Like swallows returning to Capistrano, they flew in from all over—Canada, New York, Texas, Washington, Arizona, Minnesota, L.A. and San Diego.
Few had proper names. Like modern day rappers they called each other Brownie, Rookie, Mac, Nutzie, Curley, The Beaser, Goose, Feather, Weed, Stewie, Blugo, Petee, Ackey-Boy, Dog Man, Diamond Jim Brady, Woody Charm, the Bird.
This eclectic clutch of catatonic conquistadors (anything for the alliteration) had been christened by “Joltin’ Joe” Marvin “The Boys who fought the Battle of Berkeley.” Back in the 60’s they dared to run through that tunnel to represent the “Greatest University” in the World on Saturday afternoons (no 8pm games back then) in a sunny corner of Camelot, called Strawberry Canyon.
We were led by the most unlikely of all “Berkeley types,” Ray Willsey. (Of course, he wasn’t “Berkeley” at all—he was Cal through and through—the poster child for the definition of loyal Golden Bear—but that’s another column).
From all across the country and Canada, they came to say a final good bye to the man who had molded them into the men they were today. Though it went unsaid, they knew they belonged to a select fraternity of kids that survived a college experience that was like no other in the history of higher education. (No one said we were modest).
They were joined by another select fraternity--“Pappy’s Boys”—a generation of men who had been Ray’s teammates and had played for Pappy Waldorf in the Glory Days of Cal Football, when the Bears ruled the waves from coast to coast.
It was the kids of the 50’s, raised on Beaver Cleaver, swapping tales with the kids of the 60’s, raised on Eldridge Cleaver. Ozzie and Harriet meet Mario and Bettina.
On the surface, generations apart. In reality, a band of brothers—glued together by love of Cosmic Ray.
As in the old days, last Saturday we all laughed too loud and drank too much.
Counting the Oakland Raiders who showed up, there were around 200 gathered at the University Club, high atop Memorial Stadium where Art Arlett in that stentorian voice, used to announce each Saturday, “It’s a great day for football here at California.”
(Due to another reception on Campus thanking major donors, the card section spelled out a huge “THANK YOU.” We preferred to think they did it for Ray, alone.
Tough hard men were ubiquitous. Complete prostates--scarce.
From Brownie’s titanium jaw to Mac’s missing metatarsal, the room was filled with busted up men who once proved their metal on the field, and are filled with metal, today. Thanks to Ray’s mentoring, those men have succeeded in almost everywhere, with the possible exception of boarding an airplane without a pat down.
The most often asked question? “Are you still working?” The most frequent answer? “Parts of me are.”
As I was the least of the group (a mere green weenie), I was reminded of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s image of himself with his nose pressed up against the glass looking at the candy that he could never have. A lowly red shirt, (read “scout team wastrel”) I listened more than talked, and just basked in the warmth of a unique camaraderie where a college bench warmer and Super Bowl QB could raz one another with genuine affection and toss out sarcastic digs as easily as government handouts.
Mostly, we laughed about our ironic failures (on the field, in class or with the girls) but the talk turned inevitably to Super Bowls, Big Games won and lost “Willseyisms “Stress the kicking game for there the breaks are made,” or random plays like Donnie Guest’s record field goal return which (thanks to a change in the way they tab statistics) can never be beaten.
What is it with Cal? Long before the most exciting 4 seconds in the history of college football, “The Play,” we had our share of oddities: All-American Roy Riegels getting spun around and running 69 yards the wrong way—resulting in a safety and an 8-7 loss to Georgia Tech: Norm Pressley stripping Northwestern’s, Art Murakowski of the ball at the Goal line, yet line judge, Jay Berwanger (yes, the first Heisman Trophy winner from U of Chicago, ahemmmm) calling it a “phantom TD” costing us the Rose Bowl ‘49: The Bird catching Jim Hunt’s pass with one second on the clock, causing Rip Engle to lose his job and causing a kid named Joe Paterno to take his place: Truck Cullom blocking Stanford’s extra point and sending the Bears to the Rose Bowl with a 7-6 win in ’48: Hart and Patton stopping Skip Face’s two point conversion, sending us to the ’59 Rose Bowl—being denied the Rose Bowl in ’75 when SC went into the tank to UCLA. Or tasting that Rose Bowl in 2004 with a first and goal on the Trojan 9 yard line with 1:47 to go and Future Hall of Famer, Aaron Rodgers at the Helm. Penhall throwing to Sweeney on the last play of the last game of the last season for the last win. The list goes on.
