By Ron Kroichick
1959 ROSE BOWL: Iowa 38, Cal 12
Distinction they'd rather not have - Bears don't want to be known as last to go to Pasadena
Jack Hart started for three seasons as a halfback at Cal, earned all-conference honors in 1958 and scored two touchdowns in the Rose Bowl, a small measure of historic solace from the Bears' decisive loss to Iowa on Jan. 1, 1959. As the years passed, Hart's friends began introducing him as the last Cal player to score a touchdown in the Rose Bowl. Hart would smile and say, "No, only the most recent." The line usually got a few laughs - and still does when he delivers it today.
"But it's not as funny as it was 20 years ago," Hart said. This captures the mixed emotions of Cal's former players on the impending 50th anniversary of the school's last (or most recent) New Year's Day appearance in Pasadena. Fifty years ago Thursday, the Bears of coach Pete Elliott, quarterback Joe Kapp and Hart charged out of the tunnel at the Rose Bowl as champions of the Pacific Coast Conference. It was an impressive achievement, especially considering Cal managed only one victory the year before. The Bears won six of their seven conference games during the 1958 season, earning the trip to Pasadena by squeezing out a dramatic win over Stanford in the Big Game. Back then, there were only eight bowl games. And the Rose Bowl already waded in prestige, was on its way to becoming a slice of American culture with its sunny weather, colorful parade floats and grand tradition. Still, nothing came to glorify the accomplishment of Cal's 1958 team more than this: A half-century later, the Bears haven't been back.
Bob Gonzales, a reserve lineman in '58 and later a longtime member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, recently went on a cruise with his wife, Myrna. Gonzales wore his Cal visor each morning when he exercised, and one day another gentleman struck up a conversation about the Bears. The man's wife proudly boasted that he attended Cal's last Rose Bowl game. Gonzales almost felt sheepish when Myrna mentioned he played in the game. "There are people who take great joy in just saying they were there when Cal played in the Rose Bowl," Gonzales said. At the time, it was not such a crazy concept: The Bears reached the Rose Bowl three consecutive times (1948, '49 and '50 seasons) only a few years earlier. Plus, Cal's baseball team won the College World Series in '57 and the basketball team would win the NCAA championship in March 1959. So when the Bears made it four Rose Bowl berths in 11 seasons, the players graduated figuring their alma mater would return from time to time. But then Elliott departed for his native Illinois, Berkeley became consumed by the Free Speech Movement and war protests, Cal's administration de-emphasized athletics for a time and the Bears faded into irrelevance most years. Next thing the '58 players knew, they were walking onto the field at Memorial Stadium on Oct. 25, to commemorate the golden anniversary of Cal's last successful run for the Roses. "We're not crazy about the distinction," halfback Hank Olguin said. "I'd much rather have gone to some Rose Bowls along the way." Or, as Kapp said bluntly, "Nobody could imagine 50 years. It's embarrassing."
The 1950s were a time of upheaval for West Coast college football. A scandal engulfed the Pacific Coast Conference in '56 - booster clubs at Washington, UCLA, USC and Cal were found to have made illegal payments to players - and prompted UC administrators to re-examine the role of intercollegiate athletics. That led to the dissolution of the PCC in 1959; five of its nine members formed the Athletic Association of Western Universities, which eventually morphed into the Pac-8 and later the Pac-10. Cal's program had its own change in leadership: Coach Lynn "Pappy" Waldorf retired after the '56 season and Elliott was hired in January 1957. At 30, he was the youngest coach in school history, a former Michigan quarterback who had been groomed on Bud Wilkinson's staff at Oklahoma and then spent one season as Nebraska's head coach. Elliott installed the Split-T offense, a forerunner of the Wishbone, and went 1-9 in his inaugural season. Kapp said the adversity of that year, full of frustrating losses (four by six points or fewer), helped create a strong bond among the players who returned in '58. "These men had a cohesiveness and camaraderie, and that was one of the reasons they played so well," said Elliott, now 82 and living in Canton, Ohio, where he was the longtime director of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. "They had great attitudes. They wanted to play and they were there for each other."
Said Hart: "You had to buy in or get the hell out."
Kapp and Hart made sure their teammates got the message. They both started as sophomores in 1956, during Waldorf's final season, and were not at all bashful about filling their role as co-captains under Elliott in '58. Former Cal players still marvel about the leadership of Kapp and Hart. Pat Newell, the nephew of Hall of Fame basketball coach Pete Newell and an undersized tackle on the Rose Bowl team, remembered the way Kapp would step into the huddle, a wide grin on his face, and challenge Newell to block his man on the upcoming play. "Joe and Jack were both so passionate about the game, about playing hard and winning," Newell said. "You didn't feel like they were just doing it for themselves - you felt like they were always encouraging you to do what they were doing." Kapp was famously rugged and tough - even today, at 70, his square jaw and wide-eyed intensity are striking - but Hart brought similar qualities. During one practice, as Cal's offense worked on a reverse, Hart collided with a defensive end and had two teeth knocked out. Soon thereafter, on the same play, the same thing happened. Hart wanted to keep practicing the play until the Bears got it right, but an assistant coach intervened by saying, "Jack can't afford to lose any more teeth." Hart sometimes imposed his passion on others. After Cal lost its first two games in 1958, Hart noticed one teammate going half-speed during practice. That's also how the player looked on film the previous game, Hart thought, so he grabbed the guy and ruthlessly ran him into a nearby concrete wall. "It was about, 'Get with the program, get your fanny moving,' " Hart said. "That probably had an impact on the way he practiced the rest of the year."
