By Stephanie Plowman, Gonzaga University Special Collections Librarian
Above, Gonzaga University v. Washington State College, 1923. Photo courtesy of the Gonzaga University Archives (gp_sp0603_02).
Before there was a John Stockton (Hall of Fame NBA basketball player for the Utah Jazz) or a David Stockton (who played collegiate basketball at Gonzaga University like his father, John), there was a Houston, as in Houston John Stockton. Born in Parma, Idaho in 1901, Houston Stockton played football for Gonzaga during the sport’s “Golden Age.” As a triple threat halfback, Stockton was proficient when running, passing, and punting. His linebacking skills were as great as his offensive skills. Houston came to Gonzaga in the fall of 1922. He had previously played one year of football for St. Mary’s College in Oakland (now located in Moraga) as a high school player.
Prior to Stockton’s arrival on campus, Gonzaga University announced the hiring of Charles “Gus” Dorais as head football coach and athletic director in 1920. By hiring Dorais, a famed Notre Dame University quarterback and coach, Gonzaga indicated its plans to compete at a very high level in intercollegiate athletics, especially football.
Dorais instituted the Notre Dame system of football, which included the forward pass. According to the local newspaper from May 30, 1920, Dorais was then considered “one of the greatest hurlers of the pigskin the grid-iron ever developed.”
Gonzaga’s hiring of a nationally recognized coach, even though its student body totaled only 100, was not unique. Other universities across the country were beginning to emphasize athletics.
In the 1922 home opener of Gonzaga’s new $100,000 football stadium, before an overflow crowd of 5,600, Stockton turned in a stunning single-game performance scoring six touchdowns and kicking 10 conversions for 46 points. Gonzaga beat Wyoming 77 – 0.
In December 1922, the Northwest onference stated that Houston Stockton and Scotty McDonald were ineligible to play that season resulting in the decision to not admit Gonzaga into its conference. Conference members stated that Stockton was a transfer from St. Mary’s College and was considered ineligible to play that year. To obtain conference membership for the 1923 season, Gonzaga immediately implemented a faculty controlled board to determine athletic eligibility based upon the conference code.
The only time Gonzaga football ever appeared in a post season football game happened on Christmas Day, 1922, when Gonzaga was invited to play against undefeated West Virginia in San Diego. West Virginia was the heavy favorite. They took a 21-0 lead into the fourth quarter, but Gonzaga scratched its way back into the game. The Bulldogs scored two touchdowns, one by Stockton, in 10 minutes. With two minutes to go, Stockton (who rushed for 110 yards that final quarter) found future Gonzaga coach Mike Pecarovich in the end zone.
Unfortunately he dropped the ball. The final score: West Virginia 21, Gonzaga 13.
As described in the Spokane Chronicle the next day, “The Gonzaga-West Virginia game was one of the most spectacular contests played anywhere in the country this year. Both teams forward passed often and well. Two passes from Stockton to Bross were for 45 yards each.” Gonzaga scored the most by any opponent against West Virginia that season. The Gonzaga team received numerous telegrams of congratulations after the game.
In 1924, Captain Stockton’s last season, Gonzaga was undefeated and he was All-American honorable mention. During that season in which they were undefeated, Stockton established a record when he threw nine consecutive completed passes in the opening game against Washington State College.
In December 1924, the Northwest Conference determined that Stockton would be ineligible to play his senior year. The conference ruled that since Stockton played the year of football at St. Mary’s in varsity competition as a prep player, his standing in scholastic work would not be considered in figuring his years of competition.
Houston left school in the spring of 1925. He was hired as assistant football coach under Maurice “Clipper” Smith, the new Gonzaga head football coach as Coach Gus Dorais became head football coach at University of Detroit. Stockton, who was recently married to Miss M’ Liss Finnegan, on February 7, 1925, appeared to be a suitable candidate for this job as he knew the Notre Dame style of backfield play as introduced and taught by Dorais. Stockton began working in the spring in preparation for the 1925 season.
However his term as assistant football coach was short-lived as he was hired to play professional football with the Frankford Yellow Jackets in Philadelphia in October 1925. Stockton played professional ball for three years (1925–1926, 1928) with the Frankford Yellow Jackets, predecessor to the Philadelphia Eagles, and then one year with the Boston Bulldogs and Providence Steamroller (1929). He was a member of the Yellow Jacket’s 1926 NFL Championship team. For one year, Houston returned to Gonzaga to coach its baseball team and assist with the football team in 1927.
“Stocky,” his college nickname and later “Hust” his professional name, was the grandfather of John Stockton, well-known Gonzaga basketball player from the 1980s who went on to play in the NBA for the Utah Jazz from 1984-2003. Houston’s great-grandson, David Stockton, son of John, played collegiate basketball at Gonzaga, and currently plays for the New Zealand Breakers. Another great grandson who carries his name (Houston Stockton) played football at Gonzaga Prep and later at the University of Montana.
Houston Stockton was a charter member of the Inland Empire Sports Hall of Fame. He died on April 27, 1967 in Bremerton, Washington at the age of 65. Stockton left his mark as a Gonzaga Bulldog. Now future “Stocktons” will carry the name as his legacy.