And much of it is as painful as Pat Cannamela breaking Johnny O’s leg or Mike McKeever breaking Steve Bates’ jaw while he was out of bounds.
But who’s counting?
There was not one man there who played either for Pappy, or for Ray, who didn't know that he had played on the ashes Andy Smith which were scattered over the field at Memorial Stadium, and the significance of that event—nor that the back of the team benched was inscribed with Andy Smith’s words,
It is better to lose,
Than to win at the sacrifice of an ideal.
Judging by the fact that we came in 123rd out of 123 NCAA schools in graduation rates last year, one wishes that Andy Smith’s ideals could be embraced today (BTW, this year’s APR is apparently much higher than last year’s.)
Sandy Barbour was there – for a bit.
Sandy snuck out, as they all do. It's understandable. This is a secret fraternity of blue and gold where code words abound and inside jokes dominate. (Ok, one guy is so color blind he was wearing his grey suit jacket, thinking it was his blue blazer—be glad you’re not my wife).
Among the dozens of stories, Nutzie told how Ray reached into his own pocket to give the seniors $500 to throw a party at Claremont Country Club after Big Game (back when it wasn’t played in October). Dzura e-mailed me that Ray had given him $500 to buy a jeep once he got out of the hospital after the auto wreck which crippled probably the greatest Cal Footballer ever, for life.
Not sure what the NCAA statute of limitations is on that one but I’m not sure I’d want to be Dzura’s cellmate—let alone the compliance officer confronting him.
Ray was never extravagant nor showy—though he was a dapper dresser. I would have guessed he was pretty tight with a nickel—but he dug deep when it came to his boys—no questions asked—and not only them.
When Dean Arleigh Williams (a former friend) told him he had to fire two of his assistants due to a “scandal” Ray said, “You fire them, you fire me.” Not only did he stand by them, he took money from his “buyout” and distributed it to his assistants who lost their jobs. Think that is happening today?
As I am not up to date on my Emily Post, I don’t know whether it was appropriate for Coach Dykes to have been there or not. Secretly and selfishly, I do wish he and his staff could have made an appearance. There was so much to be gleaned by this group. So much that is Cal.
It’s not a sin to have not gone to Cal (what they want to call “Berkeley”). Hell, Pappy was from Northwestern—but the Athletic Department’s ethnic cleansing of Ortega, Morton, and Lupois—all former “Cal alumni” is one of the reasons that that department writes us off as, “The traditionalists” who will “never get it.”
It’s true: many of us don’t “get” 8pm Saturday night games and may never understand the logic (after spending almost $500,000,000 on a new Stadium and Athletic Center), behind playing our home Big Game near Stanford, in Levi Stadium. Demoting Rugby—cutting baseball? Many of those footballers paying homage to Ray were ruggers (as was Ray)—so yes, we don’t “get” it.
And I can tell you where Ray came down on these issues.
Rugby Coach, Jack Clark was there and paid homage. He hit one out of the box last week at Boomer’s memorial service. Some folks in the Athletic Department do “get “it.
(The good news is that Burl Toeller’s kid is working on quality control and Jahvid Best is listed as a Student Assistant Coach, with Matt Russi as assistant recruiter—so at least the football team is making an effort to involve some Cal blood).
Ray fought for us. As Ackey-Boy famously said, “There would be no Cal football today, without Ray Willsey.”
Ray got a bum rap on the Black strike, but he insisted that the team be integrated (I know, I roomed with Paul Williams), and that everyone get a fair shake. Remember, we are talking about a time when a player from UCLA could say to one of our captains before the kickoff, “How could you have a nigger for a Captain?”
Ray was crushed when Bobby Smith was blackballed by the NFL and not drafted though he was good enough to play in the East-West shrine game. As Harry Edwards had put him out front during the Black protests, the NFL labeled him a “trouble maker” (he wasn’t) and never gave him a shot.
The 60’s were rough—and Bobby’s story needs to be told some day.
“Remember who you are and who you represent,” was one of Ray’s dictums (right up there with “There’s a difference between pain and injury here at California. You play with pain.”)
