EDITORIAL: Savage’s impact will last

By Observer editorial August 23, 2013 08:46 am

The La Grande community lost a good man last week with the passing of Doc Savage and his legacy of fellowship, low-key determination and high values will resonate for a long time.

Savage truly personified the terms “public service.” He served as a teacher, coach and a public servant in his 80 years of life and gave a whole lot more back to Eastern Oregon than he took.

Savage’s attributes are many and his impact on education and politics locally is, and will continue to be, significant.

While it is fitting to remember Savage for his educational and political contributions there is no way to accurately reflect on his life without recognizing the year he coached the La Grande High School football team to a state title. 

If there was a single, special time in the epoch of prep sports for La Grande it is surely the 1974 season. 

There is no way to deny that La Grande that autumn was a special kind of place, firmly dialed into the fortunes of a prep football team. While life clearly continued on, every weekend another kind of cycle unmarred by life’s dangers played out on the prep football fields across the region.

No one on the 1974 Tiger football squad probably stopped to consider such lofty words or phrases as “destiny” and “this is our time” but the sense that something special was going on, even if it only centered on a bunch of teenage boys and their coach, was clear.

That autumn La Grande bathed in the kind of pure excitement only prep sports can occasionally generate. Clearly, prep sports is a special time for the parents and the relatives of those young teens on the field, but it is not often that a group of young men or women can produce the kind of anticipation and excitement that the 1974 Tigers did. 

If it is hard to define exactly what transpired that season, it is easy to understand what the coach and the team represented to so many. Ideals — hopelessly out of fashion even then — like perseverance and grit. While it is true that everything came together that season — the right kind of players at the right time, and, especially, the right head coach — the fact remains that fate cannot share all of the accolades for that championship drive. 

No, in the end Doc Savage still had to coach and the players — the Bob Kirks, the Loren Huntsmans — had to perform. 

The team created a weird kind of transcendent magic, certainly hard to define and even harder to explain. Doc Savage’s legacy is firmly rooted in the chords of the past connected to that championship season. For a short time, Savage, and his team, carried the dreams and hopes of an entire region on their backs and into the state title game.

In a sense, that team’s historical reference point will always revolve around a dream season and an understated man, coach, teacher who made a small town in Eastern Oregon a very special place.