University Of Utah

1949-54 Redskins
(Authentic Reproduction)




As many historians have noted “football in the late 1800s was played on a field that was at first 140 yards long and then later reduced to 110 yards. Games were 70 minutes long and most were played in the bitter cold and snow of November and December. There were no substitutions except for extremely severe injuries…” It was a different game but it was the official game as colleges and universities became enamored of this form of “legalized combat” and the state of Utah was like most where its college-aged men gravitated towards the game. The brutality of the early sport “earned the disdain of many Mormon Church leaders and most school officials” leading to its suspension at a number of state institutions. However, with statehood granted to Utah in January of 1896, the University of Utah had already led the way on the gridiron long before that momentous event, playing its first and only game of the 1892 season in a loss against the Agricultural College of Utah (Utah State). The relatively limited state population and subsequent high school participation in football within Utah and the Rocky Mountain region very much left the school as an afterthought on the national scene but they did field representative teams playing other in-state colleges and high schools until the program was suspended during the World War I effort in 1918. The arrival of legendary head coach Ike Armstrong in 1925 very much shaped Utah football as he occupied the head coach’s chair for twenty-five seasons and posted a 141 – 55 – 15 record with twenty-one victorious and five unbeaten seasons in that mix. He also found the time to coach basketball and track while serving as the university’s athletic director. Always on top of the most recent trends, Coach Armstrong switched the squad from the standard leather helmets of the day to a Riddell RT 2 red shell with a one-inch white center stripe for his final season in 1949, a 2-7-1 affair that displayed the outstanding play of two-time All Conference guard Wally Nadler. His sub-par season helped guide Armstrong to the decision to take on the full time AD position at the University of Minnesota where he stayed until his retirement, but his coaching accomplishments at Utah set a high standard and earned him entry to the College Football Hall Of Fame. If there was one absolute that was established in Utah’s first decades of football and has been ongoing, it is related to the rivalry with Brigham Young University. With only fifty miles separating the heated rivals, it has been written, referring to the Utah vs. BYU contest, that “…true Utes believe that their favorite football team schedules ten or eleven practice games each fall in preparation for its one-game season.”
Taking Armstrong’s place for the 1950 season was Jack Curtice, almost always referred to as “Cactus Jack.” Among the most popular of coaches within the profession, Curtice had a native Kentucky good-ole-boy folksy way about him that belied his demands for disciplined play. He was popular among his players too but beyond the laid back nature was the insistence on doing things the right way. A magazine summary described the relationship thus; “he treats them with a mixture of stern admonition, fatherly kindness and small-boy humor.”  A standout quarterback at Transylvania College in his home state of Kentucky, he was a very successful oddity as a proponent of the pass at Owensboro High School. He became an assistant and then head coach at West Texas State for the 1940 and ’41 seasons, taking time to write the official school fight song. At the conclusion of his military commitment he accepted the head coaching position at Texas Western (Texas El Paso) where he led the Miners to two Sun Bowls before moving up to the Utah job and finished his first season with a deceptive 3 – 4 - 3 mark. Curtice allowed a number of players to wear their old red-painted leather helmets void of striping but dressed up some of the red helmets with white center stripe with stylized rear player identification numerals. He more importantly changed the philosophy of the offense, laying the groundwork for his unusual-for-the-day attack and his team scored eighty-six points in the final two games of the season. “We operate on the theory of always threatening a pass with the possibility of a run,” was Curtice’s summary and he can be considered one of the forerunners of today’s modern football offense. He made an immediate impact: “Under the tutelage of brand-new coach Jack Curtice, this year’s Redskins team developed into a flashy, thrill-a-minute group, which even when they lost, gave the fans more than their money’s worth.” All Big Six Conference picks Joe Tagaro at tackle, running back George Bean, and quarterback Dave Cunningham who was drafted by the N.Y. Yankees established a new brand of football at Utah.    
For 1951 Curtice again displayed his squad with a combination of red shells and the previous seasons’ style that included a white one-inch center stripe, with some showing white player identification numerals on the rear of the shell. As his exciting offense clicked with his players recruited to run the system, the 7 – 4 Indians became the surprise winners of the Skyline Conference with a 4 – 1 mark. All Conference quarterback Tom Dublinski, a long-time pro who bounced from the NFL to the Canadian League a number of times in a nine season pro career, led the Skyline in rushing while Sandy Morris caught many of those passes. Wes Garner anchored the line and in ‘52 joined Dublinski with the Detroit Lions. Utah’s ’52 season found some players still wearing all red shells from 1951 but most now wearing what had become the Utes’ standard appearance red shell with a white one-inch center stripe and rear identification numerals. The team had established a pattern of dropping hard-fought non-conference tilts which prepped them for conference play, finishing with a 5 – 0 Skyline league mark which won Curtice Conference Coach Of The Year honors. Tackle Jim Dublinski, guard Ray Westort,   and backs George Bean, who played a year for the Browns, and Don Peterson were All Conference choices. All Skyline guard and linebacker Charlie Kalani would make his mark as professional wrestler and actor Professor Toru Tanaka after eleven years in military service.    
Six consecutive victories to begin the 1953 season launched another Conference championship and an overall 8 – 2 finish, with only late season losses to non-conference Washington and Colorado sullying the record. Don Peterson was the All Conference fullback that sparked the rushing attack with assistance from young Louis Mele but as usual, the Cactus Jack offense was determined by the play of the quarterback and Don Rydalch proved to be terrific, leading the nation in completion percentage. Orville Nellestein was effective as a two-way end. 1954’s 4 – 7 season was a bit of a national surprise but Curtice had to rebuild. The 7–6 upset win over Oregon was the year’s highlight and there were excellent individual performances from All Conference backs Mele, Herb Nakken, and quarterback Dave Dungan. Two-way end Nellestein, one of the great Utah high school athletes of his era, completed his Utes career and then training camp with the Forty Niners, and became a respected high school football and track coach. Although planning a new helmet design for ’55, the standard and basic Utes red helmet with one-inch center stripe would remain a staple in future seasons.

If interested in any of these Utah helmets please click on the photos below.