the Redskins later, GW football was a family tradition. His father played in Foggy Bottom in the 1930s and his younger brother played a few years after him. Like most of the other players, he said he wishes GW still had a football team, but understands that it is not financially feasible.
The team celebrated the victory they shared, but focused on the times in between then and now, when many of them were separated.
“It’s surprising: we’re not talking about football as much as we’re talking about life in general,” Looney said. “We’re talking about what we’ve done, families, grandchildren and jobs. It’s great seeing everyone again.”