'58 team was small, quick
Cal hardly overwhelmed opponents on its path to Pasadena. The Bears fielded a collection of solid players, one great quarterback in Kapp and a widely respected coach in Elliott. They were smart (seldom penalized), small and quick. They also benefited from the substitution rule, which prevented players from returning to the game in that quarter if they came out for even one play. The rule helped the Bears in some ways, because they had a modest core of players who did several things well. Most starters played both offense and defense and took pride in their versatility; guard/linebacker Pete Domoto later looked through old statistics and discovered he averaged 41 minutes per game during the '58 season.
The PCC's relative weakness didn't hurt, either. "I hate to admit this, but I think it was a down point in the league," said Gonzales, now a lawyer in San Francisco. "There weren't great teams that year - we were a good team and so we rose to the top." Cal came back from early losses to Pacific (led by halfback Dick Bass) and Michigan State to string together four consecutive victories. Tom Bates, then a Cal tight end and now mayor of Berkeley, recalled some fans shouting, "We smell roses," during the streak, but few really expected the Bears to reach Pasadena. Then, after falling at Oregon State, they pulled out narrow wins over UCLA and Washington. That set up an electric Big Game, with Cal needing to beat Stanford to earn the conference title. Before a boisterous crowd of 81,490 at Memorial Stadium, the Bears won 16-15 when Bill Patton stopped Stanford's two-point-conversion try with less than two minutes left. The euphoria lasted exactly 40 days, until the opening kickoff of the Rose Bowl. Iowa, ranked No. 2 behind LSU in the final Associated Press poll, promptly steamrolled Cal, handing the Bears a humbling 38-12 defeat. Now, a full 50 years later, that remains Cal's last taste of the granddaddy of them all. The Bears came close in 1975 and '91 and 2004 and '06, each time bringing groans of frustration among the '58 players. These are not the old Miami Dolphins, raising a toast when the last unbeaten NFL team falls. These are Old Blues, wondering when their alma mater will end its drought, the longest among original Pac-8 schools.
About 40 of them gathered for another reunion in October, mostly three days of imbibing and reminiscing at Patton's home in Lafayette. Elliott spoke to this year's Cal team the day before its win over UCLA, and then the '58 players savored the crowd's ovation when they were introduced during the game. Patton joked that some of them needed 20 minutes to return to their seats, given aging limbs. The players are not eager for ongoing introductions as the last Rose Bowl team.
"We all hope the Bears get back soon, while we're still around," Newell, 70, said. "I can't last another 50 years."
The 1958 Bears
A game-by-game look at Cal's 1958 season (7-4 overall, 6-1 Pacific Coast Conference):
Date Opponent Score
Sept. 20 Pacific L, 24-20
Sept. 27 at Michigan State L, 32-12
Oct. 4 Washington State W, 34-14
Oct. 11 Utah W, 36-21
Oct. 18 at USC W, 14-12
Oct. 25 Oregon W, 23-6
Nov. 1 at Oregon State L, 14-6
Nov. 8 UCLA W, 20-17
Nov. 15 at Washington W, 12-7
Nov. 22 Stanford W, 16-15
Jan. 1 Iowa, Rose Bowl L, 38-12
What was said
"In the true tradition of the Pacific Coast Conference, California's Golden Bears were humiliated by the State University of Iowa football forces, 38-12, this slightly smoggy afternoon."
- Bill Leiser, Chronicle sports editor's lead from game story in the Jan. 2, 1959, Sporting Green. Iowa's romp made it 12 wins for the Big Ten in the first 13 years of its agreement to meet the Pacific Coast Conference champion in the Rose Bowl.
“Blinding speed displayed by Bob Jeter, Willie Fleming and Ray Jauch left the Bears helpless and hopeless in defense of their own goal, whether it was merely 4 or 81 yards away."
- From Leiser's story
"After Jeter's TD, which made it 32-6, the Coast fans turned to their escapist tactics. These included taking movie shots for artistic effect, doodling on the program and leaving."
- Mike Berger's story in the Sporting Green on Jan. 2, 1959.
"We were ready to play the game, but they were such a big, strong team and such a fast team. We had not faced speed like that. ... It was an unfulfilling feeling after the game, that we didn't play well and came up short. It's an ache in my heart."
- Joe Kapp, Cal quarterback reflecting recently
"I remember taking a step, turning to the right, seeing (Iowa's) Bob Jeter and thinking, 'I'm going to get you SOB.' Then he made a cut and scored a touchdown."
- Bob Gonzales, Bears reserve lineman's most vivid memory 50 years later
"I remember Forest Evashevski, the Iowa coach, saying their tackle was 320 pounds and ours was 180, so they were going to make a highway out of us. And that's pretty much what they did."
- Bill Patton, Cal fullback's recollection
"I had a brother, Bump, who was an assistant coach at Iowa, so I knew a lot about them. That was probably one of the best teams in Iowa history. They felt they were good and they were. ... I think our players realize we played OK, we just got beat by a really good football team. It would have been a lot more fun if we had won."
- Pete Elliott, former Cal coach reflecting on the '59 Rose Bowl - he was on the winning Rose Bowl team as Michigan's quarterback in 1948 and later as Illinois' coach in 1964