Honoring Bob Sanders: Last Member of the ’49 Cotton Bowl Team?

Nov 21, 2019

I was saddened to hear of the passing of University of Oregon legend Bob Sanders last week. According to his daughter, Molly Sanders, he may be the last member of the fabled ’48 Ducks’ football team. He was a teammate of my dad, Norm Van Brocklin, and played in the Cotton Bowl on January 1, 1949, the first time an Oregon team was invited to play in a Bowl game other than the Rose Bowl. How ironic that this season as the Ducks aspire to win the PAC 12, earning a bid to play in the Rose Bowl, a bid denied the undefeated in-conference team of ’48. You can read more on my website, “Rose Bowl Season Denied” and even more in my soon-to-be published book, The Dutchman and Portland’s Finest Rose. 

Duck Team arriving in Dallas, Texas for the 1949 Cotton Bowl. Sanders is second row, second from left; Van Brocklin is second row, tenth from right.

While researching this book, it was my honor to meet Bob Sanders and interview him about college football and his successful business career. We sat in his sunny living room overlooking the Columbia River and leisurely flipped through the pages of his scrapbook, which had been lovingly made by his wife, Jane. As we turned the pages, I reflected on how similar this book was to the scrapbook my mother, Gloria, made for my dad, snippets of brittle newspaper articles glued to fading pages, an occasional black and white glossy photo, game ticket stubs, and team rosters. When I asked Bob if he remembered any of the plays they used to run, he looked up from the page, and with a sparkle in his eyes, he told me about “Fullback 1.” I asked him to describe the play to me, and with an incredulous look on his face, he exclaimed, “I just ran off tackle, straight ahead.” Shaking his head, he added, “I kept getting a couple of yards, so Van kept calling the same play!” We laughed, and then he said, “That’s how I got the nickname, Blaster.”

The Ducks team of ’48, a majority of whom served in WWII, came home to rebuild this country, avail themselves of the GI Bill—many the first of their families—and band together as a team. Coached by Jim Aiken, the squad was built on fitness and discipline, the bar set high from the coach who demanded their best. It was a team many felt were denied, losing by one vote from the schools as to who should be the PAC 8’s representative. Tied with Oregon in record, University of California won the vote.

Let this be the year when that long ago, unrealized goal for the 1948 team leads the Ducks to the Rose Bowl! 

“Vengeance is mine sayeth the Duck,” so says the plaque in the Jaqua Center which is dedicated to this special band of brothers. In honor of Blaster, and his teammates, let those of us still here shout, “Go Ducks!”

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