“What Could Have Been”: The Story of the 1963 Monroe Bearcats

With a history spanning over a century, Monroe football has seen many tremendous teams donning the orange and the black. Though the school is experiencing a renaissance of football success, great Bearcat teams have existed throughout the decades. From the recent dominance of the Michael Bumpus-led teams, to the John Stalh’s 1952 Tri-County co-champs, and even the undefeated 1926 team, there has been no shortage of fearsome Monroe squads stepping onto the gridiron. Despite their 109-year history and many championships, the Monroe Bearcats have never won a state title in football. While some point to the 2017 Bearcats being the most recent and successful contender for the title, but the team that came the closest to a state championship took the field more than five decades before. Led by a young, self-confident head coach and a strong core of players, the 1963 Monroe Bearcats boasted innovative ideas and talent as they rose to as high as #3 in the state. Not lacking in characters or drama, the 1963 season remains as one of the great “What-Ifs” in school history. 

Setting the Stage

Jim Bonga defends against a Lake Stevens pass, 1960

During the 1950’s, the Bearcats experienced a golden age in program history as they were competitive throughout the decade. Capturing two Tri-County championships in 1952 and 1956, Monroe seemed poised for continued greatness until the departure of Coach Cliff Gillies after the 1958 season. As new Head Coach Jerry Ramey took over, the cohesion in the program fell apart as Monroe experienced its first losing season since 1949. Now playing in the top heavy Class-A Cascade League, Bearcat dominance in the conference was quickly fading. With another losing season in 1960, Ramey stepped down and Monroe looked for a new coach to get the team back to its winning ways. The school hired the young Steve Hanson, a former player at Western Washington, to revitalize the program ahead of the 1961 season. Confident in his abilities and experienced by his time as a high school quarterback, Hanson quickly energized the program. While Hanson brought excitement back to Monroe, he noticed a group of young sophomore players that would be the foundation for future success. During a preseason game, Quarterback Mike Carlson, Fullback Roger Creswell, Offensive Linemen Marv Flickner, Running Back Roger Ohlsen, and End Dan Weaver all impressed onlookers.[1] With a new coach and a core of young players, Monroe was on the way to greatness. 

Though the young Bearcats were not at their full potential, they showed improvement in Hanson’s first season. Despite only finishing with a 5-4 record, Monroe looked sharp in its victories as offense benefited from contributions from the young core. Despite averaging almost ten more points a game than the previous year, the inexperience of the team cost them throughout the season as frustrations mounted. A late season loss against Lake Stevens featured multiple fights as tensions exploded, heralding a growing rivalry between the two schools as both programs began hitting their stride.[2] The rivalry was bolstered by the relationship between Coach Hanson and Lake Stevens Coach Dick Stultz. Though it was their first meeting as coaches, it was not their first meeting on the gridiron. When Hanson was the quarterback at Castle Rock High School, he played against Stultz as he was the coach for the nearby Winlock High School. After splitting two matchups against one another, Hanson came away with a long lasting respect for Stutlz’s coaching ability.[3] Regrouping after the loss, Monroe finished with a drubbing of Sultan as the team had optimism for their next season as their players continued to grow. 

Becoming a powerhouse

Photograph of the 1962 Monroe Bearcats

Excited for a new season, the Bearcats got their 1962 campaign off to a rough start. Monroe faced a truly difficult test as they went up against a bigger, stronger AA team in Anacortes to begin their slate. Despite being an underdog, Monroe fought Anacortes to a near standstill before falling 6-0. The upstart Bearcats were not phased by this defeat as the emerging core of players solidified their hold on starting positions, with the speedy Roger Ohlsen and hard-hitting Roger Creswell running the football and Mike Carlson as the starting quarterback. Despite featuring a less potent offense, Monroe’s defense stole the show as the Bearcats shut out their next four opponents. With players playing both offense and defense, many of the major contributors helped the team on all fronts as the Bearcats were ranked #12 in the state. Racing out to a 4-1 record, Monroe’s Homecoming game was a highly anticipated contest against Lake Stevens that had title implications on the line.[4] In front of a frenzied home crowd, the Bearcats led 7-2 by halftime but still faced a formidable enemy with another half left. Lake Stevens scored once in the third quarter and a final time in the fourth as the Bearcats were slowly worn down as time dragged on. Completely exhausted and outmatched, Monroe was unable to muster anything against Lake Stevens in the closing minutes besides another brief skirmish between two opposing players. With the clock running out, the Bearcats once again fell to their rivals 15-7.[5] Monroe suffered another backbreaking defeat the next week against Langley as Lake Stevens went on to become the Cascade League champions. The Bearcats closed out their final two games of the season by crushing Concrete and Sultan, finishing with a solid 6-3 record. Optimism for 1963 was growing as the young core of sophomores was going into their final season, hungry for nothing less than a league title. 

