Sunday, October 12, 2008
That championship season
The 1958 Cal football team, the last Golden Bears squad to go to the Rose Bowl, will hold their 50th reunion Oct. 24-26. And that season is still magical, even 50 years later.
This was a team that had won only one game the year before. And except for the two captains - quarterback Joe Kapp and halfback Jack Hart - they were sophomores and juniors. The running joke was that they were "small but slow."
The season didn't start off auspiciously. The first game was a 24-20 loss to COP (now UOP), whose All-America running back, Dick Bass, ran wild.
"On one of his long touchdown runs, every guy on our team had a shot at him," said tight end Tom Bates, who is now mayor of Berkeley. "I had two shots, and I missed both times."
The next game was even worse - a 32-12 loss to mighty Michigan State.
But at practice the following week, everything turned around.
"As we ran our offensive plays for timing and precision, the coaches made us run really hard for about 10 yards," said halfback Hank Olguin. "But Joe and Jack kept running after the play ended. And we ran after them, shouting and howling all the way down the field.
"The coaches were dumbfounded; we were essentially running wind sprints on every play. Our collective will to win was extraordinary. I'll never forget that week of practice as long as I live."
Thus fired up, they went out and crushed a heavily favored Washington State team, 34-14. And, except for a one-point loss to Oregon State, they ran the table the rest of the season.
"Our secret was that there were no stars," said Kapp. "We won because we played together as a team."
"Joe's just being modest, as usual," demurred guard Pete Domoto. "The truth is that it began and ended with him. He was so talented, he could have started at all 22 positions, offense or defense."
But in a larger sense, Kapp was right. The '58 team was a classic case of what the military calls "unit cohesion" - an extremely close group of friends working together under a charismatic leader. In the end, they did it for each other.
The charismatic leader, of course, was Kapp. By happy coincidence, the best athlete on the team was also its fiercest competitor.
"I'll never forget the moment we hit the field at the Washington State game," said Olguin. "We all clasped hands in the huddle, and Joe looked at us with those grinning teeth of his and said, 'Anyone who doesn't think we're going to win this game get the (bleep) off the field!'"
Back then, players had to play both offense and defense, which put a premium on conditioning. So all those wind sprints came in handy, especially as the season wore on.
"Another factor is that we got almost no penalties," said fullback Bill Patton. "We were a very smart team."
Everyone rallied around the team. Two frequent visitors on the sidelines were U.S. Chief Justice Earl Warren (Cal '12) and Cal Chancellor (and Nobel laureate) Glenn Seaborg, who was proud that his name was an anagram for "Go Bears."
But the players weren't pampered the way players are now. Athletic scholarships were only $125 per month. And for this they had to clean the stadium after every game and water the field during the off-season.
I'd love to report that Cal won the Rose Bowl. But, alas, they lost to a powerful Iowa team, 38-12.
"But the important thing is that we won as a team and we lost as a team," said Kapp.
To a man, they insist that they want nothing more than to see the Bears go back to the Rose Bowl again.
"Fifty years is way too long," said left end Bob Duey.
"That's what they say," said his wife, Pat. "But I think they're secretly thrilled to be the last Rose Bowl team."