Wednesday, October 20, 2010
(Above: Joe Kapp back in the day)
Fifty-one years ago, Cal went to the Rose Bowl. And it hasn't been back since.
But some die-hards haven't given up hope - the guys who last did it.
Two weeks ago, that great 1958 team held a reunion at running back Bill Patton's home in Lafayette, and I was privileged to join them.
1958 was a different time, and Berkeley was a very different place.
"The most revolutionary thing that happened was that a non-frat man was elected student body president," said guard Pete Domoto. "That was considered radical back then."
The whole town was football crazy. There were huge parades down Shattuck Avenue featuring the Football Festival Queen and her princesses in formal gowns riding on floats.
On Saturday mornings, geology professor Norman Hinds led his class in football cheers. And before every Big Game, chemistry professor Joel Hildebrand delighted his class by magically transforming a red liquid into blue and gold.
Frequent sideline visitors included Chief Justice Earl Warren, who played clarinet in the Cal Marching Band during his college days (Robert Gordon Sproul was the drum major), and Chancellor Glenn Seaborg, a Nobel Prize-winning chemist who bragged that his name was an anagram for "Go Bears."
"And he was in our locker room after every game, win or lose," said Domoto. "I can't tell you how important that was to us. To be sitting in front of my locker, feeling sorry for myself because we got beat, and have the chancellor come in and talk to me personally for five or ten minutes - it was the greatest experience of my college life."
But there were inklings of things to come in the '60s when the team arrived in Austin to play Texas. The hotel manager told them the white guys could stay, but the black guys had to go.
"Coach (Pete) Elliot turned us around, and we all stayed together somewhere else," said tight end Tom Bates, who still holds the school record for most fumble recoveries and currently serves as Berkeley's mayor.
And that unity was - and is - the secret of their success.
"There's nothing anyone in this group wouldn't do for me, and vice versa," said end Bob Duey, whose identical twin, Dick, played fullback and linebacker. " When my brother died two years ago, all these guys were there for me."
It also helped that the best athlete on the team was also a charismatic leader who wouldn't let them quit - quarterback Joe Kapp.
Kapp, who went on to a stellar career in the NFL and later became the coach who broke Stanford's hearts in 1982 with "The Play," has reinvented himself once again - this time, as a winemaker.
His new vintage, "The Play" Cabernet, is a fundraiser for his charity, the What Do You Want To Be Foundation, which supports grassroots organizations that help kids stay away from gangs and drugs. The wine is currently available at Lunardi's markets. For details, visit his website, joekapp.com/)
Now, cabernet isn't the first beverage that comes to mind when you think of Joe Kapp, but tequila is out - at least for now.
"I swore in 1982 that I would never drink another drop of tequila until Cal goes back to the Rose Bowl," he said. "And I never have."
Memo to Jeff Tedford: Next year in Pasadena, OK? This man has suffered long enough.