Roger Ohlsen gets taken down by Lake Stevens defenders, 1962

With a group of seasoned seniors set to lead Monroe football, expectations ran high for 1963. Nevertheless, the success of the campaign was predicated on the leadership and craftiness of Coach Hanson. Outside of the returning players at his disposal, Hanson had a key advantage during his time. Hanson was an innovator as he extensively studied game film, doing so long before its widespread adoption in programs across the country. Using simple film cameras and sifting through hundreds of feet of film to study, the means used by Hanson were primitive in comparison to the sophisticated technology used by programs today.[6] Though Sid Gillman at the University of Cincinnati pioneered game film study during the late 40’s and early 50’s, Hanson would have been one of its earliest users and ahead of the local competition.[7] Even with the technological limitations at the, Hanson had an edge over rival coaches and was likely one of the first Monroe coaches to employ film study. More than just a trailblazer in terms of tactics, Hanson also displayed an ability to understand and manage his players off the field.

Before the season began, there was trouble that was brewing as the team was about to lose two key players, star Fullback and Inside Linebacker Roger Creswell and End Dan Weaver. Creswell considered dropping out of school before graduating and Weaver, still fuming after being benched for much of the 1962 season, wanted to focus on basketball. Hanson managed to convince Creswell to stay in school for another semester but knew convincing the jaded Weaver to return required creativity. After attending football seminar before the season, Hanson created a plan under the guise of instituting a new defensive position, the Monster Linebacker. With Weaver being coaxed by Mike Carlson to attend the first team meeting in August, Hanson made his pitch. “[Hanson] goes ‘Oh by the way we devised a new defense, we got a Monster Linebacker and we got a perfect player for it. It’s going to be Weaver.’ And of course right then I melted. I thought ‘Well shit, how can I turn my back on this opportunity?’,” recalled Weaver years later.[8] With both Creswell and Weaver back in the fold, the Bearcats retained players that would be instrumental in the success of 1963. More experienced and stronger than ever, the Monroe Bearcats were now primed to take the Cascade League by storm. 

The Class of the Cascade League

Roger Creswell, Roger Ohlsen, and Coach Hanson pose for the camera, 1963

With Monroe traveling to Anacortes for a rematch against their larger AA foes, the Bearcats quickly demonstrated their growth into a team to be feared. Stronger than the year prior and seeking revenge, the Bearcats pounded the Seahawks 26-0 in an upset that surprised everyone but the players. “We just ran over them,” said Dan Weaver. “And by then we were upperclassmen, seniors, and we had gotten that offense down to a science. They were helpless, so we really thought we were hot shit coming back.” The offense Monroe ran was the Winged-T, a classic run-centered offense that many teams implemented at the time. Though the offense was hardly innovative, what set the Bearcats apart was not only their mastery of it, but also their athleticism and versatility. Roger Creswell, a crushing Fullback, was supported by the speed of Quarterback Mike Carlson and Running Back Roger Ohlsen. With defenders keyed in on Creswell or Carlson to run the ball, Ohlsen’s quickness ravaged opponents as he averaged more than ten yards per carry for the season. There were more stars on offense as Marv Flickner continued to anchor an excellent offensive line and Dan Weaver emerged as the team’s top receiver.[9] With a variety of weapons on offense and an equally dominant defense, the Monroe seemed ready to stake its claim to a title.

Following the rout of Anacortes, the Bearcats followed up by crushing the rest of their non-conference foes. With ease, Monroe defeated Nooksack 13-0 and Lynden 19-7 as they began drawing attention from the media. The hot start to the season caught the attention of sports writers who ranked Monroe #3 in the state polls after the victory over Lynden.[10] Before the creation of state playoffs, polls decided which team was the state champion. With Monroe ranked near the top of the Class-A polls, the Bearcats were firmly in the hunt for a state title. After routing their first league opponent Stanwood 32-6, the Bearcats maintained their ranking as another highly-anticipated showdown at Lake Stevens loomed. For Monroe the path to the Cascade League championship, and potentially a state title, led through Lake Stevens.

Matchup for the Ages

Mike Carlson, Roger Creswell, and Marv Flickner during Homecoming, 1963

Though the Vikings presented the toughest obstacle to a state title run, they appeared vulnerable 1963. Despite starting out the season with a 2-3 record, they were undefeated in league play and were still a capable opponent.[11] Despite boasting an undefeated record and media attention, Coach Hanson made sure to keep his team focused. Familiar with Dick Stultz’s coaching ability, he warned the players that victory was far from certain. Speaking on the mood before the game, Dan Weaver remembered that, “We were all pretty confident we were gonna kick the crap out of Lake Stevens and Hanson said ‘Don’t take anything for granted, that wiley bastard will have something ready for us,’ and he did.”[12] On a chilly October Homecoming night, a massive Lake Stevens crowd gathered to watch the spectacle as the two rival teams clashed on the field. Halfway through the first quarter, both offenses had failed to break through one another. Lake Stevens then punted the ball to the Monroe 19 yard line as the speedster Roger Ohlsen fielded it. Dodging around defenders and stiff-arming a couple tacklers, Ohlsen found space in the defense and took off, running 81-yards for a touchdown. With Mike Carlson’s pass attempt for two-points falling short, the Bearcats claimed a 6-0 lead. Demoralized but still confident, the Viking defense shut down the Monroe offense. The Lake Stevens defensive plan focused on preventing Roger Ohlsen, who had rushed for 210 yards the previous week against Stanwood, from making explosive plays. Against the planning and execution of Stultz’s defensive plans, the Bearcats potent running game was held in check. Monroe’s defense also shined brightly, forcing Viking turnovers and keeping them scoreless.

