They were the golden years of Golden Bear football. Wins were plentiful, trips to the Rose Bowl regular and school spirit sky high. No wonder guys still gather to celebrate Pappy Waldorf, the architect of all of that greatness.
“Pappy’s Boys” are a group of former football guys, mostly octogenarians at this point, who remain in touch, gather together and root on the Bears in the name of their legendary coach Lynn “Pappy” Waldorf.
Guys who played under Waldorf have been doing this for decades and insist they are the only such group in the country. Sure, other teams have alumni gatherings, other schools have class reunions. But to gather with people solely because they had the experience of playing under a particular coach? And to have created a fully endowed scholarship in Waldforf’s name that has been given to 25 players over the years? It’s a testament more to Waldorf the man than Waldorf the coach, they said.
“It’s just to pay tribute to Pappy,” said Ira Tunik of Santa Rosa, who played under Waldorf in ’50 and ’51.
“He was really a marvelous guy,” said Santa Rosan Dick Verling, class of 1953, who was a senior manager for the team.
Waldorf and his tenure with the Bears, which spanned from 1947-1956, will be further celebrated with an exhibit at Memorial Stadium. A handful of locals traveled down to Berkeley last week for the unveiling.
“Football really was the glue to this very diverse university after World War II,” said Hans “Lefty” Stern of Santa Rosa, class of 1951 who worked in the athletic department’s sports information office and now helps organize the boys.
But make the no mistake, the Bears were pretty bad pre-Pappy.
“The last game of the 1946 season, students were so upset they tore down some of the seats in the rooting section,” Stern said. “We were awful before Pappy came to Cal.”
His impact was immediate.
“When Pappy came out here he brought a big staff, was well organized and the Pacific Coast wasn’t ready for that,” said Santa Rosan Tom Keough, a halfback and kicker for a Bears team that played in the Rose Bowl.
“He just really had an organization that was way ahead,” he said.
And Waldorf was known to take all comers. More than 250 people showed up to try out for the Bears his first year.
Waldorf would have “Rambler” or essentially JV games before the varsity games and sometimes guys would play in both. And the locker room was a mix of 17-year-old freshmen and 26-year-old World War II vets.
“It didn’t make any difference. You were just guys out trying to do a job,” Tunik said.
“He wasn’t a disciplinarian but he wanted you to do it right,” he said. “He’d criticize an All-American as he would a rookie. And if you did something well he complimented you.”
Waldorf’s legend was not limited to Berkeley, according to Keough. His brand of football and coaching was mimicked for years — Keough saw it plenty when he went into high school coaching after Cal.
“Everybody wanted somebody who came from his system,” he said. “When we practiced he had us doing it like the pros do now. All of the coaches were doing the same thing.”