Ray took pride in who he was and who he represented. He passed that on to us.
The picture on this page is of Ray and Captain Mike McCraffry, Ed White and Governor Regan. My guess Ray and “The Gipper” agreed on a lot of things, but when the Governor famously stated Cal won’t win “….Until they learn to put cleats on their sandals,” Ray was not going to take that sitting down. He took his boys up to confront the Governor head on and let him know what fine young men they were. Like I said, “Loyal”—tough as nails and not afraid of nobody, no-how, nowhere.
Some of us can’t help our fanaticism regarding Cal. It was left to us as a legacy from our grand parents and parents—and great men like Ray (no I never called him that to his face).
When Ray first took over for Marv Levy in 1963, members of the St. Helena High Football team came down every Saturday to “usher” (and watch homie, Tom Blanchfield play).
They gave us armbands which read “Usher “and we had a job to do. Cal could do a lot worse than bring that tradition back. It’s a lot stronger recruiting tool than playing Oregon in Levi Stadium, trust me.
(No doubt you read that Super Frosh, Jarad Goff spent his Saturdays in Section D, and was always coming to Cal, like we did back then). Getting kids there (even to “usher” games), helps—why does no one see that?
On the subject of loyal grandparents, Kapp always likes to tell the story of the Chief Justice of United States (who in 1912 went to the Big Game with Robert Gordon Sproul, when it was Rugby, not football), coming into the locker room and speaking to this "little Mexican kid from Newhall” and how much it meant to him. Speaking of oddities, Kapp is the only footballer in the world to have played in the Rose Bowl, Grey Cup, and Super Bowl.
Young “Trailer” was there, Saturday--aptly named by Nutzie, as his father was the infamous “Truck.” I don’t know who named Doc (a dentist, duh) in the late 30’s when my dad played for him, but he begat Truck (“you who looks like a truck, you’re playing prop”); who begat Nutzie who begat Trailer (Truck’s kid, John, who was just a tyke when Nutzie was playing for Truck—and on it goes).
Mac who is alleged to have once stopped a moving Volkswagen by throwing his body in front of it, was there in his “chair” as he lost a leg recently. He’d been one of our freshman coaches, and I used to cook fried artichoke hearts for him at the “Station” while he was down at the Key Club losing at low ball (Sorry Mac—hope Mikie doesn’t read this).
Nutzie, going out to dinner with him the night before told the waiter he wanted a “rack of Mac.” This crew is not for the faint of heart.
Why the dower Budd Grant had four bears on his Vikings team when he went to four Super Bowls is a mystery. Or perhaps it isn't.
I don’t know what it is about Ray, but he left a legacy of tough kids who were willing to stand up and be counted—no matter the cost. In fact, Cal is famous for kids fighting injustice in the pro ranks.
Remember Andy Messersmith and Baseball’s 1975 Seitz decision which ended the reserve clause? How about Joe Kapp sacrificing his career to resist being treated like chattel in the NFL?
Down at the Fish (If you don’t know, don’t ask) I asked Big Ed White why he wasn’t in the NFL Hall of Fame. “Maybe it’s because I’m one of the guys involved in the lawsuit regarding concussions.”
And now Morton is challenging the NFL’s piddling settlement with the players union over head injuries.
Even Dan Goich was manning a picket line against our playmate, the late Timmy Mara when I was back in New York.
It’s not that Cal kids are litigious by any means. They are products of history and fight injustice wherever they see it.
Without telling anyone what to do, it is clear Ray set an example which kids couldn’t forget and followed all of their lives.
I remember Toots Shor once telling me the story of Yankee Owner, Dan Topping giving him tickets to the World Series every year. One year they feuded and weren’t speaking—but Topping sent the tickets over anyway. “Now dat’s class,” said Toots.
And “Dat” was Ray. He had class—it showed—and clearly it rubbed off on a lot of young men.
Ray’s daughters, Lee Anne, Janet and Louise put on a classy reception for a classy man, attended by a lot of classy men and women.
It was an honor to be in their orbit.
Others can strive to go to the head of the class. We were just honored to pay homage to the definition of “Class.” Wherever Bears gather, Cosmic Ray will always be remembered—as what he was: Class, through and through.
Jeffrey Earl Warren ‘70