Whitman College athletics sported the nickname “Missionaries” for decades.
But former news service and sports information director Tim Marsh had a different idea for the 1973 football team.
“I thought Whitman’s team nickname was passive and not logical since Whitman is non-sectarian,” Marsh said in remarks forwarded to the Union-Bulletin in 2016. “I read or thought that ‘Missionaries’ was never officially adopted. That was enough for me to come up with a new nickname. I did this on my own — not seeking or getting permission from anyone.”
Marsh touted “Shockers” as the new nickname for Whitman’s gridiron athletes.
That moniker would prove to be an appropriate one for the season finale at perennial powerhouse Linfield — Marsh’s alma mater.
The Wildcats were ranked fifth nationally and boasted a 7-1 record. A win over Whitman would mean a national playoff berth and a share of the Northwest Conference championship.
Whitman, 2-5-1 going in, ranked last in the NWC both offensively and defensively, but were coming off a victory over Lewis & Clark a week earlier at Borleske Stadium.
Mark Thompson — who played offensive tackle, defensive end, and on special teams — recalled that Whitman did not go into the game at full strength.
“We were decimated by injuries,” Thompson said. “We had only 28 players. We were so beaten up that we didn’t practice with pads the last two weeks.”
The Shockers got a shot of extra motivation prior to the game — “bulletin board material,” Thompson said. A Portland-area publication claimed that Linfield had already purchased airline tickets for a possible playoff trip, he said.
“Somehow we heard about it,” Thompson said. “They weren’t worried about beating Whitman.”
The field conditions for the contest were less than adequate, Thompson said.
“The field was a mess,” Thompson said. “In those days, weather was a factor.”
It certainly was for the home team. Linfield turned the ball over six times in the game on three lost fumbles and an equal number of interceptions. Whitman scored in each of the first two quarters and led 12-9 at halftime.
“I thought ‘We’ve got a shot. We can play with these guys,’” Thompson said. “They weren’t a physically imposing team. We caught them by surprise.”
The Shockers scored in the fourth quarter to produce what proved to be the final margin of victory, 18-9. Thompson ended the Wildcats’ final offensive series on a red-zone sack with a minute remaining.
Thompson, along with teammates John Rowley and Steve Vosti, played every snap of what was dubbed the “Shocker Bowl.” Each player received a plaque following the season as a momento of “our bowl game,” Thompson said.
Thompson credited his late father and coach Roy Thompson for fashioning an effective game plan.
“We took advantage of their man-to-man coverage with play action,” Mark said. “Defensively, we had good cover guys. They wanted to throw the ball and use their speed, but couldn’t because of the field. We never would have won the game if it hadn’t been in the mud.
“I was relieved when it was over,” Mark said. “It’s a long game when you play every play. We were all jubilant.”
Including the Linfield graduate-turned-Whitman publicist — to a degree.
“It was bittersweet,” Marsh said. “I was happy for Whitman, but sad for Linfield. Among my Linfield friends, I never talk about this game. Among my friends via Whitman, I do.”
Roy Elia can be reached at email@example.com.