Throughout the game, both teams were on the verge of scoring only for their defenses to step up in key moments, keeping the score 6-0 until the closing moments of the fourth quarter. Receiving a punt with 2:30 left to play, Lake Stevens began its final drive. The slow advance to the Monroe endzone finally broke the Bearcat defense as a quarterback sneak by Roy Delgado resulted in a touchdown with about 40 seconds left. Tied at 6-6, Lake Stevens called upon its kicker for the point after try to give them the lead. Tasked with kicking this crucial point was Allan Brooks, who began the season as one of the Lake Stevens managers. At an earlier practice, Coach Stultz noticed Brooks’ accuracy as a kicker and rewarded him with a spot on the team. Though Brooks had only been one for four in point after tries, Stultz entrusted him in a pressure packed moment. With the season on the line, Brooks connected with the football and it sailed through the posts for a successful score as the Vikings now led 7-6. With victory at hand, Lake Stevens kicked the ball off to a desperate Monroe offense. Having only seconds left, the Bearcats attempted two final deep passes that failed to reach the endzone. As the final gun sounded, Lake Stevens fans poured onto the field to celebrate their upset victory.[13] For the defeated Bearcats, the dreams of a Cascade League title and a state championship were over.

Remembering 1963

A sideline shot of the Monroe bench and the grandstands, 1963

Despite having their season foiled yet again by their arch-rivals, the Monroe players quickly regrouped for the remainder of the campaign. With the faint hope of Lake Stevens losing in one of its final games, the Bearcats won against Langley the following week. Though they won again against Concrete, Lake Stevens officially secured its second straight Cascade League title.[14] Finishing the season with a 26-0 dismantling of Sultan, the victory felt hollow for Bearcat players even as they closed out with a stellar 7-1 record. With the core group of seniors and other key upperclassmen graduating, Monroe’s window of opportunity was shut. After the season was over, Steve Hanson left the program as the assistant coach Lewis Drew took over the program. Even with the loss of their star players and head coach, Monroe remained competitive for most of the 1960’s and the early 1970’s. Nevertheless, the teams that followed were unable to reach the heights experienced in 1963. It would take years until in 2016 and 2017 Monroe football assembled teams talented enough to contend for the state title.

Coach Hanson with Jim Scharf, Dan Weaver, and Rick Laizure, 1963

Almost 56 years after the conclusion of his last football game, Dan Weaver still vividly recalled every detail of the 1963 season. Speaking candidly over a Skype call in 2019, the happy memories of his football career and his teammates were undiminished by the course of time. Also well remembered are the memories of the fateful Lake Stevens game. “I could cite a dozen reasons why we lost, and those don’t get any smaller. They seem to get bigger every year.” According to Weaver, who later served in Vietnam and became an accomplished sports editor, the 1963 season and the Lake Stevens game are still topics of discussion in meetings with old classmates and at class reunions. “We’re having our 55th reunion this summer and I guarantee you the guys will get on the deck, have a few pops and invariably the Lake Stevens football game will come up. That’s fifty-fives years ago and it never changes.”[15] Though the sting of defeat and the “What-Ifs” still linger, the bonds of brotherhood and the memories made during the magical run of 1963 remain strong in the minds of the men who made up the team. 


[1] “Passing Time with the Bearcats,” Monroe Monitor, September 14, 1961.

[2] “Hansen’s ‘Cats End League Play With 27-19 Defeat; Turk Go Is Next,” Monroe Monitor, November 9, 1961.

[3] “Passing Time with the Bearcats,” Monroe Monitor, October 25, 1962.

[4] “Passing Time with the Bearcats,” Monroe Monitor, October 18, 1962.

[5] “Lake ‘Fourth Quarters’ Monroe,” Lake Stevens News, October 25, 1962.

[6] “Passing Time with the Bearcats,” Monroe Monitor, October 24, 1963.

[7] John Bach, “Sid Gillman transformed football with film,” UC Magazine. https://magazine.uc.edu/issues/0101/sports.html.

[8] Dan Weaver, interview by author, April 12, 2019.

[9] Dan Weaver, interview by author, April 12, 2019.

[10] “Passing Time with the Bearcats,” Monroe Monitor, October 10, 1963.

[11] “A Salute To The Vikings,” Lake Stevens News, October 17, 1963.

[12] Dan Weaver, interview by author, April 12, 2019.

[13] “Lake Upsets Monroe,” Lake Stevens News, October 24, 1963.

[14] “Bearcats Win Another Battle, To Face Turks In Final Go Friday,” Monroe Monitor, November 7, 1963.

[15] Dan Weaver, interview by author, April 12, 2019.