By Jason Krump
Fittingly, Hugh Campbell and George Reed are seated next to each other during the Cougar Legends banquet at the Coeur d’Alene Resort last June.
Though different paths brought the two to WSU, their career paths have paralleled each other since.
Paths that have led them to Hall of Fame careers at Washington State and the Canadian Football League.
“I went to WSU because of (Coach) Jim Sutherland,” remembers Reed who came to WSU from Renton High School. “He was interested in me getting a degree. All other schools that I talked to wanted me to breathe and sleep football. Jim Sutherland expected me to get a degree and then play football. That stuck with me.”
Campbell was quarterbacking the Los Gatos High School in Saratoga, Calif., when timing brought him to a different position.
“In my senior year, we were ahead in our last game, and coach wanted to play next year’s quarterback in the second half, so I played receiver and caught four or five passes,” Campbell explains. “That little bit of film got me a shot to go to Washington State.”
As a freshman, Campbell’s shot to play was in jeopardy of ending before it began. But a catch that didn’t even count in the official statistics launched his career.
Competing against 10 other players for one position on the freshmen squad, Campbell made it to the final five in the competition for that one prized spot.
“The first pass thrown to me was just a simple out pattern,” he recalls. “The ball was in the sun and I couldn’t see it. I was just staring there hoping and waiting, and then at the last second I saw it and caught it.
“I honestly believe if I hadn’t caught that pass I wouldn’t have gotten playing time, because there were so many of us.”
Reed was seeing plenty of playing time on the varsity squad as a sophomore while Campbell was striving to make it on the freshmen team.
However, the following year, fate would place them on the same timetable.
“I still remember it,” Campbell says. “It was a sound that went all through the practice field. It stopped practice. It was awful.”
That sound was Reed’s left ankle breaking during the last play of an August preseason practice in 1960.
“It was the last play before we ended practice that day,” Reed recalls of the play that ended his season before it began. “I cut to go up into the hole and my offensive guard ran over me and it popped.
“I wasn’t concerned about the ankle at the time all I wanted to do was get up and knock the hell out of the guy who did it to me.”
Reed seemed to suffer no ill effects from the injury. After sitting out a season to rehabilitate, he rushed for 489 yards and eight touchdowns as a junior and followed that up with 503 yards and nine touchdowns as a senior in 1962.
Meanwhile, Campbell put together an iconic career at WSU. His 176 career catches for 2,459 yards and 22 touchdowns won him NCAA receiving titles in 1960 and 1961 and all rank among WSU's career top-10 leaders. He received All-America honors in all three of his collegiate seasons and was a First Team All-American in 1961.
After graduation, Reed’s and Campbell’s paths briefly went separate ways when Reed joined the Saskatchewan Roughriders while Campbell joined the NFL’s San Francisco 49ers, a fourth round selection in the 1963 NFL Draft.
But the paths would soon converge once again.
Reed was enjoying success as a running back at Saskatchewan, but the team was in need of a receiver.
It did not take long for him to provide a suggestion.
“Saskatchewan was looking for a receiver and I told them I knew where a good receiver was,” Reed says. “I told them if he (Campbell) gets released by the 49ers make sure you have him on your negotiation list so you’ll have rights for him.”
Campbell did get released, and when the call from Saskatchewan came, he decided to make the trip up north.
“I went up there and thought I might be there for just the rest of that season, which was about five games, but I ended up staying for quite a while,” Campbell says.
“He came to Canada and the rest speaks for itself,” says Reed. “They told me I knew what I was talking about when I said to bring him up.”
Campbell joined a Saskatchewan team that made its first postseason appearance in seven years in 1963. More success followed in ensuing seasons, culminating with the 1966 Grey Cup Championship, the first Canadian Football League title in franchise history.
“The town went completely nuts,” recalls Campbell.
“The people in Saskatchewan went crazy,” Reed remembers. “It was a great feeling.”
The 1966 championship proved to be just a precursor to what Reed and Campbell accomplished in Canada.
Reed played his entire career for the Roughriders, retiring in 1975. By the time he was finished, Reed set CFL career records in rushing yards (16,116), rushing touchdowns (134), and total touchdowns (137). In November 2006, he was voted as the second greatest player by Canadian sports network TSN and his No. 34 is retired by the organization.
Campbell left Saskatchewan after the 1967 season and returned to Pullman as an assistant at WSU. But he eventually returned to Canada and became head coach of the Edmonton Eskimos, lead the team to five straight Grey Cup titles from 1978 to 1982. After a brief stint as head coach in the USFL, he returned to Edmonton in 1986 as the team’s general manager, a position he held until his retirement in 2006.
And as Reed’s and Campbell’s paths meet again in Coeur d’Alene, they look back on the journey that brought them together while students at WSU, and together once again at the Cougar Legends banquet.
“The pride is always there and will always be there,” says Reed. “If I can talk about people going to Washington State that’s the first place I push them.”
“I really grew up at WSU,” says Campbell. “It was such a great environment. I gained a lot of respect for all the traditions of WSU. It’s an association and it is family. It still happens today when you pass somebody wearing a Cougar shirt and say ‘Hi’ to them. We had that one experience in common. We stick up for each other. We understand each other and we know.”
“I talk about Washington State with pride,” says Reed. “It sent me on the right path for the rest of my life.”