Flashback: The spirit of '76 is still alive

By CASEY OLSON, The Mirror

The year was 1976.

The United States was celebrating its bicentennial, the Eagles were singing their new release, “Hotel California,” and the Federal Way High School football team rolled out the best season in the history of the city, finishing second in the state after losing to a loaded Snohomish team in the state championship game.

“Everything just meshed with that team,” said head coach Doug Patrick, who is now retired in Goodyear, Ariz. “We had an excellent combination of players, coaches, administration and parents. I look back on that team often. It was a really good time. I still get emotional about that year. I have very fond, fond memories.”

The mid-1970s was the heyday of high school football in Federal Way. Not only did the 1976 Eagles team play in the state championship game, but Federal Way also advanced to the quarterfinals the previous season in 1975 before losing 14-10 to Foss High School at Federal Way Memorial Stadium. In total, the Eagles finished 22-3 during that two-year stretch and sent more than a dozen players into the college football ranks. The 1975 and ‘76 seasons were also the last time any Federal Way School District football teams have qualified for the state playoffs.

This year’s edition of the Eagles hopes to end that 31-year drought tonight after rolling through the South Puget Sound League North Division unbeaten. Federal Way hosts Cascade (Everett) at 7 p.m. in a winner-to-state, loser-out game at Federal Way Memorial Stadium.

“We had quite a thing going at Federal Way back then,” said Keith Simons, the all-league quarterback of the 1976 team. “We walked through everybody. It wasn’t just in football. We won a championship in every sport. We had a good nucleus of guys that played basketball and baseball also. We had pretty good athletic talent.

“But if you would have told me then that it would be 31 years before another Federal Way team would win an (SPSL) championship, I wouldn’t believe it.”

The 1976 football season was not only special on the field, but the relationships the players and coaches developed during those days are still alive and kicking. Five years ago, a bulk of the team returned to Federal Way from all over the United States for a 25-year reunion of that magical ‘76 season.

“I’ve gotten like 12 to 15 e-mails from guys on that ‘76 team wishing us good luck,” said current Federal Way coach John Meagher. “That was obviously a special time for Federal Way football. I guess at the 25-year reunion they got together and played touch football and there were a bunch of injuries.”

“The team was really large back then,” said starting center Mike Reilly, who still calls the Federal Way area home. “But we had great camaraderie, always did things together and spent time together. We didn’t have any stars.”

Reilly and Simons give a lot of the credit for the team’s cohesiveness to Patrick and his assistant coach, Gary Baskett.

“The coaches were a great one-two punch,” Reilly said. “They complimented each other so well. They were so committed and the most dedicated coaches I’ve ever been around.”

Patrick was the cerebral-type who ran the potent Eagle offense, and Baskett was the motivation guy who did a lot of the background work in the weight room and with linemen.

“They just did a tremendous job with the mental part of the game,” Simons said. “They were really special and really good coaches.”

1976 was the last year Patrick and Baskett coached together at Federal Way. Patrick went on to be the offensive coordinator at the University of Puget Sound before eventually returning to Federal Way as the athletic director. Baskett developed into one of the most successful high school track and field coaches in Washington state history at Mead High School in Spokane. Baskett led the Mead boys program to an unprecedented 159-0 dual meet record in 17 years. During that undefeated 17-year stretch, Mead finished in the top four at the state meet 15 times, including five state championships and 29 individual event champions.

“We were just an excellent combination,” Patrick said. “Gary did an excellent job. We put in an awful lot of time. Back then weights weren’t a big deal like they are now and Gary was just excellent at running the weight room. I remember going up to Seattle to a steel company and fabricating our own weights and the players responded to it.”

Simons credits Patrick and Baskett with instilling the football coaching bug into him. The 6-foot-1 quarterback originally signed with Oregon State out of high school before transferring to Idaho State to play. After graduating, Simons worked as an offensive assistant at a couple of college programs before moving on to be the head coach at Santa Rosa Junior College in California.

Santa Rosa Junior is a member of the highly competitive NorCal conference. In the 10 years that Simons and his staff have coached the Bear Cubs, they have produced 85 all-conference players, six conference MVPs, three regional MVPs, and 17 All-Americans. The Bear Cubs have participated in six straight bowl games, winning five, and have been invited to a bowl in eight of the past 10 seasons.

