December 2021 ~
What could have been a disaster wasn’t enough to keep Scott Cress from becoming an accomplished athlete at Lincoln High and the University of Oregon.
As a young boy on a wheat ranch in Southern Oregon, a farm machine accident cost Cress the tips of the ring and index fingers on his dominant, left hand.
Cress went on to star in baseball and football (and basketball as well at Lincoln), using his left hand while developing his right (he eats, writes and plays golf right-handed).
“It forced me to be ambidextrous,” he said.
The 1964 Lincoln graduate entered the PIL Hall of Fame in 2007.
Cress was born in Yakima, Washington. After his parents divorced, he moved to Merrill, Oregon at age 3 for one year before coming to Portland. He attended second through eighth grade at Chapman School. He grew up with an older sister and younger brother, Pat, who was a fine athlete as well in football, track and field and wrestling and made the University of Oregon football team as a walk-on defensive back.
Scott Cress played basketball and baseball for the Multnomah Athletic Club under coaches Roy Durst and Al Negratti. In his other spare time as a youth at MAC, he boxed, swam, did indoor archery and gymnastics, and shot a .22 rifle (“you could do that indoors there”). He also learned to play golf at Riverside Golf & Country Club.
As a pitcher, he mostly used a change-up, fastball and curve, and recalls people saying, “He throws some very weird pitches.”
His pitching days came to an end after he stayed on the mound for “10 or 11 innings” in a senior-year game against Cleveland. “There were no pitch counts or ice in those days. Riding back on the bus, I couldn’t lift my arm. I had thrown it out. I could never throw hard after that,” he said.
But he could hit and play in the field, and at Lincoln he played varsity in his three sports every year possible (varsity football was forbidden for freshmen), earning 11 letters. He also could have done track and field, especially the high jump, but decided not to take a spot from someone else.
His Lincoln head coaches were Jim Partlow and Jerry Stickley in baseball, Al Grove in basketball and Bob Signer and Bob Brown in football.
Cress was all-league and second-team all-state in football, playing both ways (halfback and defensive back/linebacker), and he got to play in the annual Shrine All-Star Game.
He was first-team all-PIL and second-team all-state tournament in basketball in 1964, when Lincoln placed third with its only tourney loss to eventual champion Parkrose.
Cress started four years in baseball as a pitcher/first baseman/outfielder, making the all-PIL team and being named MVP of the Metro-State baseball series after his three triples helped the Metro team go 3-0. He remembers having Baseball Hall of Fame pitcher Lefty Gomez as a “very entertaining” Metro-State guest speaker.
“Baseball was my best sport,” Cress said.
When he was a Lincoln senior, the San Francisco Giants offered him a contract. But his step-father reacted immediately. “Son, you’re going to college,” he told Scott.
And so it was on to Eugene, where per the rules of the time, he had to play freshman ball his first year.
In baseball, he hit 10 home runs and .320 and stole a dozen bases.
After that, he went into the UO’s ROTC (Reserve Officers’ Training Corps) program.
“We were all worried about the Vietnam War,” he said.
He had to miss the summer semi-pro baseball he’d played before, but showed up for football practice (football was his scholarship sport) under coach Len Casanova and quickly made his mark as a wing back.
In the first game of that 1965 season, he came off the bench for an exhausted teammate on a 102-degree day and on his first play caught a touchdown pass against Pittsburgh. Cress wound up having to play defense later in the game, and he scored another touchdown on offense on a run around the left end. Then, with Pitt driving late for the winning points, he intercepted a pass to seal Oregon’s 17-15 victory.
The next week, at Utah, he scored two touchdowns. Two weeks later, he had a touchdown at Stanford.
The Ducks were 4-5-1, 3-7 and 2-8 (his senior year, under new coach Jerry Frei), playing his first two years at Hayward Field and then during the first year of Autzen Stadium.
Cress recalls playing with seven quarterbacks in three years. And, the Ducks lost all three years to Dee Andros-coached Oregon State – by five, four and five points, in that order, and in a downpour at OSU his junior year.
“I’m still bitter,” he said of losing to the Beavers, including in their famous “Giant Killers” year of 1967. But, “they were tough,” he admits. “They could run and play good defense. They had a lot of good players and a good philosophy.”
As a senior, Cress even had to play some on the offensive line as a tight end, after having played some flanker as well as wing back.
Meanwhile, he had to take part in summer camps, not for sports but like basic training for the military. He took advanced infantry training. He found time to get married in the summer of 1967, just before his final season of football.
He graduated with a degree in business after completing his baseball eligibility in 1968, and had twin daughters in January 1969.
The service was calling, too. He was in an artillery branch for 13 weeks in Oklahoma, then a second lieutenant. He was scheduled to go to another base for three months, then head to Vietnam near the end of 1969 or in early 1970. He changed his terms of service, adding a third year of active duty and wound up at Fort Lewis in Washington for two about two years.
In September 1971, Captain Cress was sent to Vietnam.
“Things were starting to wind down,” he said of the U.S. involvement. With his business education, he was chosen to run the Army PX (Post Exchange) at his base camp for 3 ½ months, then was reassigned to be a battery commander. Then, suddenly, he got sent home.
Back to Portland and on to civilian life, he got even more involved in the family business, the WH Cress Company in Southwest Portland. His step-dad, Warren Cress, had followed in his father’s footsteps, joining the 1895-formed construction supply company after graduating from Oregon in 1933. His mother worked for the business, too.
Scott continued the tradition, and for more than 40 years he led the company’s evolution into the distribution and subcontracting of building specialty projects. Daughter Kelly Cress and Robert Krauss help Scott run the company today.
Scott, still a MAC member, kept busy with basketball there for many years and today plays “a lot of golf,” including on Wednesdays and Saturdays with buddies at Portland Golf Club. He’s shot his age” probably 25 times” from the white tees.
He follows the Ducks some, even though his competitive nature tends to have him yelling at the television as he studies Oregon techniques and strategies. He does marvel at the size, speed and strength of players today. Oregon’s top lineman of his day, Pat Matson, checked in at 250 pounds or less, but was good enough to play 10 years as an offensive lineman in the AFL and NFL.
“My worst nightmare today is I’m having to block Kayvon Thibodeaux,” he said of the Ducks’ elite pass rusher.
Cress was one of those who came back to Eugene to play in the now-defunct alumni football game – once. He was in the backfield behind alumni quarterback Dan Fouts and was somewhat slow getting out of his stance. “Fouts says, ‘Come on, come and get it,’ as he’s trying to hand the ball off to me,” Cress said.
But in his day, those lively and culturally changing 1960s, Cress was as athletic as most anyone. He led Oregon in home runs and RBIs his final year of baseball, and is still remembered as one of the most versatile players in Duck football history and as one of the school’s outstanding dual major sports athletes.
~ Profile written by Steve Brandon (Cleveland, 1972)