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Daughter of Rose Bowl Game’s First Black Quarterback Receives Honors on Behalf of Her Father

Published on Monday, January 1, 2018 | 6:03 am
 
Photo of Dr. Charles “Pruner” West courtesy of W&J College.
Photo of Dr. Charles “Pruner” West courtesy of W&J College.

Alexandria, Virginia native Linda Nickens is here in Pasadena today to receive honors for her father, the late Charles “Pruner” West, who made history in 1922 as the first African American to play quarterback in the Rose Bowl.

Interviewed by The Washington Post at her home, Nickens sat quietly as she showed old photos of her father, the man some have called “Doctor,” others “Pruner” or “Charlie,” but to her was simply “Daddy.”

Charlie West was part of a small Washington and Jefferson College team from western Pennsylvania that played against an undefeated University of California squad that rain-soaked January 2 game at the Rose Bowl in 1922. The game ended in a 0-0 tie.

The game holds several distinctions, aside from West’s being the first African American quarterback in a Rose Bowl Game: it was the only scoreless Rose Bowl game and the first tie in a Rose Bowl; Herb Kopfof, of Washington and Jefferson, was the first freshman to play in a Rose Bowl; Hal Erickson, also of West’s team, became the only man ever to play in two different Rose Bowls – 1919 and 1922 – with two different teams – Great Lakes Navy and W and J – without losing; it was also the last to be played at Pasadena’s Tournament Park.

With only 450 students in 1922, Washington and Jefferson was the smallest school to ever play in a Rose Bowl.

West, who grew up in Washington, Pennsylvania, is being inducted into the Rose Bowl Hall of Fame on Saturday, December 30, along with three other inductees – 1977 Heisman Trophy winner Charles Woodson of Michigan, former Texas coach Mack Brown and former UCLA quarterback Cade McNown.

“He’s kind of my hero,” Nickens tells the Post. “I don’t know too many men like him. I don’t want to start crying, but he taught me the good lessons about family and how to deal with people. People in Alexandria would say he was the kindest man they knew.”

At the time, there were only a handful of black athletes playing on predominantly white college teams, the Post story said, and after Fritz Pollard of Brown University became the first African American to play in the Rose Bowl in 1916, West was the first to participate in the game at the sport’s most important position.

Nickens will be at the induction ceremony to represent her father, as well as during the Rose Bowl game on New Year’s Day. The four members of the class will be honored before the fourth quarter. Nickens will also get to ride in the Tournament of Roses Parade, and Nickens’s two children will also make the trip, the Washington Post said.

Charlie West died from cancer on November 20, 1979. He played football for Washington and Jefferson from 1920 to 1923 and was heralded as a pioneer by those at the college during the pre-Civil Rights era. It was not until 1947 when the sports world would see Jackie Robinson become the first African American player in Major League Baseball.

Nickens said she knows her father will be at the induction ceremony and the whole weekend in Pasadena, too.

“He’ll be out there with me,” Nickens tells the Washington Post. “I’m just so happy for him.”

 

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