Simons leads one of the most explosive offenses in the nation. The “Fast Break” offense the Bear Cubs run is a no-huddle spread system that led the nation in passing yards and touchdown passes in 2005. SRJC has finished No. 1 in the nation in passing and touchdown passes three straight years and in five of the past seven seasons.

“At the 25th reunion, Keith and I talked about how that team would have been perfectly suited to run the offense he is running at (Santa Rosa),” Patrick said.

Simons led a high-powered offense in ‘76 that included wide receiver Don Curley, who led the SPSL in receptions before playing at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas, and 1,000-yard running back Darryl Bell.

“We had a lot of new concepts back then,” Patrick said. “We just took people apart.”

The city of Federal Way also responded in big-time fashion during the Eagles’ run at the state championship.

“What I remember is that the community was so behind us,” said Reilly, who turned his success at Federal Way into a full-ride scholarship to the University of Washington. “That is what was really special.”

The fall of 1976 was the definition of a Norman Rockwell painting for the Federal Way High School football team. The city definitely had “Friday Night Lights” syndrome when it came to the Eagles.

Ads littered the Federal Way News wishing Federal Way good luck in the state playoffs, the team’s starting lineup was printed each week and the players were treated like kings at businesses around the city. Much like “Hoosiers,” six packed school buses followed the Federal Way team up Interstate 5 to Seattle’s Memorial Stadium before the state championship game against Snohomish.

“We would all wear our letterman’s jackets around town and everybody knew our names,” Reilly said. “It was really a great experience. I went on to play four years at the University of Washington and played in two Rose Bowls and those were a great experience. But they were not even close to the experiences I had going through high school football.”

One of the best memories came during the opening round of the 1976 state playoffs. After rolling through the regular season unbeaten, the Eagles were forced to travel to Longview to take on a tough Kelso High School team.

What ensued was one of the best playoff games in state history. The back-and-forth contest ended in the third overtime with Federal Way scoring a touchdown to win 42-35.

“That was an unbelievable game,” Simons said. “We got down there and got off the bus and walked to the field and the stands were already packed two hours before the game. I don’t know if the bars closed or what, but three-quarters of the crowd was already looped by the time we showed up. It was a pretty obnoxious crowd.”

“When we got there the fans were yelling at us, saying things like ‘Hey city boys, you’re going to get it,’” Patrick said.

Federal Way came back from 14 points down in the fourth quarter, before eventually beating Kelso in the third overtime when safety Pete Weymiller made the game-saving tackle.

“They were ready for us. After we beat them, some cops came over to us and told us to keep our helmets on when we were walking back through the tunnel. People tell me that was one of the best playoff games they’ve ever seen.”

The Eagles then went on to beat SPSL foe Clover Park, 14-7, in the quarterfinals and blitzed Renton, 35-7, in the semis to earn the date with Snohomish in Seattle. Snohomish downed Federal Way, 20-7, thanks to future Oakland Raider lineman Curt Marsh and starting UW middle linebacker Jerry McLain.

“They were huge,” Simons remembers about Snohomish. “Every one of their guys was bigger and stronger. They beat us pretty good, but we still had our chances to win.”

“That was a great year,” Patrick said. “They were great kids. We never really talked about winning. We just talked about playing with class and playing hard.”

Sports editor Casey Olson:


1976 Federal Way High School starting lineup, as listed in the Federal Way News before the state championship game with Snohomish:


QB — Keith Simons, Sr.

HB — Darryl Bell, Sr.

FB — Jeff Davis, Sr.

WR — Don Curley, Sr.

WR — Rick Conner, Sr.

TE — Dennis Chesher, Jr.

T — Gary Gutherie, Sr. and Larry Jerominski, Sr.

G — Henry Stinson, Sr. and Don Elliot, Sr.

C — Mike Reilly, Sr.


DE — Mark Schlittler, Sr. and Tim Patterson, Sr.

T — Henry Stinson, Sr. and Mike Reilly, Sr.

LB — Darryl Kupietz, Jr. and Darryl Bell, Sr.

CB — Dave Wells, Jr. and Al Crowder, Sr.

S — Bill Tagmyre, Sr. and Pete Weymiller, Jr.

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