By Stephanie Plowman
Special Collections Librarian
SPOKANE, Wash. — Before John Stockton or his son David Stockton, there was Houston John Stockton. The grandfather of Gonzaga University and NBA basketball star John Stockton, and great-grandfather of current Gonzaga basketball player David Stockton (John’s son), Houston played football for Gonzaga during the sport’s “Golden Age.” As a triple-threat halfback, Stockton was proficient in running, passing, and punting. His defensive skills as a linebacker were as distinct as his offensive prowess. Houston was the father of Jack Stockton, a founder of Jack and Dan’s Bar & Grill near Gonzaga’s campus.
Prior to Stockton’s arrival in 1922, Gonzaga hired Charles “Gus” Dorais as head football coach and athletic director in 1920. With this move, Gonzaga signaled its plans to compete at the highest level in college football. Hiring 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 as well.
In the 1922 home-opener of Gonzaga’s new $100,000 football stadium before an overflow crowd of 5,600, “Stocky” (as he was called) turned in a stunning single-game performance scoring six touchdowns and kicking 10 conversions for 46 points in Gonzaga’s 77-0 win over Wyoming.
In 1924, team captain Stockton was an All-American honorable mention. During that season in which the Bulldogs were undefeated, Portland’s newspaper The Oregonian compared Stockton to “Red” Grange, the Illinois wonder. The writer looked at the halfbacks’ statistics for one game and wrote that “Stockton ‘Out-Granged’ Grange himself.”
Stockton ran for 310 yards on 30 plays to Grange’s 186 yards on 37 plays. Other stats favored Stockton as well. In the Thanksgiving Day game against Washington State College, in one of his greatest exhibitions of defensive play Stockton kept them scoreless time after time when he broke up forward passes and stopped runners at the line. In another scoreless game against Idaho as Stockton’s younger brother Chester watched him play for the first time, Stockton won the punting duel by kicking 18 times for 732 yards to the opponent’s 11 punts for 542 yards.
Little-known fact, Houston also was a guest sportswriter for the Spokane Chronicle in 1923. On Thanksgiving Day 1923, Gonzaga’s football team traveled to the University of Detroit. The Spokane Chronicle published short articles Stockton wrote during the days leading up to this game. His first entry was written while the team was riding on the Northern Pacific Railroad car at Billings, Mont. on Nov. 24.
“‘Victory for the west’ was the one thing impressed upon the fellows on the first day of the trip east. With the noisy farewell and wishes for success from the Gonzaga student body and supporters of Spokane still ringing in our ears, we met with an enthusiastic reception at every stop in Montana…. We are all ‘good Indians’ now for the entire squad was adopted by the Blackfeet tribe at Livingston.”
In preparation for the big game, Gonzaga scrimmaged against the University of Notre Dame freshmen in South Bend, Ind.
On Nov. 26, Houston wrote:
“If association with a winning football team can create a winning spirit, our Gonzaga eleven should have that spirit when we take the field against Detroit for we arrived in South Bend last night after riding 60 hours on the train and today had our first real practice in the east on the Notre Dame field. … Our reception here was fine. A large number of Notre Dame students were at the depot to meet us and extend a warm welcome.”
The following day, Nov. 27, Houston wrote:
“November 26 will be a day remembered by every fellow on our squad as the first day we played on an eastern gridiron, even though that was only in practice for we were on the Notre Dame football field and had as our spectators Coach Knute Rockne and all the Notre Dame players.”
The next day, he penned:
“The two reasons for a win over the Detroiters now appear. We have had two good days’ practice with the Notre Dame squad, and last night we were loaned the green jerseys worn by the Notre Dame team the day they defeated Princeton 25 to 2.”
Although Gonzaga played well, they lost 13-7. Offering no alibis for the defeat, Stockton wrote afterward:
“We met a team exceptionally strong on defense and fortified with two excellent kickers. … The (Gonzaga) fellows all played a good game. They knew that the west wanted a victory and they gave everything they had.”
These articles show Houston was a talented writer and athlete. After leaving Gonzaga, Houston played football professionally for three seasons as a member of the Frankford Yellow Jackets in Philadelphia, starting in 1925. He was a member of its 1926 championship team. Overall he played four years of professional football.